Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brothers, Richard
BROTHERS, RICHARD (1757–1824), enthusiast, was born on 25 Dec. 1757 at Placentia, Newfoundland. His father was a gunner. He had several brothers and a sister still living in Newfoundland in 1826. At the time of his public appearance he had, according to his own statement, no relatives in England. He came to England when young, and was partly educated at Woolwich. At the age of fourteen he entered the royal navy as midshipman on board the Ocean; as master's mate he served under Admiral Keppel in the engagement off Ushant. Next year he was transferred to the Union, and in 1781 to the St. Albans, a 64-gun ship, despatched in June 1781 to the West Indies, where he was in the engagement between Admiral Rodney and Comte de Grasse. He became lieutenant with seniority of 3 Jan. 1783, and was discharged to half-pay (54l. a year) from the St. Albans on 28 July 1783 at Portsmouth. After leaving the service he visited France, Spain, and Italy. On 6 June 1786 he married, at Wrenbury, near Nantwich, Elizabeth Hassall. He soon ceased to live with her. The story current among the representatives of his friend Finlayson is that he joined his ship on his way from church after the ceremony, and, returning a few years later, found his faithless wife already the mother of children. In September 1787 Brothers came to London. Here he lived very quietly on a vegetarian diet, and worshipped at Long Acre chapel or at a baptist chapel in the Adelphi. He continued to draw his half-pay till 1789. An objection to the oath required as a qualification for receiving pay led him to address, on 9 Sept. 1790, a letter to Philip Stephens (afterwards Sir P. though ingenious and graceful, do not give ' Stephens) of the admiralty, which appeared at an impression of sincerity. Of his own poems I the time in the 'Public Advertiser.' Brothers argued so forcibly against the word 'voluntarily' occurring in a compulsory oath, that Pitt had it removed from the form. But the entire exemption from the oath, sought by Brothers, was not granted. In January 1791 he lived in the open country for eight days. On Thursday, 25 Aug. 1791, his landlady, Mrs. S. Green of Dartmouth Street, Westminster, came before the governors of the poor for the parishes of St. Margaret and St. John the Evangelist, and said her lodger would not take the oath and draw his pay, and hence owed her about 33l. Brothers was examined before the board on 1 Sept., and stated that two years before he had resigned his majesty's service on the ground that a military life is totally repugnant to christianity. He was taken into the workhouse, and an arrangement made by which, without his making oath, his pay was received by the governors as his agents. The idea that he was charged with a commission from the Almighty grew upon him. About the end of February 1792 he left the house and took a lodging in Soho. On 12 May 1792 he wrote to the king, the ministry, and the speaker, saying that God commanded him to go to the House of Commons on the 17th and inform the members that the time was come for the fulfilment of Dan. vii. He followed this up in July by letters to the king, queen, and ministry, containing prophecies with some hits and some misses ; his best guesses at this time being his predictions of the violent deaths of the king of Sweden and Louis XVI. He got into fresh difficulties through not drawing his pay. He was eight days in a sponging-house, and eight weeks in Newgate, from failure to meet his note of hand for 70l. to his Soho landlady. At length he signed a power of attorney for his pay, striking out the words 'our sovereign lord' the king, as blasphemous. Getting free at the latter end of November 1792, he made up his mind to resist his call. He tells how he started at eight o'clock from Hyde Park Corner, carrying a rod cut from a wild-rose bush by divine command some months before, and meaning to walk to Bristol, 'and from thence leave England for ever ; with a firm resolution also never to have anything to do with prophesying.' He walked some sixteen miles on the Bristol Road, and then flung away his rod, wishing never to behold it again. When he had got about ten miles further, he felt himself suddenly turned round and bidden to return and wait the Almighty's time. On his way back he was forcibly led to the rejected rod, 'and made take it up.' In 1793 he described himself as 'nephew of the Almighty,' a relationship which seems obscure ; but Halhed subsequently explained it as meaning a descent from one of the brethren or sisters of our Lord. Towards the end of 1794 he began to print his interpretations of prophecy, his first production being 'A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times,' in two successive books. His mind was exercised upon the problem of the fate of the Jews of the dispersion, whom he believed to be largely hidden among the various nations of Europe. Brothers believed himself to be a descendant of David ; on 19 Nov. 1795 he was to be 'revealed' as prince of the Hebrews and ruler of the world ; in 1798 the rebuilding of Jerusalem was to begin. On Wednesday, 4 March 1795, Brothers was arrested at 57 Paddington Street, by two king's messengers, with a warrant, dated 2 March, from the Duke of Portland, for treasonable practices. He was examined next day before the privy council. He testifies to the courtesy of his examiners, but bitterly complains that after three weeks' confinement he was 'surreptitiously condemned' on 27 March, without hearing evidence in his favour, as a criminal lunatic. Gillray brought out a remarkable caricature on the very day of his examination (5 March), identifying Brothers with the whig party ; and another on 4 June, not so well known. The press teemed with the 'testimonies' of disciples. In the House of Commons Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, M.P. for Lymington, an oriental traveller and scholar, moved on Tuesday, 31 March, that Brothers' 'Revealed Knowledge' be laid before the house. Brothers had claimed that immediately on his being 'revealed in London to the Hebrews as their prince,' King George must deliver up his crown to him. No one seconded the motion. Halhed, on Tuesday, 21 April, moved that a copy of the warrant for apprehending Brothers be laid before the house. This likewise was not seconded; but on 4 May Brothers was removed from confinement as a criminal lunatic, and placed, by order from Lord-chancellor Loughborough, in a private asylum under Dr. Simmons at Fisher House, Islington. Here he employed himself in writing prophetic pamphlets. Among his disciples, Brothers set most store by the testimonies of John Wright and William Bryan, a Bristol druggist, at one time a quaker; but he had gained over Halhed (whom he offered to make 'governor of India or president of the board of controul') as early as the beginning of January 1795. William Sharp, the engraver, was so fully persuaded of the claims of Brothers that in 1795 he engraved two plates of his portrait; each plate bears an inscription : 'Fully believing this to be the Man whom God has appointed, I engrave his likeness. William Sharp.' Sharp came afterwards to discredit Bryan as a deceiver, and eventually attached himself to Joanna Southcott. The flush of admiring pamphlets naturally ceased when 1795 came to an end. Even Halhed seems to have deserted his protege. But Brothers continued to write at intervals. Apart from his leading craze there is not much interest in his writings. It may be noted as an odd coincidence that he follows Servetus in applying to himself Dan. xii. 1. His doctrine of the inner light is essentially that of the early quakers. In the spring of 1797 Frances Cott, daughter of an Essex clergyman, was placed in the Islington asylum. She was not there long, but long enough for poor Brothers to fall in love with her. A fortnight after her removal it was revealed to him that this young lady was his destined queen. Unfortunately, within a year she married some one else. Brothers owed his release from the asylum to the persistent exertions of the most faithful of all his disciples, John Finlayson [q. v.], who at Brothers's suggestion spelled his name Finleyson, a Scotch writer, originally of Cupar-Fife, and afterwards of Edinburgh. In the summer of 1797 the report of Brothers's grievances acted on him as a divine summons to give up what he calls 'an extensive and lucrative practice of the law at one of the bars of the Scotch courts.' Early in the following year he repaired to London. Here he contrived to enter into 'a secret correspondence' with Brothers, whose writings in confinement he saw through the press ; and when Hanchett, a draughtsman, declined to prepare Brothers's plans for the New Jerusalem, Finlayson, 'though totally unacquainted with the art,' executed the work, and got the plans engraved 'at an expense of upwards of 1,200l.' When Pitt died (23 Jan. 1806) Finlayson thought the moment opportune for the release of Brothers. He besieged the authorities, and waiting upon Grenville, the new prime minister, he got the warrant for high treason withdrawn. A petition for his liberation, backed by seven affidavits of his sanity, was heard before Lord-chancellor Erskine on 14 April 1806. Erskine ordered his immediate release, but would not supersede the ; verdict of lunacy, begging Finlayson, 'as his countryman,' not to press him on that point, as there were 'still some scruples in a high quarter' (the king). As Brothers, with the verdict unremoved, could not draw his half-pay, Erskine promised him (so Finlayson says) 300l. a year for life from the government. But, owing to the change of administration early in the following year, Brothers got no part of this allowance, though his pay was applied to his wife's maintenance 'on the express and written grounds that government provided for him.' Brothers lived for some time in the house of a well-to-do friend, one Busby, and from 1815 Finlayson took him into his own family. In his later years Brothers occupied himself with astronomical dreams. Bartholomew Prescot, a Liverpool star-gazer, who had published in 1803 'A Defence of the Divine System of the World,' on geocentric principles, entered into a correspondence with Brothers in 1806, and was received into favour. Prescot published the 'Inverted Scheme of Copernicus, book i.,' 1822, and followed it up by the 'System of the Universe,' 1823. When this latter reached Brothers's hands in June 1823, the Almighty told him it 'would not do.' On Sunday, 25 Jan. 1824, Finlayson read to Brothers from the Sunday paper a favourable review of Prescot's work. Brothers bade Finlayson write against Prescot, and described himself as 'seized with the cholera morbus and hectic fever.' That night, about ten o'clock, he died in Finlayson's house, Upper Baker Street, Marylebone. One who saw him 'a few days before his death' describes him as 'very pale, very thin a mere skeleton, very weak, could hardly walk,' and adds that he 'died of a consumption.' He was interred at St. John's Wood, in a grave at the opposite side of the cemetery to that of Joanna Southcott. He died intestate, leaving a widow and married daughter. Administration was granted to his widow in February 1824; but Finlayson, by a chancery order, prevented her from getting the property (450l., in 3 per cent. Consols). After his death Finlayson pestered the government with a claim for Brothers's maintenance, which (with interest and law expenses) amounted to 5,710l., was subsequently run up by Finlayson to 20,000/., and is now estimated by his descendants at 80,000l. On 4 March 1830 Finlayson got 270l., the unappropriated balance of Brothers's pay. The believers in Brothers are not yet extinct, and those who adopt the Anglo-Israel theory regard him as the earliest writer on their side. Besides the prints of Gillray and Sharp, there is a caricature of Brothers, bearing no resemblance to him, by Thomas Landseer, dated 1 Jan. 1831, in 'Ten Etchings illustrative of the Devil's Walk,' 1831, fol. Also a fair likeness by Cruikshank, accompanied by a clever description, in Bowman Tiller's 'Frank Heartwell' (see George Cruickshank's Omnibus', ed. by Laman Blanchard, 1842, 8vo, plate 6, and pp. 144-7). Brothers printed: 1. 'Letter to Philip Stephens, Esq.' (see above; reprinted separately, with the answer and other matter, 1795, 8vo, and in Halhed's 'Calculation of the Millennium'). 2. 'A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times. Book the First. Wrote under the direction of the Lord God, and published by His sacred command . . . ,' 1794, 8vo. 3. Ditto Book the Second, containing 'the sudden and perpetual Fall of the Turkish, German, and Russian Empires,' &c., 1794, 8vo (to these two books Brothers and his disciples constantly refer as 'God's two witnesses;' two editions of each were published in 1794; they were reprinted at the end of February 1795, with additions; also Dublin, 1795; and a French translation, 'Prophéties de Jacques (sic) Brothers, ou la Connaissance Révélée,' &c., Paris, An iv. , 8vo, two parts). 4. 'Letter to Halhed' (dated 28 Jan. 1795, and prefixed to Halhed's 'Testimony,' 1795, 8vo). 5. 'Wrote in Confinement. An Exposition of the Trinity. With a farther elucidation of the twelfth chapter of Daniel : one Letter to the King; and two to Mr. Pitt,' &c., 1795, 8vo (a second edition, with supplement, was published on 18 April 1796, 8vo). 6. 'Notes on the Etymology of a few Antique Words,' 1796, 8vo. 7. 'A Letter to Miss Cott, the recorded daughter of King David. . . . With an Address to the Members of his Britannic Majesty's Council, and through them to all Governments and People on Earth,' 1798, 8vo (two editions, same year). 8. 'A Description of the New Jerusalem, with the Garden of Eden in the centre . . . .' 1801, 8vo (2nd edition, 1802, 8vo). 9. 'A Letter to Samuel Foart Simmons, M.D.,' 4to (dated 28 Jan. 1802). 10. 'A Letter to His Majesty, and one to Her Majesty,' and other pieces, 1802, 8vo (all in verse except one). 11. 'Wisdom and Duty, written in support of all Governments,' 1805, 8vo (written on 1 Jan. 1801). 12. 'A Letter to the Subscribers for engraving the Plans of Jerusalem,' &c., 1805, 8vo. 13. 'The Ruins of Balbec and Palmyra, from the plates of Robert Wood, Esq., &c., proved to be the palaces of Solomon,' 1815, 8vo. 14. 'A correct Account of the Invasion and Conquest of this Island by the Saxons, &c., necessary to be known by the English nation, the descendants of the greater part of the Ten Tribes,' &c., 1822, 8vo. 15. (posthumous) 'The New Covenant between God and his People,' &c., 1830, large 4to (coloured prints; edited by Finlayson).
Besides anonymous testimonies, tracts were written in favour of Brothers by William Bryan, G. Coggan, J. Crease, Sarah Flaxmer, Mrs. S. Green, N. B. Halhed, H. F. Offley, W. Sales, H. Spencer, T. Taylor, C. F. Treibner, G. Turner, W. Wetherell, and J. Wright. Bryan's 'Testimony of the Spirit' contains a narrative of Brothers's life, and of his journey to Avignon in 1788. A catchpenny imitation of the genuine testimonies is 'Additional Testimony, &c., by _____ Earl of _____.'
On the other side appeared, besides anonymous pamphlets, tracts by 'George Home, D.D.,' probably a pseudonym, W. Huntingdon, D. Levi, and 'M. Gomez Pereira,' probably a pseudonym. Nearly all the publications on both sides appeared in 1795. For Finlayson's publications see Finlayson, John.[Riebau's manuscript memoir of Brothers, 1795 (in possession of Rev. W. Begley; Riebau was Brothers's publisher); Moser's Anecdotes of R. Brothers in 1791-2, 1795; Gillray's Caricatures; Halhed's Speeches; Brothers's Revealed Knowledge and Exposition; Finlayson's Last Trumpet; Monthly Review, 1795; most of the tracts described above, in a private collection; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Watt's Bibl. Brit. 1824, vol. iii. (art. 'Brothers, R.'); Chr. Reformer, 1826, pp. 380, 439; Evans's Sketch (ed. Bransby), 1841, p. 287; Annual Register, 1824 (art. 'Sharp, W.'); Chambers's Encyclop., 1861, ii. 276; Knight's Biography (English Cyclop.), i. 938, v. 461; British Israel and Judah's Prophetic Messenger, 1883, iv. 171 sq.; Tcherpakoff's Les Fous Littéraires, Moscow, 1883; admiralty books in the Record Office; information from the lords commissioners of the admiralty; also from H. Hodson Rugg, M.D. (Finlayson's son-in-law); respecting Brothers's marriage, parish register, Wrenbury, per Rev. T. W. Norwood; tombstone at St. John's Wood.]