« PreviousContinue »
This performance raised him so high, that when Europe resounded with the victory of Blenheim, 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 greatest 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 Duy; a subject on which no mind can hope to i equal expectation.
This work he did not live to finish ; his diseases, a slow consumption and an asthma, put a stop to his studies; and on Feb. 15, 1708, at the beginning of his thirty-third year, put an end to his life. He was buried in the cathedral of Hereford ; and Sir Simon Harcourt, afterwards Lord Chancellor; gave him a monument in Westminster Abbey. The inscription at Westminster was writter, as I have heard, by Dr. Atterbury, though commonly given to Dr. Freind.
His Epitaph at Hereford :
7 Ætat. suæ 32.
Templum adi Westmonasteriense :
Testetur hoc saxum
His Epitaph at Westminster.
Herefordiæ, conduntur Ossa,
Immortale suum Ingenium,
Eruditione multiplici exculium,
Miro animi candore,
In illo Musarum Domicilio
Carmina sermone Patrio composuit
Primoque poene Par.
Et videt, & assecutus est,
Fas sit Huic,
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Non dedecebit Chorum.
Quoad viveret Fautor,
Hoc illi Saxum poni voluit.
Salop, Filius, natus est Bamptoniæ
In agro Oxon. Dec. 30, 1676. .
Philips has been always praised, without contradiction, as a man modest, blameless, and pious; who bore narrowness of fortune without discontent, and tedious and painful maladies without impatience: beloved by those that Vol. I. X
knew hin, but not ambitious to be known. He was probably not formed for a wide circle. His conversation is commended for its innocent gaiety, which seems to have flowed only among his intimates ; for I have been told, that he was in company silent and barren, and employed only upon the pleasures of his pipe. His addiction to tobacco is mentioned by one of his biographers, who remarks that in all his writings, except Blenheim, he has found an opportunity of celebrating the fragrant fume. In common life he was probably one of those who please by not offending, and whose person was loved because his writings were admired. He died honoured and lamented, before any part of his reputation had withered, and before his patron St. John had disgraced him.
His works are few. 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 bitherto held its captives in admiration; the words and tbings 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.
“The parody on Milton,' says Gildon, “is the only tolerable production " of its author.” This is a censure too dogmatical and violent. The poem of Blenheim was never denied to be tolerable, even by those who do not alLow his supreme excellence. It is indeed the poem of a scholar, all inexpert of war; of a man who writes books from books, and studies the world in a college. He seeins to have formed his ideas of the field of Blenheim from the battles of the heroic ages, or the tales of chivalry, with very little comprehension of the qualities necessary to the composition of a modern hero, which Addison has displayed with so much propriety. He makes Marlborough behold at a distance the slaughter made by Tellard, then haste to encounter and restrain him, and mow his way through ranks made headless by his sword.
He imitates Milton's numbers indeed, but imitates them very injudiciously. Deformity is easily copied; and whatever there is in Milton which the reader wishes away, all that is obsolete, peculiar, or licentious, is accumulated with great care by Philips. Milton's verse was harmonious, in proportion to the general state of our metre in Milton's age; and, if he had written after the improvements inade by Dryden, it is reasonable to believe that he would have admitted a more pleasing modulation of numbers into his work ; but Philips sits down with a resolution to make no more musick than he found; to want all that his master wanted, though he is very far from having w bac his master
- had. Those ásperities, therefore, that are venerable in the Paradise Lost, are
contemptible in the Blenheim. • There is a Latin ode written to his patron St. John, in return for a present of wine and tobacco, which cannot be passed without notice. It is gay and elegant, and exhibits several artful accommodations of classick expressions to new purposes. It seems better turned than the odes of Hannes.*,
To the poem on Cidor, written in imitation of the Georgicks, may be given this peculiar praise, that it is grounded in truth; that the precepts which is contains are exact and just; and that it is therefore, at once, a book of entertainment and of science. This I was told by Miller, the great gardener and botanist, whose expression was, that there were many books written on the same subject in prose, which do not contain so much truth as that poem.
