Skelton, Philip

. a worthy and learned clergyman of Ireland, and author of some valuable works on divinity, was born in the parish of Berriaghly, near Lisburn, Feb. 1707. His family was originally English; his grandfather, an engineer, having been sent over by Charles I. to inspect the Irish fortifications, settled in that country, and suffered many hardships in Cromwell’s time. His father, Richard Skelton, appears to have been, in the reign of William III. a gunsmith, and afterwards a farmer and a tanner. He was a man of great sense, a strict observer of religion, and a careful instructor of his children. He died in his fiftieth. year, leaving a widow and ten children. Philip, when about ten years of age, was sent to Lisburn school, where "being at first negligent, his father cured him by sending him into the fields and treating him as a menial. After this he applied with diligence, and soon displayed an ardent desire for learning. On the death of his father, which happened when he was at school, his mother had many difficulties in bringing up her numerous family, and he began to think it his duty to relieve her from the expence of one, at least, by a still more close application to his studies. From school, he entered as a sizer in the university of Dublin, in June 1724, where Dr. Delany was his tutor, and ever after his friend.

Here he soon obtained the reputation of a scholar, and also distinguished himself by his skill in fencing, cudgelling, and other manly feats, as well as in some college frolics from which he did not always escape uncensured. His temper was warm, and he entertained that irritable sense of honour which frequently involved him in quarrels. On one occasion he had a quarrel with a fellow-student, who happened to be connected with Dr. Baldwin, the provost, and who insinuated that Skelton was a Jacobite, an accusation which he repelled by the most solemn declaration of his adherence to the Hanover family. Baldwin, however, was prejudiced against him, and endeavoured to keep him out of a scholarship, but, mistaking him for another of the same name, his malice was disappointed, and Skelton received this reward of merit in 1726. Baldwin, however, on other occasions did every thing in his power to make a college life uneasy to him; and Skelton, finding it impossible to gain his favour without disgraceful compliances, resolved to take his degree at the statutable period, and quit the | college. This, however, his enemy still endeavoured to prevent, and, on some idle pretence, stopped his degree.

Skelton’s only remedy was now to wait patiently till the next commencement, which would take place in about half a year. As the time approached, he contrived to foil the provost at his own weapons, and knowing his tyrannical and capricious temper, played him a trick, which his biographer relates in the following manner. A few days before the commencement, he waited on the provost, “and after paying his humble submission, said, ‘Mr. Provost, I am extremely obliged to you for stopping me of my degree last time, because it was what I wished for above all thipgs, and I be and beseech you may also stop me now, as my friends are forcing me to take it, and quit the college, contrary to my desire.’ ‘ Ah, you dog,’ he replied, * what do you mean? do you wish to stay here contrary to your friends 1 consent? Take your degree, sirrah, and quit the college, or I Ml make you smart for it.‘ Skelton then began to cry, and whine, and sob, saying how greatly distressed he was at getting this unfavourable answer. * Don’t be growling here, sir,‘ he said, ’ but go about your business, I ‘11 not agree to your request, you shall take your degree in spite of you, sirrah.’ Upon this Skelton, with sorrowful countenance, though with joy at his heart, walked grumblingly out of the room.” The consequence of this was, that he commenced B. A. in July 1728, and had his name taken out of the college books, May 31st following, two years before the natural expiration of his scholarship. Notwithstanding this treatment, he always spoke of Dr. Baldwin as in many respects an excellent provost.

Soon after leaving college, he resided with his brother John, a clergyman, and schoolmaster of Dundalk, and took on himself the management of the school, which by his efforts rose to high reputation. He had been here but a short time, when he obtained abomination to the curacy of Newtown-Butler, in the county of Fermanagh, from Dr. Madden (see Madden), and was ordained deacon for this cure by Dr. Sterne, bishop of Clogher, about 1729. He was afterwards ordained priest by the same bishop, and used to relate that he and the other candidates were examined by Dr. Sterne and his assistant for a whole week in Latin, and that they were not allowed, during the whole of this trial, to speak a word of English.

