It is difficult to find an adequate reason for the rejection by the world of the writings of Joanna Southcott. At first the opposition was great on account of the style — the simplicity of the verse was accounted doggerel, persons not at that time realizing that a great deal of the Bible itself was written in exactly the same metre, if translated into Modern English. A great deal is written in iambic four feet, with rhymed couplets, and although simple, yet some of the grandest truths are to be found in this humble garb. Joanna, herself, did not care for writing in verse, but she was commanded by the Spirit to do so, and it is called the New Song for Man, and is to echo from heaven to earth. It is really more wonderful than the prose writings, as it proves that she indeed spoke as the Holy Spirit gave her utterance. She was ready with the following line directly her handmaids had completed that already given. Any one who knows what it is to rhyme couplets is aware that alterations are often necessary before the required idea and rhyme are harmoniously adjusted. Another remarkable feature of the poetry is that, almost invariably, each line makes complete sense in itself, and also in conjunction with the following line or lines. Many passages could be written without any pause or stop whatever from the beginning to the end. This statement may cause ridicule at the first glance, but it is very unique and remarkable all the same.
The poetry is not all simple, some portions will bear comparison with the finest passages that have ever been written. Of such I consider the following, which Joanna prefaces on p. 35 of the Strange Effects of Faith, thus:
“I shall add a few more words spoken in answer to man’s blaming my following the commands of the Lord; as he judged it to be foolishness, and could not be the Lord’s direction. I seemed to be answered powerfully, as if the Lord had spoken to me in love and anger, that man should not direct the hand of the Almighty.”
In thunder now the God the silence broke,
And from a cloud His lofty language spoke,
“Who, and where, art thou, O fond, presumptuous man,
That by thy own weak measures Mine would span
Undaunted, as if an equal match for Me?
Stand forth, and answer My demands of thee:
But first, let thy original be traced,
And tell Me then what mighty thing thou wast
When to the potent world My word gave birth,
And fixed My centre on the floating earth,
Didst thou assist Me with one single thought,
Or My ideas rectify in aught?”
Then for quite a different style I will quote from p. 100 of the same book. The Spirit is speaking to Joanna at first in prose, and then in verse: —
“But now I will come to Pilate’s question, ‘Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?’ the serpent, or the woman? Here is as just an inquiry as Pilate made. One of the two must be cast, before your full redemption can be accomplished. Now answer for thyself, O man! and I will for the woman. Did I not bear all the blame man cast on Me? (This refers to the Fall: ‘The woman thou gavest to be with me, she tempted me and I did eat.’) And is it not just, the serpent should bear the blame the woman cast on him? If ye judge this simple, read back your Bibles, and ye will find all as simple. Simple was My coming into the world, and My manner through the world, and My going out of the world; all was as simple to the Jews as this appears to the Gentiles. Was I not born of simple parents, laid in a manger, and simply warned the wise men to return another way for fear of Herod, when I could have destroyed him? Did I not simply fly into Egypt, and full as simply returned again? For a God to be afraid of man, you must confess a simple thing.”
And now in verse I shall begin
To echo back the lines to men.
Of simple parents I was born,
And worldly wise men did Me scorn;
Simply to Egypt I did fly
And simply all was done,
And simply another way
I did turn back again;
Simply I oft Myself did hide
When man I could destroy;
Simply the manger made My bed,
While mankind did enjoy
Their beds of down, and wore their crown,
While I was forced to flee;
And simply shall their pride come down,
That every soul shall see.
Simple among the sons of men
I always did appear;
And simple in the woman’s form
I’ve surely acted here.
Simple as these appear to be,
So simply all was done,
When on the Cross at Calvary
I gave My life for man.
For oh! how few regard My love,
Or to the manger go,
Just like the shepherds you have heard,
To know if it be true.
The manger here doth now appear
As much despised by man;
They cannot see the mystery clear —
The servant cannot come
No greater here for to appear —
Than was her Lord before;
And like the Jews the Gentiles are,
And open every pore.
Do I not see as well as thee
Thy poverty despised?
For like the Jews the Gentiles be,
And pride hath dimmed their eyes.
So now take care, I warn you here,
The natural branch did fall;
Then the wild olive sure must fear,
If none can judge the call.
The style of the verse in general is not, perhaps, one that we, with our modern ideas and prejudices, would have chosen, but there is great wisdom in this simplicity, although it does not at first appear. When you consider the volumes of printed matter and other MSS., given to the world through a woman, and that she persevered against a hostile world for twenty years, it was necessary that she should have been led on gently, just as she could bear, from day to day. The prose alternating with the verse, I, myself, find very restful; and the truths taught are so weighty and important, that if they were not clothed in this simple style it would be very hard work to follow the meaning, especially so for those unaccustomed to study. As in the old days, “the common people heard Him gladly,” and so it must be written that all can understand, if they will. Respecting the occasional grammatical errors, they were only according to Joanna’s own manner of speaking, and did not grate on her ear, but seemed harmonious. In all ages God has, in speaking to His servants, used a phraseology to which the recipient was accustomed; otherwise it would have been more irksome to have carried on the work. The use at times of the nominative he for the objective him is often condoned in writers when it is a question of rhyme. The New Testament itself was written in the vernacular, so that the masses might be reached.
The subjoined is a good specimen of the despised doggerel hiding a beautiful and perfect metaphor. It is in common metre, and the lines were given to Joanna by the Spirit in answer to some one, who had heard her writings, and said, How far imagination would go! (taken from Second Book of Sealed Prophecies, p. 30).
Now to reason I’ll begin —
Can they imagine such a thing
Or see the mystery clear,
That e’er such writings came from thee?
How blindly all do err!
Their hearts or thoughts can ne’er go deep
And nothing do discern.
I said before they were asleep
Imagine all a dream;
Though seemed awake they are asleep,
Imagine all a dream,
And think they see a simple sheep
With worms got in her brain,
That swarm around, her senses drowned,
As from the flock she strayed,
Believing she doth hear a sound,
And by that sound she’s led;
And as her fancy wildly leads,
She simply doth go on;
The shepherds know not where she’s strayed,
Her tracks are too far gone;
The bleating of the sheep they hear,
But cannot trace the sound.
Like simple shepherds they may gaze,
But let them search the ground;
Then in the pasture fair and green
They’ll surely find the sheep;
And by the living water stream
They’ll find her at the brink,
Where she doth quench her raging thirst,
And they may do the same;
For though she’s beaten from the rest,
She’s in My pasture come.
Then now, ye shepherds, stand amazed,
And view your long-lost sheep;
For on the pasture you may gaze,
And taste the brook she drinks;
’Tis large and fair the brook is here,
The trees are by the side;
And though she’th lost the shepherds’ care,
The boughs the sun do hide
To screen her from the scorching sun
That in summer doth appear
And mark the pasture she is in,
When winter doth appear
The leaves so green, it must be seen,
Do closely on her come,
And seated by the Living Stream
She daily feeds thereon.
See how the banks on every side
Secure your long-lost sheep,
And mark the fountain by her side
That she doth daily drink.
The trees more fair, I tell you here,
Than in your gardens be;
Such pasture you have never seen,
If you will come and see,
And mark the banks on every side
No enemy can come;
The lion’s roaring for his prey,
It must to all be known;
But that is on the other side,
He frightens with his noise;
But mark the banks, and see the tide,
And hear the lonely voice:
Unto the rocks she doth complain
To screen her from his power —
And I’m the rock she builds upon,
That he cannot devour.
Mark where she stands, and view the lands,
And see how all is placed.
Now notice the change of metaphor, and as it seems important I will continue: —
But if I change her to a bird,
See how she’th built her nest
It is so high that none can fly
To rob her of her brood;
The fowler’s net can ne’er come by,
The shotsman missed his load;
Though heavy pieces, I do know,
Men have raised to their breast,
But are afraid to let them go,
For fear they should be cast,
As men do fear I may be there,
And terror strikes with awe.
I’ve kept her from the fowler’s snare,
And that they all shall know;
’Tis Me they dread, or she’d been dead,
I say, for long ago;
For deep’s the blow, I well do know,
Men have raised to their breast,
But were afraid to let it go,
And know they must be cast,
If I should come and then demand
Why they should spoil My game.
I’ll take her from the fowler’s hand,
And put mankind to shame;
Unless like he, they fearful be
For to discharge their load,
That they are levelling so at thee,
And fear a powerful God.
