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H. S. E.
Ob Ingenii acumen,
Linguæ, Styli, ac Vitæ Elegantiam,
Suâ ætate multum celebratus,
Plurimas Legationes obiit
Gulielmi & Annæ
Haud raro superaverit.
On the left hand :
De Pendegrast, in Comitatu
Electus in Collegium
Sancti Trinitatis Cantab. 1682.
Cura commissa est 1697.
Frequentiâ, huc elatus, 1707. It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney made grey authours blush. I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authours yet lay no clain to publick honours, and are therefore not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.
He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his
name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompence his neglect of the authour by beauties of his own. In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may be found, and now and then a short composition may give pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit, or the vigour of nature.
John PHILIPS was born on the 30th of December, 1676, at Bampton, in Oxfordshire; of which place his father, Dr. Stephen Philips, archdeacon of Salop, was minister. The first part of his education was domestick; after which he was sent to Winchester, where, as we are told by Dr. Sewel, his biographer, he was soon distinguished by the superiority of his exercises; and what is less easily to be credited, so much endeared himself to his schoolfellows by his civility and good-nature, that they, without murmur or ill-will, saw him indulged by the master with particular immunities. It is related, that, when he was at school, he seldom mingled in play with the other boys, but retired to his chamber; where his sovereign pleasure was to sit, hour after hour, while his hair was combed by somebody, whose service he found means to procure.* · At school he became acquainted with the poets ancient and modern, and fixed his attention particularly on Milton.
In 1694, he entered himself at Christ Church; a college
* Isaac Vossius relates, that he also delighted in having his hair combed when he could have it done by barbers or other persons skilled in the rules of prosody. Of the passage that contains this ridiculous fancy, the following is a translation : Many people take delight in the rubbing of their limbs, and the combing of their hair; but these exercises would delight much more, if the servants at the baths, and of the barbers, were so skilful in this art, that they could express any measures with their fingers. I remember that more than once I have fallen into the hands of men of this sort, who could imitate any measure of songs in combing the hair, so as sometimes to express very intelligibly iambics, trochees, dactyls, &c. from whence there arose to me no small delight." See bis Treatise de Poëmatum cantu & viribus Rythmi. Oxon. 1673. p. 62. H.
at that time in the highest reputation, by the transmission of Busby's scholars to the care first of Fell, and afterwards of Aldrich. Here he was distinguished as a genius eminent among the eminent, and for friendship particularly intimate with Mr. Smith, the authour of Phædra and Hippolytus. The profession which he intended to follow was that of physick; and he took much delight in natural history, of which botany was his favourite part.
His reputation was confined to his friends, and the university ; till about 1703 he extended it to a wider circle by the Splendid Shilling, which struck the publick attention with a mode of writing new and unexpected.
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.. · Blenhcim 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 Georgicks, 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 şubject 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 Feb. 15, 1708, at the beginning of his thirtythird 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 written, as I have heard, by Dr. Atterbury, though commonly given to Dr. Freind.
His Epitaph at Hereford : ,
Si l'umulum desideras,
Qualis quantusque Vir fuerit,
Testetur hoc saxum
Herefordiæ conduntur Ossa, .
Immortale suum Ingenium,
Miro animi candore,
In illo Musarum Domicilio "
Carmina sermone Patrio composuit
Versuum quippe Harmoniam
Antiquo illo, libero, multiformi,
Metiri : .
Primoque pæne par.
Omandas sumserat, en
Et vidit, & assecutus est,
Fandi author, & Modorum artifex.
Fas sit Huic,
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Non dedecebit Chorum.
Sinon HARCOURT, Miles,
Quoad viveret Fautor,
Hoc illi Saxum poni voluit.
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 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 hitherto 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.