During his holding this curacy he resided in Dr. Madden’s | house, called Manor-waterhouse, about three miles from Newtovm- Butler, as private tutor; and had three or four boys to instruct in English and the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages. This left him little time for the composition of his sermons, and such as he wrote at this time, he afterwards very much disliked. Here, however, he exhibited that active benevolence which always formed a striking feature in his character, and although the salary derived both from his curacy and his teaching was very small, he gave at least the half away in charitable purposes. Here likewise it would appear that he wrote his first publication, an anonymous pamphlet, printed at Dublin, recommending Dr. Madderi’a scheme for establishing premiums in Trinity college; but Madden, although he admired this pamphlet, and solicited the publisher for the name of its author, never made the discovery: Skelton judging it for his advantage to keep the secret. In the mean time, his situation being rendered extremely irksome by the vulgar mind and parsimonious disposition of Mrs. Madden, he resigned both the curacy and his tutorship in about two years.

On leaving Dr. Madden, he repaired to his brother’s, in Dundalk, until, in 1732, he was nominated to the curacy of Monaghan, in the diocese of Cloghet, by the hon. and rev. Francis Hamilton, the rector. This situation was for some years permanent, and afforded him leisure to pursue his favourite study of diunity, and to execute the duties of a parish priest. “His inclinations,” says his biographer, “were all spiritual, and he only desired an opportunity of being more extensively useful for long before, he had fixed his thoughts on the rewards of a better world than the present.” His life was accordingly most exemplary, and his preaching efficacious. It was said that the very children of Monaghan, whom he carefully instructed, knew more of religion at that time, than the grown people of any of the neighbouring parishes, and the manners of his flock were soon greatly improved, and vice and ignorance retreated before so powerful an opponent. His charities were extraordinary, for all he derived from his curacy was 40l. of which he gave 10l. a year to his mother, and for some years a like sum to his tutor, Dr. Delany, to pay some debts he had contracted at college. The rest were for his maintenance and his charities, and when the pittance he could give was insufficient for the relief of the poor, he | solicited the aid of people of fortune, who usually contributed according to his desire, and could not indeed refuse a man who first gave his own before he would ask any of theirs. His visits to the jails were also attended with the happiest effects. On one remarkable occasion, when a convict at Monaghan, of whose innocence he was well assured, was condemned to be hanged within five days, he set off for Dublin, and on his arrival was admitted to the privy council, which then was sitting. Here he pleaded lor the poor man with such eloquence, as to obtain his pardon, and returned with it to Monaghan in time to save his life. In order to be of the more use to his poor parishioners, he studied physic, and was very successful in his gratuitous practice, as well as by his spiritual advice, and was the means of removing many prejudices and superstitions which he found very deeply rooted in their minds.

Mr. Skelton set out in his ministry in the character of an avowed champion of the orthodox faith. Deriving his religious principles from the pure source of information, the holy Scriptures themselves, he could find in these no real ground for modern refinements. Consequently he declared open war against all Arians, Socinians, c. and published several anonymous pieces against them. In 1736, he published “A Vindication of the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Winchester,” an ironical attack on Hoadly’s “Plain account of the nature and end of the Lord’s Supper.” When bishop Sterne read it, he sent for Skelton, and asked if he had written it? Skelton gave him an evasive answer. “Well, well,” said the bishop,“” ’tis a clever thing you are a young man of no fortune; take these ten guineas, you may want them.“I took the money,“Skelton told his biographer,” and said nothing, for I was then a poor curate."

He published the same year, “Some proposals for the revival of Christianity,” another piece of irony against the enemies of the church, which was imputed to Swift, who, as usual, neither affirmed nor denied; but only observed, that the author “had not continued the irony to the end.” In 1737, he published a “Dissertation on the constitution and effects of a Petty Jury.” In this, among other things, ^eems to object to locking up a jury without food, until they agree upon their opinion. The attorney general called at his bookseller’s, who refused to give up the name | of the author. “Well,” said the attorney general, “give my compliments to the author, and inform him from me, that I do not think there is virtue enough in the people of this country ever to put his scheme into practice.

