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"Don't despise," she replied, "the Lord's handy work ;" meaning herself.
He began himself indeed at that time to feel the want of a wife; not I believe from any unruly propensities towards the fair sex, for he was then bordering upon fifty; but he perceived, I should think, the use of having a gentle partner through life, as a partaker in his joys and sorrows, an assistant in sickness, and consoler in adversity. However, for some reasons or other he began then to repent, that he had not married when he was young, and used frequently to exclaim, " would to God I had married a servant maid!" It was reported then that he was jilted in his younger days, which gave him a distaste to marriage. This indeed is not improbable, as men of sense are as liable as any others to be deceived by the arts of women. Yet in my various and familiar conversations with him he never gave me a hint of this, which is a misfortune that men generally wish to keep to themselves.
He was very sensible of the obligation that lies on parents to take care of their offspring. A man who had a numerous family of children, being reduced to poverty by giving bail for another, came to him once to ask for assistance, setting forth his melancholy story. "What (he said
to him) you have so many children, and yet you bailed a man; you ought not to have any, for you are not fit to take care of them." He then supplied him with present aid, and promised to settle five guineas a year on him, upon condition his wife should have no more children; observing, that one so careless as he ought not to enjoy conjugal gratifications.
His eminent virtues and charities gained him the love and respect of most of his people, and his courage, strength and activity, made him dreaded by those who could be only influenced by fear. Upon his arrived at Pettigo he found the people, as I mentioned before, rude and disorderly, fond of rioting and quarrelling. Among these there were bullies, who, ruling over the rest, wished also to bully Mr. Skelton, and keep him down; but they were mistaken in the man they had to deal with. He told me, that one of them called Acheson came into his room one day to insult him; but he fell on him, and turned him out of the house. This same
man came once into his church when he was drunk, and disturbed him so in his duty, that he was obliged to dismiss the congregation.
It appears he had no objection at that time to try his strength upon occasions. Some people raising stones at Pettigo came to one too heavy for them; upon which Skelton, who was present, told them they were a parcel of rats, and taking the crow-iron in his hand raised the stone, but broke the crow-iron in the experiment.
One Graham a farmer coming up to him one day in a garden, offered to wrestle with him. "What," said he, "you insignificant little fellow, would you presume to wrestle with me?" He then took him by the collar, and threw him down among the keal.
His lonely situation at Pettigo gave him much leisure for study. In 1753, he published the "Consultation, or a Dialogue of the Gods, in the manner of Lucian;" sed magno discrimine. It is intended to ridicule the Arians, whom it represents as a sort of polytheists; because they hold one supreme and other inferior gods. Jupiter of consequence and his clan are fond of the Arians, who, they say, are their friends, and may be the means of bringing them once more into fashion. His attempts at wit are certainly laudable, as employed in a good cause, but they are not so successful as I could wish.
In this or the following year he went to London again, to publish his Discourses; the neighbourin gclergy in his absence attending his church, as I was assured by an old clergyman who preached there in his turn. This clergyman told me, that he copied over his discourses for the press, an assistance he always made use of when he could obtain it; for he disliked copying, which is but a servile employment, especially, I suppose, as he was not very fair at it, if one may judge by his hand-writing in his letters. I could hear of no adventure on this second visit to London worth relating. We may suppose indeed he returned as soon as convenient to his parish, which was so much the object of his care.
In 1754, his two volumes of sermons were published by Andrew Millar, entitled, " Discourses controversial and practical on various subjects, proper for the consideration
of the present times. By the author of Deism Revealed." To his first volume is prefixed a preface addressed to the clergy of the church of England, and to his second another addressed to the citizens of London. The corrupt and dangerous opinions that were then beginning to prevail he makes, in his first preface, his apology for publishing his controversial, discourses. In his second, he expresses his gratitude to the citizens of London for their civilities to him, during the time he lived among them; and mentions, as I collect from his preface, that partly at the request of some of these, and partly to animate men, if possible, with some religious warmth, in this winter of Christianity, he offers his practical discourses to the public. To the preface of each volume he signs his name.
