Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, John (1631-1706)

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PHILLIPS, JOHN (1631–1706), author, younger brother of Edward Phillips (1630–1696?) [q. v.], was born in the autumn of 1631, after the death of his father (Edward Phillips, of the crown office), and was godson of his mother's brother, John Milton, the poet. From infancy he lived with his uncle, from whom he derived all his education. He became a good classical scholar and a ready writer. He obtained a license to print, on 31 Dec. 1649, at the precocious age of eighteen, ‘Mercurius Pæd., or a short and sure way to the Latin Tongue.’ In 1651, when his uncle became Latin secretary to Cromwell, he was in the habit of reading aloud to him, and acted as his assistant secretary. In 1652 he displayed a keen controversial spirit and command of coarse wit in his ‘Joannis Philippi Angli Responsio ad Apologiam Anonymi cujusdam Tenebrionis pro rege et populo Anglicano infantissimam.’ It is a defence of his uncle, written under his uncle's guidance, against the ‘Pro Rege et Populo Anglicano,’ an anonymous attack, really made by John Rowland, but wrongly ascribed by Milton and Phillips to Bishop Bramhall. Next year Phillips contributed a commendatory poem to Henry Lawes's ‘Ayres.’ In the spring of 1654 he was in Edinburgh, seeking information concerning crown lands in Scotland, at the suggestion of Andrew Sandelands, Milton's friend. He was apparently in hope of securing regular political employment (Thurloe, ii. 226–7). The mission proved abortive, and Phillips returned to his uncle's roof. He soon chafed against his uncle's strict discipline and principles, and, abandoning all pretence of acquiescence, he made a reputation, late in 1655, by a scathing satire on puritanism, entitled ‘Satyr against Hypocrites.’ It is a smart attack upon the religion of Cromwell and his friends, almost worthy of the author of ‘Hudibras.’ It is sometimes wrongly ascribed to the brother Edward. A new edition in 1661 bore the changed title ‘The Religion of the hypocritical Presbyterians, in meeter.’ Other editions are dated 1674, 1677, 1680, and 1689, and in 1700 a publisher reprinted it as ‘Mr. John Milton's Satyre.’

Phillips, having once broken bounds, developed in his literary work a licentious temper which affords a suggestive commentary on the practical value of his uncle's theories of education. On 25 April 1656 the council of state summoned John Phillips of Westminster, with Nathaniel Brook, his publisher, to answer a charge of producing a licentious volume called ‘Sportive Wit: The Muses Merriment. A New Spring of Lusty Drollery, &c.’ Phillips edited the book, copies of which are in the Bodleian Library and at Britwell, and it was ordered to be burnt. But Brook and Phillips lost no time in supplying its place with a similar venture called ‘Wit and Drollery: Jovial Poems never before printed by Sir J[ohn] M[ennes], J[ames] S[mith], Sir W[illiam] D[avenant], J. D[onne], and other admirable wits,’ London, for Brook, 1656. J. P. signs an epistle to the courteous reader. This catchpenny collection of indelicate verse largely plagiarised the ‘Musarum Delitiæ’ of Mennes and Smith of the previous year. In 1656 Phillips also issued ‘The Tears of the Indians … from the Spanish of B. de las Casas,’ and contributed a good ‘song on the Tombs in Westminster Abbey’ to his brother's ‘Mysteries of Love and Eloquence,’ 1658. At the end of 1659 he published, in ridicule of the antimonarchical views and the astrological almanacs of William Lilly [q. v.], ‘Montelion, 1660; or the Prophetical Almanack: being a True and Exact Account of all the Revolutions that are to happen in the world this present year, 1660, till this time twelvemonth, by Montelion, knight of the Oracle, a well-wisher to the Mathematicks.’ To Phillips also are very doubtfully assigned similar works, entitled ‘Montelion for 1661 and 1662,’ Montelion's ‘Introduction to Astrology,’ 1661, and ‘Don Juan Lamberto, or a Comical History of the late Times,’ 1661 and 1665. They are all clever specimens of royalist buffoonery, but are inferior to Phillips's acknowledged work, and are doubtless from the pen of Thomas Flatman [q. v.] Pepys found the ‘Montelion’ for 1661 so inferior to its forerunner that he burnt his copy of it (10 Nov. 1660).

John saw little of his uncle henceforth, and wholly depended for a livelihood on his labours as a hack-writer and translator and a scurrilous controversialist. One of his wittiest works was ‘Maronides, or Virgil Travesty,’ a Hudibrastic burlesque of the fifth and sixth books of the Æneid, dedicated to Valentine Oldys (in two parts, 1672 and 1673; new edit. 1678). An attack by him on Thomas Salmon (d. 1706) [q. v.], called ‘Duellum Musicum,’ was appended to Matthew Lock's ‘Present Practice of Musick vindicated,’ 1673. His other productions of the period were: ‘Mercurius Verax, or the Prisoners' Prognostications for the year 1675,’ another satire on astrology; a continuation of Heath's ‘Chronicle’ (1676 and 1679); and a broadside, ‘Jockey's Down-fall … a poem on the late fatal defeat given to the Scottish covenanters near Hamilton Park, 22 June 1679.’