His fame, however, both as a preacher and writer, his extraordinary care as an instructor of a parish, and his wonderful acts of charity and goodness, began, about 1737, to be the subject of conversation, not only in the diocese of Clogher, and other parts of the North, but also in the metropolis; but still no notice was taken of him in the way of preferment. Dr. Sterne, the bishop of Clogher, usually sent for him, after he had bestowed a good preferment upon another, and gave him, “by way of a sop,” ten guineas, which Mr. Skelton frequently presented to a Mr. Arbuthnot, a poor cast-off curate, who was unable to serve through age and infirmity. At length Dr. Delany, who had been his tutor at college, perceiving him thus neglected, procured for him an appointment to the curacy of St. Werburgh’s in Dublin. This would have been highly acceptable to Mr. Skelton, and Dr. Delany would have been much gratified to place such a man in a situation where his merits were likely to be duly appreciated: it is painful to relate in what manner both were disappointed. When he was on the point of leaving the diocese of Clogher, bishop Sterne perceiving that it would be to his discredit if a person of such abilities should leave his diocese for want of due encouragement, sent a clergyman to inform him, “that if he staid in his diocese he would give him the first living that should fall.” Relying on this, he wrote to Dr. Delany, and the curacy of St. Werburgh’s was otherwise disposed of. The first living that fell vacant was Monaghan, where he had so long officiated, which the bishop immediately gave to his nephew Mr. Hawkshaw, a young gentleman that had lately entered into orders! It would even appear that he had made his promise with a determination to break it, for when he bestowed the preferment on his nephew, he is reported to have said, “I give you now a living worth 300l. a year, and have kept the best curate in the diocese for you, who was going to leave it: be sure take his advice, and follow his directions, for he is a man of worth and sense.” But Skelton, with all his “worth and sense,” was not superior to the infirmities of his nature. He felt this treacherous indignity very acutely, and never attended a visitation | during the remainder of the bishop’s life, which continued for a series of years; nor did the bishop ever ask for him, or express any surprize at his absence. Under Mr. Hawkshaw, however, he Jived not unhappily. Mr. Hawkshaw submitted to his instructions, and followed his example, and there was often an amicable contest in the performance of their acts of duty and charity.

In 1741, he resumed his useful publications, “The Necessity of Tillage and Granaries, in a letter to a member of parliament,” and a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions, entitled “A curious production of Nature,” giving an account of a species of caterpillar which appeared on the trees at Monaghan. In 1742 he accepted the office of tutor to the late earl of Charlemout; but, owing to a difference with his lordship’s guardian, soon resigned this charge, and returned to his curacy. He had, however, a very high opinion of lord Chariemont, and, in 1743, dedicated to him his “Truth in a Mask,” a pamphlet in which he professes to “give religious truth such a dress and mask as may perhaps procure it admittance to a conference with some of its opposers and contemners:” his biographer, however, does not think he has been very successful in this attempt.

After he returned to his curacy, he was offered a school xvorth 500l. a year, arising from the benefit of the scholars, but refused it as interfering with the plan of literary improvement and labour which he had marked out for himself; and when told that he might employ ushers, he said he could not in conscience take the money, without giving up his whole time and attention to his scholars. In 1744, he published “The Candid Reader, addressed to his terraqueous majesty, the WorUl.” The objects of his ridicule in this are Hill, the mathematician, who proposed making verses by an arithmetical table, lord Shaftesbury, and Johnson, the author of a play called “Hurlothrumbo,” with a parallel between Hurlothrumbo and the rhapsody of Shaftesbury. In the same year he also published “A Letter to the authors of Divine Analogy and the Minute Philosopher, from an old officer,” a plain, sensible letter, advising the two polemics to turn their arms from one another against the common enemies of the Christian faith. During the rebellion in 1745, he published a very seasonable and shrewd pamphlet, entitled the “Chevalier’s hopes.| On the death of Dr. Sterne, the see of Clogher was filled by Dr. Clayton, author of the “Essay on Spirit,” a decided Arian; and between him and Skelton there could consequently be no coincidence of opinion, or mutuality of respect. In 1748, Mr. Skelton having prepared for the press his valuable work entitled “Deism revealed,” he conceived it too important to be published in Ireland, and therefore determined to go to London, and dispose of it there. On his arrival, he submitted his manuscript to Andrew Millar, the bookseller, to know if he would purchase it, and have it printed at his own expence. The bookseller desired him, as is usual, to leave it with him for a day or two, until he could get a certain gentleman of great abilities to examine it. Hume is said to have come in accidentally into the shop, and Millar shewed him the ms. Hume took it into a room adjoining the shop, examined it here and there for about an hour, and then said to Andrew, print. By this work Skelton made about 200l. The bookseller allowed him for the manuscript a great many copies, which he disposed of among the citizens of London, with whom, on account of his preaching, he was a great favourite. He always spake with high approbation of the kindness with which he was received by many eminent merchants. When in London he spent a great part of his time in going through the city, purchasing books at a cheap rate, with the greater part of the money he got by his “Deism revealed,” and formed a good library. This work was published in 1749, in two volumes, large octavo, and a second edition was called for in 1751, which waacomprized in two volumes 12mo. It has ever been considered as a masterly answer to the cavils of deists; but the style in this, as in some other of his works, is not uniform, and his attempts at wit are rather too frequent, and certainly not very successful. A few months after its publication the bishop of Clogher, Dr. Clayton, was asked by Sherlock, bishop of London, if he knew the author. “O yes, he has been a curate in my diocese near these twenty years.” “More shame for your lordship,” answered Sherlock, “to let a man of his merit continue so long a curate in your diocese.

