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LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
BIOGRAPHY conveys very useful instruction, setting before us the lives of eminent men, that we may imitate their virtues, or avoid their vices. It is a tribute due to merit after death, and an inducement for others to strive to deserve this honour. It is even more congenial to our feelings than bistory itself; because few can be statesmen or generals, but every one bears a part in society. The historian introduces us into national assemblies, and presents to us scenes of public commotion. The biographer leads us into the sequestered walks of private life. The one is therefore more dignified and important; the other more pleasing and natural. We are usually curious to know every circumstance of the lives of those, who have been distinguished from the rest of men. Yet so depraved is our nature, that we read with more delight accounts of the destroyers than of the preservers of mankind. We are more pleased to attend the conqueror in his progress of ruin and devastation, than to observe the faithful pastor, carefully endeavouring to remove the doubts, rectify the errors, supply the wants, and soften the sorrows, of the flock committed to his charge. Of this latter description was the great and good man, whose life I now offer to the public.
Philip Skelton was born in the parish of Derriaghy near Lisburn, in February 1706-7. His father, Richard Skelton, was a decent and honest countryman, who held under Lord Conway a large farm at a cheap rent. The father of Richard was the first of the family that came over from England to reside in Ireland. He was an engineer of some repute in that country, and was sent over by King Charles I. to inspect the Irish fortifications. He enjoyed, however, but a short time the benefit of this employment, when the rebellion of forty-one began; and being then deprived of it was reduced to difficulties, which were at least not diminished by the accession of Cromwell's party to power; for, as he might expect, they would not restore him to an office conferred on him by the King, the unbappy victim of their ambition. Necessity obliged him now to strive to get an honest livelihood by working with his hands, to which, we may suppose, he was not accustomed before. Such changes, however, in men's circumstances were not unusual at that time, when, by the victory of the hypocritical saints, society was inverted. He soon after married, and had a farm in the county of Armagh, where he resided during the rest of his life.
His son Richard in his younger days lived at Bottle-hill in the same county. He had served an apprenticeship to a gunsmith, and was employed at that trade when he went to Kilwarlin, and married there Arabella Cathcart, by whom he obtained the farm in Derriaghy already mentioned. Having removed, on his marriage, to that parish, he wrought diligently at his trade, until the whole country was put in confusion by the war between William and James. He was then carried off by King James, and compelled to work for his army. His wife, who had two children, and was pregnant with the third, having obtained a pass from the King, retired with her family to Island-Magee, a small peninsula near Carrickfergus; where she was delivered of her third child, and experienced, during her illness, tender usage from the poor inhabitants, who sat up with her at nights to take care of her. " Whose turn is it (they used to say to one another) to sit up with the stranger to-night." Nor was she ungrateful to them for their kindness. She intrusted her house and farm to a Roman Catholic family called Himill, who acting with singular honesty on the occasion, sent her in her retirement abundance of butter, flour, and every other necessary of life, the produce of her farm. With a large share of what she received she rewarded the people of Island-Magee for their services. On her return she found every thing belonging to her carefully preserved by the Catholics, who took as much care of her property as if it had been their own. Such instances of fidelity were but rare in those turbulent times, when bigotry too often destroyed the force of moral obligations. Her children, on that account, had always a regard for those of the Catholic persuasion. I heard Mr. Skelton often say, that the poor original Irish were naturally faithful, humane, and averse to blood.
His father, who preferred the cause of William, wrought afterward voluntarily for his army. Let us not despise bim for being the son of a gunsmith. Men of superior merit do not always spring up in the higher ranks of society. Demosthenes, it is well known, was the son of a blacksmith; yet this circumstance of his origin never detracted from his fame. The poet, his panegyrist, seems to dwell on it with pleasure.
Quem pater ardentis massæ fuligine lippus,
His father blear-ey'd with the glowing bar,
In the latter part of his life he quitted the gunsmith trade, which could not be profitable in a country place, and kept a little tan-yard; so that Mr. Skelton used to call himself the son of a tanner. At his father's, he said, they always got beef on a Sunday, but not regularly during the rest of the week. The farm which he had was indeed sufficient of itself to afford a competent support to himself and family; yet it was necessary he should be frugal and industrious, for he had six sons and four daughters. Three of his sons were educated for the profession of clergymen of the established church, of which he was a member. These were Philip who was the youngest, John who was schoolmaster of Dundalk, and Thomas who had the small living of Newry.
