1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Philips

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:374.



Mr. Southey has said that the age from Dryden to Pope is the worst age of English poetry. In this interval, which was but short, for Dryden bore fruit to the last, and Pope was early in blossom, there were about twenty poets, most of whom might be blotted from our literature, without being missed or regretted. The names of Smith, Duke, King, Sprat, Garth, Hughes, Blackmore, Fenton, Yalden, Hammond, Savage, &c. have been preserved by Dr. Johnson, but they excite no poetical associations. Their works present a dead-level of tame and uninteresting mediocrity. The artificial taste introduced in the reign of Charles II. to the exclusion of the romantic spirit which animated the previous reign, sunk at last into a mere collection of certain phrases and images, of which each repetition was more weak than the last. Pope revived the national spirit by his polished satire and splendid versification; but the true poetical feeling lay dormant till Thomson's Seasons and Percy's Relics of Ancient Poetry spoke to the heart of the people, and recalled the public taste from art to nature.

Of the artificial poets of this age, JOHN PHILIPS (1676-1708) evinced considerable talent in his Splendid Shilling, a parody on the style of Milton. He was the son of Dr. Philips, archdeacon of Salop, who officiated as minister of Bampton, in Oxfordshire. He intended to follow the medical profession, and studied natural history, but was cut off at the early age of thirty-three. Philips wrote a poem on the victory of Blenheim, and another on Cider, the latter in imitation of the Georgics. The whole are in blank verse. He was an avowed imitator of Milton, but regretted that, like his own Abdiel, the great poet has not been "faithful found"—

But he — however let the muse abstain,
Nor blast his fame, from whom she learnt to sing
In much inferior strains, grovelling beneath
Th' Olympian hill, on plains and vales intent—
Mean follower.

The notion, that Philips was able, by whatever he might write, to blast the fame of Milton, is one of those preposterous conceits which even able men will sometimes entertain.