«The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces Contents: Preface I. THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS II. A MEDITATION UPON A BROOMSTICK. III. PREDICTIONS FOR ...»
But that which will make this month memorable to all posterity is the death of the French king, Louis 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 his 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 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 11th instant; and in three weeks' time, after a mighty contest, be succeeded by a cardinal of the Imperial faction, but native of Tuscany, who is now about sixty-one years old.
The French army acts now 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 it.
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 QUAE VEHAT ARGO DELECTOS HEROAS.
Upon the 25th day of this month, the fulfilling of this prediction will be manifest to everybody.
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 spoken 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 public 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, will have their full share of honour; that Her Majesty Queen Anne will continue in health and prosperity; and that no ill accident will arrive to any in the chief Ministry.
As to the particular events I have mentioned, the readers 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 frolic 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 scribblers that are every day hawked about. My fortune has placed me above the little regard of scribbling for a few pence, which I neither value nor want; therefore, let no wise man 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 and unskilful hands. A little time will determine whether I have deceived others or myself; and I think it is 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 in the year 1686 a man of quality showed me, written in his album, that the most learned astronomer, Captain H-, assured him, he would never believe anything 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.
CHAPTER IV - THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE FIRST OF MR.
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF THE DEATH OF MR. PARTRIDGETHE ALMANACK-MAKER, UPON THE 29TH INSTANT.
IN A LETTER TO A PERSON OF HONOUR; WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1708.
MY LORD, - In obedience to your lordship's commands, as well as to satisfy my own curiosity, I have for some days past inquired constantly after Partridge the almanack-maker, of whom it was foretold in Mr. Bickerstaff's predictions, published about a month ago, that he should die the 29th instant, about eleven at night, of a raging fever. I had some sort of knowledge of him when I was employed in the Revenue, because he used every year to present me with his almanack, as he did other gentlemen, upon the score of some little gratuity we gave him. I saw him accidentally once or twice about ten days before he died, and observed he began very much to droop and languish, though I hear his friends did not seem to apprehend him in any danger. About two or three days ago he grew ill, was confined first to his chamber, and in a few hours after to his bed, where Dr. Case and Mrs. Kirleus were sent for, to visit and to prescribe to him. Upon this intelligence I sent thrice every day one servant or other to inquire after his health;
and yesterday, about four in the afternoon, word was brought me that he was past hopes; upon which, I prevailed with myself to go and see him, partly out of commiseration, and I confess, partly out of curiosity. He knew me very well, seemed surprised at my condescension, and made me compliments upon it as well as he could in the condition he was. The people about him said he had been for some time delirious; but when I saw him, he had his understanding as well as ever I knew, and spoke strong and hearty, without any seeming uneasiness or constraint. After I had told him how sorry I was to see him in those melancholy circumstances, and said some other civilities suitable to the occasion, I desired him to tell me freely and ingenuously, whether the predictions Mr. Bickerstaff had published relating to his death had not too much affected and worked on his imagination. He confessed he had often had it in his head, but never with much apprehension, till about a fortnight before; since which time it had the perpetual possession of his mind and thoughts, and he did verily believe was the true natural cause of his present distemper: "For," said he, "I am thoroughly persuaded, and I think I have very good reasons, that Mr.
Bickerstaff spoke altogether by guess, and knew no more what will happen this year than I did myself." I told him his discourse surprised me, and I would be glad he were in a state of health to be able to tell me what reason he had to be convinced of Mr.
Bickerstaff's ignorance. He replied, "I am a poor, ignorant follow, bred to a mean trade, yet I have sense enough to know that all pretences of foretelling by astrology are deceits, for this manifest reason, because the wise and the learned, who can only know 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 his 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 almanacks 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 almanack as he thinks fit; the rest was my own invention, to make my almanack sell, having a wife 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 shall only add one circumstance, that on his death-bed he declared himself a Nonconformist, and had a fanatic preacher to be his spiritual guide. After half an hour's conversation I took my leave, being half stifled by the closeness of the room. I imagined he could not hold out long, and therefore withdrew to a little coffee-house hard by, leaving a servant at the house with orders to come immediately and tell me, as nearly 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 almost four hours in his calculation. In the other circumstances he was exact enough. But, whether he has not been the cause of this poor man's death, as well as the predictor, may be very reasonably disputed.
However, it must be confessed the matter is odd enough, whether we should endeavour to account for it by chance, or the effect of imagination. For my own part, though I believe no man has less faith in these matters, yet I shall wait with some impatience, and not without some expectation, the fulfilling of Mr. Bickerstaff's second prediction, that the Cardinal do Noailles is to die upon the 4th 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.
CHAPTER V - BAUCIS AND PHILEMON.
IMITATED FROM THE EIGHTH BOOK OF OVID.
IN ancient times, as story tells, The saints would often leave their cells, And stroll about, but hide their quality, To try good people's hospitality.
It happened on a winter night, As authors of the legend write, Two brother hermits, saints by trade, Taking their tour in masquerade, Disguised in tattered habits, went To a small village down in Kent;
Where, in the strollers' canting strain, They begged from door to door in vain;
Tried every tone might pity win, But not a soul would let them in.
Our wandering saints in woeful state, Treated at this ungodly rate, Having through all the village passed, To a small cottage came at last, Where dwelt a good honest old yeoman, Called, in the neighbourhood, Philemon, Who kindly did these saints invite In his poor hut to pass the night;
And then the hospitable Sire Bid goody Baucis mend the fire;
While he from out the chimney took A flitch of bacon off the hook, And freely from the fattest side Cut out large slices to be fried;
Then stepped aside to fetch 'em drink, Filled a large jug up to the brink, And saw it fairly twice go round;
Yet (what is wonderful) they found 'Twas still replenished to the top, As if they ne'er had touched a drop The good old couple were amazed, And often on each other gazed;
For both were frightened to the heart, And just began to cry, - What art!
Then softly turned aside to view, Whether the lights were burning blue.
The gentle pilgrims soon aware on't, Told 'em their calling, and their errant;
"Good folks, you need not be afraid, We are but saints," the hermits said;
"No hurt shall come to you or yours;
But, for that pack of churlish boors, Not fit to live on Christian ground, They and their houses shall be drowned;
Whilst you shall see your cottage rise, And grow a church before your eyes."
They scarce had spoke; when fair and soft, The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter, The heavy wall climbed slowly after.
The chimney widened, and grew higher, Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist, And there stood fastened to a joist;
But with the upside down, to show Its inclination for below.
In vain; for a superior force Applied at bottom, stops its coarse, Doomed ever in suspense to dwell, 'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.
A wooden jack, which had almost Lost, by disuse, the art to roast, A sudden alteration feels, Increased by new intestine wheels;
And what exalts the wonder more, The number made the motion slower.
The flyer, though 't had leaden feet, Turned round so quick, you scarce could see 't;
But slackened by some secret power, Now hardly moves an inch an hour.
The jack and chimney near allied, Had never left each other's side;
The chimney to a steeple grown, The jack would not be left alone;
But up against the steeple reared, Became a clock, and still adhered;
And still its love to household cares By a shrill voice at noon declares, Warning the cook-maid not to burn That roast meat which it cannot turn.