This Gentleman was descended from a very antient, and considerable family in the county of Leicester, and received his education in St. John's College Cambridge, where he wrote his Pastorals, a species of excellence, in which he is thought to have remarkably distinguished himself. When Mr. Philips quitted the university, and repaired to the metropolis, he became, as Mr. Jacob phrases it, one of the wits at Buttons; and in consequence of this, contracted an acquaintance with those bright genius's who frequented it; especially Sir Richard Steele, who in the first volume of his Tatler inserts a little poem of this author's dated from Copenhagen, which he calls a winter piece; Sir Richard thus mentions it with honour, "This is as fine a piece, as we ever had from any of the schools of the most learned painters; such images as these give us a new pleasure in our sight, and fix upon our minds traces of reflexion, which accompany us wherever the like objects occur."
This short performance which we shall here insert, was reckoned so elegant, by men of taste then living, that Mr. Pope himself, who had a confirmed aversion to Philips, when he attempted to despise his other works, always excepted this out of the number.
A WINTER PIECE.
From frozen climes, and endless tracts of snow,
From streams that northern winds forbid to flow,
What present shall the Muse to Dorset bring,
Or how, so near the Pole, attempt to sing?
The hoary winter here conceals from sight
All pleasing objects which to verse invite.
The hills and dales, and the delightful woods,
The flow'ry plains, and silver-streaming floods,
By snow disguis'd in bright confusion lie,
And with one dazling waste, fatigue the eye.
No gentle breathing breeze prepares the spring,
No birds within the desart region sing.
The ships, unmov'd the boist'rous winds defy,
While rattling chariots o'er the ocean fly.
The vast Leviathan wants room to play,
And spout his waters in the face of day.
The starving wolves along the main sea prowl,
And to the moon in icy valleys howl.
O'er many a shining league the level main
Here spreads itself into a glassy plain:
There solid billows of enormous size,
Alps of green ice, in wild disorder rise.
And yet but lately have I seen ev'n here,
The winter in a lovely dress appear.
E're yet the clouds let fall the treasur'd snow,
Or winds begun through hazy skies to blow;
At ev'ning a keen eastern breeze arose;
And the descending rain unsully'd froze.
Soon as the silent shades of night withdrew,
The ruddy morn disclos'd at once to view,
The face of nature in a rich disguise,
And brighten'd every object to my eyes:
For ev'ry shrub, and ev'ry blade of grass,
And ev'ry pointed thorn seem'd wrought in glass.
In pearls and rubies rich, the hawthorns show,
While through the ice the crimson berries glow.
The thick-sprung reeds, which watry marshes yield,
Seem polish'd lances in a hostile field.
The stag in limpid currents with surprise,
Sees crystal branches on his fore-head rise.
The spreading oak, the beech, and tow'ring pine,
Glaz'd over, in the freezing aether shine.
The frighted birds, the rattling branches shun,
That wave and glitter in the distant sun.
When if a sudden gust of wind arise,
The brittle forest into atoms flies:
The crackling wood beneath the tempest bends,
And in a spangled show'r the prospect ends.
Or, if a southern gale the region warm,
And by degrees unbind the wintry charm,
The traveller, a miry country sees,
And journies sad beneath the dropping trees.
Like some deluded peasant, Merlin leads
Thro' fragrant bow'rs, and thro' delicious meads;
While here inchanted gardens to him rise,
And airy fabrics there attract his eyes,
His wand'ring feet the magic paths pursue;
And while he thinks the fair illusion true,
The trackless scenes disperse in fluid air,
And woods, and wilds, and thorny ways appear:
A tedious road the weary wretch returns,
And, as he goes, the transient vision mourns.
But it was not enough for Sir Richard to praise this performance of Mr. Philips. He was also an admirer of his Pastorals, which had then obtained a great number of readers: He was about to form a Critical Comparison of Pope's Pastorals, and those of Mr. Philips; and giving in the conclusion, the preference to the latter. Sir Richard's design being communicated to Mr. Pope, who was not a little jealous of his reputation, he took the alarm; and by the most artful and insinuating method defeated his purpose.
