Isaac Bickerstaff was the pen name
of an early 18th Century soothsayer
known for writing very strange
pamphlets. In 1708, Bickerstaff penned Predictions for the Year 1708
, in which he made a very specific prophecy
: namely, that famous astrologer
(and editor of rival almanac Merlinus Liberatus
) John Partridge
would "infallibly die
upon the 29th of March next, about 11 at night, of a raging fever
On March 30, the day after the predicted death, Bickerstaff published a pamphlet in which he stated Partridge had indeed died, within four hours of the pronounced time. The work went on to describe the astrologer's last moments in vivid detail, including the dying man's confession of charlatanism.
Intensely objecting to this pamphlet was Partridge, who was in fact very much alive. To publicize his continued life, the astrologer advertised heavily in newspapers and made numerous public appearances. Bickerstaff, supported by other writers, deemed this man an imposter, and maintained that Partridge was indeed deceased. The public sided with Bickerstaff.
His life in ruin, Partridge spent the last seven years of his life trying to convince an unbelieving England that he was who he claimed to be. He also waged a secret campaign to try and discover the true identity of Bickerstaff, but died before finding out.
Today, the identity of Bickerstaff is well-known: the devious prognosticator was none other than Jonathan Swift.