Hell Fire and Death Bed Cobblers September 26, 2012Posted by Beachcombing in : Modern , trackback
***Thanks to Tom W***
Beach has lived through a couple of death bed scenes and what he remembers most from those dreadful occasions is the immense sense of peace. But in history, it seems, there is anything but peace in the final minutes of life. Indeed, the most extraordinary things are always happening to the dying. Think Beethoven with the lightening on his ictused face, Stanton’s speaking ‘for the ages’ before Lincoln’s corpse, Darwin’s conversion to Christianity and Voltaire’s delicious reply to the priest who asked him whether he renounced Satan: ‘this is no time to be making enemies’.
We say that the most extraordinary things are always happening, in fact, the last four were very likely fabrications, as we have argued in previous posts. So perhaps peace is the keynote even for the greats of history? Well, Beach recently had a new death bed story sent in by Tom W. that is simply beautiful and that he has high hopes for.
The Earl of Rosse, ancestor of the great astronomy and engineering dynasties, was a typically debauched Hellfire Club member. On his deathbed he received a letter from the dean of Kilmore, requiring him to give up his whoring, rioting, drinking, and other wickedness. Seeing it was addressed just to ‘My Lord’, he sent it on to the famously devout Earl of Kildare, leading to no end of amusing consequences. (Taken from Blasphemers and Blackguards, the Irish Hellfire Clubs by David Ryan).
A little further research describes how the dean of Kilmore had to appear before a clerical court for his insults to such a pious individual: only at that point, with the Earl of Rosse already deceased, was the trick uncovered.
So a cross-my-heart-and-hope to-die true history or another case of death-bed cobblers? Beach was hopeful with this one. The Earl of Rosse = Richard Parsons (obit 1741) who was, indeed, a Hell Fire founder and liked setting fire to cats. Beach once slept on his own in the Hell Fire Club on the hills above Dublin and would put nothing past those chancers. The Earl of Kildare = Robert Fitzgerald (obit 1744) was a truly sententious individual from a family that normally produced more interesting specimens. However, sadly, the earliest source Beach can find for this story is Gilbert’s History of the City of Dublin in 1861, which is worryingly late. Can anyone get closer to the source: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com or are we going to have to give this one up to the cobblers brigade?
28 Sept 2012: Wade writes in with an eighteenth century sources: the thing is very likely true then. Here is the unexpurgated text from the Gentleman’s Magazine 30 (1761), it appears though also, as Wade has pointed out, in The real story of John Carteret Pilkington in 1760. The late Earl of Rosse was, in character and disposition, like the humorous Earl of Rochester; he had an infinite fund of wit, great spirits, and a liberal heart; was fond of all the vices which the beau monde call pleasures, and by those means first impaired his fortune as much as he possibly could do; and finally his health, beyond repair. To recite any part of his wit here is impossible, though I have heard much of it, but as it either tended to blasphemy, or, at the best, obscenity, it is better where it is. A nobleman could not, in so censorious a place as Dublin, lead a life of rackets, brawls, and midnight confusion, without being a general topic for reproach, and having fifty thousand faults invented to complete the number of those he had: nay, some asserted that he dealt with the Devil; established a Hell-fire Club at the Eagle Tavern on Cork-hill; and that one Worsdale, a mighty innocent, facetious painter, who was indeed only the agent of his gallantry, was a party concerned. Be it as it will, his Lordship’s character was torn to pieces everywhere, except at the Groom Porter’s, where he was a man of honour; and at the taverns, where none surpassed him in generosity. Having led this life till it brought him to death’s door, his neighbour, the Rev John Madden, (Vicar of St. Anne’s and Dean of Kilmore,) a man of exemplary piety and virtue, having heard his Lordship was given over, thought it his duty to write him a very pathetic letter, to remind him of his past life, the particulars of which he mentioned, such as profligacy, gaming, drinking, rioting, turning day into night, blaspheming his Maker, and, in short, all manner of wickedness; and exhorting him in the tenderest manner to employ the few moments that remained to him, in penitently confessing his manifold transgressions, and soliciting his pardon from an offended Deity, before whom he was shortly to appear. It is necessary to acquaint the reader that the late Earl of Kildare was