Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, George (1804-1892)

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PHILLIPS, GEORGE (1804–1892), oriental scholar, third son of Francis Phillips, farmer, was born at Dunwich in Suffolk on 11 Jan., and baptised at Westleton on 5 Feb. 1804. His father removed soon afterwards to Otley, where, in 1887, Phillips placed a clock, to be called ‘the Phillips clock,’ in the tower of the parish church, in remembrance of the early years of his life. After spending his early years in farmwork, and acquiring a knowledge of mathematics in his leisure, he became a master in the grammar school of Woodbridge, whence he removed to the grammar school of Worcester. While at Worcester he published ‘A brief Treatise on the Use of a Case of Instruments,’ 1823, and ‘A Compendium of Algebra,’ 1824. In 1824 he resigned his appointment at Worcester in order to enter Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 19 June 1824, but after a short residence migrated to Queens' College, Cambridge, on 25 Oct. 1825, and matriculated on 14 Feb. 1826 as a pensioner. He graduated B.A. 1829, when he was eighth wrangler, M.A. 1832, B.D. 1839, and D.D. 1859. In 1830 he was elected fellow of his college, and took holy orders. Before long he was invited to assist in the tutorial work, and subsequently became senior tutor. In 1846 he was presented by the college to the living of Sandon in Essex. He proved himself an energetic parish priest; he built a school and schoolhouse, restored the church, and improved the parsonage. He held this living until 1857, when, on the death of Dr. Joshua King, he was elected president of Queens' College, and returned to Cambridge.

In 1861–2 Phillips was vice-chancellor, a year memorable for the presence of the Prince of Wales as a student, and for the installation of William Cavendish, seventh duke of Devonshire, as chancellor. On the latter occasion he entertained the duke and the recipients of honorary degrees at dinner in the president's lodge.

Phillips began to work at Oriental languages at a time when mathematics still held their supremacy in the university, and he met with slight encouragement. In the first instance he taught Hebrew to men of his own college; and, becoming convinced that for its right understanding a knowledge of the cognate languages was necessary, he published in 1837 a Syriac grammar, which reached a second edition in 1845. In 1846 he published an elaborate ‘Commentary on the Psalms,’ in 2 vols. 8vo (2nd edit. 1872). After his return to Cambridge he took a leading part in the establishment (in 1872) of the Indian languages tripos and the Semitic languages tripos, examinations for which were first held in 1875. Though a staunch conservative, he was by no means in favour of restricting university studies within narrow limits. But, on the other hand, he was unwilling to accept the canons of the new criticism of the Old Testament.

As president he exercised a genial hospitality, and did all in his power to promote the welfare of his college. In 1887 he gave 1,000l. to found a scholarship; and made a liberal donation to the fund for building the new chapel in 1891. He died at Cambridge on 5 Feb. 1892, but was buried at Mullingar, co. Westmeath. His portrait, painted by Hubert Herkomer, R.A., in 1889, is in the gallery of the lodge. He married, on 10 Aug. 1848, Emily Frances, daughter of Henry Pilkington, esq., of Tore, co. Westmeath.

Besides the works mentioned above, Phillips published: 1. ‘The Elements of Euclid,’ 1826. 2. ‘Summation of Series by Definite Integrals,’ 1832. 3. ‘Short Sermons on Old Messianic Texts,’ Cambridge, 1863, 8vo. 4. ‘Mâr Jacob's “Scholia,”’ London, 1864, 8vo. 5. ‘Mâr Jacob on Syriac Accents,’ 1869. 6. ‘Doctrine of Addai the Apostle,’ 1876.

[Cambridge Review, xiii. 192; Cambridge Graduati, ed. 1884; Foster's Alumni Oxon. iii. 1117; Burke's Landed Gentry, ed. 1894, ii. 1614; private information.]

J. W. C-k.