The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/Squire Bickerstaff Detected
'SQUIRE BICKERSTAFF DETECTED;
ASTROLOGICAL IMPOSTOR CONVICTED:
STUDENT IN PHYSICK AND ASTROLOGY.
IT is hard, my dear countrymen of these united nations, it is very hard, that a Briton born, a protestant astrologer, a man of revolution principles, an assertor of the liberty and property of the people, should cry out in vain for justice against a Frenchman, a papist, and an illiterate pretender to science, that would blast my reputation, most inhumanly bury me alive, and defraud my native country of those services, which in my double capacity, I daily offer the publick.
What great provocations I have received, let the impartial reader judge, and how unwillingly, even in my own defence, I now enter the lists against falsehood, ignorance, and envy: but I am exasperated, at length, to drag out this Cacus from the den of obscurity where he lurks, detect him by the light of those stars he has so impudently traduced, and show there is not a monster in the skies so pernicious and malevolent to mankind, as an ignorant pretender to physick and astrology. I shall not directly fall on the many gross errours, nor expose the notorious absurdities of this prostitute libeller, till I have let the learned world fairly into the controversy depending, and then leave the unprejudiced to judge of the merits and justice of my cause.
It was toward the conclusion of the year 1707, when an impudent pamphlet crept into the world, entitled, Predictions, &c. by Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. among the many arrogant assertions laid down by that lying spirit of divination, he was pleased to pitch on the cardinal de Noailies and myself, among many other eminent and illustrious persons, that were to die within the compass of the ensuing year; and peremptorily fixes the month, day, and hour of our deaths: this, I think, is sporting with great men, and publick spirits, to the scandal of religion, and reproach of power; and if sovereign princes and astrologers must make diversion for the vulgar — why then farewel, say I, to all governments, ecclesiastical and civil. But, I thank my better stars, I am alive to confront this false and audacious predictor, and to make him rue the hour he ever affronted a man of science and resentment. The cardinal may take what measures he pleases with him; as his excellency is a foreigner, and a papist, he has no reason to rely on me for his justification; I shall only assure the world he is alive: —— but as he was bred to letters, and is master of a pen, let him use it in his own defence. In the mean time I shall present the publick with a faithful narrative of the ungenerous treatment and hard usage I have received, from the virulent papers, and malicious practices, of this pretended astrologer.
A true and impartial account of the proceedings of Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. against me.
The 28th of March, anno Dom. 1708, being the night this sham prophet had so impudently fixed for my last, which made little impression on myself; but I cannot answer for my whole family; for my wife, with concern more than usual, prevailed on me to take somewhat to sweat for a cold; and, between the hours of eight and nine, to go to bed: the maid, as she was warming my bed, with a curiosity natural to young wenches, runs to the window, and asks of one passing the street, who the bell tolled for? Dr. Partridge, says he, the famous almanackmaker, who died suddenly this evening: the poor girl provoked told him, he lied like a rascal: the other very sedately replied, the sexton had so informed him; and if false, he was to blame for imposing upon a stranger. She asked a second, and a third, as they passed, and every one was in the same tone. Now, I do not say these are accomplices to a certain astrological 'squire, and that one Bickerstaff might be sauntering thereabout, because I will assert nothing here, but what I dare attest for plain matter of fact. My wife at this fell into a violent disorder; and I must own I was a little discomposed at the oddness of the accident. In the mean time one knocks at my door; Betty runs down, and opening, finds a sober grave person, who modestly inquires, if this was Dr. Partridge's? she taking him for some cautious city patient, that came at that time for privacy, shows him into the diningroom. As soon as I could compose myself, I went to him, and was surprised to find my gentleman mounted on a table with a twofoot rule in his hand, measuring my walls, and taking the dimensions of the room. Pray, sir, says I, not to interrupt you, have you any business with me? only, sir, replies he, order the girl to bring me a better light, for this is but a very dim one. Sir, says I, my name is Partridge: O! the, doctor's brother, belike, cries he; the staircase, I believe, and these two apartments hung in close mourning, will be sufficient, and only a strip of bays round the other rooms. The doctor must needs die rich, he had great dealings in his way for many years; if he had no family coat, you had as good use the escutcheons of the company, they are as showish, and will look as magnificent, as if he was descended from the blood-royal. With that I assumed a greater air of authority, and demanded who employed him, or how he came there? Why, I was sent, sir, by the company of undertakers, says he, and they were employed by the honest gentleman, who is executor to the good doctor departed; and our rascally porter, I believe, is fallen fast asleep with the black cloth and sconces, or he had been here, and we might have been tacking up by this time. Sir, says I, pray be advised by a friend, and make the best of your speed out of my doors, for I hear my wife's voice, (which by the by, is pretty distinguishable) and in that corner of the room stands a good cudgel, which somebody has felt before now; if that light in her hands, and she know the business you come about, without consulting the stars, I can assure you it will be employed very much to the detriment of your person. Sir, cries he, bowing with great civility, I perceive extreme grief for the loss of the doctor disorders you a little at present, but early in the morning I will wait on you with all the necessary materials. Now I mention no Mr. Bickerstaff; nor do I say, that a certain star-gazing 'squire has been playing my executor before his time; but I leave the world to judge, and he that puts things and things fairly together, will not be much wide of the mark.
