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found many readers, and might have long paffed as a pleafing amufement, had they not been unhappily too much commended.
The ruftic Poems of Theocritus were fo highly valued by the Greeks and Romans, that they attracted the imitation of Virgil, whofe Eclogues feem to have been confidered as precluding all attempts of the fame kind; for no fhepherds were taught to fing by any fucceeding poet, till Nemefian and Calphurnius ventured their feeble efforts in the lower age of Latin literature.
At the revival of learning in Italy, it was foon discovered that a dialogue of imaginary fwains might be compofed with little difficulty; because the converfarion of fhepherds excludes profound or refined fentiment; and, for images and defcriptions, Satyrs and Fauns, and Naiads and Dryads, were always within call; and woods and meadows, and hills and rivers, fupplied variety of matter; which having a natural power to footh the mind, did not quickly cloy it.
Petrarch entertained the learned men of his age with the novelty of modern Paftorals in Latin. Being not ignorant of Greek, and finding nothing in the word Eclogue of rural meaning, he fuppofed it to be corrupted by the copiers, and therefore called his own productions glogues, by which he meant to exprefs the talk of goatherds, though it will mean only the talk of goats. This new name was adopted by subfequent writers, and amongst others by our Spenfer.
More than a century afterwards (1498) Mantuan publifhed his Bucclicks with fuch fuccefs, that they were foon dignified by Badius with a comment, and, as Scaliger complained, received into fchools, and
taught as claffical; his complaint was vain, and the practice, however injudicious, fpread far and continued long. Mantuan was read, at least in fome of the inferior schools of this kingdom, to the beginning of the prefent century. The fpeakers of Mantuan carried their difquifitions beyond the country, to cenfure the corruptions of the Church; and from him Spenser learned to employ his fwains on topicks of controverfy.
The Italians foon transferred Paftoral Poetry into their own language: Sannazaro wrote Arcadia in profe and verfe; Taffo and Guarini wrote Favole Bofchareccie, or Sylvan Dramas; and all nations of Europe filled volumes with Thyrfis and Damon, and Theftylis and Phyllis.
Philips thinks it fomewhat frange to conceive how, in an age fo addicted to the Mufes, Paftoral Poetry never comes to be fo much as thought upon. His wonder seems very unfeasonable; there had never, from the time of Spenfer, wanted writers to talk occafionally of Arcadia and Strephon; and half the book, in which he first tried his powers, confifts of dialogues on queen Mary's death, between Tityrus and Corydon, or Mopfus and Menalcas. A feries or book of Paftorals, however, I know not that any one had then lately published.
Not long afterwards Pope made the firft difplay of his powers in four Paftorals, written in a very different form. Philips had taken Spenfer, and Pope took Virgil for his pattern. Philips endeavoured to be natural, Pope laboured to be elegant.
Philips was now favoured by Addifon, and by Addifon's companions, who were very willing to push him into reputation. The Guardian gave an account of Paftoral, partly critical, and partly hiftorical; in VOL. IV.
which, when the merit of the modern is compared, Taffo and Guarini are cenfured 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 Paftoral Muse is tranfmitted by lawful inheritance from Theocritus to Virgil, from Virgil to Spenfer, and from Spenfer to Philips.
With this inauguration of Philips, his rival Pope was not much delighted; he therefore drew a comparifon of Philips's performance with his own, in which, with an unexampled and unequalled artifice of irony, though he has himfelf always the advantage, he gives the preference to Philips. The defign of aggrandizing himself he difguifed with fuch dexterity, that, though Addifon difcovered it, Steele was deceived, and was afraid of difpleafing 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 praife or fatire, 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 Addifon's approbation, as difaffected to the government.
Even with this he was not fatisfied; for, indeed, there is no appearance that any regard was paid to his clamours. He proceeded to groffer infults, and hung up a rod at Button's, with which he threatened to chaftife Pope, who appears to have been extremely exafperated; for in the first edition of his Letters he calls Philips refcal, and in the laft ftill charges him with detaining in his hands the fubfcriptions for Homer delivered to him by the Hanover Club.
I fuppofe it was never fufpected that he meant to appropriate the money; he only delayed, and with fufficient meanness, the gratification of him by whose profperity he was pained.
Men fometimes fuffer by injudicious kindness; Philips became ridiculous, without his own fault, by the abfurd admiration of his friends, who decorated him with honorary garlands which the firft breath of contradiction blafted.
When upon the fucceffion of the House of Hanover every Whig expected to be happy, Philips feems to have obtained too little notice; he caught few drops of the golden fhower, though he did not omit what flattery could perform. He was only made a Commiffioner of the Lottery, (1717), and, what did not much elevate his character, a Juftice of the Peace.
The fuccefs of his first play muft naturally difpofe him to turn his hopes towards the ftage: he did not however foon commit himself to the mercy of an audience, but contented himself with the fame already acquired, till after nine years he produced (1721) 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 confeffed to be written with great dramatick skill, animated by fpirit truly poetical.
He had not been idle though he had been filent; for he exhibited another tragedy the fame year, on the ftory of Humphry Duke of Gloucefter. This tragedy is only remembered by its title.
His happiest undertaking was of a paper, called The Freethinker, in conjunction with affociates, of whom one was Dr. Boulter, who, then only minifter of a parish
in Southwark, was of fo much confequence to the government, that he was made first bishop of Bristol, and afterwards 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 unreafonable prejudice. It has been reprinted in volumes, but is little read; nor can impartial criticifm recommend it as worthy
Boulter was not well qualified to write diurnal effays; but he knew how to practife the liberality of greatnefs and the fidelity of friendship. When he was advanced to the height of ecclefiaftical dignity, he did not forget the companion of his labours. Knowing Philips to be flenderly fupported, he took him to Ireland, as partaker of his fortune; and, making him his fecretary, added fuch preferments, as enabled him to represent the county of Armagh in the Irish Parliament.
In December 1726 he was made fecretary to the Lord Chancellor; and in Auguft 1733 became judge of the Prerogative Court.
After the death of his patron he continued fome years in Ireland; but at laft longing, as it feems, for his native country, he returned (1748) to London, having doubtlefs furvived moft 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 volume.