The reader cannot be ignorant, that there are several numbers in the Guardian, employed upon Pastoral Poetry, and one in particular, upon the merits of Philips and Pope, in which the latter is found a better versifier; but as a true Arcadian, the preference is given to Philips. That we may be able to convey a perfect idea of the method which Mr. Pope took to prevent the diminution of his reputation, we shall transcribe the particular parts of that paper in the Guardian, Number XL. Monday April the 27th.
"I designed to have troubled the reader with no farther discourses of Pastorals, but being informed that I am taxed of partiality, in not mentioning an author, whose Eclogues are published in the same volume with Mr. Philips's; I shall employ this paper in observations upon him, written in the free spirit of criticism, and without apprehensions of offending that gentleman, whose character it is, that he takes the greatest care of his works before they are published, and has the least concern for them afterwards. I have laid it down as the first rule of Pastoral, that its idea should be taken from the manners of the Golden Age, and the moral formed upon the representation of innocence; 'tis therefore plain that any deviations from that design degrade a poem from being true Pastoral.
"So easie as Pastoral writing may seem (in the simplicity we have described it) yet it requires great reading, both of the antients and moderns, to be a master of it. Mr. Philips hath given us manifest proofs of his knowledge of books; it must be confessed his competitor hath imitated some single thoughts of the antients well enough, if we consider he had not the happiness of an university education: but he hath dispersed them here and there without that order and method which Mr. Philips observes, whose whole third pastoral, is an instance how well he hath studied the fifth of Virgil, and how judiciously reduced Virgil's thoughts to the standard of pastoral; as his contention of Colin Clout and the Nightingale shews with what exactness he hath imitated Strada. When I remarked it as a principal fault to introduce fruits, and flowers of a foreign growth, in descriptions where the scene lies in our country, I did not design that observation should extend also to animals, or the sensitive life; for Philips hath with great judgment described wolves in England in his first pastoral. Nor would I have a poet slavishly confine himself (as Mr. Pope hath done) to one particular season of the year, one certain time of the day, and one unbroken scene in each Eclogue. It is plain, Spencer neglected this pedantry, who in his pastoral of November mentions the mournful song of the Nightingale: 'Sad Philomel, her song in tears doth steep.' And Mr. Philips by a poetical creation, hath raised up finer beds of flowers, than the most industrious gardener; his roses, lillies and daffadils blow in the same season.
"But the better to discover the merit of our two cotemporary pastoral writers, I shall endeavour to draw a parallel of them, by setting several of their particular thoughts in the same light, whereby it will he oblivious how much Philips hath the advantage: With what simplicity he introduces two shepherds singing alternately.
Come Rosalind, O come, for without thee
What pleasure can the country have for me?
Come Rosalind, O come; my brinded kine,
My snowy sheep, my farm and all is thine.
Come Rosalind, O come; here shady bowers
Here are cool fountains, and here springing flow'rs.
Come Rosalind; here ever let us stay,
And sweetly waste our live-long time away.
Our other pastoral writer in expressing the same thought deviates into downright poetry.
In spring the fields, in autumn hills I love,
At morn the plains, at noon the shady grove,
But Delia always; forc'd from Delia's sight,
Nor plains at morn, nor groves at noon delight.
Sylvia's like autumn ripe, yet mild as may,
More bright than noon, yet fresh as early day;
Ev'n spring displeases, when she shines not here.
But blest with her, 'tis spring throughout the year.
In the first of these authors, two shepherds thus innocently describe the behaviour of their mistresses.
As Marian bath'd, by chance I passed by,
She blush'd, and at me cast a side-long eye:
Then swift beneath the crystal wave she try'd,
Her beauteous form, but all in vain, to hide.
As I to cool me bath'd one sultry day,
Fond Lydia lurking in the sedges lay,
The wanton laugh'd, and seem'd in haste to fly;
Yet often stopp'd, and often turn'd her eye.
The other modern (who it must be confessed hath a knack of versifying) has it as follows,
Me gentle Delia beckons from the plain,
Thus, hid in shades, eludes her eager swain;
But feigns a laugh, to see me search around,
And by that laugh the willing fair is found.
The sprightly Sylvia trips along the green;
She runs, but hopes she does not run unseen;
While a kind glance, at her pursuer flyes,
How much at variance are her feet and eyes.
There is nothing the writers of this kind of poetry are fonder of, than descriptions of pastoral presents.
Philips says thus of a Sheep-hook.
Of Season'd elm, where studs of brass appear,
To speak the giver's name, the month and year.
The hook of polish'd steel, the handle turn'd,
And richly by the graver's skill adorn'd.
The other of a bowl embossed with figures.
—Where wanton ivy twines,
And swelling clusters bend the curling vines;
Four figures rising from the work appear,
The various seasons of the rolling year;
And what is that which hinds the radiant sky,
Where twelve bright signs in beauteous order lye.
The simplicity of the swain in this place, who forgets the name of the Zodiac, is no ill imitation of Virgil; but how much more plainly and unaffectedly would Philips have dressed this thought in his Doric.
And what that height, which girds the welkin sheen,
Where twelve gay signs in meet array are seen.
If the reader would indulge his curiosity any farther in the comparison of particulars, he may read the first Pastoral of Philips with the second of his contemporary, and the fourth and sixth of the former, with the fourth and first of the latter; where several parallel places will occur to every one.
"Having now shewn some parts, in which these two writers may be compared, it is a justice I owe to Mr. Philips, to discover those in which no man can compare with him. First, That beautiful rusticity, of which I shall only produce two instances, out of a hundred not yet quoted.
O woeful Day! O Day of woe, quoth he,
And woeful I, who live the day to see!
That simplicity of diction, the melancholy flowing of the numbers, the solemnity of the sound, and the easy turn of the words, are extreamely elegant.
In another Pastoral, a shepherd utters a Dirge, not much inferior to the former in the following lines.
Ah me the while! ah me, the luckless day!
Ah luckless lad! the rather might I say;
Ah silly I! more silly than my sheep,
Which on the flow'ry plains I once did keep.
How he still charms the ear, with these artful repetitions of the epithets; and how significant is the last verse! I defy the most common reader to repeat them, without feeling some motions of compassion. In the next place I shall rank his proverbs, in which I formerly observed he excells: For example,
A rolling stone is ever hare of moss;
And, to their cost, green years old proverbs cross.
—He that late lies down, as late will rise,
And, sluggard-like, till noon day snoaring lies.
Against ill-luck all cunning foresight fails;
Whether we sleep or wake it nought avails.
—Nor fear, from upright sentence wrong.
Lastly, His Elegant dialect, which alone might prove him the eldest born of Spencer, and our only true Arcadian &c."
Thus far the comparison between the merit of Mr. Pope and Mr. Philips, as writers of Pastoral, made by the author of this paper in the Guardian, after the publication of which, the enemies of Pope exulted, as in one particular species of poetry, upon which he valued himself, he was shewn to be inferior to his contemporary. For some time they enjoyed their triumph; but it turned out at last to their unspeakable mortification.
The paper in which the comparison is inserted, was written by Mr. Pope himself. Nothing could have so effectually defeated the design of diminishing his reputation, as this method, which had a very contrary effect. He laid down some false principles, upon these he reasoned, and by comparing his own and Philips's Pastorals, upon such principles it was no great compliment to the latter, that he wrote more agreeable to notions which are in themselves false.
The subjects of pastoral are as various as the passions of human nature; nay, it may in some measure partake of every kind of poetry, but with this limitation, that the scene of it ought always to be laid in the country, and the thoughts never contrary to the ideas of those who are bred there. The images are to be drawn from rural life; and provided the language is perspicuous, gentle, and flowing, the sentiments may be as elegant as the country scenes can furnish. — In the particular comparison of passages between Pope and Philips, the former is so much superior, that one cannot help wondering, that Steele could be thus imposed upon, who was in other respects a very quick discerner. Though 'tis not impossible, but that Guardian might go to the press without Sir Richard's seeing it; he not being the only person concern'd in that paper.
The two following lines so much celebrated in this paper, are sufficiently convincing, that the whole criticism is ironical.
Ah! silly I, more silly than my sheep,
Which on the flowr'y plains I once did keep,
Nothing can be much more silly than these lines and yet the author says, "How he still charms the ear with the artful repetitions of epithets."