So if she’s high then let her fly,
And take your charge away;
But if she soars too proudly here,
Her shotsman I will be;
I’ll bring her low, they all shall know,
If she doth soar too high:
And if, beyond My bounds she go
She’ll have no wings to fly;
I’ll bring her low, you all shall know,
And she hath nought to boast;
For had I left her to herself
She’d stumbled like the rest.
These two are beautiful examples of sustained metaphor in the despised doggerel. It is continued by a third on heirship, which I feel constrained to quote, and then the three are interwoven at the end like the conclusion of a melodious symphony.
The Spirit continues: —
But as your land by heirship stands,
She is the perfect heir;
For ’tis unknown to every man
What her forefathers were;
Ere she was born, it must be known,
The Promise there was made;
And she’th fulfilled her mother’s will
When on her dying bed.
So where’s the man will dare condemn
The thing that I have done?
Then I will act the same by he
And rob him of his land.
So now offences will come on,
Men’s hearts will swell too high,
And say My Kingdom cannot come
By such low worm as thee,
But perfect like the Jews of old
The Gentiles will begin:
The rich and great will still be bold,
And so deny the thing;
But then their pride it must come down —
By pride the Angels fell;
And ’twas the pride in Herod’s heart
That brought his soul to hell:
The babes he murdered all for Me,
But he did miss the mark.
This is a hidden mystery —
The proud are in the dark;
And shall I swell them up more high,
To choose the rich and great,
When they did never honour Me?
Now look at Pilate’s seat.
So now with men I’ll even come,
And bring their honour low;
For ’tis the meek I now will seek,
And there My goodness show.
With Minifie I did begin,
And with her now I’ll end:
There’s no man can dispute with thee,
Because I am thy friend.
Thou sayest thou art amazed to see
The simple heads of men;
And I should be amazed like thee,
Did I not know the chain,
That Satan holds them by his power
And will not let them go;
He guards in their unguarded hours,
And that I well do know;
For if like lambs your flocks do stand,
Watched by the shepherd’s care,
The fox is hovering round the land
To watch his absence there.
His haunt’s unknown to every man,
The night he gets his prey
For when he sees the shepherd’s gone,
He steals My lambs away.
So now with Minifie I’ll end —
Beforehand none can see
Behind hand with the cunning fox
My shepherds surely be.
Therefore beware and guard with care,
Or all your flock you’ll lose;
You little think the fox so near,
As he is on your coast:
But if his haunts you will find out,
Then come to your lost sheep,
And all his footsteps you may trace
When you were fast asleep;
And see the Rock she climbed upon
When she beheld him near,
And warned your flock to flee the same
When they behold him there —
Then like the bird you may escape
Out of the fowler’s net;
For if the dark side he doth beat
I tell you to fly up.
The lines above —
For ’tis unknown to every man
What her forefathers were,
do not refer to actual inheritance in land — although Joanna Southcott’s grandfather was the real heir to estates in Hertfordshire that had been in their family for generations, and he belonged to what is commonly called a county family, yet the family through reverses had become poor — but the reference is to a remark made by an opponent, who said the Lord would not choose one of such low degree but some Church dignitary to visit in this way by His Spirit, and the answer given to this was that men did not know that the forefathers of Joanna had walked before Him with a perfect heart — and thus God had blessed them to the third and fourth generation, and from them had chosen an instrument to serve Him.
The lines —
Ere she was born, it must be known,
The Promise there was made;
And she’th fulfilled her mother’s will
When on her dying bed,
relate to the promise made to Joanna’s mother before she was born that her child would faithfully serve the Lord, and be a special instrument to serve Him (Isa. xlix. 1–3).
That she was born in Devon is said to fulfil a prophecy in the Song of Solomon viii. 5, “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth; there she brought thee forth that bare thee.”
The reference to Minifie is to a Mrs. Minifie, who was Joanna’s earliest friend and believer: she could not understand how the Lord would condescend to such trifles in the lives of men, and laughed at the idea of explanations of such small matters as coming from Him. Minifie = trifles.
I am devoting later a chapter specially to the life of Joanna Southcott, as doubtless there are many people who know little, if anything, of her.
