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Auso licèt à tuâ Metrorum Lege discedere,
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Non dedecebit Chorum,
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 discon. tent, 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 pleasure 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, un
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 appear. ance, 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 ob. tained; 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 it 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 chivalry, with very little comprehension of the quali. ties 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 rånks made headless by his sword.
He imitates Milton's numbers indeed, but imi. tates 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 documulated 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 have 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 entertainment and of science. This I was told by Miller, the great gardener and botanist, wiose 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 inter
• 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 cura decentium
O! O! labellis cui Venus insidet. The Author probably wrote,
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
Ornat; labellis cui Venus insidet.--Dr. J. Hannes was professor of chemistry at Oxford, and wrote one or two poems in the “Musæ Angli. canæ."-J. B,
sperse 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 unespected excellence; but, perhaps, to his last poem may be applied 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. Phi
lips, 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 their friends. For no modest men (as the per. son 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 Marlbo. rough; 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 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 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 assign no cause why so many of his ac.