Isaac Bickerstaff

Isaac Bickerstaff Esq was a pseudonym used by Jonathan Swift as part of a hoax to predict the death of then famous Almanac–maker and astrologer John Partridge.

“All Fools' Day” (now known as April Fools' Day which falls on 1 April) was Swift’s favourite of holidays and he often used this day to aim his biting satirical wit at non-believers in an attempt to “make sin and folly bleed.” Disgruntled by Partridge’s sarcastic attack about the “''infallible'' Church” written in his 1708 issue of Merlinus Almanac, Swift projected carefully 3 letters and one Eulogy as an elaborate plan to “predict” Partridge’s “''infallible'' death” to be revealed on April 1, All Fools' Day.

The first of the three letters, Predictions for the Year 1708, published in January 1708, predicts, among other things, the death of Partridge by a “raging fever.” The second letter, The Accomplishment of the First of Mr. Bickerstaff’s Predictions, published in March 1708, Swift writes not as Bickerstaff but as a “man employed in the Revenue” where he “confirms” the imaginary Bickerstaff’s prediction. To accompany The Accomplishments Swift also publishes an Elegy for Partridge in which, typical of Swift’s satire, he blames not only Partridge, but those who purchase the Almanacs as well:

:Here, five Foot deep, lies on his Back, :A Cobler, Starmonger, and Quack; :Who to the Stars in pure Good–will, :Does to his best look upward still. :Weep all you Customers that use :His Pills, his Almanacks, or Shoes; :And you that did your Fortunes seek, :Step to his Grave but once a Week: :This Earth which bears his Body’s Print, :You’ll find has so much Vertue in’t, :That I durst pawn my Ears ’twill tell :Whate’er concerns you full as well, :In Physick, Stolen Goods, or Love, :As he himself could, when above.


The hoax, gaining immense popularity, plagued Partridge till the ''real'' end of his life. Mourners, who believed him to be dead, often kept him awake at night crying outside his window. Accounts of an undertaker arriving at his house to arrange drapes for the mourning, an elegy being printed and even a gravestone being carved, all culminate to Partridge publishing a letter in hopes to have a last word on the matter and proclaim (and reclaim) himself as living. In 1709 Swift, writing as Bickerstaff for the last time, publishes A Vindication of Isaac Bickerstaff in which he abandons any real attempt to maintain the hoax. Bickerstaff counter-argues Partridge's letter of proclamation disputing, “'' They were sure no man alive ever to writ such damned stuff as this''.” He goes on to sarcastically reason that “death is defined by all Philosophers [as a] separation of the soul and body. [Partridge’s wife] has gone about for some time to every Alley in the neighborhood…''that her husband had neither life nor soul in him''.” Provided by Wikipedia

1
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1787
Printed for G. Lister, No. 46, Old Bailey; and sold by all booksellers News-carriers, &c. in Great Britain and Ireland

2
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1769
Printed by James Magee, at the Bible and Crown in Bridge-street

3
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1790
Printed for R. Butters, No. 79, Fleet-street; and sold by all the booksellers in town and country

6
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1790
Printed for H.D. Symonds, No. 20, Paternoster-Row; and sold by all the booksellers in town and country

8
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1767
Printed by James Magee, at the Bible and Crown, in Bridge-street

9
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1800
Printed and sold by J. White, near Charles'-River Bridge

10
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1794
From the press of M. Carey

12
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1710
printed for the Company of Stationers, anno æræ Christianæ

13
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1769
printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick's Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand

14
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1769
printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick's Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand

15
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1768
printed for T. Becket and P. A. de Hondt. in the Strand

16
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1773
printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick's Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand

17
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1769
printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick's Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand

18
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1769
printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick's Head, in Catharine-Street in the Strand

19
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1770
[Printed at Stonecutter-street [by C. Sympson?]

20
by Bickerstaff, Isaac
Published 1795
Printed for James Williams, at No. 5, in Skinner-Row. MDCCLXXIII. Sold by G. Walsh, 19, Wood-Quay