Well, once more I got my doors closed, and prepared for bed in hopes of a little repose after so many ruffing adventures; just as I was putting out my light in order to it, another bounces as hard as he can knock; I open the window, and ask who is there, and what he wants? I am Ned the sexton, replies he, and come to know whether the doctor left any orders for a funeral sermon, and where he is to be laid, and whether his grave is to be plain or bricked? Why, sirrah, says I, you know me well enough; you know I am not dead, and how dare you affront me after this manner? Alackaday, sir, replies the fellow, why it is in print, and the whole town knows you are dead; why, there is Mr. White the joiner is but fitting screws to your coffin, he will be here with it in an instant: he was afraid you would have wanted it before this time. Sirrah, sirrah, says I, you shall know tomorrow to your cost, that I am alive, and alive like to be. Why, it is strange, sir, says he, you should make such a secret of your death to us that are your neighbours; it looks as if you had a design to defraud the church of its dues; and let me tell you, for one that has lived so long by the heavens, that is unhandsomely done. Hist, hist, says another rogue that stood by him; away, doctor, into your flannel gear as fast as you can, for here is a whole pack of dismals coming to you with their black equipage, and how indecent will it look for you to stand frighting folks at your window, when you should have been in your coffin this three hours? In short, what with undertakers, embalmers, joiners, sextons, and your damned elegy hawkers upon a late practitioner in physick and astrology, I got not one wink of sleep that night, nor scarce a moment's rest ever since. Now I doubt not but this villanous squire has the impudence to assert, that these are entirely strangers to him; he, good man, knows nothing of the matter, and honest Isaac Bickerstaff, I warrant you, is more a man of honour, than to be an accomplice with a pack of rascals, that walk the streets on nights, and disturb good people in their beds; but he is out, if he thinks the whole world is blind; for there is one John Partridge can smell a knave as far as Grub street, — although he lies in the most exalted garret, and writes himself 'squire: — but I will keep my temper, and proceed in the narration.
I could not stir out of doors for the space of three months after this, but presently one comes up to me in the street; Mr. Partridge, that coffin you was last buried in, I have not been yet paid for: doctor, cries another dog, how do you think people can live by making of graves for nothing? next time you die, you may even toll out the bell yourself for Ned. A third rogue tips me by the elbow, and wonders, how I have the conscience to sneak abroad without paying my funeral expenses. Lord, says one, I durst have swore that was honest Dr. Partridge, my old friend; but, poor man, he is gone. I beg your pardon, says another, you look so like my old acquaintance, that I used to consult on some private occasions: but, alack, he is gone the way of all flesh —— Look, look, look, cries a third, after a competent space of staring at me, would not one think our neighbour the almanackmaker was crept out of his grave, to take the other peep at the stars in this world, and show how much he is improved in fortunetelling, by having taken a journey to the other?
Nay, the very reader of our parish, a good, sober, discreet person, has sent two or three times for me to come and be buried decently, or send him sufficient reasons to the contrary; or, if I have been interred in any other parish, to produce my certificate, as the act requires. My poor wife is run almost distracted with being called widow Partridge, when she knows it is false; and once a term she is cited into the court to take out letters of administration. But the greatest grievance is, a paltry quack, that takes up my calling just under my nose, and in his printed directions with N. B. — says, he lives in the house of the late ingenious Mr. John Partridge, an eminent practitioner in leather, physick, and astrology.
But to show how far the wicked spirit of envy, malice and resentment can hurry some men, my nameless old persecutor had provided me a monument at the stonecutter's, and would have erected it in the parish church; and this piece of notorious and expensive villany had actually succeeded, if I had not used my utmost interest with the vestry, where it was carried at last but by two voices, that I am alive. That stratagem failing, out comes a long sable elegy, bedecked with hourglasses, mattocks, sculls, spades, and skeletons, with an epitaph as confidently written to abuse me and my profession, as if I had been under ground these twenty years.
And after such barbarous treatment as this, can the world blame me, when I ask, what is become of the freedom of an Englishman? and where is the liberty and property, that my old glorious friend came over to assert? we have drove popery out of the nation, and sent slavery to foreign climes. The arts only remain in bondage, when a man of science and character shall be openly insulted, in the midst of the many useful services he is daily paying the publick. Was it ever heard, even in Turkey or Algiers, that a state astrologer was bantered out of his life by an ignorant impostor, or bawled out of the world by a pack of villanous, deep-mouthed hawkers? though I print almanacks, and publish advertisements; though I produce certificates under the ministers and churchwardens hands I am alive, and attest the same on oath at quarter sessions, out comes a full and true relation of the death and interment of John Partridge; truth is bore down, attestations neglected, the testimony of sober persons despised, and a man is looked upon by his neighbours as if he had been seven years dead, and is buried alive in the midst of his friends and acquaintance.
Now can any man of common sense think it consistent with the honour of my profession, and not much beneath the dignity of a philosopher, to stand bawling before his own door? — alive! alive! ho! the famous Dr. Partridge! no counterfeit, but all alive! —— as if I had the twelve celestial monsters of the zodiack to show within, or was forced for a livelihood to turn retailer to May and Bartholomew fairs. Therefore, if her Majesty would but graciously be pleased to think a hardship of this nature worthy her royal consideration, and the next parliament, in their great wisdom, cast but an eye toward the deplorable case of their old philomath, that annually bestows his good wishes on them, I am sure there is one Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. would soon be trussed up for his bloody predictions, and putting good subjects in terrour of their lives: and that henceforward to murder a man by way of prophecy, and bury him in a printed letter, either to a lord or commoner, shall as legally entitle him to the present possession of Tyburn, as if he robbed on the highway, or cut your throat in bed.
I shall demonstrate to the judicious, that France and Rome are at the bottom of this horrid conspiracy against me; and that culprit aforesaid is a popish emissary, has paid his visits to St. Germain's, and is now in the measures of Lewis XIV. That, in attempting my reputation, there is a general massacre of learning designed in these realms: and through my sides there is a wound given to all the protestant almanackmakers in the universe.
- The statute of 30 Car. II for burying in woollen requires, that oath shall be made of the compliance with this act, and a certificate thereof lodged with the minister of the parish within eight days after interment.