Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bailey, Philip James

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BAILEY, PHILIP JAMES (1816–1902), author of 'Festus,' only son of Thomas Bailey of Nottingham [q. v.], by his first wife, Mary Taylor, was born on 22 April 1816, at Nottingham, in a house, now demolished, on the Middle Pavement facing the town hall. He showed an early interest in his father's poetical tastes, which his father stimulated by taking him to see Byron's lying-in-state at the Old Blackamoor's Head in Nottingham High Street, and by encouraging him to learn by heart the whole of 'Childe Harold.' Educated in Nottingham, he was tutored in classics by Benjamin Carpenter, a Unitarian minister. In his sixteenth year he matriculated at Glasgow University with a view to the presbyterian ministry; but quickly renouncing this ambition, he began in 1833 to study law in a solicitor's office in London. On 26 April 1834 he was entered a member of Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar on 7 May 1840, but never practised. Meanwhile his interest in legal studies had been interrupted by the reading of Goethe's 'Faust.' The German poem took possession of his whole mind and energy, but it failed to satisfy his moral ideals, especially in its treatment of the problem of evil. He felt under compulsion to produce his own version of the legend, and retired for that purpose in 1836 to the seclusion of his father's house at Old Basford, near Nottingham, where in three years' time the original version of his poem 'Festus' was written. It was printed in Manchester by W. H. Jones, and published without the author's name in London by William Pickering in 1839.

On the whole the reception of 'Festus' was enthusiastic. If the 'Athenæum' (21 Dec. 1839) pronounced the idea of the poem to be 'a mere plagiarism from the "Faust" of Goethe, with all its impiety and scarcely any of its poetry,' Bulwer Lytton, James Montgomery, Ebenezer Elliott, J. W. Marston, R. H. Home, and Mary Howitt joined with other leading reviews in a chorus of praise (see press notices in 2nd edit.). Tennyson wrote to FitzGerald in 1846 that he had just bought the poem, and advised his friend: 'order it and read: you will most likely find it a great bore, but there are really very grand things in "Festus."' The Pre-Raphaelites discussed the work with' much admiration, although Patmore complained that Bailey was 'painting on clouds' (Pre-Raphaelite Diaries, ed. W. M. Rossetti, 229, 262, 265).

In the second edition of 1845 Bailey made large additions, and processes of addition and recasting went on in later editions until, in the eleventh or jubilee edition of 1889, the work reached more than 40,000 lines. In that volume was incorporated the greater part of three volumes of poetry, which Bailey had meanwhile published separately. These were 'The Angel World, and other Poems' (1850), which attracted the attention of the Pre-Raphaelites, and was eagerly noted by W. M. Rossetti for review in 'The Germ'; 'The Mystic, and other Poems' (1855); and 'The Universal Hymn' (1867). Although the popularity of 'Festus' fluctuated, it was alive at the end of the nineteenth century. The 'Festus Birthday Book' appeared in 1882, and the 'Beauties of Festus' in 1884. A 'Festus Treasury' was edited by Albert Broadbent in 1901. In the United States thirty unauthorised editions of 'Festus' appeared before 1889.

Bailey's poetic power was never so fresh and concentrated as in the first edition of 'Festus.' His later additions turned the poem into a theological and metaphysical treatise, for which some critics claimed high philosophical merits, but beneath which the poetry was smothered. In 1876 W. M. Rossetti spoke of 'Festus' as 'but little read,' but by way of remonstrance Mr. Theodore Watts claimed that the poem contained 'lovely oases of poetry,' among 'wide tracts of ratiocinative writing' (Athenæum, 1 April 1876). Bailey prefixed to the jubilee edition an elaborate account of the aims of the poem in its final form and of the general principles of its arrangement. He was often regarded as the father of the 'spasmodic' school of poetry, and satirised as such along with Alexander Smith [q. v.] and Sydney Dobell [q. v.] by W. E. Aytoun [q. v.] in 'Firmilian' (1854); but in his last year he denied the imputation in a long letter in which he restated, with a self-satisfied seriousness, the intention of his work. He there claimed Browning as well as Tennyson among his admirers (see Robertson Nicoll and T. J. Wise, Lit. Anecdotes Nineteenth Century, ii. 413-8).

Bailey wrote a play on the subject of Aurungzebe, which Talfourd admired. Talfourd introduced the author to Macready, but the play was not produced and was finally destroyed by Bailey in a fit of despondency. Besides the volumes afterwards incorporated in 'Festus,' he published in 1858 'The Age,' a colloquial satire; in 1861 a prose essay, 'The International Policy of the Great Powers'; in 1878 Nottingham Castle, an Ode'; and in 1883 (undated, published at Ilfracombe) 'Causa Britannica, a Poem in Latin Hexameters with English Paraphrase.'

In 1856 Bailey received a civil list pension of 100l. in recognition of his literary work. In 1864 he settled in Jersey, whence he paid frequent visits to the continent. He witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius in 1872, impairing his health by exposure to heat. In 1876 he returned to England, settling first at Lee near Ilfracombe, and in 1885 at Blackheath. Finally he retired to a house in the Rope walk of his native Nottingham, where he died after an attack of influenza on 6 September 1902. He was buried in Nottingham cemetery. He married twice. His first marriage was unhappy, and he was compelled to divorce his wife, by whom he had a son and daughter. His second wife was Anne Sophia, daughter of Alderman George Carey of Nottingham, whom he married in 1863. She devotedly watched over his later years, but died before him in 1896. In 1901 Glasgow University conferred upon him an hon. LL.D. degree in his absence. A bronze bust of Bailey executed by Albert Toft in 1901 is in the Nottingham Art Gallery. A marble bust by John Alexander MacBride, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848, is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. A plaster cast of it, dated 1846, is in the Nottingham Art Gallery.

[Recollections of Philip James Bailey, by James Ward, Nottingham, 1905 (with portrait); Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Miles 's Poets and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, iv. 517 seq.; The Times, Daily Chronicle, and Daily News, 8 Sept. 1902; Athenæum, 13 Sept. 1902; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. x. 242, 1902. See also Eclectic Review, vi. 654; Academy, 1901, p. 447; 1902, pp. 248, 250; Sunday Mag., Jan. 1898; Session of Poets, by Caliban [i.e. Robert Buchanan]; Spectator, 18 Sept. 1866; and Fortnightly Rev., Nov. 1902 (art. by Mr. Edmund Gosse, giving careful account of the gradual growth of Bailey's Festus, with an excellent estimate of his worth and significance as a poet).]

R. B.