During the 1850s and '60s, finding signs of the Apocalypse in contemporary British history had enormous popularity. According to a sympathetic article on the subject in the November 1859 Times of London, those who interpreted the Book of Daniel from the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation from the New divided into three main groups:
- The praeterist school: the prophecies had all been fulfilled centuries ago.
- The futurist school: none of the prophecies had yet seen completion.
- The continuous historical school: fulfillments of Revelation mark history from the Roman Empire to the French Revolution and beyond.
This last group or school, which proved by far the most popular, formed what Mary Wilson Carpenter describes as "a distinctively Protestant exegetic tradition which identified the Pope as Antichrist and read the Apocalypse as a symbolic history whose principal event was the Reformation." Unlike seventeenth-century practitioners of the continuous historical school, their mid-Victorian heirs proved politically and socially reactionary --something that suggests they turned to the Apocalypse in part as an escape from Victorian culture shocks, such as the effects of the Industrial Revolution, the 1832 Reform Bill, granting civil rights to Jews and Roman Catholics, the disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and other socio-political changes that seemed to threaten the very foundations of British society. E. B. Elliott, one of the most popular and influential of such interpreters, published the four volumes of Horae Apocalypticae in 1844 and then reissued editions in 1846, 1847, 1850, and 1862. According to Elliott, the world would end in either 1865 or 1866.
Unlike biblical typology, another extremely popular mode of interpreting scripture in the Victorian age, apocalyptics tended to emphasize not the events of scriptural history but the direct application of prophecy to post-biblical history. In addition, whereas typology provided a means of meditating on Christ's mercy to human beings, apocalyptics focused attention on divine vengeance and the terrible suffering of those who did not believe adequately.
Mary Carpenter and George P. Landow. "Ambiguous Revelations: The Apocalypse in Victorian Literature," in The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature. eds. C. A. Patrides and Joseph A. Wittreich. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1984; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984. 299-322.
Elliott, Edward Bishop. Horae Apocalypticae: or, a Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical. 5th ed. 4 vols. London, 1862.
Elliott, Edward Bishop. The Time of the End . . . by a Congregationalist. Boston, 1856.
Last modified 5 October 2004