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GEORGE STEPNEY, descended from the Stepneys of Pendigrast in Pembrokeshire, was born at Westminster, in 1663. Of his father's condition or fortune I have no acccount.* Having received the first part of his education at Westminster, where he passed six years in the college, he went at nineteen to Cambridge,t where he continued a friendship begun at school, with Mr. Montague, afterward earl of Halifax. They came to London together, and are said to have been invited into publick life by the duke of Dorset.
His qualifications recommended him to many foreign employments, so that his time seems to have been spent in negotiations. In 1692 he was sent envoy to the elector of Brandenburgh: in 1693 to the Imperial Court; in 1694 to the elector of Saxony; in 1696 to the electors of Mentz and Cologne, and the congress at Francfort ; in 1698 a second time to Brandenburgh; in 1699 to the king of Poland; in 1701 again to the emperor; and in 1706 to the
* It has been conjectured that our poct was either son or grandson of Charles, third son of sir John Stepney, the first baronet of that family. See Granger's History, vol. 11, p. 396, edit. 8vo. 1775 Mr. Cole says, the poet's father was a grocer. Colc's MSS. in Brit' Mus. C.
† He was entered of Trinity college, and took his master's degree in 1689. H.
states general. In 1697 he was made one of the commissioners of trade. His life was busy, and not long. He died in 1707 ; and is buried in Westminster Abbey, with this epitaph, which Jacob transscribed :
H. S. E.
Lingue, Styli, ac Vitae Elegantiam,
Sua ætate multum celebratus,
Plurimas Legationes obiit
Gulielmi & Anna
On the left hand,
De l’endegrast, in Comitatu
Electus in Collegium
Sancti 'Trinitatis Cantab. 1682.
Cura commissa est 1697.
It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney made grey authors blush. I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote ; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to publick honours, and are therefore not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.
He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties of his own. In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may perhaps be found, and now and then a short composition may give pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit, or the vigour of nature.
JOHN PHILIPS was born on the 30th of December, 1676, at Ban.pton in Oxfordshire ; of which place his father, Dr. Stephen Philips, archdeacon of Salop, was minister. The first part of his education was domestick ; after which he was sent to Winchester, where, as we are told by Dr. Sewel, his biographer, he 'Was soon distinguished by the superiority of his exercises; and, what is less easily to be credited, so much endeared himself to his schoolfellows by his civility and good nature, that they, without murmur or illwill, saw him indulged by the master with particular immunities. It is related, that when he was at school, he seldom mingled in play with the other boys, but retired to his chamber; where his sovereign pleasure was to sit, hour after hour, while his hair was combed by somebody, whose service he found means to procure. *
* Isaac Vossius relates, that he also delighted in having his hair combed when he could have it done by barbers or other persons skilled in the rules of prosody. Of the passage that contains this ridiculous fancy, the following is a translation: “Many people take delight in the rubbing of their limbs, and the combing of their bair; but these exercises would delight much more, if the servants at the baths, and if the barbers, were so skilful in this art, that they could express any measures with their fingers. I remember that more, than once I have fallen into the hands of men of this sort, who could imitate any measure of songs in combing the hair, so as sometimes to express very intelligibly iambics, trochees, dactyls, &c. from whence there arose to me no small delight." See his Treatise de Poematum cantu & viribus Rythmi. Oxon. 1673, p. 65. H.
At school he became acquainted with the poets, ancient and modern, and fixed his attention particularly on Milton.
In 1694 he entered himself at Christ-church, a college at that time in the highest reputation, by the transmission of Busby's scholars to the care first of Fell, and afterwards of Aldrich. Here he was distinguished as a genius eminent among the eminent, and for friendship particularly intimate with Mr. Smith, the author of Phædra and Hippolytus. The profession which he intended to follow was that of physick; and he took much delight in natural history, of which botany was his favourite part.
His reputation was confined to his friends and to the university; till about 1703 he extended it to a wider circle by the Splendid Shilling, which struck the publick attention with a mode of writing new and unexpected.
This performance raised him so high, that, when Europe resounded with the victory of Bienheim, he was, probably with an occult opposition to Addison, employed to deliver the acclamation of the tories, . It is said that he would willingly have declined the task, but that his friends urged it upon him. It appears that he wrote this poem at the house of Mr. St. John. Blenheim was published in 1705.
The next year produced his great work, the poem upon Cider, in two books; which was received with loud praises, and continued long to be read, as an imitation of Virgil's Georgic, which needed not shun the presence of the original.
He then grew probably more confident of his own abilities, and began to meditate a poem on the Last