1880 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ambrose Philips

Edmund Gosse, in The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:130-31.



The reputation of Ambrose Philips has undergone some curious reverses. His Epistle to the Earl of Dorset, which Steele pronounced "as fine a piece as we ever had," and Goldsmith "incomparably fine," seems to us as frigid and as ephemeral as its theme; the Distressed Mother, in which he made Racine speak with the voice of Rowe, no longer holds a place, even in memory, on the tragic stage; his translations of Sappho, once thought so brilliant and so affecting, seems to modern readers ludicrously mean, nor is criticism any longer concerned to decide whether the pastoral, of Philips or of Pope are the more insipid. But while all these works, on which his contemporary reputation was founded, are forgotten, his odes to private persons, and in particular to children, which won him ridicule from his own age, and from Henry Cary the immortal name of Namby-Pamby, have a simplicity of versification and a genuine play of fancy which are now recognised as rare gifts in the artificial school of Addison in which he was trained. Ambrose Philips is moreover to be praised, not in these odes only, but in his poems generally, for an affectionate observation of natural beauty.