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when the usher of the school, a Scotchman, of a sour temper, very fat, and remarkable for chewing tobacco, walking near the place, and hearing the echo, imagined he was calling to him in a jeering tone of voice, fat chops, tobaccobox. The Scotchman was so enraged at this supposed insult, that he insisted on Skelton's being turned out of school; if not, he would leave it himself. Skelton told the master the story of the echo, and appealed to his schoolfellows for the truth of what he said. But the usher would not be pacified, and at last, as a great favour, was content with his being whipped.
This odd sort of echo near Lisburn is mentioned in his Latin treatise on sounds by Dr. Hales, late of Trinity College, one of the most worthy clergymen of Ireland, whose humility can be only equalled by his learning. For he had none of that stiff dignity, and supercilious importance, which too often distinguish academic authority. The whole account of the echo, conveyed in Mr. Skelton's own words, is inserted in a Latin note at the end of the volume; but, on examination, I find it is of too philosophic a nature to be introduced into a work of this kind. I cannot now recollect any other incident of his life, while at school, worth relating. It appears indeed that he was not treated with much indulgence by the master, who whipped him, merely to please a peevish Scotch usher. To the sons of poor or middling men it would, I think, be a disadvantage to meet with too gentle usage from their preceptors. It is fit they should, from the beginning, be trained to difficulties, with which they may be forced to struggle all their days.
On leaving school, he entered a sizer* in the university of Dublin, as the college books inform us, in June 1724. His tutor was the famous Dr. Delany, who, by his conduct, proved himself his real friend ever after. He applied there with diligence to the useful studies enjoined by that noble seminary, and soon acquired the reputation of a
It is strange, that he never even insinuated to me, or, as far as 1 could learn, to any other of his acquaintances, that he entered the college in that capacity. Nor had I the least suspicion of it, until, on examining the college books, I found, that there were two Skeltons, both sizers, at that time in the college. All this might be construed into a sort of pride in him. Yet why should he be ashamed of being ence in that academic station, which has produced some of the greatest and most conspicuous characters in Ireland.
scholar. However, his attention to his books did not prevent him from displaying his skill in the manly exercises, in which he could find but few equal to him. He was allowed to be an excellent boxer, nor was he unwilling, if an opportunity offered, to shew his skill in this accomplishment. He was also very dexterous in the small sword, and a complete master in the backsword. He could come up to a St. George, throw an out and cut an in,* save himself, and strike his antagonist.
While he was in the college, he went once to Donybrook fair, and heard it proclaimed there, that a hat was set up as a prize for the best cudgel-player. The two cudgels with basket-hilts lying for public inspection, Skelton, like a second Dares, stepped forward, took up one of them, made a bow to the girls, and challenged an antagonist to oppose him. On this a confident young fellow came up and accepted the challenge. Immediately a ring was formed, and the two heroes began. They fought for awhile on equal terms, warding off the blows by their skill in the science of defence. But at last his antagonist was off his guard, and Skelton taking the advantage, hit him some smart strokes about the head, and made him throw down the cudgel, and acknowledge himself conquered. He thus gained the victory, and won the hat. He then took the hat in his hand, shewed it to the gaping crowd, made a bow to the girls, and told them, "he fought just to please them, but would not keep the hat, that they might have more amusement;" and then bowed again and retired. A hero in romance could not have been more complaisant to the fair sex.
The following trick of his, which has been since practised by some others, is not unsuitable to the character of a young man in the college. He and twelve more dining at an inn near Dublin, when the reckoning was to be paid, they discovered there was no money in the company. Skelton then invented the scheme of blindfolding the waiter, that the first he might catch should pay the reckoning, and thus they all escaped. However, he took care to have the landlord paid for his dinner.
He usually associated with his fellow-students as often
as he could find leisure from his studies; for he was remarkably fond of society, an inclination which adhered to him constantly through life. The fellows of the college, observing a crowd of students about him whenever he appeared in public, used to say to him, "Skelton, you have more acquaintances than any one in the college." In such a place, a similarity of age, dispositions, pursuits, often forms a society more agreeable than is experienced ever after. However, his fondness for society involved him in a very unhappy affair. Ranging once through the town with a number of students, they raised a riot, and a man was unfortunately killed by some of the party. This had a serious effect on him, and made him cautious of the company which he kept in future.
His temper, as may be inferred, was naturally warm and courageous, and unable to brook an affront; of this he gave a sufficient proof while at the university, according to worldly notions of honour. For he had a quarrel with one of his fellow-students, which they thought fit to determine at Stephen's Green with small swords. But when they came to the ground, the seconds interposed, and the affair was thus settled.
