1902 Encyclopedia > Ambrose Philips

Ambrose Philips
English man of letters
(1671-1749)




xxPHILIPS, AMBROSE (1671-1749), English lnall of letters, was born of a good Leicester family in 1671. While at St John's College, Cambridge, he gave evidence of literary taste and skill, in verses forming part of a memorial tribute from the university on the death of Queen Mary. Going to London on the completion of his studies, Philips speedily became " one of the wits at Button's," and thereby a friend of Steele and Addison. He began to write for Tonson, working at such heterogeneous subjects as trans-lated "Persian Tales" and a summary of Hacket's Life qf Archbishop Williams. The first product really character-istic of the author, after his settlement in London, is the series of Pastorals which opened the sixth volume of Tonson's Miscellanies (1709). Pope's Pastorais, curiously enough, closed the same volume, and the emphatic pre-ference expressed in the Guardian, in 1713, for Philips's pastoral style over all other successors to Spenser gave rise to Pope's trenchant ironical paper in No. 40 of the same periodical. The breach between these two wits speedily widened, and Philips was at length concerned in the great quarrel between Pope and Addison. He had come to be a man of some note both for literary work and political acti-vity. The Spectator had loaded with praises the drama af The Distress'd Mother, which Philips adapted from Racine's Arulromaque and brought upon the stage in 1712, and he was thus a recognized member of Addison's following. There is some doubt as to the particular part he played in the notorious contest of the two chiefs, but, whether he threatened to beat Pope or not (with the rod which he is said to have hung up at Button's for that purpose), there is ample evidence to show that both Pope and his friends had a bitter feeling towards him. Not only is Ile honoured with two separate lines in the Dunciad, but he figures for illustrative purposes in Harlin= Scriblerus, and he receives considerable attention in the letters of both Pope and Swift. The latter found occasion for special allusion to Philips during Philips's stay in Ireland, whither he had gone as secretary to Archbishop Boulter. He had done rood work in the Freethinker (1711) along with Boulter, whose services to_the Government in that paper gained him preferment from his position as clergyman in South-wark, first to the bishopric of Bristol and then to the primacy of Ireland. Up to this tinae Philips had shown disinterested zeal in the Hanoverian cause, though he had received no greater reward than the positions of justice of peace and commissioner of the lottery- (1717). He had also written some of his best epistles, while in 1722 he published two more dramatic works - 7'he Briton and funyAry, Duke qf lourester - neither of which has bad the fortune, like their predecessor, to be immortalized by romantic criticism. It was, no doubt, a grateful change for Philips to go to Ireland under the patronage of Arch-bishop I3oulter, and to represent, through the same in-fluence, the county of Armagh in the Irish Parliament, while his sense of his OWB. political worth must have been flattered when lie became secretary to the lord chancellor in 1726, and in 1733 judge of the prerogative court. After the archbishop's death he by and by returned to London, and dedicated a collected edition of his works to the duke of Newcastle. He died in 1749.

While it can hardly be said that Philips's Pastorals show poetic quality of a high order, they must be commended - and perhaps the third in particular - for ease and fluency- and rhetorical vigour. In these features they are not surpassed by the pastorals in The, Shepherd's 1Veek, which Gay wrote, at Pope's instigation, as a burlesque on Philips's work ; but the grasp of rustic simplicity and the exquisite play of fancy vossessed by Gay are manifest advantages in his performance. 'The six epistles evince dexterons management of the heroic couplet, an energetic directness of pur-pose, and (particularly the " winter piece " addressed to the earl of Dorset) a noticeable appreciation of natural beauty. Similar felicitous diction and sympathetic observation, together with a determined bias towards weakness of sentiment, are characteristic of the poet's odes, sonie of which - addressed to children - gave occasion for various shafts from both Swift and Pope, as well as for the nickname of " Namby-Painbv," coined by Henry Carey as a descriptive epithet for Philips. Ttie epigrains, and the translations from Pindar, Anacreon, and Sappho, need merely be named as completing the list of tbe author's works.

See Johnson's Lives of the Poets; Sponce's fineetintos ; the Spectator; the works (especially the correspondence) of Pope and Swift ; Stephen's Pope and Courthope's Addison, ill English Men of Letters.







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