Worsley, Philip Stanhope (DNB00)

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WORSLEY, PHILIP STANHOPE (1835−1866), poet, born at Greenwich on 12 Aug. 1835, was son of Charles Worsley (1783−1864), rector of Finchley, Middlesex, a member of the family of the Worsleys of Gatcombe, Isle of Wight. After attending the Cholmeley grammar school, Highgate, he was admitted to a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 28 May 1853, and graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1861. He gained the Newdigate prize (‘The Temple of Janus,’ Oxford, 8vo) in 1857, and became a fellow of his college in 1863. His health interfered with the pursuit of any profession, and he devoted himself chiefly to classical and poetical studies. His version of the ‘Odyssey’ in the Spenserian stanza was published in 1861 (reissued 1868 and 1877), and his translation of the first twelve books of the ‘Iliad’ in the same metre in 1865. On 8 May of the following year Worsley died unmarried at Freshwater after a long illness, terminating in consumption. His patience and cheerfulness under great suffering, and the beauty of his character, are pathetically extolled by Sarah Austin in a note to the ‘Athenæum’ of 19 May 1866.

Worsley's distinction as a poet is to have achieved what no one else has achieved. His Spenserian translation of the ‘Odyssey’ and the first half of the ‘Iliad,’ regarded merely as an endeavour to make Homer speak like Spenser, leaves no room for improvement. No version diverging so widely from the form of the original can become the standard version; it was nevertheless well that the attempt should be made as a test of the power and resources of our language. In grace, skill, command of diction, and native music, Worsley is surpassed by no poet who has employed this most difficult form, peculiar to our language, of which the most accomplished foreign translators are shy, and of which Shelley said, ‘You must succeed or fail.’ ‘Worsley,’ says Matthew Arnold, ‘making the stanza yield to him what it never yielded to Byron, it s treasures of fluidity and sweet ease, above all bringing to his task a truly poetical taste and skill, has produced a version of the Odyssey much the most pleasing of those hitherto produced.’ If he is more successful with the ‘Odyssey’ than with the ‘Iliad,’ this is because the romantic character of the former poem adapts itself better to the romantic stanza. The translation of the ‘Iliad’ was completed by John Conington [q. v.], and the contrast between the two moieties of the book is most instructive. Conington was a greater scholar than Worsley, and his command of language is remarkable; but as a poet he was made, not born, and his mechanical stanzas entirely want ‘the grandeur and the bloom’ of his predecessor.

Worsley's original poems, first published in 1863 (‘Poems and Translations,’ London, 8vo) and reprinted in 1875, are pleasing from their elegance and polish, but deficient in originality and force. He was born to interpret others.

[Sarah Austin in Athenæum, 19 May 1866; Gent. Mag. 1866, i. 925; Fowler's Hist. of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, p. 414; Foster's Alumni Oxon. (1715−1886); private information.]

R. G.