This quarrel made his college life very uneasy to him. For his antagonist was some way connected with Dr. Baldwin the provost, who became Skelton's enemy ever after. Baldwin was a man of a haughty temper; he carried every thing in the college by absolute sway: he nominated fellows and scholars at pleasure. The statutes indeed give the provost great authority; as they were tinged with a tyrannic complexion by the famous Archbishop Laud, a prelate of great learning and abilities, but unhappily a slave to ceremonies, and a promoter of arbitrary measures. The young man, who retained a spite against Skelton, instigated by his malice to a false accusation, told the provost he was a Jacobite, and thus, as he expected, roused his indignation against him: for Baldwin was one of the greatest whigs of his day. He was a junior fellow when James II. made a barrack of our elegant seminary. The king turning him out of his fellowship, as he did all others who refused to subscribe to Popery, he was obliged to go over to England, and teach a common English school
for his bread. King William, when he gained the victory, restored him. He was a furious enemy to Queen Anne's last ministry, and was active in forming schemes against them; suspecting they had a design of bringing in the Pretender; and who can say there was no ground for such suspicions? Indeed a dark cloud, which time has not yet wholly dispelled, seems to have been cast over this affair. His opposition to Queen Anne's last ministry caused him to be taken notice of by George I. who made him provost in 1715.
Enraged at Skelton on account of the charge imputed to him, he sent orders for him to come and appear before him. He instantly obeyed, little suspicious of the cause. The provost then told him, he was assured on the best authority, that he was a Jacobite, and of consequence a most dangerous person in the university, where he might corrupt the youth by his bad principles. Skelton, astonished at the falsity of the charge, solemnly declared that he was as strenuous for the house of Hanover as any one in Ireland. But the provost, who placed more confidence in his favourite, said he would not believe him, for he heard it from one on whose veracity he could depend. Hence all his protestations of innocence were vain. The provost then said to him, "Child, I'll ruin you for ever."-"Will you damn my soul, Sir?" Skelton replied. "No," he said, "but I'll ruin you in the college here."-" Oh, Sir," he observed, "that's but a short for ever." By this it appears that even then he had a warm sense of religion, and did not fear the brief resentment of man. The rich and great imagine they have happiness and misery at their control, and can allot them at pleasure. Yet they are very niggard in bestowing one of them, supposing it best to keep it all to themselves, and probably they have much occasion for it. Their liberality with respect to the other, I shall not question.
The dispute, that produced the malicious charge against Skelton's character, was owing chiefly to the conduct of his fellow-student, who imagined that his intimacy with the provost gave him a right to say and do what he pleased. The minion is often more intolerable than his master. But Skelton could not bear his insolence; hence the
quarrel ensued. The provost was scrupulous in keeping his word; he strove to debar poor Skelton from a scholarship, but by a lucky mistake he was baffled in his malicious attempt. He mistook him for another of the same name, and thus Skelton received the reward of his merit, at Trinity 1726.
He piqued himself much on a cut of his (to use the college phrase) at his examination for scholarships. Dr. Delany, who examined in the odes of Horace, met with these words, carpe diem; the lad he was examining called it, seize the opportunity. This it seems did not please him, he therefore put it from one to another, till at last it came to Skelton, who said, crop the day. "Right," the Doctor replied, "Why so?"-" Because," said Skelton, "the day is a flower," preserving the beauty of the metaphor. The examiner, many in which office have strange peculiarities, gave him an additional mark for this answer. We often value ourselves more on hits of this nature than on matters of real importance.
He did not abound with money at this time, and especially before he got a scholarship, the emoluments of which are sufficiently known. His two brothers, the clergymen, contributed in some degree to support the expense of his education; but the assistance derived from these and his mother was not sufficient to keep him out of debt and danger. He was once forced to confine himself some weeks within the college for fear of bailiffs, who were prowling about the gates in search of him; for the students would not allow these harpies to come within the walls; if any were so imprudent, they met with very harsh usage, which served as an example to terrify others. The testimony of his friend Mr. Hawkshaw, to whom he was a long time curate in Monaghan, partly confirms the account I have given. For he assured me, that, for some time after he got the cure of that place, he paid Dr. Delany a certain sum every year to dischargé a debt contracted while in the college.
The narrowness of his circumstances made him apply more diligently to his books. He had but few temptations to go abroad; he wished to gain that distinction by literature, which he could not by fortune. The rich may slum