The Conjuror’s Magazine
Vol 1 No 7 (February 1792) p.220-224.
Gilbert may have arrived at his numerological interpretation in 1788 as he describes below, but it has clearly been revised and expanded for publication here. There is a reference to the Birmingham riots that led to the burning of Joseph Priestley’s house, which occurred on 14 July 1791. Also, his tone is that of a nascent teacher setting out the stall for his occult philosophical society. Priestley’s attempt to harmonise religion with scientific advances which took the form of unitarianism is attacked by Gilbert, who argues here that the number 666 represents man “acting independently of God”. He advances scriptural support for the idea that knowledge comes from God, from the “Spirit of Truth” and not through experience experiment and reason.
EXPLANATION OF THE NUMBER 666
“HERE is Wisdom, let HIM that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” REVELATIONS, xiii. 18. Mr. John Henderson, whose cometary splendors not long since illuminated the sphere of learning, first called my attention to this number in the year 1788. I went up stairs, and in less than half an hour, returned with the answer I now publish. [E1]
It is a plausible, but imperfect number, and therefore is the number of a man; who, on viewing his superficial unities, aims at doing every thing, and can do nothing. He runs a fine course, says, “What has been, shall be;” but, on opening his last double, down a precipice he falls. [E2]
To determine the nature of 666, I examined what were the properties of a perfect number, viz. the number of a circle, or 360. I found, that it divided into 9 and 3 without a remainder, so did 666. This similarity rendered the last plausible, exclusive of the nature of 3 and 9, which I shall presently explain: but when I divided by 7, I detected the imperfection; for 360 divided by 7, left 3, a perfect and productive and vital number remaining; but 666 thus divided, left only 1, unproductive, dead.
I. THREE is PERFECT, because every entity is necessarily composed of three, beginning, middle, end; innermost, middle, outermost; commencement, progress, conclusion, &c. &c. &c.
II. THREE is PRODUCTIVE, because everything that is perfect (that is perfect in its first principles, in its constitution, and such are all DIVINE Works, and no other), necessarily produces; trees, water &c. all produce. This is particularly noticed in the Mosaical account of the Creation.—We know that what is imperfect, cannot produce, and if imperfection stop production, it shews that perfection is the cause of it; indeed were it not so, it is plain, there could be no Creation.
III. THREE is VITAL, because everything perfect and productive must necessarily have LIFE: production is the act of giving Life, and nobody can give that, which it has not; for production is only the increase of the producer. By the bye, modern philosophy is shamefully ignorant of these first principles.
NINE is a number of inflexible resolution; it is perfection exercised, produced and consummated. It is inflexibly resolved, because, however it extends, it retains its elementary form; no combination of numbers can conceal NINE; only add together the units, which express or compose any number, and you will see immediately, whether their sum-total, order them as you please, will divide or not upon NINE, and if not, what will be the remainder above NINE. One instance is enough, for there is no exception in this rule—360: I say 3 and 6 make nine; combine them as you please, you will not get more or less out of them. This division of 666 into 9, expressed too in this particular instance, by a triple repetition of the same figure, will shew what strong resolutions a man can take: the division by 7, will shew us the effect of these resolutions. There remains one—“How can ONE be warm alone?” [E3]
Why do ye not pluck the fruit of your selfishness, ye generous Britons, ye notable John Bulls, who say “Every man for himself”—there’s your fruit—why don’t you eat it—you shall—I promise you, and that soon, and to gluttony.
ONE is DEAD, because imperfect, it is either a beginning without a middle and an end, a superstructure with no foundation and no props, or a center without radii, a nonentity.—It is evidently unproductive.
Now I have done what was never done before: I have defined the difference between the selfishness of GOD and that of Man; one is grounded on his inherent PERFECTION; his incapability of annihilation: his possession of the principles of production, TRINITY. The other is only resolute on a presumptuous disregard of certain termination, death, inane unity—But I have to explain SEVEN.
SEVEN is a family number, the foundation of the Social Pact. It consists of twice three, man and wife—and a unit, which represents their offspring, not yet capable of production, nor of self-sustenance. We may hence observe, that persons cannot enter into a conjugal state without being perfect: and agreeably to my description here, the perfect state of the Church is always emblematized in Scripture by a conjugal state.
