It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster.Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was a farmer’s daughter from Devon who declared that she had been vouchsafed divine visions, and issued prophesies and rhymes about the imminent coming of the new messiah and the end times. In fact, her visions began 1792, not the 1775 Dickens mentions here. I wonder about the reference to the ‘prophetic private’ of the Life Guards. Could it be toone of her followers, a Mr B. Bruce, who had a vision of the destruction of London in 1795?:
“I shall defer the continuation of this subject for a while, and insert the vision of Mr. B. Bruce. Mr. B. Bruce was favoured with the following vision in the night between the 3rd and 4th of March, 1795. "... I thought (and the impression is indelibly stamped on my heart) an angel approached me in the human shape, with a dignity and grace that instantly infused a degree of ecstasy and confidence through my whole frame, far beyond the power of language to express or describe. I felt as it were transported from misery to felicity, from earth to heaven! The angel assured me, in terms the most distinct and forcible, "that the wickedness, presumption, and apostasy of mankind, had reached the highest heaven; and that the long suspended wrath of God was now pouring forth on the earth, which alone would bring its inhabitants to a sense of their own depravity, as well as their own duty to and dependence on an offended though merciful Creator; and that these judgments would be made manifest through Mr. Brothers, as those upon Egypt were by Moses." The angel then vanished from my sight, and which was immediately followed by a sharp angry voice, distinctly uttered from the clouds, "My power and vengeance shall be made manifest and severely felt by this obdurate people!" I then thought I left the garret and went out into the street (though it was in the night,) and found several people in motion, particularly a gentleman of my acquaintance, a violent opposer of Mr. Brothers, who had also heard the voice, and was very much alarmed. Whilst I was speaking to him about so dreadful a denunciation, and the threatening appearance of the clouds, the wind increased to such a degree as to shake the house we were then in (for during the conversation we had entered his house) so violently, that I did not think or feel myself safe, and immediately returned home, where I found my wife praying in the parlour, in which I joined her; and soon afterwards the same angel appeared to us both, assuring us that "the Almighty would presently pass through the streets of London in a violent whirlwind and storm," and then left us. I then thought the firmament was remarkably clear and serene, in order to make the approach of the Almighty more manifest. Whilst we were waiting in great anxiety and awe, I cast my eyes to the earth (for we had been looking some time very steadfastly towards heaven,) when I found myself by the edge of a beautiful piece of water, in which two boys were bathing, and who seemed to be in danger of drowning, although they succeeded in getting safe to the shore. At this moment I found myself naked, and awoke very much agitated, though pleased with my dream." [Southcott, The Strange Effects of Faith, Volume 7: A Continuation of Prophecies from 1792 to the present time (1802)]Though she died in 1814, Southcott was in the news at the time Dickens was writing Tale of Two Cities. One of her disciples, Ann Essan, had left a large sum in her will to ensure the publication and dissemination of Southcott’s writings in 1844; but Essan’s relatives challenged the will on the unusual legal grounds of the supposed blasphemy of the material itself. The case was heard in Chancery, and was not resolved until 1861.