MARK TWAIN'S REPLY TO A PROPHET
Professor E. Stone Wiggins, a famous Canadian weather and earthquake
predictor known as the "Ottawa Prophet," forecast earthquakes for
the southern part of the United States in 1886. His predictions were widely
reported in newspapers across the United States and residents in the southern
states experienced a great deal of dread and uncertainty during the months Wiggins
had issued dire forecasts for their areas. Wiggins's predictions read like scientific
hogwash and were a ripe target for Mark Twain's humor. Below are one of the
news articles covering Wiggins's forecasts along with a response from Mark Twain
which was first published in the New York Sun on September 29, 1886 and
copied by newspapers around the country.
- Barbara Schmidt
The New York Times, September 9, 1886
OTTAWA, Ontario, Sept. 8 - Prof. E. Stone Wiggins of this city, has submitted documentary and other proof to the Minister of Marine going to show that he predicted as far back as March of last year the earthquakes which are prevailing in the South. He also announced in the Ottawa Journal of May 13 last the approach of subterraneous disturbances in the same locality. The Professor declares that the worst has not yet been reached, and claims that the greatest strain will be felt between this period and the middle of October. The Southern States will again be visited by earthquakes, and the disturbance will extend to California and South America.
On being asked for his reasons for making the predictions Wiggins said: "Earthquakes are caused by the shifting of the earth's centre of gravity. Suppose this centre of gravity to be moved, say one mile from her normal centre of gravity, or from her centre of volume; now, what must happen? Why, the parts of her surface at the end of the longer axis will be heavier and the parts at the end of the shorter axis will be lighter than normally. These disks, therefore, will grind upon each other, generating heat and lava. Hence earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. If our little visible satellite were brought down and slid around the earth from east to west, in 24 hours earthquakes would occur of such violence as to render our globe uninhabitable." Prof. Wiggins claims that these forces were in action at the end of August. Both the earth's satellites, two of which he says exist, were then in perigee. Jupiter was also near his inferior conjunction, which in limited degree increased the strain.
Columbus (GA) Enquirer, September 30, 1886
WASHINGTON, September 29. - Mark Twain has entered the field of prediction and publishes in the New York Sun today the following:
As a result of the most careful observation of the aspect of the fixed stars during the past two months as affected by the remarkable changes now going on in the great nebula Cassiopeia, I am able to state with absolute certainty that by far the most awful disaster that has ever befallen the globe since its creation will occur on the 3d of October at 9:42 in the evening. The agent will be a meteoric stone -- a meteoric world, indeed, since its mass will be one-eighth as great as that of our own sphere. It will first come in sight about half way between the constellation of the Great Bear and the North Star, and will make the circle of the southern skies, and then sweep northward with immeasurable rapidity, turning the night of this whole Continent into a red glare of the most blinding intensity. As it approaches Canada it will make a majestic downward swoop in the direction of Ottawa, affording a spectacle resembling a million inverted rainbows woven together, and will take the Prophet Wiggins right in the seat of his inspiration and lift him straight up into the back yard of the planet Mars, and leave him permanently there in an inconceivably mashed and unpleasant condition. This can be depended on.
| A prophet doesn't have to have any brains.
They are good to have, of course, for the ordinary exigencies of life, but
they are no use in professional work. It is the restfulest vocation there
is. When the spirit of prophecy comes upon you, you merely cake your intellect
and lay it off in a cool place for a rest, and unship your jaw and leave
it alone; it will work itself: the result is Prophecy.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Prophecy: two bull's eyes out of a possible million.
A man who goes around with a prophecy-gun ought never to get discouraged:
if he will keep up his heart and fire at everything he sees, he is bound
to hit something by and by.
Illustration of Clemens as a prophet
courtesy of Dave Thomson
The dreams are all right enough, but the art of interpreting is lost. 1500
yr ago they were getting to do it so badly it was considered better to depend
on chicken-guts & other naturally intelligent sources of prophecy, recognizing
that when guts can't prophecy, it is no use for Ezekiel to go into the business.
Prophecy went out with the chicken guts.
- working notes for No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, published in The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, pp. 464-463.
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