In the disposition of his matter, so as to intersperse precepts relating to the culture of trees, with sentiments more generally alluring, and in easy and graceful transitions from one subject to another, he has very diligently imitated his master; but he unhappily pleased himself with blank verse, and supposed that the numbers of Milton, which impress the mind with veneration, combined as they are with subjects of inconceivable grandeur, could be sustained by images which at most can rise only to elegance. Contending angels may shake the regions of heaven in blank verse; but the flow of equal measures, and the embellishment of rhyme, must recommend to our attention the art of engrafting, and decide the merit of the redstreak and pearmain.
What study, could confer, Philips had obtained; but natural deficience cannot be supplied. He seems not born to greatness and elevation. He is never lofty, nor does he often surprise with unexne
aan loerected excellence, our mornamentale his last pocm. muy be appiied what Tully said of the work of Lucretius, that it is written with much art, though with few blazes of genius. The following fragment, written by Edmund Smith, upon the works of
Philips, has been transcribed from the Bodleian manuscripts. " A prefatory Discourse to the poem on Mr. Philips, with a character of
his writings.' " It is altogether as equitable some account should be given of those who havedistinguisbedthemselves by theirwritings, asof those who are renowned for great actions. It is but reasonable they, who contribute so much to the immora.
tality * This ode I am willing to mention, because there seems to be an error in all tbe printed copies, which is, I find, retained in the last. They all read;
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
O! O! labellis cui Venøs insidet,
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
tality of others, should have some share in it themselves; and since their genius only is discovered by their works, it is just that their virtues should be Tecorded by their friends. For no modest men (as the person I write of was in perfection) will write their own panegyricks; and it is very hard that they should go without reputation, only because they the ore deserve it. The end of writing Lives is for the imitation of
will be in the power of very few to imitate the duke of Marlborough ; we must be content with admiring his great qualities and actions, without hopes of following them. The grivate and social virtues are more easily transcribed. The Life of Cowley is inore instructive, as well as more fine, than any we have in our language. And it is to be wished, since Mr. Philips had so many of the good qualities, of that poet, that I had some of the abilities of his historian.
The Grecian philosophers have had their Lives written, 'their morals commended, and their sayings recorded. Mr. Philips had all the virtues to which most of them only pretended, and all their integrity without any of their affectation.
The French are very just to eminent men in this point; not a learned man nor a poet can die, but all Europe must be acquainted with his accomplishments. They give praise and expect it in their turns: they commend their Patru's and Molieres as well as their Condés and Turennes ; their Pellisons and Racines have their elegies, as well as the prince whom they celebrate; and their poems, their mercuries, and orations, nay their very gazettes, are filled with the praises of the learned.
I am satisfied, had they a Philips among them, and known how to value him ; had they one of his le isce his temper, but above all of that particular turn of Blenheim was nordning, men de ha-1 heer an exams
by an example to their poets of humour, that altogether new generated and a subject of their panegyricks, and perhaps set in competition wilin he ancients, to whom only he ought to submit.
I shall therefore endeavour to do justice to his memory, since nobody else undertakes it. And indeed I can assign no cause why so many of his acquaintance (that are as willing and more able than myself to give an account of him) should forbear to celebrate the memory of one so dear to them, but only that they look upon it as a work entirely belonging to me.
I shall content myself with giving only a character of the person and his Hiritings, without meddling with the transactions of his life, which was altogather private : I shall only make this known observation of his family, that there were scarce so many extraordinary men in any one. I have been acquainted with five of his brothers (of which three are still living), all men of fine parts, yet all of a very unlike temper and genius. So that their fruitful mother, like the mother of the gods, seems to have produced a numerous offspring. allof different though uncommon faculties. Ofthe living, neither their modesty nor the humour of the present age permits me to speak ; of the dead, I
One may say something..