Slike strani
[ocr errors]

censure the corruptions of the church; and from him Spenser learned to employ his swains on topics of controversy.

The Italians soon transferred pastoral poetry into their own language ; Sanazzaro wrote “ Arcadia," in prose and verse; Tasso and Guarini wrote “ Favole Boschareccie,” or Sylvan Dramas; and all the nations of Europe filled volumes with Thyr

; sis and Damon, and Thestylis and Phyllis.

Philips thinks it “ somewhat strange to conceive how, in an age so addicted to the muses, pastoral poetry never comes to be so much as thought upon.” His wonder seems very unseasonable ; there had never, from the time of Spenser, wanted writers to talk occasionally of Arcadia and Strephon ; and half the book, in which he first tried his powers, consists of dialogues on queen Mary's death, between Tityrus and Corydon, or Mopsus and Menalcas. A series or book of pastorals, however, I know not that any one had then lately published.

Not long afterward Pope made the first display of his powers in four pastorals, written in a very different form. Philips had taken Spenser, and Pope took Virgil for his pattern. Philips endeavoured to be natural, Pope laboured to be elegant.

Philips was now favoured by Addison, and by Addison's companions, who were very willing to push him into reputation. The “Guardian" gave an account of pastoral, partly critical, and partly historical ; in which, when the merit of the modern is compared, Tasso and Guarini are censured for remote thoughts and unnatural refinements; and, upon the whole, the Italians and French are all excluded from rural poetry; and the pipe of the pastoral muse is transmitted by lawful inheritance from Theocritus to Virgil, from Virgil to Spenser, and from Spenser to Philips.

With this inauguration of Philips, his rival Pope was not much delighted; he therefore drew a comparison of Philips's performance with his own, in which, with an unexampled and unequalled artifice of irony, though he has himself always the advantage, he gives the preference to Philips. The design of aggrandizing himself he disguised with such dexterity, that, though Addison discovered it, Steele was deceived, and was afraid of displeas. ing Pope by publishing his paper. Published however it was, « Guard. 40," and from that time Pope and Philips lived in a perpetual reciprocation of malevolence.

In poetical powers, of either praise or satire, there was no proportion between the combatants; but Philips, though he could not prevail by wit, hoped to hurt Pope with another weapon, and charged him, as Pope thought, with Addison's approbation, as disaffected to the government.

Even with this he was not satisfied; for, indeed, there is no appearance that any regard was paid to his clamours. He proceeded to grosser insults, and hung up a rod at Button's, with which he threatened to chastise Pope, who appears to have been extremely exasperated; for in the first edition of his letters he calls Philips “ rascal,” and in the last still charges him with detaining in his hands the subscriptions for Homer delivered to him by the Hanover club.

I suppose it was never suspected that he meant to appropriate the money ; he only delayed, and with sufficient meanness, the gratification of him by whose prosperity he was pained.

Men sometimes suffer by injudicious kindness; Philips became ridiculous, without his own fault, by the absurd admiration of his friends, who decorated him with honorary garlands, which the first breath of contradiction blasted. When upon the succession of the house of Hanover

every whig expected to be happy, Philips seems to have obtained too little notice; he caught few drops of the golden shower, though he did not omit what flattery could perform. He was only made a commissioner of the lottery, 1717, and, what did not much elevate his character, a justice of the peace.

The success of his first play must naturally dispose him to turn his hopes toward the stage ; he did not however soon commit himself to the mercy of an audience, but contented himself with the fame already acquired, till after nine years he produced, 1722, The Briton, a tragedy, which, whatever was its reception, is now neglected; though one of the scenes, between Vanoc, the British prince, and Valens, the Roman general, is confessed to be written with great dramatic skill, animated by spirit truly poetical.

He had not been idle, though he had been silent ; for he exhibited another tragedy the same year, on the story of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. This tragedy is only remembered by its title, VOL. II.


His happiest undertaking was of a paper called “ The Free thinker," in conjunction with associates, of whom one was Dr. Boulter, who, then only minister of a parish in Southwark, was of so much consequence to the government, that he was made, first, bishop of Bristol, and afterward primate of Ireland, where his piety and his charity will be long honoured.

It may easily be imagined that what was printed under the direction of Boulter would have nothing in it indecent or licentious; its title is to be understood as implying only freedom from unreasonable prejudice. It has been reprinted in volumes, but is little read ; nor can impartial criticism recommend it as worthy of revival.

Boulter was not well qualified to write diurnal essays ; but he knew how to practise the liberality of greatness and the fidelity of friendship. When he was advanced to the height of ecclesiastical dignity, he did not forget the companion of his labours. Knowing Philips to be slenderly supported, he took him to Ireland, as partaker of his fortune; and, making him his secretary, added such preferments as enabled him to represent the county of Armagh in the Irish parliament.

In December, 1726, he was made secretary to the lord chancellor; and in August, 1733, became judge of the prerogative court.

After the death of his patron he continued some years in Ireland; but at last longing, as it seems, for his native country, he returned, 1748, to London, having doubtless survived most of his friends and enemies, and among them his dreaded antagonist, Pope. He found however the duke of Newcastle still living, and to him he dedicated his poems collected into a vol


Having purchased an annuity of four hundred pounds, he now certainly hoped to pass some years of life in plenty and tranquillity ; but his hope deceived him ; he was struck with a palsy,

; and died † June 18, 1749, in his seventy eighth year.

Of his personal character all that I have heard is, that he was eminent for bravery and skill in the sword, and that in conversation he was solemn and pompous. He had great sensibility of censure, if judgment may be made by a single story which I heard long ago from Mr. Ing, a gentleman of great eminence in Staffordshire. “ Philips,” said he, “ was once at table, when I asked him, how came thy king of Epirus to drive oxen, and to say • I'm goaded on by love ?' After which question he never spoke again."

* The archbishop's “Letters,” published in 1769, the originals of which are now in Christ church library, Oxford, were collected by Mr. Philips. C.

At his house in Hanover street, and was buried in Audley chapel. c.

Of The Distrest Mother not much is pretended to be his own, and therefore it is no subject of criticism ; his other two tragedies, I believe, are not below mediocrity, nor above it. Among the poems, comprised in the late collection, the Letter from Denmark may be justiy praised; the pastorals, which by the writer of the “ Guardian” were ranked as one of the four genuine productions of the rustic muse, cannot surely be despicable. That they exhibit a mode of life which does not exist, nor ever existed, is not to be objected ; the supposition of such a state is allowed to pas

l toral. In his other poems he cannot be denied the praise of lines sometimes elegant ; but he has seldom much force, or much comprehension. The pieces that please best are those which, from Pope and Pope's adherents, procured him the name of Namby Pamby, the poems of short lines, by which he paid his court to all ages and characters, from Walpole, the “ steerer of the realm," to Miss Pulteney in the nursery. The numbers are smooth and sprightly, and the diction is seldom faulty. They are not loaded with much thought, yet, if they had been written by Addison, they would have had admirers ; little things are not valued but when they are done by those who can do greater.

In his translations from Pindar he found the art of reaching all the obscurity of the Theban bard, however he may fall below his sublimity; he will be allowed, if he has less fire, to have more smoke.

He has added nothing to English poetry, yet at least half his book deserves to be read ; perhaps he valued most himself that part which the critic would reject.

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PrejšnjaNaprej »