1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Philips

John Holland, in Psalmists of Britain. Records of upwards of One Hundred and Fifty Authors, who have rendered the Whole or Parts of The Book of Psalms, into English Verse (1843) 2:120-22.



In that rich depository, the Lambeth Library, there is a very rare volume, entitled "Daveidos: or a Specimen of some of David's Psalms in English Metre, with remarks upon the late Translators. By Mr. John Phillips." London, 1798. 8vo. pp. 46, and Preface 16p. It is obvious the date should be 1698. The Preface is mostly taken up with an invective against Tate and Brady, whose Version is declared to be "very ordinary, and insipid, not to be called poetry: the contexture nothing better than linsey-woolsey, and the stuffing mere thrums." The writer abuses Milbourne's Version as being what may be called David's Psalms in disguise! It may be questioned whether his own performance justifies this cavalier treatment of his precursors: Todd, indeed, quoting two stanzas from Psalm xiii., says, they "are certainly most impressive:" the reader will probably think this praise too strong to be quite applicable to the specimen given below. Of the personal history of John Phillips, we have no certain information: Todd says, "this was probably the celebrated Poet of that name, although his biographers are silent as to such a work of his production." This omission could hardly have happened, if the author of the "Splendid Shilling," and the poem on Cider had been the versifier of the Psalms, whose name was on the title-page of the "Daveidos" — a work moreover, which, to say nothing of the comparative discordancy of the topics treated, must have been published, if the above conjecture be correct, when the Poet was only twenty-two years of age. The author of the "Splendid Shilling" was born at the end of the year 1676. After the requisite preparatory instruction at Winchester School, he was admitted a member of Christ Church, Oxford, where, according to Dr. Johnson, "he was distinguished as a genius eminent among the eminent — the profession which he intended to follow was that of Physic; and he took much delight in Natural History, of which Botany was his favourite part." The era of these professional studies would be coincident with the appearance of the "Daveidos." Phillips died in 1708, aged 33 years.

PSALM XII.
Help, Lord, oh help, for godly men,
Chac'd from the earth, are fled;
The faithful seem to be conceal'd
'Mong the forgotten dead.
The common talk of neighbours now,
Is all but vanity,
For what their double hearts intend,
Their flattering tongues deny.

But let dissemblers perish, Lord,
From the corrupted earth;
And the triumphing boaster find
The folly of his mirth;
Who say, that by such tricks of state,
We will our names extol;
Are not our lips and tongues our own?
Who shall our pride controul?

When moved with the loud complaints
And sighings of the poor,
I will arise, saith God, and them
To quiet peace restore.
Nor are thy promises, O God,
Dispersed in the wind,
More pure than silver are thy words,
Tho' many times refin'd.

Now therefore keep thy promise, Lord,
And save thy chosen race,
For now impiety prevails,
And potent wrong takes place,
And well thou know'st when violent men
Are lofty in command,
The Godly languish, ill prepar'd
Their fury to withstand.