SILLY I, MORE SILLY THAN MY SHEEP.
The next work Mr. Philips published after his Pastorals, and which it is said he wrote at the university, was his life of John Williams lord keeper of the great-seal, bishop of Lincoln and archbishop of York, in the reigns of king James and Charles the First, in which are related some remarkable occurrences in those times, both in church and state, with an appendix, giving an account of his benefactions to St. John's college.
Mr. Philips, seems to have made use of archbishop William's life, the better to make known his own state principles, which in the course of that work he had a fair occasion of doing. Bishop Williams was the great opposer of High-Church measures, he was a perpetual antagonist to Laud; and lord Clarendon mentions him in his history with very great decency and respect, when it is considered that they adhered to opposite parties.
Mr. Philips, who early distinguished himself in revolution principles, was concerned with Dr. Boulter, afterwards archbishop of Armagh, the right honourable Richard West, Esq; lord chancellor of Ireland; the revd. Mr. Gilbert Burnet, and the revd. Mr. Henry Stevens, in writing a paper called, the Free-Thinker; but they were all published by Mr. Philips, and since re-printed in three volumes in 12mo. In the latter part of the reign of queen Anne, he was secretary to the Hanover-Club, a set of noblemen and gentlemen, who associated in honour of that succession. They drank regular toasts to the health of those ladies, who, were most zealously attached to the Hanoverian family; upon whom Mr. Philips wrote the following lines,
While these, the chosen beauties of our isle,
Propitious on the cause of freedom smile,
The rash Pretender's hopes we may despise,
And trust Britannia's safety to their eyes.
After the accession of his late majesty, Mr. Philips was made a justice of peace, and appointed a commissioner of the lottery. But though his circumstances were easy, the state of his mind was not so; he fell under the severe displeasure of Mr. Pope, who has satirized him with his usual keenness.
'Twas said, he used to mention Mr. Pope as an enemy to the government; and that he was the avowed author of a report, very industriously spread, that he had a hand in a paper called The Examiner. The revenge which Mr. Pope took in consequence of this abuse, greatly ruffled the temper of Mr. Philips, who as he was not equal to him in wit, had recourse to another weapon; in the exercise of which no great parts are requisite. He hung up a rod at Button's, with which he resolved to chastise his antagonist, whenever he should come there. But Mr. Pope, who got notice of this design, very prudently declined coming to a place, where in all probability he must have felt the resentment of an enraged author, as much superior to him in bodily strength, as inferior in wit and genius.
When Mr. Philips's friend, Dr. Boulter, rose to be archbishop of Dublin, he went with him into Ireland, where he had considerable preferments; and was a member of the House of Commons there, as representative of the county of Armagh.
Notwithstanding the ridicule which Mr. Philips has drawn upon himself, by his opposition to Pope, and the disadvantageous light his Pastorals appear in, when compared with his; yet, there is good reason to believe, that Mr. Philips was no mean Arcadian: By endeavouring to imitate too servilely the manners and sentiments of vulgar rustics, he has sometimes raised a laugh against him; yet there are in some of his Pastorals a natural simplicity, a true Doric dialect, and very graphical descriptions.
Mr. Gildon, in his compleat Art of Poetry, mentions him with Theocritus and Virgil; but then he defeats the purpose of his compliment, for, by carrying the similitude too far, he renders his panegyric hyperbolical.
We shall now consider Mr. Philips as a dramatic writer. The first piece he brought upon the stage, was his Distress'd Mother, translated from the French of Monsieur Racine, but not without such deviations as Mr. Philips thought necessary to heighten the distress; for writing to the heart is a secret which the best of the French poets have not found out. This play was acted first in the year 1711, with every advantage a play could have. Pyrrhus was performed by Mr. Booth, a part in which he acquired great reputation. Orestes was given to Mr. Powel, and Andromache was excellently personated by the inimitable Mrs. Oldfield. Nor was Mrs. Porter beheld in Hermione without admiration. The Distress'd Mother is so often acted, and so frequently read, we shall not trouble the reader with giving any farther account of it.
