Isaac Bickerstaff

Isaac Bickerstaff Esq was a pseudonym used by Jonathan Swift as part of a hoax to predict the death of then famous Almanac–maker and astrologer John Partridge.

“All Fools' Day” (now known as April Fools' Day which falls on 1 April) was Swift's favourite of holidays and he often used this day to aim his biting satirical wit at non-believers in an attempt to “make sin and folly bleed.” Disgruntled by Partridge's sarcastic attack about the “''infallible'' Church” written in his 1708 issue of Merlinus Almanac, Swift carefully projected three letters and a eulogy as an elaborate plan to “predict” Partridge's “''infallible'' death” on March 29, the anniversary of the famous 1652 "Black Monday" eclipse, widely seen as discrediting to astrology.

The first of the three letters, Predictions for the Year 1708, published in January 1708, predicts, among other things, the death of Partridge by a “raging fever.” The second letter, '''The Accomplishment of the First of Mr. Bickerstaff's Predictions''', published in March 1708, Swift writes not as Bickerstaff but as a “man employed in the Revenue” where he “confirms” the imaginary Bickerstaff's prediction. To accompany The Accomplishments Swift also publishes an Elegy for Partridge in which, typical of Swift's satire, he blames not only Partridge, but those who purchase the Almanacs as well:

:Here, five Foot deep, lies on his Back, :A Cobler, Starmonger, and Quack; :Who to the Stars in pure Good–will, :Does to his best look upward still. :Weep all you Customers that use :His Pills, his Almanacks, or Shoes; :And you that did your Fortunes seek, :Step to his Grave but once a Week: :This Earth which bears his Body's Print, :You'll find has so much Vertue in't, :That I durst pawn my Ears ’twill tell :Whate’er concerns you full as well, :In Physick, Stolen Goods, or Love, :As he himself could, when above.


The hoax, gaining immense popularity, plagued Partridge till the true end of his life. Mourners, believing him dead, often kept him awake at night by crying outside his window. Accounts of an undertaker arriving at his house to arrange drapes for the mourning, an elegy being printed and even a gravestone being carved, culminate in Partridge publishing a letter in hopes of having the last word and proclaiming (and reclaiming) himself as living. In 1709 Swift, writing as Bickerstaff for the last time, publishes A Vindication of Isaac Bickerstaff in which he abandons any real attempt to maintain the hoax but disputes Partridge's public letter, saying, “''There were sure no man alive ever to writ such damned stuff as this''.” He goes on sarcastically to reason that “Death is defined by all Philosophers [as a] Separation of the Soul and Body. Now it is certain, that the poor Woman, who has best Reason to know [Partridge's wife], has gone about for some time to every Alley in the Neighbourhood, and swore to the Gossips, that Her Husband had neither Life nor Soul in Him.''.” Provided by Wikipedia
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    by Bickerstaff, Isaac, 1735-1812
    Published 1836
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