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Fas sit huic,
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Non dedecebit chorum.
Simon Harcourt miles,
Quoad viveret, fautor,
Hoc illi saxum poni voluit.
Salop. filius, natus est Bamptoniæ
In agro Oxon. Dec. 30, 1676,
Of the many reasons that have been assigned in favour of literary biography, no one appears more interesting than that principle of equity by which the author, who has made other men the subjects ot' immortality in his writings, puts in a just claim to be particularised for the same honours himself. Such was the motive by which Edmund Smith, the classical author of the tragedy of · Phedrus and Hippolita,' was induced to begin a discourse upon the life and writings of Philips; and it is with similar feelings that, what he failed to finish, is here completed.
John, the son of Stephen Philips, Archdeacon of Salop, was born on the 30th of December, 1676, at Banipton, in Oxfordshire, of which place his father was also curate. After having begun his studies at Winchester school, where he was early distinguished by the assiduity of his application, and the superiority of his exercises, he went to Oxford, and put himself at Christ's Church College, under the care of Dr. Aldrich, a man whom he has gratefully commemorated in his poems. Long before this period, he is praised by his biographers for his intimate acquaintance with, and fine appreciation of the beauties of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, to the latter of whom he gave so decided a preference, that he already took his Paradise Lost both in style and manner for his model in verse. For years he made it his
delight to trace, by progressive steps, the art of Milton's peculiar excellence; and it is said, that there is not a passage in the latter bearing any resemblance to the Greek and Latin writers which he had not detected and exemplified. Such was the course of reading by which he obtained the distinctive appellation of the imitator of Milton ; and though the reader may not be inclined, with the partiality of his early biographers, to admit him second in rank to his immortal prototype, still the judgment displayed in his admiration, and the time devoted to the cultivation of so powerful a style of verse, ought not to be passed over without a due share of praise.
In the University he became associated with the greatest wits, and most learned students, and soon ranked eniinent amongst his cotemporaries. At that period social intimacy was intensely cultivated, both at Oxford and Cambridge; and the tavern, much oftener than the College Hall, was the parade for ready parts, and the theatre of fine acquirements. Of such an intercourse, Philips was particularly fond, and to the warm applause derived over a pipe and sober glass, was the measure of his ambition for the better part of his life confined. But it were unjust not to add, that he furnished a rare example of one who indulged in this kind of company, for the quick and free pleasures it provoked ; and was never found either loose in his manners, or immoral in his conduct. By all who knew him, he has been commended as one modest in merit, and diffident in action ; and always rather desirous to enjoy the talents of others, than display his own. A weak constitution, and a sickly life, unfitted him for the struggles of an active existence; and he lived poor and private, but yet contented. To such a man, it were indeed severe to deny the moderate indulgence of a pipe, a social friend, and a glass of ale.
With his reputation thus confined to the circle of his personal acquaintances he composed the • Splendid Shilling. It was designed for the entertainment of his own coterie, but the novelty of the idea, and excellence of the execution, were highly attractive; the copies circulated beyond the University, and the poem soon after appeared in print, without his knowledge. The impression, however, was full of blunders; and, to make the act of piracy even more insolent, an assertion was introduced on the titlepage, that the poem was corrected for the press by the author. This circumstance forced a genuine edition from him, which immediately struck the public regard. The project was certainly original : it is a classical burlesque, and the perverse application of the sounding phrase, and stately order of Milton, to the commonest events, and most trivial thoughts, pleased, because it surpassed, and was grateful because uninvidious. As a specimen, the opening lines might suffice :
Sing, heavenly Muse,
After a contrasted description of him, who, forlorn upon & garret, wants a shilling, he proceeds.
Thus, while my joyless-minutes tedious flow,
* Two celebrated ale-houses at Oxford in 1700.
My shuddering limbs, and wonderful to tell !
The applause bestowed upon the “Splendid Shilling was so great, and the poetical character of the author consequently grew so high, that when, upon the victory of Blenheim, Lord Godolphin and the Earl of Halifax solicited Addison, as the organ of the Whigs, to celebrate the glory of the battle, in suitable verse, Viscount Bolingbroke, and Harley, Earl of Oxford, prevailed on Philips to sing the praises of the Tories upon the same subject. The honour of their selection, it is said, he endeavoured to shun, but the importunities of his friends were not to be overcome; and his poem of • Blenheim'made its appearance in 1705. Rivalship with Addison is a formidable test, by which no very decided honours are likely to be acquired; because the reputation of the author of Cato' is, upon general grounds, so deservedly high, that the world has not patience to enter upon a fair comparison of particular compositions. Another positive advantage, which, according to the taste of most readers, Addison's • Campaign' holds over Philips's 'Blenheim,' is, that the former is composed in rhyme, while the latter is written in blank verse
Dr. Johnson distinguishes between the two performances, by saying, that · Blenheim' is the work of one who formed his ideas of a field of battle, from the heroic poems of antiquity ; whereas, Addison displays the qualities and movements of a modern hero, with great propriety. These are the reasons upon which the superior popularity of the “Campaign' has been accounted for ; but, even when admitted with all the force they can apply, it may still be asserted, that Philips has been very unjustly treated; for, to a certainty, he has completed his design with a happier manner than his celebrated competitor. His is a better model of blank verse than Addison's is of rhyme ; and, upon the greater question of coincidence with nature and fact, there is really no very marked ground of preference between the two. Addison's simile of the Angel has been enormously praised, and is universally known; but the following comparison, by Philips, though less striking, is more probable, and equally appropriate. As a quotation, it has this praise, that it does not rise so superior to the context of the poem, as to be considered not only far better than the rest of it, but also far better than any thing ever written by the same hand :
In equal scale
In the following year he produced his longest composition“Cyder,' a poem, in two parts, which was written upon the plan of Virgil's “Georgics,' and was hailed upon its appearance with undisturbed applause. But it is not his most memorable work; though we are told that it continued to be read with kind feelings for a long period : that period, however, is now passed, and is not over likely to return. The praise Dr. Johnson bestows upon it is too peculiar to be omitted :-he states, upon practical autho