AMBROSE PHILLIPS, descended from an ancient family in Leicestershire, was born in 1671; but of the early part of his life we have no account. He received his academical education at St. John's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow, and here he first tried his poetical powers, in the collection of Cambridge verses, on the death of Queen Mary. It is also probable, that he wrote his once celebrated pastorals, while studying on the banks of the Cam.
His Winter Piece, addressed to the Duke of Dorset, from Copenhagen, one of the finest descriptive poems in the English language, shews that he was a traveller, but on what account he visited the north, is now unknown. He afterwards became an author by profession; and performed several jobs for Tonson, for which Pope ridicules him, as if writing for money were any disgrace, and as if his own productions had been free gifts to the public.
In 1712, Phillips produced his celebrated tragedy of the Distressed Mother, altered from Racine's Andromaque, which was performed with almost unexampled applause. His tragedies of the Briton and of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, were not wholly unsuccessful, but they are now little read.
His Pastorals, though they have more of nature than some other compositions of the same class, are entitled to little praise. Their commendation, however, in the Guardian excited the enmity of Pope, and he revenged himself by the most artful piece of irony that perhaps ever was written. Indeed, Pope and Phillips equally disagreed in politics as in poetry: the former was a tory, the latter a zealous whig.
The political sentiments of Phillips procured him, however, some notice. On the accession of George I. he was made a commissioner of the Lottery, and a Justice of the Peace for Westminster. But this did not satisfy his ambition; and having formed a connection with Dr. Boulter, who became primate of Ireland, he removed to that country, gained considerable preferment, and was elected a member of parliament in Ireland.
On the death of his patron, he returned to England in 1748, with a fortune equal to his moderate wishes; but soon after, a stroke of the palsy brought him to the grave, in the seventy-eighth year of his age. Of his poetry, a few pieces are exquisite. Concerning the man we know little; and certainly nothing to his discredit.