14.0182 reactions to the 1857 comet?

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Sat Aug 19 2000 - 07:33:56 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 182.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Sat, 19 Aug 2000 08:24:57 +0100
             From: Mel Wiebe <wiebem@qsilver.queensu.ca>
             Subject: 1857 comet, reactions to

    Editing the letters of Benjamin Disraeli, I am stumped by an identification
    that looks like it should be an easy one; perhaps HUMANIST can help. Here's
    the problem:
            In early 1857 a prediction was made that a comet would strike the earth on
    13 June 1857, causing great alarm in some quarters because of several
    end-of-the-world prophecies. Others, however, were more amused than
    frightened. Disraeli on 7 June 1857 wrote to his friend Sarah Brydges
    Willyams in Torquay about a planned visit, and remarked:
            "The world is very much frightened about the Comet .... A philosopher, who
    laughs at the theological view of the question, & therefore shocks the
    ladies, has however frightened them equally by his scientific announcement
    that the world has already been destroyed 27 times, that, reasoning by
    analogy, it must be destroyed again & probably often; that he rather
    imagines it will not be destroyed on the 13th. Inst, but there is no reason
    why it shd. not be destroyed before that, as the destructive agencies are
    all rife -- in the centre of the earth a raging fire, while the misty tail
    of the comet wd, if it touched us, pour forth an overwhelming deluge -- so
    in 4 & 20 hours we may be shrivelled or drowned. In the meantime, if the
    catastrophe do not occur, we hope to be at Torquay by the end of next month."
            Who is this "philosopher"?

    Mel Wiebe, General Editor of _Benjamin Disraeli Letters_, Queen's
    University, Kingston, Canada

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