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The following narrative will not, I hope, be deemed unworthy of notice in an age so attentive to productions of a similar nature. The person who is the subject of it has published, it is well known, many octavo volumes, which, though not among the most perfect of their kind, on the whole possess such merit as proves him a man of genius. Besides, to write so much in defence of religion and virtue demands, I should think, some gratitude from those who are influenced by a regard for the most important interests of mankind. -The learned works of that most worthy man, bis eminent abilities as a preacher, his other uncommon exertions in his ministerial capacity, the singularity of his character, the strict purity of his conduct, and his surprising charities, taken all together, made him perhaps one of the most extraordinary persons that Ireland has produced, in which country he was universally known, and also the frequent subject of conversation. I shall therefore make no farther apology for publishing his life.
In collecting the materials for it I carefully endeavoured to arrive at truth, which is acknowledged to be the first excellence of every bistoric composition. But lest the reader may not be satisfied of my care in this point, I shall briefly mention my authorities.
Having been recommended to Mr. Skelton, by means of two sisters of his at Dromore, in the year 1780, when I was a scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, I was soon after admitted into his friendship and confidence, in which I continued until he died. During the three last years of my residence at that university, I passed at least three evenings with him in the week, and in my absence was favoured with his correspondence. In my numerous conversations with him I frequently inquired into the several incidents of his life, and usually preserved the information he afforded
From his sisters above-mentioned, and some others of his relations, and from the people in the parish where he was born, I learned more particulars both of him and his family. With the materials thus obtained I was not content, but, in the year 1788, went to the several parishes where he had lived either as curate or rector, and conversed with those who were well acquainted with him during the different periods of his life, to acquire more anecdotes, and render my information as accurate as possible. I also, among other places which it is too tedious to mention, extended my journey to the metropolis, and received there such intelligence as made sufficient amends for my trouble. In preparing the materials for the press I have probably taken more pains than it would be prudent to own, being resolved not to offer a work of this kind to the public without serious and mature deliberation.
Down, January 10, 1792.
LIFE OF THE AUTHOR,
BIOGRAPHY conveys very useful instruction, setting before us the lives of eminent men, that we may imitate their virtues, or avoid their vices. It is a tribute due to merit after death, and an inducement for others to strive to deserve this honour. It is even more congenial to our feelings than history itself; because few can be statesmen or generals, but every one bears a part in society. The historian introduces us into national assemblies, and presents to us scenes of public commotion. The biographer leads us into the sequestered walks of private life. The one is therefore more dignified and important; the other more pleasing and natural. We are usually curious to know every circumstance of the lives of those, who have been distinguished from the rest of men. Yet so depraved is our nature, that we read with more delight accounts of the destroyers than of the preservers of mankind. We are more pleased to attend the conqueror in his progress of ruin and devastation, than to observe the faithful pastor, carefully endeavouring to remove the doubts, rectify the errors, supply the wants, and soften the sorrows, of the flock committed to his charge. Of this latter description was the great and good man, whose life I now offer to the public.
Philip Skelton was born in the parish of Derriaghy near Lisburn, in February 1706-7. His father, Richard Skelton, was a decent and honest countryman, who held under Lord Conway a large farm at a cheap rent. The father of Richard was the first of the family that came over from England to reside in Ireland. He was an engineer of some repute in that country, and was sent over by King Charles I. to inspect the Irish fortifications. He enjoyed, however, but a short time the benefit of this employment, when the re