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whole collection on a Sunday should amount to. But when he perceived the people began to give less than what they used, he said to them, "farewell conjunction for the time to come; you are now falling short of what you gave at first, but you shall not confine my charity;" and then divided his own portion among the poor every month.
He also practised physic at Pettigo, as at Monaghan, and bestowed on his people medicines that he had procured for the purpose. His medicines and advice, must have been indispensably requisite in a country so uncivilized, that such assistance could not be easily obtained. Yet in dangerous cases he would not depend on his own skill, but sent fourteen miles off to Enniskillen for his intimate friend Dr. Scott, to whom, for his trouble in attending his parishioners, he allowed, I am assured, rent-free, the whole glebe of the parish of Pettigo, already mentioned, which is now let for 401. a year.
Soon after he got this living, the bishop of Clogher let him know by a message, that he expected he would preach the next visitation-sermon. Though he was unwilling, as some others, who were promoted before him, had not then preached, yet he promised to prepare himself for it. But his lordship had soon reason to suspect he would speak some disagreeable truths in his sermon, and make some sharp remarks on those clergymen who enjoy ecclesiastical emoluments though they disbelieve or oppose the principal doctrines contained in our articles. Consequently, as he was afraid, that some of the weapons which the preacher might dart from the pulpit would hit himself, he began to repent that he had offered to put him in a situation so convenient for him to make his attack upon others. His apprehension, increasing daily as the visitation approached, caused him to send to him a favourite clergyman, one happily of his own religious notions, to inform him that the bishop would not ask him to preach at the visitation. But having, in compliance with his lordship's desire, made a sermon for the purpose, he told the clergyman, that he had prepared his sermon, and that he would preach it at the visitation. The bishop, it may be supposed, did not interpose his authority, and therefore he preached his sermon entitled, the Dignity
of the Christian Ministry, at the visitation in 1751. This probably is one of the best sermons of this nature extant in our language. Its style is clear, forcible, animated with true piety. He makes in it a very proper distinction between the temporal dignity derived from the possession of worldly goods, and the spiritual dignity conferred by Jesus Christ upon the ministers of his gospel. To quote every excellent part in this sermon, would be indeed to quote the whole; and it is impossible to contract it, as it contains almost as many thoughts as words. The bishop himself, and all double-dealers in the church got a gentle rub as he passed; but he made no personal application. For any farther particulars the inquisitive reader is referred to the sermon itself.
The publication of the "Essay on Spirit," which made a great noise in the world, produced, as might be expected, some very severe answers. Mr. Skelton, who apprehended not without reason, that the bishop suspected him to be author of some of them, wrote him a letter (in 1752) assuring his lordship he was not. He used to say in private companies, that he would not write against the bishop, as he considered himself under obligations to him for the living of Pettigo. Yet his solemn asseverations were not sufficient to remove his lordship's scruples, who, notwithstanding, under pretence of being convinced by his letter, dined with him afterward in Pettigo.
The want of rational company added to the natural gloominess of the place. Pettigo, he called Siberia, and said he was banished from all civilized society. I heard him often declare, he was forced to ride seven miles before he could meet with a person of common sense to converse with. He found it necessary, in his own defence, to take frequent excursions to hear some rational conversation, and to get rid for a while of the illiterate people of Pettigo, whose barbarous language was constantly in his ears. Sir James Caldwell, Dr. Scott, Rev. Dr. Mac Donnel, Rev. Mr. Wallace, and some other clergy of the diocess of Clogher, were the persons he used generally to
Plunket, with whom he lodged, could give him but one room with an earthen floor, where he slept and studied; in
which he had a screen or curtain so fixed that he could let it down upon occasions to conceal his bed. Here Sir James Caldwell, and other gentlemen of the country, have dined with him; for he was always fond of polished society. His chief meal at that time was his dinner, as he eat but little breakfast, and no supper; a sort of abstinence he found requisite to keep his passions in due order. He was for the same reason equally abstemious in sleep as in food; for he took but four hours sleep, and passed the rest of the night in prayer and meditation. Being at that time unhappily afflicted with religious melancholy, to which many good men are liable, he was seized with doubts about his salvation, and in the middle of the night often fell a crying, imagining he should be lost, he was so sinful a creature. While he was in these gloomy fits, he used to raise the man of the house out of his bed, and beg of him to awake the rest of the family, that he and they might pray with him, as he stood in need of all good Christians' prayers, his case was so desperate. I heard this from a lady who slept in a room adjoining his at the time. The poor man of the house strove to comfort him, telling him he was a pious charitable clergyman, and that there were few or none as good as he; so that he had no reason to have such scruples about his salvation. These gloomy notions were partly produced by his lonely sequestered life, for solitude is one of the parents of melancholy.
