1701
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Imitation of Milton. [The Splendid Shilling.]

A Collection of Poems: viz. The Temple of Death: by the Marquis of Normanby. An Epistle to the Earl of Dorset: by Charles Montague, Lord Halifax. ... With several Original Poems, never before printed, by the E. of Roscommon, the E. of Rochester, the E. of Orrery [and others].

John Philips


John Philips's best-known poem first appeared anonymously and without permission in two 1701 miscellanies under the title "Imitation of Milton." It appears from the dedication belatedly published in 1775 that the poem was composed before the turn of the eighteenth century. Acknowledged printings under the familiar title began to appear in 1705. The Splendid Shilling stands at the head of several busy series of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century burlesques variously treating themes of poverty, humble or low objects, liquor, tobacco, and education. While the object of the imitation is Milton's orotund syntax and diction, the poem is delivered in a plaintive tone of melancholy simplicity found in many later imitations of Spenser. In addition to his manner, Philips's subject, the penurious poet, was a frequent subject of imitation: "My Galligaskins that have long withstood | The Winter's Fury, and encroaching Frosts, | By time subdu'd, (what will not time subdue!) | A horrid Chasm disclose, with Orifice | Wide discontinuous" p. 399. The Splendid Shilling also appeared in Charles Gildon's A New Miscellany of Poems (1701). Juniper's Magpye (the text is garbled here) and the Town-Hall were Oxford taverns.

A MS dedication to "W. Brome, Esq. of Ewithington, in the County of Hereford" first appeared in a newspaper, and was then reprinted in Additions to the Works of Alexander Pope (1776) 1:184-87. It reads in part: "Yet however excellent this Poem is, in the reading of it you will find a vast Difference between some Parts and others; which proceeds not from your humble Servant's Negligence, but Diet. This Poem was begun when he had little Victuals, and no Moneys, and was finished when he had the Misfortune at a virtuous Lady's House to meet with both. But I hope, in Time, Sir, when Hunger and Poverty shall once more be my Companions to make Amends for the Defaults of this Poem, by an Essay on Minced-Pyes, which shall be devoted to you with all Submission, by, Sir, Your most obliged, And humble Servant, J. Philips" St. James's Chronicle (26 September 1775).

Edmund Smith: "This poem was written for his own diversion, without any design of publication. It was communicated but to me; but soon spread, and fell into the hands of pirates. It was put out, vilely mangled, by Ben Bragge; and impudently said to be corrected by the author.... But, whatever effect this piracy may have upon us, it contributed very much to the advantage of Mr. Philips; it helped him to a reputation, which he neither desired nor expected, and to the honour of being put upon a work [Blenheim] of which he did not think himself capable; but the event shewed his modesty" 1710 ca; in Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (1779); ed. Hill (1905) 1:324-25.

Oliver Goldsmith: "This is reckoned the best parody of Milton in our language: it has been an hundred times imitated, without success. The truth is, the first thing in this way must preclude all future attempts; for nothing is so easy as to burlesque any man's manner, when we are once shewed the way" Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 1:255.

Samuel Johnson: "The Splendid Shilling has the uncommon merit of an original design, unless it may be thought precluded by the ancient Centos. To degrade the sounding words and stately construction of Milton, by an application to the lowest and most trivial things, gratifies the mind with a momentary triumph over that grandeur which hitherto held its captives in admiration; the words and things are presented with a new appearance, and novelty is always grateful where it gives no pain. But the merit of such performances begins and ends with the first author. He that should again adapt Milton's phrase to the gross incidents of common life, and even adapt it with more art, which would not be difficult, must yet expect but a small part of the praise which Philips has obtained; he can only hope to be considered as the repeater of a jest" Lives of the English Poets (1779); ed. Hill (1905) 1:316-17.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth: "We may observe that part of the pleasure we take in parody arises from the self-approbation we feel from our own quickness in discovering the resemblances, and in recollecting the passages alluded to.... Among popular parodies, of the mock-heroic kind, we must not forgot to mention The splendid shilling — by Philips, and six imitations of different poets on a pipe of tobacco by Dr. Browne, which may be found in Dodsley's Collection of poems, 2d vol. p. 280. Our readers are now so far advanced in the knowledge of poetry, that they will easily discover the sources of these imitations" Readings in Poetry (1816) 206-07.

Bryan Waller Procter: "Phillips's Shilling is left to itself as a coin out of date and no longer current; the author's reputation, and his once celebrated poem, live in our minds rather as traditions, than as things recorded, which any and every reader may peruse if he will. Phillips, in short, is not read, but talked of, as the author of The Splendid Shilling" in Effigies Poeticae (1824) 65.

William Hazlitt: "J. PHILIPS'S Splendid Shilling makes the fame of this poet — it is a lucky thought happily executed" Select British Poets (1824); Works, ed. Howe (1932) 9:239.