A modern critic speaking of this play, observes that the distress of Andromache moves an audience more than that of Belvidera, who is as amiable a wife, as Andromache is an affectionate mother; their circumstances though not similar, are equally interesting, and yet says he, "the female part of the audience is more disposed to weep for the suffering mother, than the suffering wife." The reason 'tis imagin'd is this, there are more affectionate mothers in the world than wives.
Mr. Philips's next dramatic performance was The Briton, a Tragedy; acted 1721. This is built on a very interesting and affecting story, whether founded on real events I cannot determine, but they are admirably fitted to raise the passion peculiar to tragedy. Vanoc Prince of the Cornavians married for his second wife Cartismand, Queen of the Brigantians, a woman of an imperious spirit, who proved a severe step-mother to the King's daughter Gwendolen, betrothed to Yvor, the Prince of the Silurians. The mutual disagreement between Vanoc and his Queen, at last produced her revolt from him. She intrigues with Vellocad, who had been formerly the King's servant, and enters into a league with the Roman tribune, in order to be revenged on her husband. Vanoc fights some successful battles, but his affairs are thrown into the greatest confusion, upon receiving the news that a party of the enemy has carried off the Princess his daughter. She is conducted to the tent of Valens the Roman tribune, who was himself in love with her, but who offered her no violation. He went to Vanoc in the name of Didius the Roman general, to offer terms of peace, but he was rejected with indignation. The scene between Vanoc and Valens is one of the most masterly to be met with in tragedy. Valens returns to his fair charge, while her father prepares for battle, and to rescue his daughter by the force of arms. But Cartismand, who knew that no mercy would be shewn her at the hands of her stern husband, flies to the Princess's tent, and in the violence of her rage stabs her. The King and Yvor enter that instant, but too late to save the beauteous Gwendolen from the blow, who expires in the arms of her betrothed husband, a scene wrought up with the greatest tenderness. When the King reproaches Cartismand for this deed of horror, she answers,
Hadst thou been more forgiving, I had been less cruel.
Wickedness! barbarian! monster—
What had she done, alas! — Sweet innocence!
She would have interceded for thy crimes.
Too well I knew the purpose of thy soul.—
Didst thou believe I would submit? — resign my crown?—
Or that thou only hadst the power to punish?
Yet I will punish; — meditate strange torments!—
Then give thee to the justice of the Gods.
Thus Vanoc, do I mock thy treasur'd rage.—
My heart springs forward to the dagger's point.
Quick, wrest it from her! — drag her hence to chains.
There needs no second stroke—
Adieu, rash man! — my woes are at an end:—
Thine's but begun; — and lasting as thy life.
Mr. Philips in this play has shewn how well he was acquainted with the stage; he keeps the scene perpetually busy; great designs are carrying on the incidents rise naturally from one another, and the catastrophe is moving. He has not observed the rules which some critics have established, of distributing poetical justice; for Gwendolen, the most amiable character in the play is the chief sufferer, arising from the indulgence of no irregular passion, nor any guilt of hers.
The next year Mr. Philips introduced another tragedy on the stage called Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, acted 1721. The plot of this play is founded on history. During the minority of Henry VI. his uncle, the duke of Gloucester, was raised to the dignity of Regent of the Realm. This high station could not but procure him many enemies, amongst whom was the duke of Suffolk, who, in order to restrain his power, and to inspire the mind of young Henry with a love of independence, effected a marriage between that Prince, and Margaret of Anjou, a Lady of the most consummate beauty, and what is very rare amongst her sex, of the most approved courage. This lady entertained an aversion for the duke of Gloucester, because he opposed her marriage with the King, and accordingly resolves upon his ruin.
She draws over to her party cardinal Beaufort, the Regent's uncle, a supercilious proud churchman. They fell upon a very odd scheme to shake the power of Gloucester, and as it is very singular, and absolutely fact, we shall here insert it.
