1712
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Life and Character of Mr. John Philips.

The Life and Character of Mr. John Philips. Author of the Splendid Shilling, Bleinheim, Cyder, &c.

Dr. George Sewell


In one of the better descriptions of imitation in early eighteenth-century education, George Sewell, writing anonymously, praises John Philips (d. 1708) as an imitator of ancient and modern poets. Of particular interest is the sequence described: the study of Latin writers led Philips to Milton's imitations, and the study of Milton led him to Chaucer and Spenser in search of "proper, sounding, and significant Expressions." The paired quotations from Virgil's Georgics and Philips's Cyder (with its Spenserian "gladsome") illustrates the process. Not seen.




He was the Son of Dr. STEPHEN PHILIPS, Arch-Deacon of Salop, born at Bampton in Oxfordshire, December the 30th, Anno 1676. After he was well grounded in Grammar Learning, he was sent to Winchester School, where he made himself Master of the Latin and Greek Languages, and was soon distinguish'd for a happy Imitation of the Excellencies; which he discover'd in the best Classical Authors.

With this Foundation of good Learning, and very early Promises of a farther Improvement in all useful Studies, he was remov'd to Christ Church in Oxford. From his first Entrance into that University he was very much esteem'd for the Simplicity of his Manners, the Agreeableness of his Conversation, and the uncommon Delicacy of his Genius. All his University Excercises were receiv'd with Applause, and in that Place so famous for good Sense, and a true Spirit, he in a short time grew to be Superiour to most of his Contemporaries, where to have been their Equal only, had been a sufficient Praise: There it was that, following the natural Bent of his Genius, beside other valuable Authors, he became acquainted with MILTON, whom he studied with Application, and trac'd him in all his successful Translations from the Ancients. There was not an Allusion in his Poem, drawn from the Thoughts, or Expressions of HOMER or VIRGIL, which he could not immediately refer to, and by that, He perceiv'd what a peculiar Life, and Grace their Sentiments added to English Poetry; how much their Images rais'd their Words when translated gave to its Language. Nor was he less curious in observing the Force, and Elegancy of his Mother Tongue, but by the Example of his darling MILTON search'd backwards into the Works of our old English Poets, to furnish himself with proper, sounding, and significant Expressions, and prove the due Extent, and Compass of the Language. For this purpose he carefully read over CHAUCER, SPENCER, and others, and afterwards in his Writings did not scruple to revive any Words, or Phrases, which he thought deserv'd it, with that modest Liberty which HORACE allows of, either in the Coining of new, or restoring of ancient Expressions. Yet tho' he was a profest Admirer of these Authors, it was not from any View of appearing in publick, for such was his Modesty, that he was the only Person who did not think himself qualified for it; He read for his own Pleasure, and Writing was the only thing he declin'd, wherein he was capable of pleasing others. Nor was he so in Love with Poetry, as to neglect any other Parts of good Literature, which either their Usefulness, or his own Genius excited him to persue. He was very well vers'd in the whole Compass of Natural Philosophy, and seem'd in his Studies as well as his Writings to have made VIRGIL his Pattern, and often to have broke out with him into the following rapturous Wish,

Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musae,
Quarum sacra fero ingenti perculsus amore,
Accipiant; coelique vias & sidera monstrent;
Defectus Solis varios, Lunaeque labores:
Unde tremor terris; qua vi maria alta tumescant
Objicibus rupeis, rursusque in se ipsa residant:
Quid tantum Oceano properent se tingere Soles
Hyberni; velquae tardis mora noctibus obstet.

Mr. PHILIPS was no less passionate an Admirer of Nature, and it is probable that he drew his own Character in that Description which he gives of a Philosophical and Retir'd Life, at the latter end of the first Book of his CYDER;

—He to his Labours hies
Gladsome, intent on somewhat that may ease
Unhealthy Mortals, and with curious Search
Examines all the Properties of Herbs,
Fossils, and Minerals, that th' embowell'd Earth
Displays, if by his Industry he can
Benefit Human Race:—

And we have good Reason to believe that much might have been attain'd to, many new Discoveries made by so diligent a Recorder of Physical Operations. However tho' Death prevented our Hopes in that respect, yet the admirable Passages of that kind which may convince us of the Niceness of his Observations in Natural Causes; Beside this he was particularly skill'd in all manner of Antiquities, especially those of his own Country, and part of this too, he has with much Art and Beauty intermix'd with his Poetry. . . .


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