« PreviousContinue »
convinced of Mr. Bickerstaff's ignorance. He replied, I am a poor ignorant fellow, bred to a mean trade, yet I have sense enough to know, that all pretences of foretelling by astrology are deceits, for this manisest reason, because the wise and the learned, who can only judge whether there be any truth in this science, do all unanimously agree to laugh at and despise it; and none but the poor ignorant vulgar give it any credit, and that only upon the word of such silly wretches as I and my fellows, who can hardly write or read. I then asked him why he had not calculated his own nativity, to see whether it agreed with Bickerstaff's prediction? At which he shook bis head, and said, Oh! sir, this is no time for jesting, but for repenting those fooleries, as I do now from the very bottom of my heart. By what I can gather from you, said I, the observations and predictions you printed with your almanacs, were mere impositions on the people. He replied, If it were otherwise, I should have the less to answer for. We have a common form for all those things; as to foretelling the weather, we never meddle with that, but leave it to the printer, who takes it out of any old almanac, as he thinks fit; the rest was my own invention to make my almanac sell, having a wise to maintain, and no other way to get my bread; for mending old shoes is a poor livelihood ; and (added he, sighing) I wish I may not have done more mischief by my physic than my astrology ; though I had some good receipts from my grandmother, and my own compositions were such, as I thought, could at least do no hurt.
I had some other discourse with him, which now I cannot call to mind; and I fear I have already tired your lordship. I shal only add one circumstance, that on his death-bed he declared hiir. self a nonconformist, and had a fanatic preacher to be his spiritur! guide. After half an hour's conversation I took my leave, being almost stifled by the closeness of the room. I imagined he could not bold out long, and therefore withdrew to a little coffee-house hard by, leaving a servant at the house with orders to come im. mediately, and tell me, as near as he could, the minute when Partridge should expire, which was not above two hours after; when, looking upon my watch, I found it to be above five minutes after seven: by which it is clear that Mr. Bickerstaff was mistaken al. most four hours in his calculation. In the other circumstances he was exact enough. But whether he hath not been the cause of this poor man's death, as well as the predictor, may be very reasouably disputed. However, it must be confessed, the matter is odd enough, whether we should endeavor to account for it by chance, or the effect of imagination : for my own part, though I believe no man hath less faith in these matters, yet I shall wait with some impatience, and not without some expectation, the fui. 6lling of M- Bickerstaff's second prediction, that the Cardinal de
Noailles is to die upon the fourth of April, and if that should be verified as exactly as this of poor Partridge, I must own I should be wholly surprised, and at a loss, and should infallibly expect the accomplishment of all the rest.
It is amusing to think what a large number of persons at the time actually believed the accomplislıment liad taken place in all respects accoriling to the relation. The wits of the time, too, among whom were Steele and Arldison, supported Swift, and uniformly affirmed that Partridge had died on the day and hour predicted. The distress and vexation of Partridge himself were beyou. all measure ridiculous, and he absolutely had the folly to insert the following advertisement at the close of his next year's almanac
“Whereas it has been industriously given out by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., and others, to prevent the sale of this year's almanac, that John Partridge is dead: this may inform all his loving countrymen, that he is still living, in health ; and they are knaves that reported it otherwise."|
The most interesting account, however, of the singularly comic consequences of this prediction was drawn up by the Rev. Dr. Yalden, Mr. Partridge's neighbor, of whom, as connected with this humorous affair, I will give a short ac count, succeeding Swift, though it be not in exact chronological order.
Though Swift wrote much that ranks under poetry, yet he had none of the characteristics of a true poet-nothing of the sublime or the tender; nothing, in short, that reaches or affects the heart. “It could scarcely be expected," says a critic, “ that an irreligious divine, a heartiess politician, and a selfish lover, could possess the elements of true poetry; and, therefore, Swift may be considered rather as a rhymer than a poet." This is true; as he himseli says in the “ Verses on his own Death:''
“The Dean was famous in his time,
And had a kind of knack at rhyme " This “ knack” he had in a very eminent degree—the “ knack" of wri:ing aasy, natural rhymes-of using just the very words in verse that any one Wuuld select as the best in prose. In proof of which, take the followiúk ve ection
BAUCIS AND PHILEMON.
It happend on a winter night,
Our wandering saints, in woful state,
I Drake'. Essaye, vol. I. p. 4
Having through all the village pass'do
Then softly turn d aside to view
They scarce had spoke, when fair and son
The chimney widen'd, and grew higher; Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
A wooden Jack, which had almost
The flier, thoigh 't bad leaden feen
The groining-chair began in crawl,
The porringers, that in a row
The ballads, pasted on the wall,
A bedstead of the antique mode,
The cottage by such feats as these
He spoke, and presently he feels
1 The tribes of Israel are sometimes distinguished in country cho rebes by the opsigns given to them by Jacob.
But, being old, continued just
Thus having furbish it up a parson,
Thus happy in their change of life
Description would but tire my mise;
Old Goodman Dobson of the green