W. Davenport Adams: "John Philips, poet (b. 1676, d. 1708), wrote The Splendid Shilling (1701); Blenheim (1705); Cider (1708), and other pieces. Editions of his Works, with Memoirs of the author, were published in 1720, 1762, and 1781" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 471.

R. D. Havens: "Although far from being a great poet, he was influential: to his example are to be referred most of the unrimed burlesques, the technical treatises, and the humorous poems on liquor that were popular in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, as the only widely-read author of blank verse before Thomson, he helped to endow the new measure with what none of his contemporaries were able to give it, popularity. Milton, Roscommon, and Dennis had gained respect for it, but most of their productions found few readers and fewer admirers. Philips did much to bring blank verse 'out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses,' and through his influence on Thomson he became a figure of unquestionable significance in the development of English Poetry" Influence of Milton (1922) 100.

Amy Louise Reed: "John Philips, one of Pope's circle, had done something both to stimulate admiration for Milton's versification, and to excite ridicule for pensive poetry by his clever parody, The Splendid Shilling [1701, 1705]. This piece, in fluent blank verse, with Miltonic phrases and imagery, is in its plan a burlesque of Il Penseroso, describing one long, unhappy day in the life of a poet in hourly expectation of being arrested for debt. Its imitation of Milton was, however, so skilful as to call attention to the excellence of blank verse as a medium for reflective poetry" The Background of Gray's Elegy (1924) 87.

Harko Gerrit De Maar: "The Splendid Shilling enjoyed an immense vogue for over a century. Addison in The Tatler (No. 249) made a shilling 'in a soft sad voice give an account of his life and adventures.... The first adventure was my being in an poet's pocket, who was so taken with the brightness and novelty of my appearance that it gave occasion to the finest burlesque poem in the British language, entitled from me The Splendid Shilling.' And Goldsmith declared in 1767 that: 'The Splendid Shilling had been an hundred times imitated without success. The truth is the first thing in this way must preclude all future attempts, for nothing is so easy to burlesque [as] any man's manner when we are once showed the way.' The Splendid Shilling was twice translated into Latin, two Italian editions were published, and it was even turned into rhyme. The number of direct imitations is surprisingly great. The Crooked Sixpence, The Last Guinea, The Copper Farthing, The Birmingham Halfpenny and dozens of others continued to appear till the end of the century. Thomson was inspired by the poem in his ludicrous account of fox-hunting in Autumn. Philips was Somervile's favourite author; his Hobbinol, dedicated to Hogarth, owes everything to The Splendid Shilling. Cowper joined the imitators in his youth when he wrote Verses written on finding the Heel of a Shoe (1748) and even The Task was started as a burlesque of Milton's epic" History of Modern English Romanticism (1924) 145-46.

Richmond P. Bond: "Though Miltonic imitation before Philips was rare and Miltonic burlesque unknown, it would be extravagant to assign to The Splendid Shilling, or to the total output of Philips, the honor of more than a considerable influence in the first half of the eighteenth century. Over two dozen definite burlesques in blank verse may be recorded in those fifty years, the degree of influence from The Splendid Shilling on these items fluctuating from close imitation to entirely independent creation. The general influence of the famous parody is, of course, difficult of measurement, but it may be safely assumed that Philips's poem was the most powerful force in burlesque blank verse of the first half, or of the whole, of the eighteenth century" English Burlesque Poetry (1932) 106-07.



