« AnteriorContinua »
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 day; a subject on which no mind can hope to 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 February 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 monunuent in Westminster-abbey. The inscription at Westminster was written, as I have heard, by dr. Atterbury, though commonly given to dr. Freind.
His Epitaph at Hereford:
Obiit 15 Die Feb. Anno Ptat suæ 32 ;
Si Tumulum desideras,
Qualis quantusque Vir fuerit,
Testetur hoc Saxum,
His Epitaph at Westminster:
Herefordiæ conduntur Ossa,
JOHANNIS PHILIPS ;
Immortale suum Ingenium,
Miro Animi Candore,
In illo Musarum Domicilio,
Carmina Sermone Patrio composuit,
Primoque pone par.
Et videt, et assecutus est,
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,
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 knew him, 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 adṁired. 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 wbich bitherto 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.
“ The parody on Milton,” says Gildon, “is the only toJerable 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 its 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 seems to have formed his ideas of the field of Blenheim from the battles of the heroic ages, or the tales of chivalry,
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 Tallard; 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 made by Dryden, it is reasonable to believe that he would bave admitted a more pleasing modulation of numbers into his work; but Philips sits down with a resolution to make no more music than he found; to want all that his master wanted, though he is very far from having what his master had. Those asperities, 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 classic expressions to
new purposes. It seems better turned than the ode of Hannes.*
To the poem on Cider, written in imitation of the Georgics, may be given this peculiar praise, that it is grounded in truth; that the precepts which it contains are exact and just; and that it is, therefore, at once a book of entertain. ment 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 unexpected excellence: but perbaps to his last poem may be applied what Tukh said of the work of Lucretius, that it is written with much art, though with feu blazes of genius.
* This ode I am willing to mention, because there seems to be an error in all the printed copies, which is, I find, retained in the last. They all read;
Quam Gratiarum cara decentium
0! O! labellis cui Venus insidet. The author probably wrote,
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium