« ForrigeFortsæt »
bellion of forty-one began; and being then deprived of it was reduced to difficulties, which were at least not diminished by the accession of Cromwell's party to power; for, as he might expect, they would not restore him to an office conferred on him by the King, the unhappy victim of their ambition. Necessity obliged him now to strive to get an honest livelihood by working with his hands, to which, we may suppose, he was not accustomed before. Such changes, however, in men's circumstances were not unusual at that time, when, by the victory of the hypocritical saints, society was inverted. He soon after married, and had a farm in the county of Armagh, where he resided during the rest of his life.
His son Richard in his younger days lived at Bottle-hill in the same county. He had served an apprenticeship to a gunsmith, and was employed at that trade when he went to Kilwarlin, and married there Arabella Cathcart, by whom he obtained the farm in Derriaghy already mentioned. Having removed, on his marriage, to that parish, he wrought diligently at his trade, until the whole country was put in confusion by the war between William and James. He was then carried off by King James, and compelled to work for his army. His wife, who had two children, and was pregnant with the third, having obtained a pass from the King, retired with her family to Island-Magee, a small peninsula near Carrickfergus; where she was delivered of her third child, and experienced, during her illness, tender usage from the poor inhabitants, who sat up with her at nights to take care of her.
" Whose turn is it (they used to say to one another) to sit up with the stranger to-night.” Nor was she ungrateful to them for their kindness. She intrusted her house and farm to a Roman Catholic family called Himill, who acting with singular honesty on the occasion, sent her in her retirement abundance of butter, flour, and every other necessary of life, the produce of her farm. With a large share of what she received she rewarded the people of Island-Magee for their services. On her return she found every thing belonging to her carefully preserved by the Catholics, who
as much care of her property as if it had been their own. Such instances of fidelity were but rare in those turbulent times, when bigotry too often destroyed the force of moral obligations. Her children, on that account, had always à regard for those of the Catholic persuasion. I heard Mr. Skelton often say, that the poor original Irish were naturally faithful, humane, and averse to blood.
His father, who preferred the cause of William, wrought afterward voluntarily for his army.
Let us not despise him for being the son of a gunsmith. Men of superior merit do not always spring up in the higher ranks of society. Demosthenes, it is well known, was the son of a blacksmith ; yet this circumstance of his origin never detracted from his fame. The poet, bis panegyrist, seems to dwell on it with pleasure.
Quem pater ardentis massæ fuligine lippus,
His father blear-ey'd with the glowing bar,
In the latter part of his life he quitted the gunsmith trade, which could not be profitable in a country place, and kept a little tan-yard; so that Mr. Skelton used to call himself the son of a tanner. At his father's, he said, they always got beef on a Sunday, but not regularly during the rest of the week. The farm which he had was indeed suf, ficient of itself to afford a competent support to himself and family; yet it was necessary he should be frugal and ina dustrious, for he had six sons and four daughters. Three of his sons were educated for the profession of clergymen of the established church, of which he was a member. These were Philip who was the youngest, John who was schoolmaster of Dundalk, and Thomas who had the small living of Newry.
Philip, when he was about ten years old, was sent to Lisburn grammar-school, which was then kept by the Rev. Mr. Clarke, a man of eminence in his profession; who, having afterward left that place on account of a dispute with Lord Conway, obtained the school of Drogheda, where he lived to an advanced age. His spirited resistance thus helped to gain him promotion in the world, which too frequently is the reward of tame submission to superiors. However, he did not leave Lisburn, until after Mr. Skelton had completed the course of his school studies. His father, though he lived within two miles of the town, placed him at lodgings there, that he might enjoy every opportunity of improvement. Sensible of its importance, the parent did not spare expense to give his children the benefit of education... On Saturday evening Philip always went to his father's, and returned to Lisburn on Monday morning.
