Francis, Philip (1708?-1773) (DNB00)

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FRANCIS, PHILIP (1708?–1773), miscellaneous writer, son of Dr. John Francis, rector of St. Mary's, Dublin (from which living he was for a time ejected for political reasons), and dean of Lismore, was born about 1708. He was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, taking the degree of B.A. in 1728, and was ordained, according to his father's wish, in the Irish branch of the English church. He held for some time the curacy of St. Peter's parish, Dublin, and while resident in that city published his translation of Horace, besides writing in the interests of ‘the Castle.’ Soon after the death of his wife, Elizabeth Rowe, whom he married in 1739, he crossed to England, and in 1744 obtained the rectory of Skeyton in Norfolk. If he ever took up his abode on this living he soon abandoned it for literature and society in London. In January 1752, when Gibbon became an inmate of his house, Francis was keeping or supposed to be keeping a school at Esher; but the boy's friends quickly found that the nominal instructor ‘preferred the pleasures of London to the instruction of his pupils,’ and in a month or two Gibbon was removed. To maintain himself in the social life of London, Francis tried many expedients, but most of them were failures. Twice was a play of his composition produced on the stage, and each time without success. He tried translation, but, except in his rendering of the works of Horace, he was beaten out of the field by abler writers. His fortune was made when he secured, through the kindness of Miss Bellamy, who pitied him for his ill-success in play-writing and recommended him to Fox, the post of private chaplain to Lady Caroline Fox, and became domesticated in her family, where he taught Lady Sarah Lennox to declaim and Charles James Fox to read. At the end of 1757 Fox was sent to Eton, and Francis accompanied him to assist the boy in his studies. The father, Henry Fox, best known as Lord Holland, found the Irish tutor a useful ally. It has sometimes been said that he was the chief writer in the paper called ‘The Con-test,’ which lived from November 1756 to August 1757, but the accuracy of this statement is more than doubtful. He is also said to have contributed to the ‘Gazette’ daily newspaper on behalf of the court interest. When Pitt resigned, in 1761, Francis wrote a libel against him under the title of ‘Mr. Pitt's Letter Versified,’ the notes to which, according to Horace Walpole, were supplied by Lord Holland, and he followed this with ‘A Letter from the Anonymous Author of “Mr. Pitt's Letter Versified,”’ in which he reflected on Pitt's indifference to the truculent language of Colonel Barré. Even so late as 1764 he attacked Pitt and Wilkes with great bitterness in the ‘Political Theatre.’ On 22 June 1761 he was inducted to the vicarage of Chilham in Kent, but resigned in the summer of 1762, and through Lord Holland's influence he held from May 1764 to 1768 the chaplaincy at Chelsea Hospital, and the rectory of Barrow in Suffolk, to which he was instituted on 26 Feb. 1762, and which he retained until his death. These preferments did not exhaust the whole of the wages which he received for political services. He was recommended in January 1764 by George Grenville for a crown pension of 300l. a year, and his letters of thanks for these and other favours are printed in the ‘Grenville Papers,’ ii. 250–5, when he announced, as is common with the recipients of pensions, that he used to ‘love and revere the constitution.’ The editor quotes from a list of pensioners on the Irish establishment for 1770 the entry, ‘ John Stear, esq., assignee of Philip Francis, esq., 600l. for 31 years from Sept. 16, 1762.’ Francis was still unsatisfied. He quarrelled with Lord Holland because he had not been made an Irish bishop, and threatened to expose his patron's villainy. Walpole relates that on Churchill's death a collection of letters from Holland to Francis, which had been supplied by him, were found among the poet's papers, and that, to stop any future exposure, the peer paid 500l. and obtained Francis's nomination to the chaplaincy at Chelsea. It should be noticed, however, that the appointment of Francis to that position preceded the date of Churchill's death, and that Churchill attacked him in the poem of the ‘Author’ as ‘the atheist chaplain of an atheist lord,’ and in the ‘Candidate’ sneered at his endeavours to translate. He was ‘very feeble and languid in October 1766,’ and next year he was ‘struck with palsy from head to foot.’ In June 1771 he was seized by a paralytic stroke, and after lingering for some years died at Bath 5 March 1773. He was fond of his son Sir Philip Francis [q. v.], and numerous letters to and from him are in the son's memoir; but he resented his son's marriage, and they were consequently at variance, but were afterwards reconciled. His first start in life was obtained through his rendering of Horace, of which Dr. Johnson said: ‘The lyrical part of Horace never can be perfectly translated. Francis has done it the best. I'll take his five out of six against them all.’ The first part, consisting of the ‘Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Seculare of Horace in Latin and English,’ in which he was assisted by Dr. Dunkin, is said to have been issued at Dublin in two volumes in 1742. It was republished in London in the next year, and in 1746 two more volumes, containing the ‘Satires, Epistles, and Art of Poetry,’ appeared with a dedication in prose to Lord Newport, lord chancellor of Ireland, who had encouraged the translation. The whole version was reissued in 1747, on this occasion with a poetical dedication to Lord Newport, and it ran into many subsequent editions, that edited by Edward Dubois being the best. It was also included in the set of poets edited by Chalmers, the ‘British Poets,’ vols. xcvii–viii., and in Whittingham's ‘Greek and Roman Poets,’ vol. xii. Francis was at work, as appears from a letter of Lord Chesterfield to Madame du Boccage, in 1751 on his play of ‘Eugenia,’ an adaptation of the French tragedy of ‘Cenie,’ and it was acted at Drury Lane Theatre on 17 Feb. 1752, but ‘verged towards dullness,’ and was naturally unsuccessful, when Chesterfield attributed its failure to the fact that pit and gallery did not like a tragedy without bloodshed. A similar failure attended his play of ‘Constantine,’ which was produced at Covent Garden on 23 Feb. 1754, and expired on the fourth night. Genest styles it ‘a cold and uninteresting play, the plot avowedly taken in part from a French piece.’ Both pieces were printed, the former being dedicated to the Countess of Lincoln, and the latter to Lord Chesterfield. For eight years he was employed in studying the ‘Orations’ of Demosthenes, and his translation appeared in two volumes in 1757–8, but it was deemed inferior to that by Leland, and Francis was much depressed by his disappointment.

An anonymous volume, which was written by John Taylor, and was that writer's first publication on the subject, was printed in 1813 with the title of ‘A Discovery of the Author of the “Letters of Junius,” founded on Evidence and Illustrations.’ It attributed the authorship to Francis and his son, Sir Philip Francis, and claimed that all the peculiarities of language in the writings of the elder Francis are discernible in some parts of Junius. The doctor's connection with the ‘Letters of Junius’ may at once be dismissed from consideration. It is wholly without foundation.

[Gent. Mag. 1773, p. 155, 1785, pt. i. 245; Hill's Boswell, iii. 356; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 156, 5th ser. ix. 355, x. 97; Gage's Suffolk, p. 18; Blomefield's Norfolk (1807 ed.), vi. 364; Chesterfield's Works (Stanhope's ed.), iii. 445, iv. 8; Faulkner's Chelsea, p. 198; Walpole's Memoirs of George III, i. 123, ii. 36; Webb's Irish Biography; Trevelyan's Fox, p. 48; Gibbon's Miscell. Works (1814), i. 40; Churchill's Works (1804), i. 314, 329, ii. 281; Genest's Hist. of English Stage, iv. 345–7, 397–8; Hasted's Kent, iii. 144; Merivale's Sir P. Francis, vol. i.]

W. P. C.