Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/515

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499
EPIDEMIC CONVULSIONS.

Multitudes, under pungent preaching, were violently agitated, uttering loud cries, shaking, trembling, bleeding at the nose, the minister promoting the uproar by urging them not to stifle their convictions. The shriek, or the shout, it is stated, never rose from one, but that others joined the outcry.[1] The early career of John Wesley is well known to have been marked by similar disorders. In his journal he records numerous instances of men and women dropping to the ground under his preaching "as if struck by lightning," ten or a dozen praying at once. They had also prevailed extensively in New Zealand half a century before they became epidemic in Kentucky. The elder Edwards has left an instructive account of the bodily agitations which accompanied the revivals of religion from 1735-'42. Many instances are given of fainting, falling, trance, numbness, outcries, and convulsions, and he relates that some of the subjects lost their reason.[2] The epidemic of Kentucky spread more widely, and persisted for a longer time, as well as in more extravagant forms. It continued to reappear for several years, and involved a district of country extending from Ohio to the mountains of Tennessee, and even into the old settlements in the Carolinas. Lorenzo Dow relates that, at a religious meeting in the court-house of Knoxville, when the Governor of Tennessee was present, he saw one hundred and fifty people "jerking" at one time. But at other places the frenzy reached a greater height. It was computed that, at a religious meeting in Kentucky, not less than three thousand persons fell in convulsions to the ground.

The extraordinary religious excitement in which these nervous disorders took their rise commenced in Logan County, Kentucky, under the preaching of Rev. James McGready, described as a man of "hideous visage and thunder-tones," with a highly impassioned style of eloquence.[3] The excitement abated soon, but was renewed in a more intense form three years later, and continued to grow and deepen until it reached its height about the year 1800. Its effects were described by this fiery preacher as at that time "exceeding everything his eyes had ever beheld upon earth." Families came in wagons, forty, fifty, and one hundred miles to attend the meetings, and it became necessary to establish camps for their accommodation. These camp-meetings generally continued four days, from Friday to Tuesday morning, but sometimes they lasted a week. One succeeded another in rapid succession, and thus the fervor of religious feeling was kept up. The woods and paths leading to the camp-ground seemed alive with people. "The laborer," says Dr. Davidson, in the work just quoted, "quitted his task; age snatched his crutch; youth forgot his pastimes; the plow was left in the furrow; the deer enjoyed a respite upon the mountains; business of all kinds was suspended; dwelling-houses were deserted; whole neighborhoods were emptied; bold hunters, and so-

  1. Rees's "Cyclopædia," article "Imitation."
  2. Edwards on "Revivals."
  3. Dr. Davidson's "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky."