Philip Skelton

Life
1707-1787; b. Derraghy, nr. Lisburn, Co. Antrim; Irish divine and scholar, ed. TCD Sch., 1726; BA 1728; curate to Dr. Samuel Madden, afterwards at Monaghan; came to London to publish Ophiomaches, or Deism Revealed (1748); incumbent of Templecar on Lough Derg, 1750-59, Devenish 1759-66, Fintona [Fermanagh], 1766; devoted to poor parishioners; represented in Lyra Hibernica Sacra; d. 4 May, bur. St Peter’s Churchyard, Dublin; his Collected Works (1770) incl. the first account of the Lough Derg Pilgrimage and sixteen lengthy poems on pious subjects along with other theological matter; the life by Rev. Samuel Burdy (1792) is considered remarkable for its use of Ulster vernacular; the Complete Works edited by Robert Lynam in 1824 is flawed by extensive supposed improvements; an obituary appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine (June 1820). RR ODNB PI DIB DIW FDA OCIL.

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Works
A vindication of ... the Bishop of Winchester, against the malicious aspersions of those who uncharitably ascribe the book ... A Plain Account ... to his Lordship (Dublin 1736); A letter to the author of the Divine Analogy and the Minute Philosopher (1734); Ophiomaches, or Deism Revealed (London 1749) [var. 1748]; The Censor Censured (Dublin 1750); works edited in 1770 and 1824.

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Criticism
Samuel Burdy, Memoirs of Rev. Philip Skelton (London 1792), and Do, rep. edn. introduced by Norman Moore (1914) [also prefaced to Works, 1824]; Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), vol. II, pp.543-51; D. Berman, ‘The Culmination and Causation of Irish Philosophy,’ in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 64 (1982), pp.257-79. See also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 2.

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Commentary
Patricia Craig, ed., The Rattle of the North (Blackstaff 1992), gives extract from Burdy’s Life of the Late Rev. Philip Skelton (here p.71ff.). In it, he relates how Skelton, unable to find a wife whom he could like and afford, was obliged to attempting to keep passion down by living off vegetables; how he defended the food he brought to feed the famine-stricken peasants with a whip applied to highwaymen; and how he was prone to hypochondria, called ‘the hips’; Burdy writes, ‘It may be remarked that all this tends to degrade the person whose life I write; but in my opinion it only shows that he was his own peculiarities to which great characters are in general more subject than ordinary men.’ [See Craig, Introduction, p.7].

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References
Charles Read, ed., A Cabinet of Irish Literature (3 vols., 1876-78), cites Vindication of Bishop Hoadley and Proposal for the Revival of Christianity (1736); Ophiomaches, or Deism Revealed (1748); Discourses Controversial and Practical on various Subjects (1754); Description of Lough Derg (1759); Some Proposals for the Revival of Christianity (1736).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, 796-97: extract from Ophiomaches, or, Deism Revealed (1749) [SHEPARD, ‘I did not say, Sir, that it was impossible to form any idea of God; but only, that reason, left to itself, having no power of its own to form any ideas at all, and being supplied with ideas to work on only thro’ the senses, could hardly form a right idea of God. This, however, it might be enabled to do by him who taught it to believe, that the soul of man is formed in the image of God; and that as we present our souls to our own conceptions by a similitude or analogy to matter, so we ought to represent him in our thoughts by the analogy between him and our souls’].

Irish Book Lover, VI, p.185 gives notice of Burdy’s Life, reprinted by Norman Moore, 1914, and remarks that he sold his library twice to feed the hungry of his parish; Irish Book Lover, XIV notes that there is an obituary in Blackwood’s Magazine for June 1820; the entry in the Dictionary of National Biography is by Norman Moore. SEE also under Burdy, Rx.

Belfast Central Public Library holds Collected Works (5 vols. 1770).

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Quotations
When asked to assist a Tory candidate in the local elections, he agreed, saying, ‘They are a pack of rascals and a rascal is fittest to represent them’ [from Moore’s pref. to Burdy’s Life, 1914].

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