Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

A. PHILIPS.

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.

[ocr errors]

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 afterward, 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 a 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 afterward 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.t

* He took his degrees, A. B. 1696, A. M. 1700. C. † This ought to have been noticed before. It was published in 1700, when he appears to have obtained a fellowship of St. John's. C.

9

In 1712 he brought upon the stage “ The Distrest Mother," almost a translation of Racine's “ Andromaque.” Such a work requires no uncommon powers ; but the friends of Philips exerted every art to

omote his interest. Before the appearance of the play, a whole “ Spectator," none indeed of the best, was de. voted 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 denominatet" 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

[ocr errors]

Spence.

+ Ibid.

ance.

Speara

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

st Mi associate of clubs, witty and political ; and nothing was wantuch a

ing to his happiness, but that he should be sure of its continuhilips:

The work which had procured him the first notice from the es ; ". public was his six pastorals, which, flattering the imagination ed, a with Arcadian scenes, probably found many readers, and might mak have long passed as a pleasing amusement, had they not been says: unhappily too much commended.

The rustic poems of Theocritus were so highly valued by the guet Greeks and Romans, that they attracted the imitation of Virgil, e bis whose eclogues seem to have been considered as precluding all e de attempts of the same kind; for no shepherds were taught to sing where by any succeeding poet, till Nemesian and Calphurnius ventured Enough their feeble efforts in the lower age of Latin literature.

At the revival of learning in Italy, it was soon discovered that a dialogue of imaginary swains might be composed with little difficulty ; because the conversation of shepherds excludes profound or refined sentiment; and for images and descriptions, satires and fauns, and naiads and dryads, were always within call; and woods and meadows, and hills and rivers, supplied vari

; ety of matter, which, having a natural power to sooth the mind, did not quickly cloy it.

Petrarch entertained the learned men of his age with the novelty of modern pastorals in Latin. Being not ignorant of Greek, phone and finding nothing in the word eclogue of rural meaning, he

supposed it to be corrupted by the copiers, and therefore called his own productions æglogues, by which he meant to express the talk of goatherds, though it will mean only the talk of goats. This new name was adopted by subsequent writers, and among others by our Spenser.

More than a century afterward, 1498, Mantuan published his Bucolics with such success, that they were soon dignified by Badius with a comment, and, as Scaliger complained, received into schools, and taught as classical ; his complaint was vain, and

the practice, however injudicious, spread far, and continued long. E Mantuan was read, at least in some of the inferior schools of this

kingdom, to the beginning of the present century. The speakers of Mantwan carried their disquisitions beyond the country, to

[ocr errors]

a

In 1712 he brought upon the stage “ The Distrest 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 de. nominatet “ 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

*

Spence.

+ Ibid.

associate of clubs, witty and political ; and nothing was wanting to his happiness, but that he should be sure of its continu

ance.

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 valued by the Greeks and Romans, that they attracted the imitation of Virgil, whose eclogues seem to have been considered as precluding all attempts of the same kind; for no shepherds were taught to sing

l by any succeeding poet, till Nemesian and Calphurnius ventured their feeble efforts in the lower age of Latin literature.

At the revival of learning in Italy, it was soon discovered that a dialogue of imaginary swains might be composed with little difficulty; because the conversation of shepherds excludes profound or refined sentiment; and for images and descriptions, satires and fauns, and naiads and dryads, were always within call; and woods and meadows, and hills and rivers, supplied variety of matter, which, having a natural power to sooth the mind, did not quickly cloy it.

Petrarch entertained the learned men of his age with the novelty of modern pastorals in Latin. Being not ignorant of Greek, and finding nothing in the word eclogue of rural meaning, he supposed it to be corrupted by the copiers, and therefore called his own productions æglogues, by which he meant to express the talk of goatherds, though it will mean only the talk of goats. This new name was adopted by subsequent writers, and among others by our Spenser.

More than a century afterward, 1498, Mantuan published his Bucolics with such success, that they were soon dignified by Badius with a comment, and, as Scaliger complained, received into schools, and taught as classical ; his complaint was vain, and the practice, however injudicious, spread far, and continued long. Mantuan was read, at least in some of the inferior schools of this kingdom, to the beginning of the present century. The speakers of Mantuan carried their disquisitions beyond the country, to

« ForrigeFortsett »