Thus, we may close this head of illustration, by observing, that 360 is a perfect number, and congenial to a perfect figure: for, possessing all the firmness of Deity 40 times (a number, I shall probably find some opportunity of inserting an Essay upon), and running through all the relations of society concluded under that compass, exhibits a PERFECT REMAINDER; a SOLID MIND round which,
Impavidum ferient ruinæ.
[ruin will make no impression]
HOR. Lib. III. Od. 3. [E4]
From these numbers, let us also observe, the difference between the works of Nature and of Art: the first, as I have already slightly observed, are uniformly productive, whether animals, trees, land, water, air, fire: the latter are not only unproductive of themselves, but the last effects of their efforts and experiments on any thing, which has the misfortune to fall under their hands, is to reduce it to caput mortuum [dead residue]. So much for a man, and his number detached from Divinity, in a philosophical view.
I shall now illustrate the meaning I have assigned to this number, on principles of prophecy and Revelation .
That man acting independently of God and Christ, is very Anti-christ, assume he the form of the ascetic or the debauchee, obscured by a mitre or a crown, infamous in philosophy or in persecution—I shall demonstrate:
First to Philosophy, Rev. xiii. 11. to the verse with which I began this Essay—“The Beast had two HORNS like a lamb, and he spake as a Dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast , and causeth the earth and them that dwell therein, to worship the first Beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, SO THAT HE MAKETH FIRE COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN IN THE SIGHT OF MEN,” &c. &c. I fancy the vanity of certain electrical philosophers will not shun the title of Anti-christ, when they can acquire so much more reputation and honour and advantage from the success of their electrical experiments (as is also fully expressed in the succeeding verses), than from the fire of Elijah’s invocation—This last they deem it enthusiastic, (if they knew the meaning of the word, it would not be amiss for such profound fools) to attempt.
To persecution—For the alliance between persecution and philosophy, (i.e. the philosophy of anti-christ) I shall quote the 15th v.—“as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed,” &c. I also quote the Birmingham riots. [E5] “How?” say you—“the philosopher was the persecuted.” Come back with me to the tenth verse and I will explain it, and you will see that scripture des not prophecy by halves. “He that leadeth into captivity, shall go into captivity—he that killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword.” Has not Dr. PRIESTLY’s life been an open war with those, who would shelter humanity under the wings of divinity, as neither vital nor perfect without that protection and union? Has he not avowedly, through his life (his death I should and do say) maintain[ed] what I have described as the principle of anti-christ and of death—viz. MAN’S INDEPENDENCE OF GOD—and the possibility of subsistence when the first cause of existence is removed—the first anti-christ in terms, the second death in effect—the first rebellion, the second folly? Has he not been “a persecutor and injurious?” Has he not under a lamb like frontispiece, emitted the hissings of a dragon? HE HAS.
It also appears from St. John’s Epistle, that he did not consider anti-christ as one man. 1 John ii. 18. “even now there are many anti-christs, they went out from us—BUT they were not of us.” Now attend to the characteristic of the Christian which he instantly gives—“But ye have an UNCTION OF THE HOLY ONE, and ye KNOW  all things. And again v.27. No person is ignorant that this specific distinction of a christian from anti-christ, the teaching spirit, the promised comforter, has been the specific object of modern philosophy’s attacks. Rev. xix. 10. “The testimony of JESUS is the spirit of PROPHECY. St. John xvi. 13.14. “The SPIRIT of truth will guide you into all truth—for he shall nor speak of HIMSELF, but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak, and he will shew you things to come. HE shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you”. I desire, people would call themselves what they are, and not dare to prophane and usurp the name of CHRIST any longer.
I have already extended this paper to such length, and so clearly proved the general principle of man, who abdicates the divinity of his nature, (either in the circuitous details of wild theory and mad practice, or by an express negation of divinity to that personage, by whom alone the secretion has been and is carried on to even the finest capillary vessels of creation) being anti-christ—a fact, which is also undeniable ex vi termini [by force of the term]—that I think it needless to dilate on kings, hermits, clergy, and all the rabble of the ranks, and more particularly as I have taken the fountainhead of folly in philosophers.
Observe I should have classed clergy separately, as they are in Revelations, but they have in general placed themselves in England so completely under the dominion of “the image of the beast”—philosophy; that I should have been wholly inaccurate in attempting to consider their case on religious principles.
Will anyone now doubt, that trinity in unity, and unity in trinity ought to be cultivated? That without it there is NO SALVATION? This has hitherto been a matter of faith—let it now remain as evidence of reason: it has hitherto been a mystery; now it is demonstrated.
