1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Philips

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of the Muses (1808) 2:128-29.



Bampton, in Oxfordshire, had the honour of producing this ingenious poet. He was the son of Dr Stephen Phillips, Archdeacon of Salop, and was born in 1676.

After receiving a private grammatical education, he was sent to Winchester School, where he was equally distinguished for the superiority of his exercises, and beloved for the suavity of his disposition.

In 1694, he was removed to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was highly esteemed; and though he evinced a predilection for the Muses, he did not neglect the severer studies, and made considerable progress in the sciences connected with medicine, which he intended to follow as a profession.

In 1703, he published the Splendid Shilling, an original burlesque poem, which at once fixed his reputation. It has been often imitated, but never excelled. In consequence of the fame he had acquired by this performance, he was employed by Mr. St. John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke, to celebrate the victory of Blenheim, which, though inferior to the Campaign of Addison, is by no means destitute of merit.

Soon after this, he published Cider, in two books. This is his greatest work, and was received with avidity and read with approbation. It is written on the model of Virgil's Georgics, and is at once a book of entertainment and of science: the precepts instruct, while the poetry delights.

Philips meditated a poem on the last day, which he unfortunately did not live to finish. A lingering consumption and asthma put a period to his earthly existence, in the thirty-second year of his age. He died lamented by his friends, who loved him with the warmest affection, and by the public, who duly appreciated his excellent talents.

He has been characterised as a man of singular modesty, ingenuous, and pious. Amidst narrow means, he preserved a degree of contentment, but rarely to be found in cultivated minds, conscious of their own powers. A tedious and painful illness be bore with patience and resignation: to him death was disarmed of its terrors; and life was gladly exchanged for immortality.

His Friend Smith has commemorated him in an excellent Elegy, from which the following extract gives a very interesting and endearing character.

Oh best of friends, will never the silent urn
To our just vows the hapless youth return?
Must he no more divert the tedious day?
Nor sparkling thoughts in antique words convey?
No more to harmless irony descend,
To noisy fools a grave attention lend,
Nor merry tales with learn'd quotations blend?
Whom shall I find unbiass'd in dispute,
Eager to learn, unwilling to confute?
To whom the labours of my soul disclose,
Reveal my pleasure, or discharge my woes?
Oh! In that heavenly youth for ever ends
The best of sons, of brothers, and of friends.
He sacred Friendship's strictest laws obey'd,
Yet more by conscience than by Friendship sway'd;
Against himself his gratitude maintain'd,
By favours past, not future prospects gain'd;
Not nicely choosing, though by all desired,
Though learn'd, not vain, and humble, though admir'd;
Candid to all, but to himself severe,
In humour pliant, as in life austere.
A wise content his even soul secur'd,
By want not shaken, nor by wealth allur'd:
To all sincere, though earnest to commend,
Could praise a rival, or condemn a friend.