The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/Predictions For the Year 1708, By Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.



THE YEAR 1708:


I HAVE considered the gross abuse of astrology in this kingdom, and upon debating the matter with myself, I could not possibly lay the fault upon the art, but upon those gross impostors, who set up to be the artists. I know several learned men have contended, that the whole is a cheat; that it is absurd and ridiculous to imagine, the stars can have any influence at all upon human actions, thoughts, or inclinations; and whoever has not bent his studies that way, may be excused for thinking so, when he sees in how wretched a manner that noble art is treated, by a few mean illiterate traders between us and the stars; who import a yearly stock of nonsense, lies, folly, and impertinence, which they offer to the world as genuine from the planets, though they descend from no greater a height than their own brains.

I intend, in a short time, to publish a large and rational defence of this art, and therefore shall say no more in its justification at present, than that it has been in all ages defended by many learned men, and among the rest by Socrates himself; whom I look upon as undoubtedly the wisest of uninspired mortals: to which if we add, that those who have condemned this art, though otherwise learned, having been such as either did not apply their studies this way, or at least did not succeed in their applications, their testimony will not be of much weight to its disadvantage, since they are liable to the common objection, of condemning what they did not understand.

Nor[3] am I at all offended, or[3] do I think it an injury to the art, when I see the common dealers in it, the students in astrology, the philomaths, and the rest of that tribe, treated by wise men with the utmost scorn and contempt; but I rather wonder, when I observe gentlemen in the country, rich enough to serve the nation in parliament, poring in Partridge's almanack, to find out the events of the year, at home and abroad; not daring to propose a hunting match, till Gadbury[4] or he have fixed the weather.

I will allow either of the two I have mentioned, or any other of the fraternity, to be not only astrologers, but conjurers too, if I do not produce a hundred instances in all their almanacks, to convince any reasonable man, that they do not so much as understand common grammar and syntax; that they are not able to spell any word out of the usual road, nor, even in their prefaces, to write common sense, or intelligible English. Then, for their observations and predictions, they are such as will equally suit any age or country in the world, "This month a certain great person will be threatened with death or sickness." This the newspapers will tell them; for there we find at the end of the year, that no month passes without the death of some person of note; and it would be hard, if it should be otherwise, when there are at least two thousand persons of note in this kingdom, many of them old, and the almanackmaker has the liberty of choosing the sickliest season of the year, where he may fix his prediction. Again, "this month an eminent clergyman will be preferred;" of which there may be many hundreds, half of them with one foot in the grave. Then, "such a planet in such a house shows great machinations, plots, and conspiracies, that may in time be brought to light:" after which, if we hear of any discovery, the astrologer gets the honour; if not, his predictions still stand good. And at last, "God preserve king William from all his open and secret enemies, Amen." When if the king should happen to have died, the astrologer plainly foretold it; otherwise it passes but for the pious ejaculation of a loyal subject: though it unluckily happened in some of their almanacks, that poor king William was prayed for many months after he was dead, because it fell out, that he died about the beginning of the year.

To mention no more of their impertinent predictions, what have we to do with their advertisements about "pills and drink for the venereal disease?" or their mutual quarrels in verse and prose of whig and tory, wherewith the stars have little to do?

Having long observed and lamented these, and a hundred other abuses of this art too tedious to repeat, I resolved to proceed in a new way, which I doubt not will be to the general satisfaction of the kingdom: I can this year produce but a specimen of what I design for the future; having employed most part of my time, in adjusting and correcting the calculations I made some years past, because I would offer nothing to the world, of which I am not as fully satisfied, as that I am now alive. For these two last years I have not failed in above one or two particulars, and those of no very great moment. I exactly foretold the miscarriage at Toulon, with all its particulars; and the loss of admiral Shovel[5], though I was mistaken as to the day, placing that article about thirty-six hours sooner than it happened; but upon reviewing my schemes, I quickly found the cause of that errour. I likewise foretold the battle of Almanza[6] to the very day and hour, with the loss on both sides, and the consequences thereof. All which I showed to some friends many months before they happened; that is, I gave them papers sealed up, to open at such a time, after which they were at liberty to read them; and there they found my predictions true in every article, except one or two very minute.