Jamque opus exegi, quod nec JOVIS IRA nec IGNES
Nec poterit FERRUM—nec ædax abolere vetustas
Cum volet ILLA dies, &c.
[Now stands my task accomplished, such a work
As not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword
Nor the devouring ages can destroy.
Let when it will, that day …] [E6]
As THREE is the complete number of unity—so there must be a TRIPLE Revelation and dispensation of the divine will to unite MAN to HIM. The first was of the Father, or INVISIBLE DEITY; given, of course by the ministration of Angels; the SECOND of the SON, where the necessary humiliation of Deity becoming visible took place, and nothing farther was done, quoad the world; but this was left to leaven gradually.
THIRD and LAST  is of the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son; THIS PERSONAGE speaks not of himself, but what he hears; GLORIFIES Christ the Son, by taking of HIS, and consequently of the Father’s, John xvi. 14th and 15th , and shewing to the world; that is, does not declare new principles, for that would be recommencing Creation, but developes the old, and brings them to their object, crowning the work; whereby “He also shews things to come,” this being the necessary consequence of throwing open the gates of a future and eternal state. The distinguishing trait in the manifestation of this Spirit, is TRUTH—He is called the “Spirit of TRUTH”—Now , this is a character which cannot be forged; and it is also a power that cannot be withstood, Luke xxi. 15. In the manifestation of the Son, the weakness of human eyes were considered, and they had time allowed them to open, mercy being the principle of it: In the last, those eyes which cannot see must be blinded, Luke xii. 10. for the rays must not be withdrawn, nor even softened: they must burst with all their splendour, and where they do not illumine, burn—its principle being to GLORIFY, (John, xvi. 14) to CONQUER, to DECIDE, and to COMMAND. Rev. xix. 11, and sequel.
 Acknowledged Anti-christ, so this is only another form.
 Knowledge in Scripture, is always opposed to speculation, and used to express certainty and palpable experience, John, iii. to v. 11 inclusive. 1 John i. 1-5. This is the only correct use of the word; and so Pope—
What can we reason but from what we know? [Alexander Pope, Essay on Man 1. 18]
 John xiv. 16.
[E1] John Henderson. In 1788 Gilbert was a patient in Richard Henderson’s asylum for the insane at Hanham, near Bristol. John Henderson, the owner’s son, was to die on 2 November of that year aged 31. He was said to have taught Latin at Kingswood School at the age of eight, and Greek at Treveca, an evangelical theological college, at the age of 12. His brilliance and promise became widely known and an education at Pembroke College Oxford was funded by evangelical well-wishers such as Dean Tucker and Hannah More. Henderson would not dance to his sponsors tune and remained fiercely independent to the point of eccentricity, and after leaving Oxford he spent his time at his father’s house in Hanham pursuing the metaphysical interests (astrology, Hermetic Christian occultism) that so annoyed his sponsors, and helping his adoring father with patients such as Gilbert. Given that the chief symptom of Gilbert’s breakdown was overheated religious mania, John Henderson’s invitation to decode 666 is either grossly irresponsible, or a sign that the extent of Gilbert’s mental illness has been exaggerated. (A fuller note about John Henderson will be added in due course – for the time being more information is available in the Oxford DNB, where the article by James Sambrook is sympathetic and accurate and gives known sources).
[E2] Double - “a sharp turn in running as of a hunted hare” OED.
[E3] Ecclesiastes 4:11. “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?”.
[E4] I have adapted the translation in the main text. The full passage, which Gilbert would expect the reader to know, goes: Si fractus illabatur orbis / impavidum ferient ruinae. “If the firmament were to split and crash down upon him, he will still be unafraid when hit by the wreckage”. Horace Odes III.3, 7-8. Tr. Niall Rudd (Loeb Classics). Horace is describing how a person of superior mind remains steadfast even in disaster.
[E5] The Birmingham riots are referred to in the headnote. A Church and King mob burned Priestley’s house on 14 July 1791 during the heated aftermath of the French Revolution when all Jacobin sympathisers were labelled as traitors by those who saw the Revolution as a threat to the British king. Gilbert’s position is paradoxical. He was (like Priestley) a passionate supporter of the Revolution – his beef with Priestley is theological.
[E6] This bold proclamation comes from Ovid’s epilogue to Metamorphoses. (15: 871-3) Tr. A D Melville, Oxford UP, 1986.