In these Discourses there is abundance of good sense and original thought. He is no servile copier of others, but draws his arguments from Scripture and his own understanding, his picture of human motives and actions from a close observation of mankind. He read few sermons, he said, that those he wrote might, if possible, be his own; and I believe but very few can be more justly than his styled the real property of their respective authors. Of these sermons I could quote many passages striking and sublime, produced at once by his own fertile capacity. For he took too little care in his compositions, and depended mostly on his genius, whence chiefly, arose all his faults. Hence the great inequality in his sermons: some of which are composed in a pure and elegant style, and others in one coarse and obscure. Yet there is scarce one of them that does not prove him to be a man of parts. It must also be observed, that they are all animated with a warm and genuine piety, and an ardent desire for the salvation of men's souls, which will be esteemed by a devout Christian an excellence sufficient to make amends for their defects.
These sermons were remarkable for their orthodoxy ; some of them indeed were written on purpose to prove the Trinity and atonement; which he told us, gave offence to the reviewers, who were very sharp in their remarks on him, and called him an orthodox bully. They quoted him he said, very unfairly, for they took a piece of a sentence in one part, and another piece in another, and then patching
them up together, said, "this is nonsense." He then made an observation on reviewers, which it is not, I think, prudent to mention.
He told me, that soon after his Discourses were published, some one came into the present marquis of L-'s chambers at Oxford, where he was then a student, and saw Skelton's Discourses before him, which caused him to ask why he troubled himself with reading sermons, as he knew he was careless about any religion? He said, he happened to look into a sermon entitled the " Cunning Man," which engaged his attention a little, as the author was describing his father. Mr. Skelton said, he did not at that time know his father, who was a remarkably cunning man, and kept his son closely pinched at the university, which made him suppose that the character in the sermon alluded to him.
About two years after he came to Pettigo, Robert Plunket removed to a farm a mile distant from the village, whither Mr. Skelton accompanied him, and lodged with him two or three years more, until he and his family went to America to a brother, who had made a fortune on that continent. I was shewn in the garden a seat in a tree adjoining a murmuring brook, where Mr. Skelton used to read. He then took lodgings with one Carshore, a low farmer in the village of Pettigo. His situation here was even more inconvenient than at Plunket's. He had indeed wretched lodgings. The floor of the room was not only earthen, but also so uneven, that he was forced to get a table with two long and two short feet to fit it. He also found it necessary to buy a pair of tweezers, to pick the dirt out of the keal, which they served up to his dinner.
Some gentlemen who came to see him there, went out and killed a few woodcocks, which they desired the people of the house to roast for their dinner with the train in them, as is usual. A short time after, when he had company to dine with him, they served up to them a turkeycock roasted with the entrails in it, which they imagined to be the most fashionable way. At length, he was obliged to send Carshore's daughter to Dr. Madden's, to get a little knowledge of cookery, which she stood much in need of. Carshore had two sons, William and Thomas. William was born nearly blind; and in a few years after entirely
lost his sight by the measles. However, Mr. Skelton perceiving him to be a young man of extraordinary understanding, and surprisingly acquainted with the Scriptures, employed him to go through the parish during the winter, to instruct his people in religion, and in the summer he examined them himself, to know what benefit they had derived from his instruction. The most of the time I was at Pettigo I spent in his company, and found him to be one of the most rational and agreeable men I ever saw. The Methodists strove to bring him over to their opinions; for they always wish to deal with persons that have some natural defect, that the interposition of the Spirit may be more apparent; but he had too much good sense to become a convert to their notions.
His brother was by nature disabled in his limbs; he was reel-footed, as they call it; which signifies, that his feet were bent under him; in consequence of which he was unable to earn his bread by labour. Mr. Skelton, through pity, taught him to read and write, and also made him shave a wig-block in his room every day, giving him some curious directions, that he might thus learn to shave human faces, and earn his bread by it. He also sent him to Monaghan to learn the wig-making trade, and afterward to Armagh to learn to sing psalms; upon which occasions he defrayed all his expenses. He and his brother at present serve between them the office of clerk in the church of Pettigo.
When he lodged at Carshore's, he became extremely fond of flowers, and used to send twenty miles off to get a curious one. These were planted in Carshore's garden; every scarce flower having a paper affixed to it with its Those who are at a loss for company often seek for amusement from things inanimate. He used in cold weather to go through Pettigo with a straw rope about him, to keep his large coat on; being never very fond of finery; nor indeed was it requisite in that remote part of our island.
The course of my narrative leads me to one of the most conspicuous periods of his life. In 1757, a remarkable dearth prevailed in Ireland; the effects of which were felt most severely in the rough and barren lands of Pettigo.