Happy the Man, who void of Cares and Strife,
In Silken or in Leathern Purse retains
A splendid Shilling: he nor hears with pain
New Oysters cry'd, nor sighs for cheerful Ale;
But with his Friends, when nightly Mists arise,
To Juniper's, or Magpye, or Town-Hall repairs:
Where mindful of the Nymph, whose wanton Eye
Transfix'd his Soul, and kindled Amorous Flames,
Chloe or Phillis; he each Circling Glass
Wisheth her Health, and Joy, and equal Love.
Mean while he Smoaks, and Laughs at merry Tale,
Or Pun ambiguous, or Conundrum quaint.
But I whom griping Penury surrounds,
And Hunger, sure Attendant upon Want,
With scanty Offals, and small acid Tiff
(Wretched Repast) my meager Corps sustain:
Then Solitary walk, or doze at home
In Garret vile, and with a warming puff
Regale chill'd Fingers, or from Tube as black
As Winter's Chimney, or well-polish'd Jett,
Exhale Mundungus, ill-perfuming Smoak.
Not blacker Tube, nor of a shorter Size
Smoaks Cambro-Britain (vers'd in Pedigree,
Sprung from Cadwalader and Arthur, ancient Kings,
Full famous in Romantick tale) when he
O're many a craggy Hill, and fruitless Cliff,
Upon a Cargo of fam'd Cestrian Cheese,
High over-shadowing rides, with a design
To vend his Wares, or at the Arvonian Mart,
Or Maridunum, or the ancient Town
Hight Morgannumia, or where Vaga's Stream
Encircles Ariconium, fruitful Soil,
Whence flow Nectareous Wines, that well may vye
With Massic, Setian, or Renown'd Falern.
Thus while my joyless Hours I lingring spend,
With Looks demure, and silent pace a Dunn,
Horrible Monster! hated by Gods and Men,
To my aerial Citadel ascends;
With Vocal Heel thrice Thund'ring at my Gates,
With hideous Accent thrice he calls; I know
The Voice ill boding, and the solemn Sound;
What shou'd I do, or whither turn? amaz'd,
Confounded, to the dark Recess I fly
Of Woodhole; straight my bristling Hairs erect,
My Tongue forgets her Faculty of Speech,
So horrible he seems; his faded Brow
Entrench'd with many a Frown, and conic Beard,
And spreading Band admir'd by Modern Saint
Disastrous Acts forebode; in his Right hand
Long Scrolls of Paper solemnly he waves,
With Characters and Figures dire inscribed
Grievous to mortal Eye, (ye Gods avert
Such plagues from righteous men) behind him stalks
Another Monster, not unlike himself,
Of Aspect sullen, by the Vulgar called
A Catchpole, whose polluted hands the Gods
With Force incredible, and Magic Charms
Erst have indu'd, if he his ample Palm
Should haply on ill-fated Shoulder lay
Of Debtor, straight his Body to the touch
Obsequious (as Whilom Knights were wont)
To some enchanted Castle is convey'd,
Where Gates impregnable, and coercive Charms
In durance vile detain him, till in form
Of Money, Pallas set the Captive free.
Beware, ye Debtors, when ye walk, beware,
Be circumspect; oft with insidious Ken,
This Caitiff eyes your steps aloof, and oft
Lies perdue in a Creek or gloomy Cave,
Prompt to enchant some inadvertent wretch
With his unhallow'd Touch. So (Poets sing)
Grimalkin to Domestick Vermin sworn
An everlasting Foe, with watchful eye,
Lyes nightly brooding ore a chinky gap,
Protending her fell claws, to thoughtless Mice
Sure Ruin. So her disembowell'd Web
The Spider in a Hall or Kitchin spreads,
Obvious to vagrant Flies: she secret stands
Within her woven Cell; the Humming Prey
Regardless of their Fate, rush on the toils
Inextricable, nor will ought avail
Their Arts nor Arms, nor Shapes of lovely Hue,
The Wasp insidious, and the buzzing Drone,
And Butterfly proud of expanded wings
Distinct with Gold, entangled in her Snares,
Useless resistance make: with eager strides,
She tow'ring flies to her expected Spoils;
Then with envenom'd Jaws the vital Blood
Drinks of reluctant Foes, and to her Cave
Their bulky Carcasses triumphant drags.

So pass my days. But when Nocturnal Shades
This World invelop, and th' inclement Air
Perswades Men to repel benumbing Frosts,
With pleasant Wines, and crackling blaze of Wood;
Me lonely sitting, nor the glimmering Light
Of make-weight Candle, nor the joyous talk
Of lovely friend delights; distress'd, forlorn,
Amidst the horrors of the tedious night,
Darkling I sigh, and feed with dismal Thoughts
My anxious Mind; or sometimes mournful Verse
Indite, and sing of Groves and Myrtle Shades,
Or desperate Lady near a purling stream,
Or Lover pendent on a Willow-tree:
Mean while I labour with eternal drought,
And restless wish, in vain, my parched Throat
Finds no relief, nor heavy eyes repose:
But if a Slumber haply do's invade
My weary Limbs, my Fancy still awake,
Longing for Drink, and eager in my Dream,
Tipples Imaginary Pots of Ale.
Awake, I find the setled Thirst—
Still gnawing, and the pleasant Phantom curse.

Thus do I live from Pleasure quite debarr'd,
Nor tast the Fruits that the Sun's genial Rays
Mature, John-apple nor the Downy Peach,
Nor Walnut in rough-furrow'd Coat secure,
Nor Medlar Fruit delicious in decay;
Afflictions great, yet greater still remain,
My Galligaskins that have long withstood
The Winter's Fury, and encroaching Frosts,
By time subdu'd, (what will not time subdue!)
A horrid Chasm disclose, with Orifice
Wide discontinuous; at which the Winds
Eurus and Auster, and the dreadful force
Of Boreas, that congeals the Cronian Waves,
Tumultuous enter with dire chilling Blasts,
Portending Agues. Thus a well-fraught Ship
Long sail'd secure, or through a Egean Deep,
Or the Ionian, till Crusing near
The Lilybean Shoar, with hideous Crush
On Scylla or Charibdis dangerous Rocks
She strikes rebounding, whence the shatter'd Oak,
So fierce a Shock unable to withstand,
Admits the Sea, in at the gaping Side,
The crouding Waves gush with impetuous Rage
Resistless overwhelming; Horrors seize
The Mariners, Death in their eyes appears,
They stare, they lave, they pump, they swear, they pray:
Vain Efforts, still the battering Waves rush in
Implacable, till delug'd by the foam,
The Ship sinks found'ring in the vast Abyss.

[pp. 393-400]