one of the most pious noblemen of the age, and in every respect a contrast in character to Lord Rosse. When the latter, who retained his senses to the last moment, and died rather for want of breath than want of spirits, read over the Dean’s letter (which came to him under cover), he ordered it to be put in another paper, sealed up, and directed to the Earl of Kildare: he likewise prevailed on the Dean’s servant to carry it, and to say it came from his master, which he was encouraged to do by a couple of guineas, and his knowing nothing of its contents. Lord Kildare was an effeminate, puny little man, extremely formal and delicate, insomuch that when he was married to Lady Mary O’Brien, one of the most shining beauties then in the world, he would not take his wedding gloves off to embrace her. From this single instance may be judged with what surprise and indignation he read over the Dean’s letter, containing so many accusations for crimes he knew himself entirely innocent of. He first ran to his lady, and informed her that Dean Madden was actually mad; to prove which, he delivered her the epistle ho had just received. The Ladyship was as much confounded and amazed at it as he could possibly be, but withal observed the letter was not written in the style of a madman, and advised him to go to the Archbishop of Dublin about it. Accordingly, his Lordship ordered his coach, and went to the episcopal palace, where he found his Grace at home, and immediately accosted him in this manner: ‘Pray, my Lord, did you ever hear that I was a blasphemer, a profligate, a gamester, a rioter, and everything that’s base and infamous?’ ‘You, my Lord,’ said the Bishop, ‘every one knows that you are the pattern of humility, godliness, and virtue.’ ‘Well, my Lord, what satisfaction can I have of a learned and reverend divine, who, under his own hand, lays all this to my charge’. ‘Surely,’ answered his Grace, ‘no man in his senses, that knew your Lordship, would presume to do it; and if any clergyman has been guilty of such an offence, your Lordship will have satisfaction from the spiritual court.’ Upon this Lord Kildare delivered to his Grace the letter, which he told him was that morning delivered by the Dean’s servant, and which both the Archbishop and the Earl know to be Dean Madden’s handwriting. The Archbishop immediately sent for the Dean, who, happening to be at home, instantly obeyed the summons. Before he entered the room, his Grace advised Lord Kildare to walk into another apartment, while he discoursed the gentleman about it, which his Lordship accordingly did. When the Dean entered, his Grace looking very sternly, demanded if he had wrote that letter. The Dean answered, ‘I did, my Lord.’ ‘Mr. Dean, I always thought you a man of sense and prudence, but this unguarded action must lessen you in the esteem of all good men; to throw out so many causeless invectives against the most unblemished nobleman in Europe, and accuse him of crimes to which he and his family have ever been strangers, must certainly be the effect of a distempered brain: besides, sir, you have by this means laid yourself open to a prosecution in the ecclesiastical court, which will either oblige you publicly to recant what you have said, or give up your possessions in the Church.’ ‘My Lord,’ answered the Dean, ‘I never either think, act, or write anything, for which I am afraid to be called to an account before any tribunal upon earth; and if I am to be prosecuted for discharging the duties of my function, I will suffer patiently the severest penalties in justification of it.’ And so saying, the Dean retired with some emotion, and left the two noblemen as much in the dark as ever. Lord Kildare went home, and sent for a proctor of the spiritual court, to whom he committed the Dean’s letter, and ordered a citation to be sent to him as soon as possible. In the meantime the Archbishop, who knew the Dean had a family to provide for, and foresaw that ruin must attend his entering into a suit with so powerful a person, went to his house, and recommended him to ask my Lord’s pardon, before the matter became public. ‘Ask his pardon,’ said the Dean, ‘why the man is dead!’ ‘What!’ Lord Kildare dead!’ ‘No, Lord Rosse.’ ‘Good God,’ said the Arclibishop, ‘did you not send a letter yesterday to Lord Kildare?’ ‘No, truly, my Lord, but I sent one to the unhappy Earl of Rosse, who was then given over, and I thought it my duty to write to him in the manner I did.’ Upon examining the servant, the whole mistake was rectified, and the Dean saw, with real regret, that Lord Rosse died as he had lived; nor did he continue in this life above four hours after he sent off the letter. The poor footman lost his place by the jest, and was, indeed, the only sufferer for my Lord’s last piece of humour.’ Thanks Wade!