After a residence at London of about six months, during which he preached some of the sermons since published in his works, Mr. Skelton returned to his curacy in Ireland, and in 1750, a large living became vacant in the diocese | of Clogher. Dr. Delany and another bishop immediately waited on bishop Clayton, and told him, that if he did not give Skehon a living now, after disappointing them so often, they would take him out of his diocese. This, however, was not entirely effectual: Clayton could not refuse the request, hut made several removals on purpose to place Skelton in the living of Pettigo, in a wild part of the county of Donegal, worth about 200l. a year, the people uncultivated, disorderly, fond of drinking and quarrelling, and, in a word, sunk in profound ignorance. He used to say, he was a missionary sent to convert them to Christianity, and that he was banished from all civilised society. He often declared that he was obliged to ride seven miles before he could meet with a person of common sense to converse with. With such difficulties, however, Skeltou was born to contend. He always had a conscientious feeling of the wants of his flock, with a strong impelling sense of duty. His biographer has given a very interesting account of the means, pious and charitable, which he took to meliorate the condition of his parish, which, for the sake of brevity, we must omit; suffice it to say, they were effectual; but his situation affected his mind in some degree, and he became liable to occasional fits of the hypochondriac kind, which recurred more or less in the alterpart of his life.

Jn this lonely situation he found sometime for study, and besides an excellent visitation sermon on the “Dignity of the Christian Ministry,” he published in 1753The Consultation, or a Dialogue of the Gods, in the manner of Lucian,” intended to ridicule the Arians; and in this, or the following year, went again to London to publish his discourses, two volumes of which appeared in 1754, under the title of “Discourses Controversial and Practical, on various subjects, proper for the consideration of the present times. By the author of ‘ Deism revealed 1

In 1757 a remarkable dearth prevailed in Ireland, and no where more than in Mr. Skelton’s parish. The scenes of distress which he witnessed would now appear scarcely credible. He immediately set himself to alleviate the wants of his flock, by purchases of meal, &c. at other markets, until he had exhausted all his money, and then he had recourse to a sacrifice which every man of learning will duly appreciate. He resolved to sell his books, almost the only comfort he had in this dreary solitude, and relieve his | indigent parishioners with the money. Watson, a bookseller in Dublin, who had advertised then: for sale without success, at last bought them himself for 80l. and immediately paid the money. Soon after they were advertised, two ladies, lady Barrymore and a Miss Leslie, who guessed at Skelton’s reason for selling his hooks, sent him So/, requesting him to keep his books, and relieve his poor with the money; but Skelton, with many expressions of gratitude, told them he had dedicated his books to God, and he must sell them; and accordingly both sums were applied to the relief of his parishioners. Every heart warms at the recital of such an act of benevolence, and all reflections on it would lessen the impression. One other circumstance may be added. The bookseller sold only a part of the books in the course of trade, and those that remained, Mr. Skelton, when he could allord it, took from him at the price he sold them for, but insisted on paying interest for the sum they amounted to, for the time Mr. Watson had them in his possession.

About 1758, a pamphlet appeared in Dublin, entitled “An Appeal to the common sense of all Christian people,” an artful defence of Arianism, an answer to which was written by Mr. Skelton, in the opinion of his biographer, in a masterly manner and style, exceeding any of hi* former compositions. But as the “Appeal” sunk into obscurity, the answer was not inserted in the edition of his works published in 1770. Here, however, maybe found a description of Longh-Derg, which he wrote about this time, a place much visited by the superstitious. In 1758, Dr. Clayton, bishop of Clogher, died, and was succeeded by Dr. Garnet, who treated Mr. Skelton with the respect he deserved, and in 1759 gave him the living of Devenish, in the county of Fermanagh, near Enniskillen, worth about 300l. a year, and thus he was brought once more into civilized society. When leaving Pettigo, he said to the poor, “Give me your blessing now before I go, and God’s blessing be with you. When you are in great distress, come to me, and I ‘11 strive to relieve you.” In this new charge, he exerted the same zeal to instruct his flock both in public and private, and the same benevolence toward the poor which had made him so great a benefit to his former people. W r e must refer to his biographer for numerous proofs, for which his memory continues still to be held in high veneration. In 17oG, the bishop of | Clogher removed him from Devenish to the living of Fintona, in the county of Tyrone, worth at least 100l. more than the other. He was now in the fifty-ninth year of his age. “God Almighty,” he used to say, “was very kind to me: when I began to advance in years and stood in need of a horse and servant, he gave me a living. Then he gave me two livings, one after another, each of which was worth a hundred a year more than the preceding. I have therefore been rewarded by him, even in this world, far above my deserts.

