As society teetered between its medieval past and the “Age of Reason,” the practice of astrology held wide appeal in early 18th-century London [and] No astrologer was more influential than John Partridge, who delivered a healthy sense of impending doom to thousands of discerning readers each year.
However, all that was to change in January 1708 [when] curious predictions were published by a previously-unheard-of astrologer identifying himself as “Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.” He wrote:
“My first prediction is but a trifle… It relates to Partridge the almanack-maker; I have consulted the stars … and find he will infallibly die upon the 29th of March next, about eleven at night, of a raging fever.”
And indeed, on the 30th of March [a] letter circulated around the city. The author reported sitting at Partridge’s bedside on March 29. He recalled how Partridge had fallen ill three days earlier and had confessed to being a fraud before succumbing to his fever at 7:05pm—just four hours off the time predicted by Bickerstaff.
The news left London in a state of shock, though it’s likely that no one was as surprised to hear the news as Partridge was, for, as it happened, he was alive and well. It wasn’t difficult to work out that the letter had been written by Isaac Bickerstaff.
The hoax would plague Partridge for the rest of his life. Mourners, who believed him to be dead, often kept him awake at night crying outside his window; an undertaker arrived at his house to arrange drapes for the mourning; an elegy was printed and a gravestone carved [source]. But others reveled in tormenting him; stopping him in the street [to enquire] how his widow was coping, or to chide him for lacking the decency to be properly buried.
Partridge would spent the rest of his days trying to discover Bickerstaff’s true identity, to no avail. However, the answer that eluded Partridge was not lost to history. It was eventually uncovered that Bickerstaff was a pseudonym for none other than Jonathan Swift. Swift often amused himself by terrorising his friends and enemies with elaborate pranks on All Fools’ Day. Not a fan of charlatan astrologers to begin with, Swift had taken a special interest in Partridge after some sarcastic remarks the cobbler had made about Swift’s employer: the Church of England.
In the end, half of Swift’s prophesy came true: John Partridge eventually died. The precise date fell somewhere around 1715, putting Swift’s prediction off by a mere 62,000 hours—the blink of an eye on fate’s great cosmic scale. [Edited from Source]