Friday 10 May 2013

The Unpublished 14: Swift vs Partridge

I recently wrote the following item as part of an article about the literary heritage of Dublin, Ireland. 

However, the editor requested a different approach and so the amusing tale of Jonathan Swift's astrological revenge ended up on the cutting room floor. Until now...

Oscar Wilde is the most famous of Dublin’s roll-call of great writers, and a man who could coin a devastating put-down at a moment’s notice.

When a poet complained that his latest book was being ignored in a “conspiracy of silence” and asked Wilde what to do, the rapid reply was “Join it.”

Wilde, however, would be no match in the cunning plan department for his stellar predecessor Jonathan Swift, masterful satirist and the author of Gulliver’s Travels.

Swift, who would later become Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, objected in 1708 to slighting remarks about the Church written by English shoemaker-turned-astrologer John Partridge.

Swift’s revenge was both subtle and spectacular. Drawing on Partridge’s history of inaccurately forecasting famous individuals’ deaths in annual almanacs, he predicted under a false name that Partridge would die on 29 March that year.

The efficient writer then sealed the hoax by issuing a letter under another pseudonym on the fatal date, announcing the astrologer’s death. Swift thoughtfully accompanied this declaration with a eulogy, which began “Here five foot deep lies on his back; A cobbler, starmonger, and quack.”

Partridge, though very much alive, never fully recovered from the inconvenience caused by the public’s enduring belief that he’d passed on.

As Swift and Wilde demonstrate, there’s nothing dull about the writers of Dublin. Over the centuries a cavalcade of literary stars has inhabited the institutions, streets, pubs and cafes of the city, creating great books, plays and poems.

Beyond Swift and Wilde, Dublin’s remarkable back catalogue of literary heroes includes James Joyce, WB Yeats, Samuel Beckett and George Bernard Shaw. And there’s no forgetting Bram Stoker, whose popularisation of the vampire myth has undergone a great resurgence in the 21st century.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise to discover that the Irish capital is a UNESCO City of Literature.

A great place to delve into the fascinating worlds summoned up by wordsmiths, Dublin offers many ways of diving into literature, including pubs with storytellers, grand libraries, ancient manuscripts, and tours exploring this city of words.

The Unpublished is a random series of my never-published travel articles. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished Topic tag below, then scroll down.

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