As for the few following predictions I now offer the world, I forbore to publish them, till I had perused the several almanacks for the year we are now entered upon. I found them all in the usual strain, and I beg the reader will compare their manner with mine: and here I make bold to tell the world, that I lay the whole credit of my art upon the truth of these predictions; and I will be content, that Partridge, and the rest of his clan, may hoot me for a cheat and impostor, if I fail in any single particular of moment. I believe, any man who reads this paper, will look upon me to be at least a person of as much honesty and understanding, as a common maker of almanacks. I do not lurk in the dark; I am not wholly unknown in the world; I have set my name at length to be a mark of infamy to mankind, if they shall find I deceive them.

In one thing I must desire to be forgiven, that I talk more sparingly of home affairs: It would be imprudence to discover secrets of state, so it might be dangerous to my person; but in smaller matters, and such as are not of publick consequence, I shall be very free: and the truth of my conjectures will as much appear from these as the other. As for the most signal events abroad in France, Flanders, Italy, and Spain, I shall make no scruple to predict them in plain terms: some of them are of importance, and I hope I shall seldom mistake the day they will happen; therefore, I think good to inform the reader, that I shall all along make use of the old style observed in England, which I desire he will compare with that of the newspapers, at the time they relate the actions I mention.

I must add one word more: I know it has been the opinion of several learned persons, who think well enough of the true art of astrology, that the stars do only incline, and not force the actions or wills of men: and therefore, however I may proceed by right rules, yet I cannot in prudence;, so confidentially assure the events will follow exactly as I predict them.

I hope I have maturely considered this objection, which in some cases is of no little weight. For example: a man may, by the influence of an overruling planet, be disposed or inclined to lust, rage, or avarice, and yet by the force of reason overcome that evil influence; and this was the case of Socrates: but the great events of the world, usually depending upon numbers of men, it cannot be expected they should all unite to cross their inclinations, for pursuing a general design, wherein they unanimously agree. Besides, the influence of the stars reaches to many actions and events, which are not any way in the power of reason; as sickness, death, and what we commonly call accidents, with many more needless to repeat.

But now it is time to proceed to my predictions, which I have begun to calculate from the time that the sun enters into Aries. And this I take to be properly the beginning of the natural year. I pursue them to the time, that he enters Libra, or somewhat more, which is the busy period of the year. The remainder I have not yet adjusted, upon account of several impediments needless here to mention: besides, I must remind the reader again, that this is but a specimen of what I design in succeeding years to treat more at large, if I may have liberty and encouragement.

My first prediction is but a trifle, yet I will mention it, to show how ignorant those sottish pretenders to astrology are in their own concerns: it relates to Partridge the almanackmaker; I have consulted the star of his nativity by my own rules, and find he will infallibly die upon the 29th of March next, about eleven at night, of a raging fever; therefore I advise him to consider of it, and settle his affairs in time.

The month of April will be observable for the death of many great persons. On the 4th will die the cardinal de Noailles, archbishop of Paris: on the 11th the young prince of Asturias, son to the duke of Anjou: on the 14th a great peer of this realm will die at his country house: on the 19th an old layman of great fame for learning: and on the 23d an eminent goldsmith in Lombard street. I could mention others, both at home and abroad, if I did not consider such events of very little use or instruction to the reader, or to the world.

As to publick affairs: on the 7th of this month there will be an insurrection in Dauphine, occasioned by the oppressions of the people, which will not be quieted in some months.

On the 15th will be a violent storm on the south-east coast of France, which will destroy many of their ships, and some in the very harbour.

The 19th will be famous for the revolt of a whole province or kingdom, excepting one city, by which the affairs of a certain prince in the alliance will take a better face.

May, against common conjectures, will be no very busy month in Europe, but very signal for the death of the dauphin, which will happen on the 7th, after a short fit of sickness and grievous torments with the strangury. He dies less lamented by the court than the kingdom.

On the 9th a mareschal of France will break his leg by a fall from his horse. I have not been able to discover whether he will then die or not.

On the 11th will begin a most important siege, which the eyes of all Europe will be upon: I cannot be more particular: for, in relating affairs that so nearly concern the confederates, and consequently this kingdom, I am forced to confine myself, for several reasons very obvious to the reader.