The metre of the poetry varies a good deal, and sometimes trochees are introduced at the beginning of several sequent lines with marked effect thus (Strange Effects of Faith, p. 200) —
Sick of men’s sufferings I am come of late;
Sick of their sins for to bring on their fate;
Sick of the folly I see in mankind;
Sick of the fever that ris’th in thy mind,
As no physician seeks thy wound to cure;
I know thy burthen’s more than thou canst bear,
Did I not take from thee part of the load?
* * * * *
A great deal is written in pentameter with rhymed couplets as above; and also as in the following (Letters and Communications, p. 50) —
For so the midnight hour will burst for all,
And men and devils tremble at the call.
For, now, the mystery I’ll explain to thee —
I brought then on the War for men to see;
And then I left thee at that very time,
And made thee weak, and weak they all will find
The trembling Nations to before Me stand;
When I do come to conquer Sea and Land:
I’ll lay before them all that I did bear;
I’ll make the Jews to tremble and to fear;
For all their mockery I will then turn back:
And they shall know the way they all did mock:
Because My hand shall not be shortened then;
I’ll conquer devils and I’ll plead with men:
For in the valleys now I’ll bring them low,
And weak as thee, the Nations all shall know,
They shall in weakness, and in trembling stand.
But mark the Spirit — and thy strength command —
How full of Strength that hour thou did’st appear
No men or devils thou that time could’st fear,
Then here’s the warning to My Brethren dear,
That by the Woman I so bid them send,
To My disciples to tell them in the end, etc.
* * * * *
The variety of the style in the versification, and the great truths constantly inculcated therein, prove incontestably that Joanna was no impostor and could not possibly have written them of herself. She was comparatively an uneducated woman, born in humble circumstances, and would never have been able to grasp the wide and deep teaching found throughout her writings.
Those who can read the verse without prejudice and with the heart attuned to the melody on high, will indeed find the New Song has come to man, and in the midst of the greatest difficulties will sing for joy of heart. The Comforter has come and given us a “Song in the Night.”
I will here insert part of an unpublished Communication given in 1803 by the Spirit, on the style of the Writings —
“It is to bring men to the knowledge of their Bibles, that thy writings were put in such a manner, as they that believe them do not understand.
“To these My ways are hid in the great deep, and My paths past finding out, and thy Prophecies are the fulfilment of My Bible.
“It is written I shall do marvellous things among them: but could it be marvellous if they had nothing to marvel at; how could it be written, The wisdom of God is foolishness with men, if there was nothing to appear foolishness in their sight? The verse appears foolishness to those that look for flowing language without weighing the sense and meaning. Such is the common custom of mankind, to place their speeches in fine language without the weight of sense. But My wisdom is to confound their wisdom, by showing sense without fine language. Now I will answer the verse they complained of, where the understanding is not in the heart, the sound will be as a cymbal to the ear. It is from the heart man believeth unto righteousness, but know the words spoken to thee are not like poetry made by man, but a controversy made by Me — contrary to verse — yet it is verse to give a sound one line to another; as an instrument of music gives the sound of music, so does the verse give a sound of verse, but a contrary verse from man. I am not come to heighten the eloquent language of mankind, but to pull it down to plain sense and reason, that I may bring men to the sense of things, and throw down their boasted eloquence of speech; for by that the world is now misled, because they use eloquence of speech, and these speeches draw mankind that do not look to the sense and meaning of things only rely on the eloquence of speeches. It was to lower the pride of the great, that I was born of poor parents, and laid in a manger, to bring man in that humble mind. And if they would be partakers with Me in My Kingdom, and reign with Me, they must become humble with Me. And just the same am I now come to throw down the pride of learning, and all the eloquence of speeches, to show them in the plainest manner, I am leading My flock by sense of words without eloquence of speeches to confound the wisdom of the learned, and to bring to nought the eloquence of the prudent, who judge their works are upright because they appear in fine language, which men of learning now boast of. And should I come to act like them, I should swell them higher and not sink their wisdom lower, to show them it must be the sense that must be attended to, and not the eloquence of words. For the wisdom of God is counted foolishness with men. Yet the end will show them their wisdom is foolishness with Me, when I come to bring every truth to light and prove that I am come in the Spirit to speak to man in Spiritual Songs, more plain and low than men of the world that boast of learning have, or how could I confound the learned by base and foolish things as they concluded?”