Philip, when he was about ten years old, was sent to Lisburn grammar-school, which was then kept by the Rev. Mr. Clarke, a man of eminence in his profession; who, having afterward left that place on account of a dispute with Lord Conway, obtained the school of Drogheda, where he lived to an advanced age. His spirited resistance thus helped to gain him promotion in the world, which too frequently is the reward of tame submission to superiors. However, he did not leave Lisburn, until after Mr. Skelton had completed the course of his school studies. His father, though he lived within two miles of the town, placed him at lodgings there, that he might enjoy every opportunity of improvement. Sensible of its importance, the parent did not spare expense to give his children the benefit of educațion. On Saturday evening Philip always went to his father's, and returned to Lisburn on Monday morning.
At first be did not relish his grammar, which seemed dry and disagreeable, and therefore he would not confine himself to it. The master complained of this to his father, who used the following method to cure him of his idleness. He raised him one Monday morning early out of his bed, and having put a pair of coarse brogues on his feet, ordered him to go out immediately to the fields to work with the common labourers. This command he willingly obeyed, supposing it would be less laborious to toil there, than to fatigue his head with hard study. His father made him carry stones on a hand-barrow, and submit to the severest drudgery; not allowing him to come home to bis breakfast, but keeping him fasting long beyond the usual time, and then sending him the coarsest food to eat in the open fields. When he returned from his day's work, he treated him as he did the lowest servant. He would not suffer him to keep company with the rest of his children, but bade him go to his companions the servants, and stay with them. Broken down at last by this hard usage he began to relent, and burst into tears. His father then said to him,“ Sirrab; I'II make this proposal to you: Whether do you choose to toil and drudge all your life, as you have these few days past, living on coarse food, clad in frize clothes, and with brogues on your feet, or to apply to your books, and eat, and drink, and be dressed like your brothers here?” pointing to his brothers, who, as it was the vacation, had just come down from the university, decked out in Dublin finery. Poor Philip, whose bones ached with the hand-barrow, said, “he would readily go to school, and be attentive to his studies." He kept his resolution, and continued studious ever after.
The success of this project proved the sagacity of his father, who was remarkable for his good sense over the whole parish of Derriaghy. The gentlemen of fortune in
that place had such a high opinion of him, that they used to invite him frequently to their houses, for the sake of his conversation. A Bishop Smyth in particular, who lived there, shewed him every mark of attention, and his Lordship's daughters were pleased to make a companion of his eldest daughter, a young woman of sense and accomplishments superior to the opportunities which she had enjoyed. Mr. Richard Skelton had also some knowledge of architecture, being employed to superintend the building of the present church of Derriaghy. His circumstances, by his care and industry, were daily improving, when death carried him off from his disconsolate family in the fiftieth year of his age; while he was engaged in building a dwelling-house, and making a new tan-yard, neither of which were ever after completed. Such are the hopes of man! A few hours before he died, he called to him bis ten children to give them a charge. Philip, who had been then but half a year at the Latin-school, he desired to study physic, and learn to cure the disease that was killing his father. He obeyed, as I will shew, the dying command, but fixed on divinity for his profession, to which he believed himself called by a voice more than human. Thus did he lose in his tender years an excellent father, a man of admirable sense, a strict observer of religion, and a careful instructor of his children. He retained ever after a grateful remembrance of his worth. In bis Senilia he calls him “his wise and good father." He used to say with Horace, that if he were appointed to choose a father out of all the men in the world, he would take the one be had.
While he lived at Enniskillen, he was once'on a visit at Mr. Armour's, of Castle-Coole, where he met with a Mr. Tench, Dr. M‘Donald of the diocess of Clogher, and some others. The conversation turning upon the requisites to make a gentleman, on which they differed in opinion, Dr. M'Donald said, education made a gentleman. Skelton denied it. He said, that he only was a gentleman, as Lord Burghley defines it, who has riches derived from ancestors, that possessed them from time immemorial. He told them, there was not one of them a gentleman except Mr. Tench. “ As for myself," he continued, “ I am no gentleman, my father was only a tanner; yet I would not