How Jonathan Swift Convinced Everyone His Enemy Was Dead

And other absurd, hilarious stories about history’s strangest literary objects from Edward Brooke-Hitching’s ‘The Madman’s Library’

Angela Lashbrook
7 min readApr 16, 2021

In Over Coffee, writer, reader, and haphazard reviewer Angela Lashbrook chats with authors about their recent books, and quizzes them on their hot breakfast takes.

In 1708, under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, writer Jonathan Swift published an almanac of predictions, titled, helpfully, Predictions for the Year 1708. Contained within it was the prediction that another almanac author, astrologer and Whig-supporter John Partridge, “will infallibly die upon 29 March next, about 11 at night, of raging fever.” Swift quickly followed up his almanac with a pamphlet, The Accomplishment of the first of Mr Bickerstaff’s Predictions. Being an account of the Death of Mr Partridge, announcing that Partridge had indeed succumbed to fever — but not before admitting he was a fraud in his final words.

Except Partridge was very much alive, and urgently published his own follow-up pamphlet attempting to prove it. Swift swiftly released another pamphlet, denouncing the “Partridge” pamphlet as a hoax; it would be six years before anyone would believe that Partridge was, indeed, still living and…

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Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.