For some months past we have received various anxious inquiries from "our girls" respecting a so-called prophecy which has been extensively circulated within the past few years, and which has struck terror into the hearts of not a few credulous people by winding up a catalogue of fulfilments with the one unfulfilled couplet:-
"The world to an end shall run
In eighteen hundred and eighty-one."
This prediction is asserted to be the utterance of the renowned Mother Shipton, and to have a place amongst the manuscripts in the British Museum.
Nothing of the kind, my dear girls. The manuscript prophecy in the library of the British Museum is of a widely different class, and contains nothing to link it with the present century or with Mother Shipton.
"But was there no Mother Shipton?" methinks I hear you ask.
Oh, yes, there was a child born at Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, a little above the celebrated petrifying spring known as the Dropping Well, in the year 1488, and as Ursula Sonthill she was baptised by the Abbot of Beverley. She was afterwards married to one Tobias Shipton, a builder, of Shipton, near York, and it is said she delivered her prophecies into the keeping of the Abbot of Beverley. Be this as it may, a builder whose name has survived to the present time, and who lived in a place bearing his own name (whether town or village), must have been a man of importance, an eminent architect in fact, whose workmen might be busied with additions to the minsters of Beverley and York, and the honourable architect's wife would be addressed as "Dame" (an equivalent to our "Lady"), as a matter of courtesy. That she was a person of repute and sagacity there can scarcely be any question, or her name would not have been remembered, or of any value to the astrologer Lilly, in 1682, or to those who professedly put forth her life and prophecies in 1663 and 1667. The first of these "lives" is the wildest of wild romances, in which a demon is represented as the father of Mother Shipton, and she as a hideous old hag, whose wisdom is the result of demoniac possession, and whose ugliness as pictured on the face of the pamphlet we reproduce here for the behoof of our girls, it being the reputed likeness of a statue erected to Mother Shipton in the vicinity of York. Merely premising that statues were not erected to nobodies, and that the very hat upon her head proves the portrait to be spurious, unless she lived to see one of her own predictions verified - Women wore hoods in her day, and she prophesied that "the time would come when women would wear hats like men." - I pass on to the second pamphlet, which discards the supernatural rhodomontade of the former, records Ursula Sonthill's courtship and marriage at the age of twenty-four, and her remarkable prophecies delivered as Dame Shipton to the noblemen and others concerning Cardinal Wolesey, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, the noblemen themselves, and the destruction of London in 1663. How far these were genuine predictions there is no contemporaneous evidence to show. The downfall of Wolsey, the marriage of Henry VIII, with Anne Boleyn, and all the incongruous etceteras, political and historical, down to the great fire of London, had already taken place when this book of "Mother Shipton's Prophecies" was published in 1667. The more credible of these so-called lives also displayed a portrait of the prophetess, which, as you may see from her attire, was that of a person of distinction, there being at that time laws (called sumptuary) for the regulation of attire, prohibiting the use of certain materials and trimmings by certain classes of the community. From the ruff and other decorations in this portrait it would appear that Dame Shipton was a person of good position and of middle age; and I may add that only so recently as eight or ten years back there was a portrait of her in oil extant and in good preservation in the house of a descendant of the same name in North-London - the picture of a remarkably intelligent and clear-eyed woman above the common order.
So far it is evident that Mother Shipton herself is no myth. Prophecies in the true sense of Divine revelation or superhuman knowledge, no longer exist. But some persons possess sagacity and wisdom, with knowledge of life and character, which enable them to give shrewd guesses about people and things, and Dame Shipton may have had a reputation of this sort in her day. Of the ancient prophecies put forth in her name we cannot be so certain; but of the recently published doggerel there can be no doubt. That is a modern concoction and an imposture got up for sale. Moreover, neither Mother Shipton, nor the necromancer Lilly, nor any other human being can predict that terrible hour of which Christ himself hath said, "no man knoweth."
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