1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Philips

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 134-35, 137.



A Poet of this Age, who died a few Years ago. He was the Son of Dr. Stephen Philips, Archdeacon of Salop, and born at Brampton in Oxfordshire, in the Year 1676. After he was well grounded in Grammar Learning, he was sent to Winchester School, where he made himself Master of the Latin and Greek Languages. With this Foundation of Literature, he was removed to Christ-Church College in Oxford. Here he grew superior to most of his Contemporaries; and following the natural Bent of his Genius, besides other valuable Authors, he became acquainted with Milton, whom he studied with Application, and traced him in all his successful Translations from the Ancients. As to his private Character, he was beloved by all that knew him, and admired by those who did not; somewhat reserved and silent among Strangers, but familiar and easy with his Friends: In which Number may be reckoned some of the best and politest Men of the University, but particularly Mr. Edmund Smith. These two often communicated their Thoughts to each other, and as their Thoughts lay the same Way, much to their mutual Satisfaction and Improvement. Coming to London, he was perswaded by some great Persons, to write upon the Battle of Blenheim, which he performed so well, that it brought him into Favour with the Earl of Oxford, at that time Lord Treasurer of England, and my Lord Bollingbroke, Secretary of State; but his Modesty and humble Opinion of himself was so great, that he always endeavoured to disguise and conceal his good Qualities in Conversation with them and others. His excellent Compositions are the following (viz.)

I. The Splendid Shilling; esteemed the finest Burlesque Poem in the British Language, and handled in a Manner quite different from what had been made Use of by any Author of our own, or other Nations. This Poem gained him an universal Applause.

II. Blenheim, a Poem; here he has shewn a sublime and nervous Stile, proper to a serious and heroick Subject.

From low and abject Themes the grov'ling Muse
Now mounts Aerial, to sing of Arms
Triumphant, and emblaze the Martial Acts
Of Britain's Hero;—

The Exordium of this Piece is a just Allusion to the Beginning of the Aenied of Virgil, and that of Spencer's Fairy Queen.

III. Cyder, a Poem. This Piece is founded upon the Model of Virgil's Georgicks, and comes the nearest of any other to that admirable Poem. There is an infinite Variety in this Poem, and the philosophical Touches are surprizing: He was a passionate Admirer of Nature, and in his Description of the Philosopher's Retirement, he has these Lines.

—He to his Labour hies
Gladsome, intent on somewhat that may ease
Unhealthy Mortals, and with curious Search
Examines all the Properties of Herbs,
Fossils, and Min'rals, that th' embowell'd Earth
Displays, if by his Industry he can
Benefit Human Race—

This Poem was translated into Italian by a Nobleman of Florence.

IV. A Latin Ode, inscribed to the Lord Bollingbroke. The Style in this Piece is pure and elegant, the Subject of a mixt Nature, resembling the sublime Spirit, and gay facetious Humour of Horace.

These are all the Pieces written by this Author, and being in Blank Verse, some injudicious Persons wished them to be in Thyme, particularly his Cyder. His Friends tell us, that he intended to write a Poem upon the Resurrection, and the Day of Judgment, in which there is no doubt but he would have excelled; and of this Opinion was Mr. Smith, who, in a Poem upon his Death, has these Verses on that Occasion:

Oh! had relenting Heav'n prolong'd his Days,
The tow'ring Bard had sung in nobler Lays,
How the last Trumpet wakes the lazy Dead,
How Saints aloft the Cross triumphant spread;
How op'ning Heav'ns their happy Regions shew,
And yawning Gulphs with flaming Vengeance glow,
And Saints rejoice above, and Sinners howl below.
Well might he sing the Day he cou'd not fear,
And paint the Glories he was sure to wear.

Mr. Philips, after a long and lingring Sickness, attended with an Asthma, and having removed to the Bath, by the Advice of his Physicians, without Recovery, died at Hereford the 15th of February 1708. and, as the ingenious Writer of his Life has observed, he shewed an Example that a good Poet and a good Man are not Names always inconsistent.

He was interred in the Cathedral Church of Hereford, and the following Inscription is upon his Grave-stone.

JOHANNES PHILIPS.
Obiit 15 die Feb. Anno Cuis Dom. 1708. Aetat. suae 32.
Ossa si requiras, hanc Urnam inspice,
Si Ingenium nescias, ipsius Opera consule,
Si Tumulum desideras, Templum adi Westonasteriense,
Qualis quantusque vir fuerit,
Dicat elegans illa & praeclara
Quae Cenotaphium ibi decorat
Inscriptio.
Quam interim erga Cognatos pius & officiosus,
Testetur hoc saxum
A Maria Philips Matre ipsius pientissima,
Dilecti Filii Memoriae non sine Lacrymis dicatum.

The Monument referred to at Westminster, in this Inscription, stands between those of Chaucer and Drayton, and was erected to his Memory by Sir Simon Harcourt. The Epitaph was writ by Dr. Friend.

Herefordia conduntur Ossa,
Hoc in Delubro stauitur Imago,
Britanniam omnem pervagatur Fama
JOHANNIS PHILIPS:
Qui viris bonis doctisq; juxta charus,
Immortale summ Ingenium,
Eruditione multiplici excultum,
Miro animi Candore,
Eximia morum simplicitate,
Honestavit.
Litteraturm amaniorum sitim,
Quam Wintoniae puer sentire coperat,
Inter Aedis Christi Alumnos juiter explevit,
In illo Musarum Domicilio
Praeclaris Aemulorum studiis excitatus,
Optimis scribendi Magistris semper intentus,
Carmina sermone Patrio composuit
A Graecis Lainisq; fontibus feliciter deducta,
Atticis Romanisq; auribus omnino digna,
Versuum quippe Harmoniam
Rhythmo dedicerat.
Antiquo illo, libero, multiformi
Ad res ipsas apto prorsus, & attemperato,
Non Numeris in eundem fere orbem redeuntibus,
Non Clausularum similiter cadentium sono
Metiri:
Uni in hoc laudis genere, Miltono secundus,
Primoq; poene par.
Res seu Tenues, seu Grandes, seu Mediocres
Ornandas sumserat,
Nusquam, no quod decuit,
Et viit, & affectus est,
Egregius, quocunque stylum veteret,
Fandi Author, & Modorum Artifex.
Fas sit Huic,
Auso licet a tua Metrorum lege discdere
O Poesis Anglicana Pater, atque Conitor Chaucere
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Vatum certe Cineres, tuos undique stipantium
Non dedecebit Chorum.

Simon Harcourt Miles,
Viri bene de se, deque Literis meriti,
Quoad viveret, Fautor,
Post Obitum pie memor,
Hoc ille Saxum poni voluit.

J. Phillips, Stephani, S. T. P. Archidiaconi
Salop' Filus natus est Bamptoniae
In agro Oxon. Dec. 30. 1676.
Obiit Herefordiae, Febr. 15. 1708.