1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ambrose Philips

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:569.



Among the Whig poets of the day, whom Pope's enmity raised to temporary importance, was AMBROSE PHILIPS (1671-1749). He was a native of Leicestershire, educated at Cambridge, and patronised by the Whig government of George I. He was a commissioner of the collieries, held some appointments in Ireland, and sat for the county of Armagh in the Irish House of Commons. The works of Philips consist of three plays, some miscellaneous poems, translations, and pastorals. The latter were published in the same miscellany with those of Pope, and were injudiciously praised by Tickell as the finest in the English language. Pope resented this unjust depreciation of his own poetry by an ironical paper in the Guardian, calculated to make Philips appear ridiculous. Ambrose felt the satire keenly, and even vowed to take personal vengeance on his adversary, by whipping him with a rod in Button's coffeehouse. A paper war ensued, and Pope immortalised Philips as—

The bard whom pilfered pastorals renown,
Who turns a Persian tale for half-a-crown;
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
And strains from hard-bound brains eight lines a-year.

The pastorals are certainly poor enough; but Philips was an elegant versifier, and Goldsmith has eulogised part of his epistle to Lord Dorset, as "incomparably fine."

A fragment of Sappho, translated by Philips, is a poetical gem so brilliant, that Warton thought Addison must have assisted in its composition:—

Blessed as the immortal gods is he,
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
And bears and sees thee all the while,
Softly speak and sweetly smile.

'Twas this deprived my soul of rest,
And raised such tumults in my breast;
For while I gazed in transport tossed,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost.

My bosom glowed; the subtle flame
Ran quickly through my vital frame;
O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung;
My ears with hollow murmurs rung.

In dewy damps my limbs were chilled,
My blood with gentle horrors thrilled;
My feeble pulse forgot to play;
I fainted, sunk, and died away.