Imatges de pÓgina


THE following narrative will not, I hope, be deemed unworthy of notice in an age so attentive to productions of a similar nature. The person who is the subject of it has published, it is well known, many octavo volumes, which, though not among the most perfect of their kind, on the whole possess such merit as proves him a man of genius. Besides, to write so much in defence of religion and virtue demands, I should think, some gratitude from those who are influenced by a regard for the most important interests of mankind. -The learned works of that most worthy man, his eminent abilities as a preacher, his other uncommon exertions in his ministerial capacity, the singularity of his character, the strict purity of his conduct, and his surprising charities, taken all together, made him perhaps one of the most extraordinary persons that Ireland has produced, in which country he was universally known, and also the frequent subject of conversation. I shall therefore make no farther apology for publishing his life.

In collecting the materials for it I carefully endeavoured to arrive at truth, which is acknowledged to be the first excellence of every historic composition. But lest the reader may not be satisfied of my care in this point, I shall briefly mention my authorities.

Having been recommended to Mr. Skelton, by means of two sisters of his at Dromore, in the year 1780, when I was a scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, I was soon after admitted into his friendship and confidence, in which I continued until he died. During the three last years of my re

sidence at that university, I passed at least three evenings with him in the week, and in my absence was favoured with his correspondence. In my numerous conversations with him I frequently inquired into the several incidents of his life, and usually preserved the information he afforded me. From his sisters above-mentioned, and some others of his relations, and from the people in the parish where he was born, I learned more particulars both of him and his family. With the materials thus obtained I was not content, but, in the year 1788, went to the several parishes where he had lived either as curate or rector, and conversed with those who were well acquainted with him during the different periods of his life, to acquire more anecdotes, and render my information as accurate as possible. I also, among other places which it is too tedious to mention, extended my journey to the metropolis, and received there such intelligence as made sufficient amends for my trouble. In preparing the materials for the press I have probably taken more pains than it would be prudent to own, being resolved not to offer a work of this kind to the public without serious and mature deliberation.

Down, January 10, 1792.



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 history 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 re

bellion 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 unhappy 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 á 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 him 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,
A carbone, et forcipibus, gladiosque parante
Incude, et luteo Vulcano ad rhetora misit.

His father blear-ey'd with the glowing bar,
That Vulcan forms to instruments of war,
Sent him from this to learn a nobler art,

With eloquence to charm the human heart.

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.

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