One of the oddest bits of prophecy about 1999 originated from an unlikely source: Florence Nightingale. Although better known for her pioneering role in field of nursing, Nightingale also dabbled in some noteworthy—you might even say clairvoyant—crystal-ball gazing.
One article in particular, composed after the total solar eclipse in 1873, represents a striking bit of prognostication.
Written for Fraser’s magazine, the composition “What Will Be Our Religion in 1999?” featured uncanny musings by the so-called “Lady with the Lamp” including cryptic references to revolutions and world wars to come.
“How it will be with any one of our homes or institutions on August 11, 1999, at ten o’clock in the morning? (for I would not be particular to a minute),” she writes. “One thing is certain, none who now live will then be living.”
On that rather-ominous sounding note, the celebrated Victorian reformer launches into a sweeping polemic that uses the 1999 solar eclipse as the jumping off point for a series of penetrating observations.
Unquestionably, the most striking statement in the entire essay is Nightingale’s eerily prescient forecast that “great revolutions” may occur in the 20th Century; in particular, that a war with “North Germany and Italy against all comers” could transpire.
Was a Nightingale a mystic? Or was she just a keen observer with a peculiar gift for making foreboding statements? Author Barbara Dossey leans toward the former. “Yes, Nightingale was a profound mystic,” Dossey claims, explaining, “She received her first call from god at age 16.”
In her biography, Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer, Dossey details Nightingale’s fascinating life—her service to the sick and the poor despite her own wealthy background; the extraordinary ease she exhibited working in a man’s world; her determination to keep working despite crippling illness; and her dogged belief in taking social action for the common good of all, regardless of race, religion or color.
She also looks at Nightingale’s mysticism. “Her God was not a white male who spoke only English,” explains Dossey, “but a Universal Truth permeating all the religions…spirituality was the unifying force in her life. It infused every thing she thought and did in her long life of 90 years.”
Piety and false compassion are thematic undercurrents in Nightingale’s essay. “Before 1999 we may be left without a Religion,” she writes and then asks “shall it be backward, to idolatry, superstition, and bigotry; or stand still at stupidity, indifference, and hardening routine…or earthward…to trifling or sensual amusements?
At times, Nightingale sounds like a participant in today’s “culture wars,” insisting, for example, that “freedom is not doing as we like, not everybody following his or her own way…Self-control gives ‘freedom,’ but a person who has no control (cannot) have freedom.”
“It is no use talking about the ‘kingdom of heaven within,'” she continues, “if our home is a nest of jarring or thoughtless elements, every member trying to do as he or she likes…to get all they can of pleasure or amusement out of this poor earth, giving nothing back.”
At times, Nightingale sounds discouraged. “Have you not the elements of an awful future?” she asks, “Awful not merely in the sense of terrible, but as big with the fate of awe-inspiring events?”
But by the end of the essay she strikes a redemptory note: “What 1999 will be, whether all these things are the same then as now or worse, or better, depends, of course…upon what we are doing now, or upon what we are not doing now.”
Throughout the sometimes witty, sometimes profound essay, Nightingale keeps asking: “What will this world be on August 11, 1999?” Finally, at the end, she provides an answer: “What we have made it.”