« AnteriorContinua »
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 have distinguished themselves by their writings, as of those who are renowned for great actions. It is but reasonable they, who contribute so much to the immortality 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 recorded by their friends. For no modest man (as the person I write of was in perfection) will write their own panegyrics; and it is very hard that they should go without reputation only because they the more deserve it. The end of writing lives is for the imitation of the readers. It 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 private and social virtues are more easily transcribed. The life of Cowley is more 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 Patrus and Molieres, as well as their Condés and Turennes; their Pellisons and Racines have their elogies, as well as the prince whom they celebrate; and their poems, their mer. curies, 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 learning, his temper, but above all of that particular turn of humour, that altogether new genius, he had been an example to their poets, and a subject of their panegyrics, and perhaps set in competition with the 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 assiga 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 writings, without meddling with the transactions of his life, which was altogether private: I shall only make this known observation of his family, that there was scarcely 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, all of different, though uncommon faculties. Of the living, neither their modesty, nor the humour of the present age, permits me to speak: of the dead, I may say something
« One of them had made the greatest progress in the study of the law of nature and nations of any one I know. He had perfectly mastered, and even improved the notions of Grotius, and the more refined ones of Puffendorf. He could refute Hobbes with as much solidity as some of greater name, and expose him with as much wit as Echard. That noble study, which requires the greatest reach of reason and nicety of distinction, was not at all difficult to him. 'Twas a national loss to be deprived of one who un derstood a science so necessary, and yet so unknown in England. I shall add only, he had the same honesty and sincerity as the person I write of, but more heat: the former was more inclined to argue, the latter to divert: one employed his reason more; the other his imagination: the former had been well qualified for those posts, which the modesty of the latter made him refuse. His other dead brother would have been an ornament to the college of which he was a member. He had a genius either for poetry or oratory; and, though very young, composed several very agreeable pieces. In all probability he would have written as finely as his brother did nobly. He might have been the Waller, as the other was the Milton, of his time. The one might celebrate Marlborough, the other his beautiful offspring. This had not been so fit to describe the actions of heroes as the virtues of private men.
In a word, he had been fitter for my place; and, while his brother was writing upon the greatest men that any age ever produced, in a style equal to them, he might have served as a panegyrist on him.
“This is all I think necessary to say of his family. I shall proceed to himself, and his writings; which I shall first treat of, because I know they are censured by some out of envy, and more out of ignorance.
“ The Splendid Shilling, which is far the least considerable, has the more general reputation, and perhaps hinders the character of the rest. The style agreed so well with the burlesque, that the ignorant thought it could become nothing else. Every body is pleased with that work. But to judge rightly of the other requires a perfect mastery of poetry and criticism, a just contempt of the little turns and witticisms now in vogue, and, above all, a perfect understanding of poetical diction and description.
“ All that have any taste for poetry will agree, that the great burlesque is much to be preferred to the low. It is much easier to make a great thing appear little, than a little one great: Cotton and others of a very low genius have done the former ; but Philips, Garth, and Boileau, only, the latter.
A picture in miniature is every painter's talent; but a piece for a cupola, where all the figures are enlarged, yet proportioned to the eye, requires a master's hand.
“It must still be more acceptable than the low burlesque, because the images of the latter are mean and filthy, and
the language itself entirely unknown to all men of good
breeding. The style of Billingsgate would not make a , very agreeable figure at St. James's. A gentleman would
take but little pleasure in language, which he would think it hard to be accosted in, or in reading words which he could not pronounce without blushing. The lofty burlesque is the more to be admired, because, to write it, the author must be master of two of the most different talents in nature. A talent to find out and expose what is ridiculous, is very different from that which is to raise and elevate. We must read Virgil and Milton for the one, and Horace and Hudibras for the other. We know that the authors of excellent comedies have often failed in the grave style, and the tragedian as often in comedy. Admiration and aughter are of such opposite natures, that they are seldom created by the same person. The man of mirth is always observing the follies and weaknesses, the serious writer the virtues or crimes, of mankind; one is pleased with contemplating a beau, the other a hero: even from the same object they would draw different ideas; Achilles would appear in very different lights to Thersites and Alexander; the one would admire the courage and greatness of his soul; the other would ridicule the vanity and rashness of his temper.' As the satirist says to Hannibal:
I, curre per Alpes Ut pueris placeas, et declamatio fias. “The contrariety of style to the subject pleases the more strongly, because it is more surprising; the expectation of the reader is pleasantly deceived, who expects a humble style from the subject, or a great subject from the style, It pleases the more universally, because it is agreeable to the taste both of the grave and the merry; but more particularly so to those who have a relish of the best writers, and the noblest sort of poetry. I shall produce only one passage out of this poet, which is the misfortune of his galligaskins:
My galligaskins, which have long withstood
This is admirably pathetical, and shews very well the vicissitudes of sublunary things. The rest goes on to a prodigious height; and a man in Greenland could hardly have made a more pathetic and terrible complaint. Is it not surprising that the subject should be so mean, and the verse so pompous, that the least things in his poetry, as in a microscope, should grow great and formidable to the eye ; especially considering that, not understanding French, he had no model for his style? that he should have no writer to imitate, and himself be inimitable? that he should do all this before he was twenty? at an age which is usually pleased with a glare of false thoughts, little turns, and unnatural fustian? at an age at which Cowley, Dryden, and I had almost said Virgil, were inconsiderable? So soon was his imagination at its full strength, his judgment ripe, and his humour complete.
“ 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. This grievance is now grown more epidemical; and no man now has a right to his own thoughts, or a title to his own writings. Xenophon answered the Persian, who demanded his arms, “We have nothing now left but our arms and our valour: if we surrender the one, how shall we make use of the other?” Poets have nothing but their wits and their writings; and if they are plundered of the latter, I don't see what good the former can do them. To pirate, and publicly own it, to prefix their names to the works they steal, to own and avow the theft, I believe, was never yet heard of but in England. It will sound oddly to posterity, that, in a polite nation, in an enlightened age, under the direction of the most wise, most learned, and most generous encouragers of knowledge in tlic world, the property of a mechanic should be better secured than that of a scholar! that the poorest manual operations should be more valued than the noblest products of the brain! that it should be felony to rob a cobler of a pair of shoes, and no crime to deprive the best author of his whole subsistence! that no