1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Philips

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 318.



The fame of this poet (says the grave doctor of the last century,) will endure as long as Blenheim is remembered, or cider drunk in England. He might have added, as long as tobacco shall be smoked; for Philips has written more meritoriously about the Indian weed, than about his native apple; and his Muse appears to be more in her element amidst the smoke of the pipe than of the battle.

His father was archdeacon of Salop, and minister of Bampton, in Oxfordshire, where the poet was born. He was educated at Winchester, and afterward at Cambridge. He intended to have followed the profession of physic, and delighted in the study of natural history, but seems to have relinquished scientific pursuits when the reputation of his Splendid Shilling, about the year 1703, introduced him to the patronage of Bolingbroke at whose request, and in whose house, he wrote his poem on the Battle of Blenheim. This, like his succeeding poem on Cider, was extravagantly praised. Philips had the merit of studying and admiring Milton, but he never could imitate him without ludicrous effect, either in jest or earnest. His Splendid Shilling is the earliest, and one of the best of our parodies; but Blenheim is as completely a burlesque upon Milton as the Splendid Shilling, though it was written and read with gravity. In describing his hero, Marlborough, stepping out of Queen Anne's drawing-room, he unconsciously carries the shock heroic to perfection, when he says,

His plumy crest
Nods horrible. With more terrific port
He walks, and seems already in the fight.

Yet such are the fluctuations of taste, that contemporary criticism bowed with solemn admiration over his Miltonic cadences. He was meditating a still more formidable poem on the Day of Judgment, when his life was prematurely terminated by a consumption.