« PreviousContinue »
Of the birth or early part of the life of AMBROSE PHILIPS I have not been able to find any account. His academical education he received at St. John's College in Cambridge, where he first solicited the notice of the world by some English verses, in the collection published by the University on the death of Queen Mary.
From this time how he was employed, or in what station he passed his life, is not yet discovered. He must have published his Pastorals' before the year 1708, because they are evidently prior to those of Pope.
He afterwards (1709) addressed to the universal patron, the Duke of Dorset, a poetical Letter from Copenhagen,' which was published in the Tatler,' and is by Pope in one of his first letters mentioned with high praise, as the production of a man who could write very nobly."
Philips was a zealous Whig, and therefore easily
found access to Addison and Steele; but his ardour seems not to have procured him any thing more than kind words; since he was reduced to translate the 'Persian Tales' for Tonson, for which he was afterwards reproached, with this addition of contempt, that he worked for half-a-crown. The book is divided into many sections, for each of which if he received half-a-crown, his reward, as writers then were paid, was very liberal; but half-a-crown had a mean sound.
He was employed in promoting the principles of his party, by epitomising Hacket's Life of Archbishop Williams.' The original book is written with such depravity of genius, such mixture of the fop and pedant, as has not often appeared. The epitome is free enough from affectation, but has little spirit or vigour.
In 1712 he brought upon the stage 'The Distressed Mother,' almost a translation of Racine's Andromaque. Such a work requires no uncommon powers; but the friends of Philips exerted every art to promote his interest. Before the appearance of the play, a whole Spectator,' none indeed of the best, was devoted to its praise; while it yet continued to be acted, another. Spectator was written, to tell what impression it made upon Sir Roger; and on the first night a select audience, says Pope', was called together to applaud it.
It was concluded with the most successful Epilogue that was ever yet spoken on the English theatre. The three first nights it was recited twice; and not only continued to be demanded through the run, as it is termed, of the play, but whenever it is recalled to the stage, where by peculiar fortune, though a copy from the French, it yet keeps its place, the Epilogue is still expected, and is still spoken.
The propriety of Epilogues in general, and consequently of this, was questioned by a correspondent of the Spectator,' whose letter was undoubtedly admitted for the sake of the answer, which soon followed, written with much zeal and acrimony. The attack and the defence equally contributed to stimulate curiosity and continue attention. It may be discovered in the defence, that Prior's Epilogue to ‘Phædra' had a little excited jealousy; and something of Prior's plan may be discovered in the performance of his rival. Of this distinguished Epilogue the reputed author was the wretched Budgel, whom Addison used to denominate 2 "the man who calls me cousin ;" and when he was asked how such a silly fellow could write so well, replied, "The Epilogue was quite another thing when I saw it first." It was known in Tonson's family, and told to Garrick, that Addison was himself the author of it, and that, when it had been at first printed with his name, he came early in the morning, before the copies were distributed, and ordered it to be given to Budgel, that it might add weight to the solicitation which he was then making for a place.
Philips was now high in the ranks of literature. His play was applauded; his translations from Sappho had been published in the Spectator;' he was an important and distinguished associate of clubs, witty and political; and nothing was wanting to his happiness, but that he should be sure of its continuance.
The work which had procured him the first notice from the public was his Six Pastorals, which, flattering the imagination with Arcadian scenes, probably found many readers, and might have long passed as a pleasing amusement, had they not been unhappily too much commended.
The rustic poems of Theocritus were so highly