In a notable elegy that places John Philips in an ambitious and distinctively British poetic tradition Edmund Smith comments on Spenser's rhymes and archaisms: "Thus Chaucer lives in younger Spencer's Strains, | In Maro's Page reviving Ennius reigns; | The ancient Words the Majesty compleat, | And make the Poem venerably great." Johnson reports that "In his course of reading it was particular that he had diligently perused and accurately remembered the old romances of knight errantry" Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:20.
The Chaucer-Spenser-Milton succession had been proposed by John Dryden in his preface to Fables (1700); to this Smith adds, appropriately enough, the names of Dryden and Philips.
Thomas Hearne: "Mr. Smith, lately student of Christ Church, and commonly called 'Captain Rag,' has just printed a most ingenious poem to the memory of Mr. John Philips, who died last summer, to the great reluctance of all those who were acquainted with his good humour and most admirable parts, which sufficiently appear in his Splendid Shilling, Blenheim, Cyder, &c. Mr. Smith has writ divers other ingenious pieces" February 28, 1710; in Reliquae Hearniae, ed. Bliss (1869)
William Oldisworth: "His Condolence for the Death of Mr. Philips is full of the noblest Beauties, and hath done Justice to the Ashes of that Second Milton, whose Writing will last as long as the English Language, Generosity, and Valour. For him Mr. Smith had contracted a perfect Friendship, a Passion he was most susceptible of, and whose Laws he look'd upon as sacred, and inviolable. Every Subject that pass'd under his Pen, had the Life, Proportion, and Embellishments bestow'd on it, which an exquisite Skill, a warm Imagination, and a cool Judgment could possibly bestow on it" "A Character of the Author" Smith, Works (1714) sig. A7.
Samuel Johnson: "In 1709, a year after the exhibition of [Smith's] Phaedra, died John Philips, the friend and fellow-collegian of Smith, who, on that occasion, wrote a poem, which justice must place among the best elegies which our language can shew, an elegant mixture of fondness and admiration, of dignity and softness. There are some passages too ludicrous; but every human performance has its faults. This elegy it was the mode among his friends to purchase for a guinea; and, as his acquaintance was numerous, it was a very profitable poem" "Life of Smith" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:16-17.
Harko Gerrit De Maar: "The poem is modern in its praise of Milton and Spenser and its denunciations of the coffee-house bards" History of Modern English Romanticism (1924) 115.
Compare Leonard Welsted, A Poem to the Memory of the Incomparable Mr. Philips (1710), which also draws a Spenser connection.
Since our Isis silently deplores
The Bard who spread her Fame to distant Shores;
Since nobler Pens their mournful Lays suspend;
My honest Zeal, if not my Verse, commend,
Forgive the Poet, and approve the Friend.
Your Care had long his fleeting Life restrain'd,
One Table fed you, and one Bed contain'd;
For his dear Sake long restless Nights you bore,
While rat'ling Coughs his heaving Vessels tore,
Much was his Pain, but your Affliction more.
Oh! had no Summons from the noisy Gown
Call'd thee, unwilling to the nauseous Town,
Thy Love had o'er the dull Disease prevail'd,
Thy Mirth had cur'd, where baffled Physick fail'd;
But since the Will of Heav'n his Fate decreed,
To thy kind Care my Worthless Lines succeed;
Fruitless our Hopes, tho' pious our Essays,
Yours to preserve a Friend, and mine to praise.
Oh! might I paint him in Miltonian Verse,
With Strains like those he sung on Glo'ster's Herse;
But with the meaner Tribe I'm forc'd to chime,
And wanting Strength to rise, descend to Rhyme.
With other Fire his glorious Blenheim shines,
And all the Battle thunders in his Lines;
His nervous Verse great Boileau's Strength transcends,
And France to Philips, as to Churchill, bends.
Oh! various Bard, you all our Pow'rs control,
You now disturb, and now divert the Soul:
Milton and Butler in thy Muse combine,
Above the last thy Manly Beauties shine;
For as I've seen when Rival Wits contend,
One gayly charge, one gravely wise defend;
This on quick Turns and Points in vain relies,
This with a Look demure, and steddy Eyes,
With dry Rebukes, or sneering Praise replies.
So thy grave Lines extort a juster Smile,
Reach Butler's Fancy, but surpass his Style;
He speaks Scarron's low Phrase in humble Strains,
In Thee the solemn Air of great Cervantes reigns.
What sounding Lines his abject Themes express,
What shining Words the pompous Shilling dress?
There, there my Cell, immortal made, outvies
The frailer Piles which o'er its Ruins rise.
In her best Light the Comick Muse appears,
When she, with borrow'd Pride, the Buskin wears.