On the 15th news will arrive of a very surprising event, than which nothing can be more unexpected.

On the 19th three noble ladies of this kingdom will, against all expectation, prove with child, to the great joy of their husbands.

On the 23d a famous buffoon of the playhouse will die a ridiculous death, suitable to his vocation.

June. This month will be distinguished at home, by the utter dispersing of those ridiculous deluded enthusiasts, commonly called the prophets[7]; occasioned chiefly by seeing the time come, when many of their prophecies should be fulfilled, and then finding themselves deceived by contrary events. It is indeed to be admired, how any deceiver can be so weak to foretel things near at hand, when a very few months must of necessity discover the imposture to all the world; in this point less prudent than common almanackmakers, who are so wise to wander in generals, and talk dubiously, and leave to the reader the business of interpreting.

On the first of this month a French General will be killed by a random shot of a cannon-ball.

On the 6th a fire will break out in the suburbs of Paris, which will destroy above a thousand houses; and seems to be the foreboding of what will happen, to the surprise of all Europe, about the end of the following month.

On the 10th a great battle will be fought, which will begin at four of the clock in the afternoon; and last till nine at night with great obstinacy, but no very decisive event. I shall not name the place, for the reasons aforesaid; but the commanders on each left wing will be killed. I see bonfires, and hear the noise of guns for a victory.

On the 14th there will be a false report of the French king's death.

On the 20th cardinal Portocarero will die of a dysentery, with great suspicion of poison; but the report of his intention to revolt to king Charles will prove false.

July. The 6th of this month, a certain general will, by a glorious action, recover the reputation he lost by former misfortunes.

On the 12th a great commander will die a prisoner in the hands of his enemies.

On the 14th a shameful discovery will be made of a French jesuit, giving poison to a great foreign general; and when he is put to the torture, he will make wonderful discoveries.

In short this will prove a month of great action, if I might have liberty to relate the particulars.

At home the death of an old famous senator will happen on the 15th at his country house worn out with age and diseases.

But that which will make this month memorable to all posterity, is the death of the French king, Lewis the Fourteenth, after a week's sickness at Marli, which will happen on the 29th, about six o'clock in the evening. It seems to be an effect of the gout in the stomach, followed by a flux. And in three days after monsieur Chamillard will follow his master, dying suddenly of an apoplexy.

In this month likewise an ambassador will die in London; but I cannot assign the day.

August. The affairs of France will seem to suffer no change for a while under the duke of Burgundy's administration; but the genius that animated the whole machine being gone, will be the cause of mighty turns and revolutions in the following year. The new king makes yet little change either in the the army or the ministry; but the libels against his grandfather, that fly about his very court, give him uneasiness.

I see an express in mighty haste, with joy and wonder in his looks, arriving by break of day on the 26th of this month, having travelled in three days a prodigious journey by land and sea. In the evening I hear bells and guns, and see the blazing of a thousand bonfires.

A young admiral of noble birth does likewise this month gain immortal honour by a great achievement.

The affairs of Poland are this month entirely settled: Augustus resigns his pretensions, which he had again taken up for some time; Stanislaus is peaceably possessed of the throne; and the king of Sweden declares for the emperor.

I cannot omit one particular accident here at home; that near the end of this month much mischief will be done at Bartholomew fair, by the fall of a booth.

September. This month begins with a very surprising fit of frosty weather, which will last near twelve days.

The pope having long languished last month, the swellings in his legs breaking, and the flesh mortifying, will die on the lith instant; and in three weeks time, after a mighty contest, be succeeded by a cardinal of the imperial faction, but a native of Tuscany, who is now about sixty-one years old.

The French army now acts wholly on the defensive, strongly fortified in their trenches; and the young French king sends overtures for a treaty of peace by the duke of Mantua; which, because it is a matter of state, that concerns us here at home, I shall speak no farther of.

I shall add but one prediction more, and that in mystical terms, which shall be included in a verse out of Virgil,

Alter erit jam Tethys, et altera quæ vehat Argo
Delectos heroas.

Upon the 25th day of this month, the fulfilling of this prediction will be manifest to every body.

