The Bickerstaff-Partridge Papers, by Jonathan Swift

’Squire Bickerstaff detected;

or,

the Astrological impostor convicted;

by John Partridge, 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, an illiterate pretender to science; that would blast my reputation, most inhumanly bury me alive, and defraud my native country of those services, that, in my double capacity, I daily offer to the publick.

What great provocations I have receiv’d, 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 shew there’s 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 errors, nor expose the notorious absurdities of this prostituted 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 the cause.

It was towards the conclusion of the year 1707, when an impudent pamphlet crept into the world, intituled, ‘Predictions, etc.’ by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq; — Amongst the many arrogant assertions laid down by that lying spirit of divination, he was pleas’d to pitch on the Cardinal de Noailles 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 fix’d for my last, which made little impression on myself; but I cannot answer for my whole family; for my wife, with a 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 toll’d for? Dr. Partridge, says he, that famous almanack-maker, who died suddenly this evening: The poor girl provoked, told him he ly’d like a rascal; the other very sedately reply’d, 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 don’t say these are accomplices to a certain astrological ’squire, and that one Bickerstaff might be sauntring thereabouts; because I will assert nothing here but what I dare attest, and 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 enquires if this was Dr. Partridge’s? She taking him for some cautious city-patient, that came at that time for privacy, shews him into the dining room. As soon as I could compose myself, I went to him, and was surprized to find my gentleman mounted on a table with a two-foot 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: Oh! the Doctor’s brother, belike, cries he; the stair-case, 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 great air of authority, and demanded who employ’d 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 advis’d 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 e’re 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’ll wait on you with all 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 if he puts things and things fairly together, it won’t be much wide of the mark.

Well, once more I got my doors clos’d, and prepar’d for bed, in hopes of a little repose after so many ruffling 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’s 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 in this manner? Alack-a-day, replies the fellow, why ’tis in print, and the whole town knows you are dead; why, there’s Mr. White the joiner is but fitting screws to your coffin, he’ll 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, ’tis 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’s unhandsomely done. Hist, Hist, says another rogue that stood by him, away Doctor, in your flannel gear as fast as you can, for here’s a whole pack of dismals coming to you with their black equipage, and how indecent will it look for you to stand fright’ning folks at your window, when you should have been in your coffin this three hours? In short, what with undertakers, imbalmers, joiners, sextons, and your damn’d 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 villainous ’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 Grubstreet, — tho’ he lies in the most exalted garret, and writes himself ’Squire:— But I’ll 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 d’ye think people can live by making of graves for nothing? Next time you die, you may e’en 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 expences. 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’s 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 almanack-maker, was crept out of his grave to take t’other peep at the stars in this world, and shew how much he is improv’d in fortune-telling 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, if I have been interr’d in any other parish, to produce my certificate, as the act requires. My poor wife is almost run distracted with being called Widow Partridge, when she knows its false; and once a term she is cited into the court, to take out letters of administration. But the greatest grievance is, a paultry 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 stone-cutter’s and would have erected it in the parish-church; and this piece of notorious and expensive villany had actually succeeded, had I not used my utmost interest with the vestry, where it was carried at last but by two voices, that I am still alive. That stratagem failing, out comes a long sable elegy, bedeck’d with hour-glasses, 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 to the publick. Was it ever heard, even in Turkey or Algiers, that a state-astrologer was banter’d out of his life by an ignorant impostor, or bawl’d out of the world by a pack of villanous, deep-mouth’d hawkers? Though I print almanacks, and publish advertisements; though I produce certificates under the ministers and church-wardens 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 zodiac to shew 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 towards the deplorable case of their old philomath, that annually bestows his poetical good wishes on them, I am sure there is one Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq; would soon be truss’d up for his bloody predictions, and putting good subjects in terror 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 robb’d 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. Germains, 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 almanack-makers in the universe.

Vivat Regina.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/swift/jonathan/s97b/part5.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:31