He also at that time, on the same account, often imagined that he was just on the point of death. One day he told his servant that his hour was approaching, and his thread of life spent, and desired him to get the horses ready, that he might go to Dr. Scott's and die there. The servant obeyed; but when he got a short way on the road, he began to whistle and sing, and said he was happy. The ride, it is to be supposed, helped to raise his spirits, an effect which it is often able to produce.
However, a ride had not always this happy effect on him. He rode to Dr. Scott's again when he had the same complaint. The doctor being then abroad, Mrs. Scott, on his appearing uneasy, offered to send for him: on which he began to hesitate; now he allowed her, then he refused; and continued in this wavering state until evening, when
he told her, he should die that night in her house. This dismal news frightened her so, that she could not sleep the whole night. She lay in a room adjoining his, and was always listening if she could hear him breathe, which he did stoutly and strongly. The doctor, who came home in the morning, on his inquiring into his case, would prescribe nothing to him but a glass of wine.
Once more he came to Dr. Scott's when he was similarly affected, accompanied by Robert Plunket with whom he lodged, and assured the doctor, as usual, he should die that night; but he cured him by a little wine, and company. In the morning he sent for a tailor to take his measure for a suit of clothes, when Plunket coming in observed, that he thought the undertaker would be taking his measure for a coffin. He told him he was growing better, but if he died the clothes would suit some one else.
Another time, while these attacks were upon him, and he was telling the people about him, that he was just going to die, one Robert Johnston of Pettigo who was present said to him, "Make a day, sir, and keep it, and don't be always disappointing us thus." This made him laugh, and shook off his disorder. It may be remarked, that all this tends to degrade the person whose life I write; but in my opinion it only shews, that he had his own peculiarities, to which great characters are in general more subject than or dinary men,
The private stills in the parish of Pettigo being at that time innumerable, made the whiskey cheap and plentiful, which caused the people to be addicted to drunkenness. The Catholics, who were most numerous, were chiefly remarkable for this; though the Protestants, were but little better. At burials, to which they flocked from all quarters, they drank most shamefully. It was the custom with them, as soon as the corpse was buried, to assemble in a field adjacent to the church-yard, and pour whiskey, like cold water, down their throats. Twenty gallons of strong whiskey have been often drunk at such a meeting. When their blood was sufficiently heated by the spirits, they then, as it was natural, fell a boxing with one another, even the near relations of the deceased. Many have been killed at such riotous meetings, either by quarrelling or drinking.
Mr. Skelton told a story that marks clearly the savage manners of the people. One of these Pettigo men came up to him one day with joy in his face, and said to him; "O! we had the finest drinking ever was two or three days ago; we were all drinking in a field after a burial, and we drank two or three kegs of strong whiskey. While we were drinking the last keg, a poor fellow (he said, mimicking him) who sat on the grass near me, fell down on his back, and then gave a shake or two with his hands and feet, and stirred no more. We looked at him, and found he was quite dead; then we took an empty keg, and clapt it on his breast, and shouted, we'd have another fine drinking bout at his burial. Then we waked him that night; and next day, at the burial, we drank strong whiskey, as much as before. So we had fine sport." The wild parts of Munster or Connaught could scarce exhibit such savage barbarity of manners.
Mr. Skelton strove with all his power to dissuade them from this brutish practice. Those he could prevail on he made swear against drinking, and in his church he preached against it. A sermon he preached to them on this subject is printed in his works, entitled, "Woe to the drunkard;" which, had they the feelings of common men, must have had an effect on them, especially when delivered by such a preacher as Mr. Skelton. Yet his advice and preaching produced in this instance but little reformation. Whiskey was plentiful, and the vice was established by long practice. It is almost impossible to make people lay aside at once customs of this sort, sanctioned by time, and pleasing to their appetites. The advance from barbarisin to civility must, like every other improvement, be gradual. His own hearers were probably in some degree reclaimed by him from beastly drunkenness. He strove also to limit the expenses of all his people at christenings and marriages; for they usually spent all they could collect at these ceremonies, and afterward were nearly starving. I heard of a curious answer which an old woman of Pettigo made him, when he was just going to marry her to a young man. "What's the reason," he said to her, "you're doing this; 'tis for your penny of money he marries you, sure he hates you, for you're both old and ugly."