So when Nurse Nokes to act young Ammon tries,
With shambling Legs, long Chin, and foolish Eyes;
With dangling Hands he strokes th' Imperial Robe,
And with a Cuckold's Air commands the Globe;
The Pomp and Sound the whole Buffoon display'd,
And Ammon's Son more Mirth than Gomez made.
Forgive, dear Shade, the Scene my Folly draws,
Thy Strains divert the Grief thy Ashes cause:
When Orpheus sings, the Ghosts no more complain,
But, in his lulling Musick, lose their Pain:
So charm the sallies of thy Georgick Muse,
So calm our Sorrows, and our Joys infuse;
Here rural Notes a gentle Mirth inspire,
Here lofty Lines the kindl'ing Reader fire,
Like that fair Tree you praise, the Poem charms,
Cools like the Fruit, or like the Juice it warms.
Blest Clime, which Vaga's fruitful Streams improve,
Etruria's Envy, and her Cosmo's Love;
Redstreak he quaffs beneath the Chianti Vine,
Gives Tuscan yearly for thy Scud'more's Wine,
And ev'n his Tasso would exchange for thine.
Rise, rise, Roscommon, see the Blenheim Muse,
The dull Constraint of Monkish Rhyme refuse;
See, o'er the Alps his tow'ring Pinions soar,
Where never English Poet reach'd before:
See mighty Cosmo's Counsellor and Friend,
By turns on Cosmo, and the Bard attend;
Rich in the Coyns and Busts of ancient Rome,
In him he brings a nobler Treasure home;
In them he views her Gods, and Dome's design'd
In him the Soul of Rome, and Virgil's mighty Mind:
To him for Ease retires from Toils of State,
Not half so proud to govern, as translate.
Our Spencer, first by Pisan Poets taught,
To us their Tales, their Style, and Numbers brought
To follow ours now Tuscan Bards descend,
From Philips borrow, tho' to Spencer lend,
Like Philips too the Yoke of Rhyme disdain,
They first on English Bards impos'd the Chain,
First by an English Bard from Rhyme their Freedom gain.
Tyrannick Rhime, that cramps to equal Chime,
The gay, the soft, the florid, and sublime;
Some say this Chain the doubtful Sense decides,
Confines the Fancy, and the Judgment guides;
I'm sure in needless Bonds it Poets tyes,
Procrustes like, the Ax or Wheel applies,
To lop the mangled Sense, or stretch it into size:
At best a Crutch that lifts the weak along,
Supports the feeble, but retards the strong;
And the chance Thoughts, when govern'd by the close,
Oft rise to Fustian, or descend to Prose.
Your Judgment, Philips, rul'd with steddy sway,
You us'd no curbing Rhyme, the Muse to stay,
To stop her Fury, or direct her way.
Thee on the Wing thy uncheck'd Vigour bore,
To wanton freely, or securely soar.
So the stretch'd Cord the Shackle-Dancer tries,
As prone to fall, as impotent to rise;
When free'd he moves, the sturdy Cable bends,
He mounts with Pleasure, and secure descends;
Now dropping seems to strike the distant Ground,
Now high in Air his quiv'ring Feet rebound.
Rail on, ye Triflers, who to Will's repair
For new Lampoons, fresh Cant, or modish Air;
Rail on at Milton's Son, who wisely bold,
Rejects new Phrases, and resumes the old:
Thus Chaucer lives in younger Spencer's Strains,
In Maro's Page reviving Ennius reigns;
The ancient Words the Majesty compleat,
And make the Poem venerably great:
So when the Queen in Royal Habit's drest,
Old mystick Emblems grace th' Imperial Vest,
And in Eliza's Robes all Anna stands confest.
A haughty Bard to Fame by Volumes rais'd,
At Dick's, and Batson's, and thro' Smithfield prais'd,
Cryes out aloud — Bold Oxford Bard forbear
With rugged Numbers to torment my Ear;
Yet not like thee the heavy Critick soars,
But paints in Fustian, or in turn deplores;
With Bunyan's Style prophanes heroick Songs,
To the tenth Page lean Homilies prolongs;
For far fetch'd Rhymes makes puzled Angels strain,
And in low Prose dull Lucifer complain;
His envious Muse by native Dullness curst,
Damns the best Poems, and contrives the worst.
Beyond his Praise or Blame thy Works prevail,
Compleat where Dryden, and thy Milton fail;
Great Milton's Wing on lower Themes subsides,
And Dryden oft in Rhyme his Weakness hides;
You ne'er with jingling Words deceive the Ear,
And yet, on humble Subjects, great appear.
Thrice happy Youth whom noble Isis crowns!