This is the farthest I have proceeded in my calculations for the present year. I do not pretend, that these are all the great events, which will happen in this period, but that those I have set down will infallibly come to pass. It will perhaps still be objected, why I have not spoke more particularly of affairs at home, or of the success of our armies abroad, which I might, and could very largely have done; but those in power have wisely discouraged men from meddling in publick concerns, and I was resolved by no means to give the least offence. This I will venture to say, that it will be a glorious campaign for the allies, wherein the English forces, both by sea and land, still have their full share of honour: that her majesty queen Anne will continue in health and pnpsperity: and that no ill accident will arrive to any in the chief ministry.

As to the particular events I have mentioned, the reader may judge by the fulfilling of them, whether I am on the level with common astrologers; who, with an old paltry cant, and a few pothooks for planets to amuse the vulgar, have, in my opinion, too long been suffered to abuse the world: but an honest physician ought not to be despised, because there are such things as mountebanks. I hope I have some share of reputation, which I would not willingly forfeit for a frolick or humour: and I believe no gentleman who reads this paper, will look upon it to be of the same cast or mould with the common scribbles, that are every day hawked about. My fortune has placed me above the little regard of writing for a few pence, which I neither value or want[8]: therefore let not wise men too hastily condemn this essay, intended for a good design, to cultivate and improve an ancient art, long in disgrace by having fallen into mean unskilful hands. A little time will determine whether I have deceived others or myself: and I think it no very unreasonable request, that men would please to suspend their judgments till then. I was once of the opinion with those, who despise all predictions from the stars, till the year 1686, a man of quality showed me, written in his album[9], that the most learned astronomer, captain Halley, assured him, he would never believe any thing of the stars influence, if there were not a great revolution in England in the year 1688. Since that time I began to have other thoughts, and after eighteen years diligent study and application, I think I have no reason to repent of my pains. I shall detain the reader no longer, than to let him know, that the account I design to give of next year's events, shall take in the principal affairs that happen in Europe; and if I be denied the liberty of offering it to my own country, I shall appeal to the learned world, by publishing it in Latin, and giving order to have it printed in Holland.

  1. This tract was burnt by the Inquisition in Portugal.
  2. Dr. Swift, when he had written these predictions, being at a loss what name to prefix to them, observed a sign over a house where a locksmith dwelt, and found the name of Bickerstaff written under it; which being a name somewhat uncommon, he chose to call himself Isaac Bickerstaff. The name was afterward adopted by Mr. Steele, as author of the Tatler.
  3. 3.0 3.1 In the use of these disjunctive particles, writers have been very inaccurate, using the negative in one part of the sentence, and the affirmative in the other, as in the above instance. ' Nor am I at all offended, or do I think,' &c. It should be, ' nor do I think,' &c. The affirmative should always be followed by an affirmative, the negative by a negative. It should be, either, or; neither, nor.
  4. John Gadbury, who was bred a tailor at Oxford, was enabled, by the instructions of Lilly, to set up the trade of almanackmaking and fortunetelling for himself. His pen was employed for many years on nativities, almanacks, and prodigies. He was living in 1690; and was thought to be alive for many years after his decease, as his name continued to be fixed to an almanack similar to that which was published in his lifetime. "The Black Life of John Gadbury" was written by Partridge.
  5. Sir Cloudesly Shovel's fleet was wrecked Oct. 22, 1710.
  6. The battle of Almanza was fought April 25, 1727.
  7. About this time there were some English and French jesuits from Rome, sent to Great Britain and Ireland, to divide and distract the people with enthusiastick principles of religion, in opposition to the established Church. These called themselves French prophets, pretended to inspiration, and deluded many people out of their money as well as reason; but were soon detected as impostors, and obliged to leave the kingdom upon their being found out to be jesuits in disguise. They occasioned several publications, in and about 1708, by sir Richard Bulkeley, Dr. Woodward, John Lacy esq., Mr. Henry Nicholson, and others. Dr. Berkeley, afterward bishop of Cloyne, saw a jesuit at Rome, who acknowledged himself to have been one of these prophets.
  8. 'Which I neither value, or want'. Here the disjunctive negative neither, is followed by the affirmative, or; which is improper. It should be, 'which I neither value, nor want.'
  9. Album, is the name of a paper book, in which it was usual for a man's friends to write down a sentence with their names, to keep them in his remembrance; it is still common in some of the foreign universities.