In 1678 Phillips fell in with Titus Oates, who employed him to pen ‘many lies and villainies.’ For this disreputable patron Phillips wrote in 1680 ‘Dr. Oates's Narrative of the Popish Plot vindicated.’ There followed in 1681, in the same interest, ‘The second part of the Character of a Popish Successor,’ an attack on James, duke of York. The first part of the work was by Elkanah Settle. A ‘reply’ to Phillips's pamphlet was issued by Sir Roger L'Estrange [q. v.], who had already answered Settle in ‘The Character of a Papist in Masquerade.’ Phillips followed up his attack on L'Estrange in ‘Horse Flesh for the Observator, being a comment upon Gusman, chap. v. ver. 5, held forth at Sam's Coffee House by T. D., B.D., chaplain to the Inferiour Clergies Guide,’ 1682. Another attack on the tory clergy, largely borrowed from Eachard's ‘Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy,’ was written by Phillips under the title of ‘Speculum Crape-gownorum, or an old Looking-glass for the young Academicks,’ 1682. During James II's reign he published ‘A Pindaric Ode to the sacred memory of … Charles II,’ 1685; an anniversary to his majesty, James II, set to music by Dr. Blow; a spirited but coarse and unfaithful translation of ‘Don Quixote,’ 1687, the second that was attempted in England, Shelton's being the first; ‘The Turkish Secretary, containing the Art of Expressing one's Thought without seeing, speaking, or writing to one another,’ 1688, 4to, from the French; and an attack on Samuel Parker, the intolerant bishop of Oxford, entitled ‘Sam, Ld. Bp. of Oxon. his celebrated reasons for abrogating the Test and Notions of Idolatry answered by Samuel, Archdeacon of Canterbury,’ 1688.

Meanwhile Phillips sought a more regular income from a periodical enterprise which he entitled ‘Modern History, or a Monthly Account of all considerable Occurrences, civil, ecclesiastical, and military.’ It was started in 1688 in sixpenny parts, which were collected in a volume at the end of the year. In August 1690 he abandoned this venture in favour of ‘The Present State of Europe, or an Historical and Political Mercury,’ translated from a French journal published in Holland. This he continued till his death. Dunton described it as the finest journal of the kind the world had ever seen. Its reception was favourable, and in 1692 Phillips issued an introductory or retrospective volume, ‘The General History of Europe from November 1688 to July 1690.’ In 1695 he brought out an elegy on Queen Mary, and in 1697 ‘Augustus Britannicus,’ a poem on the peace of Ryswick, and in 1700 he contributed prefatory verse to the ‘Amphion Anglicus’ of his friend, Dr. Blow. In 1703 appeared ‘The English Fortune Tellers by J. P., a student in astrology,’ a whimsical collection of astrological tables and borrowed verse; and on 6 May 1706 the latest work associated with his name, ‘Vision of Mons. Chamillard concerning the Battle of Ramilies, by a nephew of the late Mr. John Milton,’ dedicated to Lord Somers. The last work is noticed in the ‘Works of the Learned’ for August 1706, and it has been suggested that Phillips was an editor of or a contributor to that work. It is possible that an apology for delay in bringing out the number for August 1706, on the ground of the indisposition of one of the authors, may refer to the last illness of Phillips. He certainly died a month or two later (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. v. 365).

In his last years Phillips was a martyr to the gout. In one number of his monthly ‘Mercury’ Phillips apologised for the deficiency of its predecessor, because he was so violently afflicted with the gout both in hands and feet that it was as much as he could do to continue the series. John Dunton in 1705 described him as a gentleman of good learning and well born, who will ‘write you a design off in a very little time if the gout and claret don't stop him.’ His brother Edward, in his ‘Theatrum Poetarum,’ says of him, hyperbolically, that he was ‘accounted one of the exactest of heroical poets, either of the Ancients or Moderns, either of our own or whatever other Nation else, having a judicious command of style both in prose and verse. But his chiefest vein lay in burlesque and facetious poetry.’ Edward regretted that little of his serious work was published, and declared it to be ‘nothing inferior to what he hath done in the other kind.’ Wood less respectfully remarks that he was a man of very loose principles and atheistical, who forsook his wife and children, and made no provision for them.

Besides the works mentioned, Phillips brought out a number of translations, of which the chief were: Calprenède's ‘Pharamond,’ from the French, 1677; De Scuderi's ‘Almahide,’ 1677; Scarron's ‘Typhon, or the Gyants' War with the Gods,’ 1665, fol.; ‘Six Voyages’ of Tavernier's ‘Voyages in the East,’ 1677, fol.; Grelot's ‘Voyage to Constantinople,’ 1683; Ludolphus's ‘History of Ethiopia,’ 1682; ‘Nine Essays in Plutarch's Morals from the Greek,’ 1684; Frambesarius's [i.e. Nic. Abr. Framboisière] ‘Art of Physick,’ 1684; and ‘The Present Court of Spain,’ 1693. He is said to have aided in the English version of Lucian's works, 1711, and to be author of a pamphlet, ‘Established Government vindicated from all Popular and Republican Principles’ (Claver, Cat. 1695). Verses by him appear in the ‘Gentleman's Journal,’ 1691, and Tutchin's ‘Search after Honesty,’ 1697.

[Godwin's Lives of Edward and John Philips, 1815; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 765 seq.; Masson's Life of Milton.]

S. L.