He replied, “I am a poor ignorant fellow, 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 learned (who can only judge 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 Predictions?”
At which, he shook his head, and said, “O, 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 upon 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 taketh it out of any old Almanack, as he thinketh 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 by astrology! although 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 deathbed, he declared himself a Nonconformist, and had a Fanatic [the political designation of Dissenters] preacher to be his spiritual guide.
After half an hour’s conversation, I took my leave; being almost 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 near as he could the minute when PARTRIGE 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 [see p. 173]. In the other circumstances he was exact enough.
But whether he hath 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, although I believe no man has less faith in these matters, yet I shall wait with some impatience, and not without expectation, the fulfilling of Mr. BICKERSTAFF’s second prediction, that the Cardinal De 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 shall be wholly surprised, and at a loss, and infallibly expect the accomplishment of all the rest.