Whom Blackmore censures, and Godolphin owns;
So on the tuneful Margarita's Tongue
The list'ning Nymphs, and ravish'd Heroes hung;
But Citts and Fops the Heav'n-born Musick blame,
And bawl, and hiss, and damn her into Fame;
Like her sweet Voice is thy harmonious Song,
As high, as sweet, as easie, and as strong.
Oh! had relenting Heav'n prolong'd his Days,
The tow'ring Bard had sung in nobler Lays;
How the last Trumpet wakes the lazy Dead,
How Saints aloft the Cross triumphant spread;
How op'ning Heav'ns their happy Regions show;
And yawning Gulphs with flaming Vengeance glow;
And Saints rejoyce above, and Sinners howl below:
Well might he sing the Day he could not fear,
And paint the Glories he was sure to wear.
Oh best of Friends, will ne'er the silent Urn
To our just Vows the hapless Youth return?
Must he no more divert the tedious Day?
Nor sparkling Thoughts in antique Words convey?
No more to harmless Irony descend,
To noisy Fools a grave Attention lend,
Nor merry Tales with learn'd Quotations blend?
No more in false pathetick Phrase complain
Of Delia's Wit, her Charms, and her Disdain?
Who now shall God-like Anna's Fame diffuse?
Must she, when most she merits, want a Muse?
Who now our Twysden's glorious Fate shall tell;
How lov'd he liv'd, and how deplor'd he fell:
How, while the troubled Elements around,
Earth, Water, Air, the stunning Dinn resound;
Through Streams of Smoak, and adverse Fire he rides,
While ev'ry Shott is levell'd at his Sides;
How, while the fainting Dutch remotely fire,
And the fam'd Eugene's Iron Troops retire,
In the first Front amidst a slaughter'd Pile,
High on the Mound he dy'd near Great Argyle.
Whom shall I find unbyass'd in Dispute,
Eager to learn, unwilling to confute?
To whom the Labours of my Soul disclose,
Reveal my Pleasure, or discharge my Woes?
Oh! in that heav'nly Youth for ever ends,
The best of Sons, of Brothers, and of Friends.
He sacred Friendship's strictest Laws obey'd,
Yet more by Conscience than by Friendship sway'd;
Against himself his Gratitude maintain'd,
By Favours past, not future Prospects gain'd:
Not nicely choosing, tho' by all desir'd,
Tho' learn'd, not vain; and humble, tho' admir'd:
Candid to all, but to himself severe,
In Humour pliant, as in Life austere.
A wise Content his even Soul secur'd,
By Want not shaken, nor by Wealth allur'd.
To all sincere, tho' earnest to commend,
Could praise a Rival, or condemn a Friend.
To him old Greece and Rome were fully known,
Their Tongues, their Spirits, and their Styles his own:
Pleas'd the least steps of famous Men to view,
Our Author's Works, and Lives, and Souls he knew;
Paid to the Learn'd and Great the same Esteem,
The one his Pattern, and the one his Theme:
With equal Judgment his capacious Mind
Warm Pindar's Rage, and Euclid's Reason joyn'd.
Judicious Physick's noble Art to gain
All Drugs and Plants explor'd, alas in vain!
The Drugs and Plants their drooping Master fail'd,
Nor Goodness now, nor Learning ought avail'd;
Yet to the Bard his Churchill's Soul they gave,
And made him scorn the Life they could not save.
Else could he bear unmov'd the fatal Guest,
The Weight that all his fainting Limbs opprest,
The Coughs that struggled from his weary Breast?
Could he unmov'd approaching Death sustain?
Its slow advances, and its racking Pain?
Could he serene his weeping Friends survey,
In his last Hours his easy Wit display,
Like the rich Fruit he sings, delicious in Decay?
Once on thy Friends look down, lamented Shade,
And view the Honours to thy Ashes paid;
Some thy lov'd Dust in Parian Stones enshrine,
Others immottal Epitaphs design;
With Wit, and Strength, that only yields to thine:
Even I, though slow to touch the painful string,
Awake from slumber, and attempt to sing.
Thee, Philips, thee, despairing Vaga mourns,
And gentle Isis soft Complaints returns;
Dormer laments amidst the Wars Alarms,
And Cecil weeps in beauteous Tufton's Arms:
Thee on the Po kind Somerset deplores,
And ev'n that charming Scene his Grief restores:
He to thy Loss each mournful Air applies,
Mindful of thee on huge Taburnus lies,
But most at Virgil's Tomb his swelling Sorrows rise.
But you, his darling Friends lament no more,
Display his Fame, and not his Fate deplore;
And let no Tears from erring Pity flow,
For One that's blest above, immortaliz'd below.