The duke of Gloucester had kept Eleanor Cobham, daughter to the lord Cobham, as his concubine, and after the dissolution of his marriage with the countess of Hainault, he made her his wife; but this did not restore her reputation: she was, however, too young to pass in common repute for a witch, yet was arrested for high treason, founded on a pretended piece of witchcraft, and after doing public penance several days, by sentence of convocation, was condemned to perpetual imprisonment in the Isle of Man, but afterwards removed to Killingworth-castle. The fact charged upon her, was the making an image of wax resembling the King, and treated in such a manner by incantations, and sorceries, as to make him waste away, as the image gradually consumed. John Hume, her chaplain, Thomas Southwell, a canon of St. Stephen's Westminster, Roger Bolingbroke, a clergyman highly esteemed, and eminent for his uncommon learning, and merill, and perhaps on that account, reputed to have great skill in necromancy, and Margery Jourdemain, commonly called The Witch of Eye, were tried as her accomplices, and condemned, the woman to be burnt, the others to be drawn, hanged, and quartered at Tyburn. This hellish contrivance against the wife of the duke of Gloucester was meant to shake the influence of her husband, which in reality it did, as ignorance and credulity co-operated with his enemies to destroy him. He was arrested for high treason, a charge which could not be supported, and that his enemies might have no further trouble with him, cardinal Beaufort hired assassins to murder him. The poet acknowledges the hints he has taken from the Second Part of Shakespear's Henry VI. and in some scenes has copied several lines from him. In the last scene, that pathetic speech of Eleanor's to Cardinal Beaufort when he was dying in the agonies of remorse and despair, is literally borrowed.
See how the pangs of death work in his features.
Disturb him not — let him pass peaceably.
Lord Cardinal; — if thou think'st of Heaven's bliss
Hold up thy hand; — make signal of that hope.
He dies; — and makes no sign!—
In praise of this tragedy, Mr. Welsted has prefixed a very elegant copy of verses.
Mr. Philips by a way of writing very peculiar, procured to himself the name of Namby Pamby. This was first bestowed on him by Harry Cary, who burlesqued some little pieces of his, in so humorous a manner, that for a long while, Harry's burlesque, passed for Swift's with many; and by others were given to Pope: 'Tis certain, each at first, took it for the other's composition.
In ridicule of this manner, the ingenious Hawkins Brown, Esq; now a Member of Parliament, in his excellent burlesque piece called The Pipe of Tobacco, has written an imitation, in which the resemblance is so great, as not to be distinguished from the original. This gentleman has burlesqued the following eminent authors, by such a close imitation of their turn of verse, that it has not the appearance of a copy, but an original.
As a Specimen of the delicacy of our author's turn of versification, we shall present the reader with his translation of the following beautiful Ode of Sappho.
HYMN TO VENUS.
O VENUS, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gayly false, in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles,
O goddess! from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.
If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferr'd,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
O gentle goddess! hear me now.
Descend thou bright immortal guest!
In all thy radiant charms confess'd.
Thou once didst leave almighty Jove,
And all the golden roofs above;
The carr thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hov'ring in air, they lightly flew;
As to my bower they wing'd their way,
I saw their quiv'ring pinions play.
The birds dismiss'd (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again,
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In ev'ry heav'nly feature smil'd,
And ask'd, what new complaints I made,
And why I call'd you to my aid?
What frenzy in my bosom rag'd,
And by what care to be asswag'd?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?
Tho' now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Tho' now thy off'rings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Tho' now he freeze, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.
Celestial visitant once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distemper'd soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.
There is another beautiful ode by the same Grecian poetess, rendered into English by Mr. Philips with inexpressible delicacy, quoted in the Spectator, vol. iii. No. 229.
Blest, as th' immortal Gods is he
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
And hears, and sees thee all the while
Softly speak, and sweetly smile.
'Twas this depriv'd my soul of rest,
And rais'd such tumults in my breast;
For while I gaz'd, in transport tost,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost.
My bosom glow'd; the subtle flame
Ran quick through all my vital frame;
O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung;
My ears with hollow murmurs rung.
In dewy damps my limbs were chill'd,
My blood with gentle horrors thrill'd;
My feeble pulse forgot to play,
I fainted, sunk, and dy'd away.
Mr. Philips having purchased an annuity of £400 per annum, for his life, came over to England sometime in the year 1748: But had not his health; and died soon after at his lodgings near Vauxhall