At Fintona, he shewed himself the same diligent, kind, and faithful pastor as when on his former livings; but two varieties occurred here very characteristic of the man. Having discovered that most of his protestant parishioners were dissenters, he invited their minister to dine with him, and asked his leave to preach in his meeting on the next Sunday; and consent being given, the people were so pleased with Mr. Skelton, that the greater number of them quitted their own teacher. After some time, Skelton asked him how much he had lost by the desertion of his hearers? He told him 40l. a year, on which he settled that sum on him annually. We mentioned in a former page that Mr. Skelton had studied physic with a view to assist the poor with advice and medicines. By this practice, at Fintona, he found that Dr. Gormly, the physician of the place, lost a great part of his business; on which Skelton settled also 40l. a year on him. In both these instances, his biographer observes, he not only took on him the toil of doing good, but also voluntarily paid for doing it.

In 1770, he published his works by subscription, in 5 vols. 8vo, for the benefit of the Magdalen charity. The first volume contains “Deism revealed,” the second and third, the “Sermons” he published in England, the fourth an additional number of sermons not before printed; the fifth consisted of miscellanies, of which some had not been before published, as “Reasons for Inoculation,” an “Account of a Well or Pool’‘ near Clovis, in the county of Monaghan, famous for curing the jaundice;” Observations on a late resignation,“that of the rev. William Robertson (see his life, vol. XXVI. p. 257.)A Dream,“intended to expose the folly of fashion; and” Hilema," a copse or shrubbery, consisting of observations and anecdotes.

In his latter days, when the air of Fintona became too keen for him, he passed some of his winters in Dublin, and | there was highly valued for his preaching, which, in the case of charities, was remarkably successful. During a dearth, owing to the decline of the yarn manufactory at Fintona, he again exhausted his whole property in relieving the poor, and again sold his books for 100l. He said he was now too old to use them; but the real cause was, that he wanted the money to give to the poor, and the year after he bestowed on them 60l. It was one of his practices to distribute money, even in times of moderate plenty, among indigent housekeepers, who were struggling to preserve a decent appearance. He was also the kind and liberal patron of such of their children as had abilities, and could, by his urgent application and interest, be advanced in the world.

His infirmities increasing, after fifty years labour in the ministry with unexampled diligence, he now found himself incapable any longer of the discharge of his public duties, and in 1780 took his final leave of Fintona, and removed to Dublin, to end his days. Here he received great respect from many of the higher dignitaries of the church, and in 1781 the university offered him the degree of doctor of divinity, which he declined. In 1784 he published by subscription a sixth volume of his works, containing “An Appeal to common sense on the subject of Christianity,” &c. or a historical proof of the truth of Christianity, superior in style and arrangement to any of his former productions, and which shewed that his faculties were in full force at the age of seventy-six. In the same volume, are “Some Thoughts on Common Sense,” some hymns, and a Latin poem. In 1786 he published his seventh volume, entitled *’ Senilia, or an Old Man’s Miscellany," In the same year he published a short answer to a catechism, written by an English clergyman, and used at Sunday schools, which he supposed to contain an erroneous doctrine with respect to the state of men after death, and sent a copy to all the bishops of England and Ireland. The archbishop of Dublin was so convinced by it, that he stopped the use of the catechism in his diocese.

Mr. Skelton died May 4, 1787, and was buried near the west door of St. Peter’s church-yard. His character has been in some degree displayed in the preceding sketch taken from his “Life,” by the rev. Samuel Burdy, 1792, 8vo. With the exception of some oddities of conduct and expression, in which he somewhat resembled Swift and | Johnson, his life was truly exemplary in all its parts, and his writings deserve to be better known. 1

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Life as above.