Extract from Southey's review of Abdiel Holmes's American Annals, Quarterly Review, 2 (1809), 319-37.

Southcott in Southey’s review of Abdiel Holmes’s American Annals, Quarterly Review, 2 (1809), 319-37.

1.        Art. IX. American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806. By Abiel Holmes, D.D. Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Minister of the First Church in Cambridge. 2 vols. 8vo. Cambridge (in America).

2.        [pp. 319-337]

3.        There is scarcely any medium in America between over-godliness and a brutal irreligion. In many parts of the southern states baptism and the burial service are dispensed with. The ceremony of marriage is performed by a justice of the peace, and pigs are suffered to root in the church-yard and sleep in the church! From superstition to infidelity is an easy transition, and it is as easy from infidelity to superstition. America has its age of reason, and it has also its Dunkers [1]  and its Shakers. [2]  The all-friend Jemima Wilkinson, [3]  and her prophet Elijah, will have a chapter in the next history of heresies with our Joanna Southcote, and her four and twenty elders. Methodism is even more obstreperous there than it is with us. Our fanatics, though their name is legion, have not yet ventured to hold camp-meetings. These meetings, as the name implies, are held in the open field, and continue, day and night, sometimes for a fortnight. Thousands flock to them from far and near, and bring with them, as the official advertisement recommends, provisions, and tents, or blankets; ‘all friendly ministers and praying people are invited to attend said meeting’. The friendly ministers work away, and as soon as the lungs of one fail, another relieves him. ‘When signs of conversion begin to be manifest’, says Mr. Janson, ‘several preachers crowd round the object, exhorting a continuance of the efforts of the spirit, and displaying in the most frightful images the horrors which attend such as do not come unto them. The signs of regeneration are displayed in the most extravagant symptoms. I have seen women jumping, striking, and kicking, like raving maniacs, while the surrounding believers could not keep them in postures of decency. This continues till the convert is entirely exhausted; but they consider the greater the resistance the more the faith, and thus they are admitted into what they term the society’. [4] 


[1] A Protestant sect founded in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany, which practised adult baptism by immersion (hence its nickname). BACK

[2] The Dancing or Shaking Quakers, or Shakers—the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing—were a charismatic Protestant sect brought from England to New York in 1774 by prophet ‘Mother’ Ann Lee (1736-84). Worship took the form of long, sometimes all-night, meetings at which the spirit would move worshippers to shake or dance. BACK

[3] Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819), a Quaker by upbringing who, after an illness, declared a prophetic mission to be the ‘Public Universal Friend’ to all. Preaching the Ten Commandments and sexual abstinence, she practised hospitality and benevolence and attracted a community of followers in upper New York state. BACK

[4] Charles William Janson, The Stranger in America (London, 1807), p. 107. The quotation also appears in the course of a review of Janson’s work in the British Critic, 30 (1808), 590-601 (p. 600). BACK