At first he did not relish his grammar, which seemed dry and disagreeable, and therefore he would not confine himself to it. The master complained of this to his father, who used the following method to cure him of his idleness. He raised him one Monday morning early out of his bed, and having put a pair of coarse brogues on his feet, ordered him to go out immediately to the fields to work with the common labourers. This command he willingly obeyed, supposing it would be less laborious to toil there, than to fatigue his head with hard study. His father made him carry stones on a hand-barrow, and submit to the severest drudgery; not allowing him to come home to his breakfast, but keeping him fasting long beyond the usual time, and then sending him the coarsest food to eat in the open fields. When he returned from his day's work, he treated him as he did the lowest servant. He would not suffer him to keep company with the rest of his children, but bade him go to his companions the servants, and stay with thens. Broken down at last by this hard usage he began to relent, and burst into tears. His father then said to him, “ Şirrah, I'll make this proposal to you: Whether do you choose to toil and drudge all your life, as you have these few day's past, living on coarse food, clad in frize clothes, and with brogues on your feet, or to apply to your books, and eat, and drink, and be dressed like your brothers here ?" pointing to his brothers, who, as it was the vacation, had just come down from the university, decked out in Dublin finery. Poor Philip, whose bones ached with the hand-barrow, said, “be would readily go to school, and be attentive to his studies.” He kept his resolution, and continued studious ever after.
The success of this project proved the sagacity of his father, who was remarkable for his good sense over the whole parish of Derriaghy. The gentlemen of fortune in that place had such a high opinion of him, that they used to invite him frequently to their houses, for the sake of his conversation. A Bishop Smyth in particular, who lived there, shewed him every mark of attention, and his Lordship's daughters were pleased to make a companion of his eldest daughter, a young woman of sense and accomplishments soperior to the opportunities which she had enjoyed. Mr. Richard Skelton had also some knowledge of architecture, being employed to superintend the building of the present church of Derriaghy. His circumstances, by his care and industry, were daily improving, when death carried him off from his disconsolate family in the fiftieth year of his age; while he was engaged in building a dwelling-house, and making a new tan-yard, neither of which were ever after completed. Such are the hopes of man! A few hours before he died, he called to him his ten children to give them - a charge. Philip, who had been then but half a year at the Latin-school, he desired to study physic, and learn to cure the disease that was killing his father. He obeyed, as I will shew, the dying command, but fixed on divinity for his profession, to which he believed himself called by a voice more than human. Thus did he lose in his tender years an excellent father, a man of admirable sense, a strict observer of religion, and a careful instructor of his children. He retained ever after a grateful remembrance of his worth. In bis Senilia he calls him “ his wise and good father." He used to say with Horace, that if he were appointed to choose a father out of all the men in the world, he would take the one he had.
While he lived at Enpiskillen, he was once on a visit at Mr. Armour's, of Castle-Coole, where he met with a Mr. Tench, Dr. M‘Donald of the diocess of Clogher, and some others. The conversation turning upon the requisites to make a gentleman, on which they differed in opinion, Dr. M‘Donald said, education made a gentleman. Skelton denied it. He said, that he only was a gentleman, as Lord Burghley defines it, who has riches derived from ancestors, that possessed them from time immemorial. He told them, there was not one of them a gentleman except Mr. Tench. “ As for myself," he continued," I am no gentleman, my father was only a tanner; yet I would not change him for the best of your fathers, for he was a man of virtue and religion.”
His mother was left with ten children. She had indeed the benefit of the family farm, but land at that time was comparatively of little value, and a great part of hers was rough and mountainous. Consequently her means of support for such a large family were not abundant; but she made amends by her care and prudence in managing her affairs. Her son Philip, who continued still to go to the Latin-school, lived, as it seemed convenient, partly at her house, and partly at lodgings in Lisburn. The sharp medicine which his father administered to him, having cured him effectually of his idleness, he was ever after, as I have said already, extremely attentive to his studies. He that gains the prize of literature must pass through a previous course of discipline while a boy. Didicit prius extimuitque magistrum. Skelton's parts, at first, were not remarkably quick or retentive, but his diligence enabled him to overcome every obstacle. When he was at a loss for candles to read at night, wbich frequently happened, he made use of furze, which he gathered for the purpose, and then throwing them piece by piece upon the fire, read by the glimmering light. Such was the expedient suggested by an ardent desire for learning. He used to tell us, that when he was at school, he and some of his schoolfellows, who were also remarkably studious, often met together in the fields and examined each other most strictly for halfpence. He that could not answer the question proposed was forced to give a halfpenny to the boy who examined him; which made them, as he remarked, prepare themselves with great care, for halfpence were then very scarce.
The following little incident of his life, while he was at the Latin-school, cannot, I think, be unworthy the attention of the curious. Straying one day through the fields, near Lisburn, he happened to shout out on the top of a hill there, and found that the echo repeated the same words successively in a still lower tone. He used afterward often to amuse himself with speaking loud at this place. One morning he was repeating there the first line of Virgil,
Tityre 11 patulæ recubans sub tegmine fagi.