Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Philips, Humphrey

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PHILIPS, HUMPHREY (1633–1707), nonconformist minister, born in Somerton, Somerset, matriculated at Oxford on 14 Nov. 1650 as ‘serviens,’ was elected a scholar of Wadham College in July 1651, and graduated B.A. in January 1653–4. He developed puritanical opinions, and was chaplain and tutor for a time to the Bampfield family at Poltimore, near Exeter. Returning to Oxford, he was elected fellow of Magdalen College, proceeded M.A. in 1656, was ordained at the age of twenty-four, and frequently preached in the university and in the neighbourhood. Being ejected by the royalist visitors from Magdalen College in 1660, he retired to Sherborne, Dorset, where he preached, but he was ejected thence in 1662. He refused to promise that he would refrain from preaching, and was committed to Ilchester gaol, where he remained for eleven months. When discharged he went to Holland, visited Leyden and other university cities, and had an opportunity of discussing theological questions with Dr. Gisbert Voet, the last survivor of the synod of Dort which met in November 1618. On his return to England he preached in many parts of the country, but was much persecuted for his adherence to presbyterian doctrines. He lived mainly on a property he possessed at Bickerton, Somerset. He died at Frome on 27 March 1707. His only published works are two funeral sermons.

[Palmer's Nonconformists' Memorial; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Gardiner's Registers of Wadham College.]

T. B. J.

PHILIPS, JOHN (1676–1709), poet, was born on 30 Dec. 1676 at Bampton, Oxfordshire. His grandfather, Stephen Philips, a devoted royalist, was canon-residentiary of Hereford Cathedral and vicar of Lugwardine, where he died in 1667. His father, Stephen Philips, D.D. (1638–1684), became in 1669 archdeacon of Shropshire and vicar of Bampton, in succession to Thomas Cook, B.D., whose only daughter and heiress, Mary, he had married (Wood, Fasti Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, i. 466, ii. 362–3; Havergal, Fasti Herefordenses, p. 48; Giles, History of Bampton, 1848, p. 37).

John Philips, who seems to have been the fourth of six sons, was at first taught by his father, but he was elected a scholar of Winchester in 1691 (Kirby, Winchester Scholars, pp. 209, 211; Foster, Alumni Oxonienses). At school Philips became a proficient classical scholar, and was treated with special indulgence on account of his personal popularity and delicate health. He had long hair, and he liked, when the others were at play, to retire to his room and read Milton while some one combed his locks. In 1697 he proceeded to Oxford, matriculating at Christ Church on 16 Aug. There he was under Dean Aldrich, and the simplicity of his manners and his poetic gifts made him a general favourite. It had been intended that he should become a physician, and he acquired some knowledge of science, but his devotion to literature led to the abandonment of the design. Edmund Smith [q. v.] was his greatest college friend, and William Brome of Withington, whose family had intermarried with Philips's, was also on intimate terms with him. Philips appears to have been in love with Mary, daughter of John Meare, D.D., the principal of Brasenose College, who, as a Herefordshire man, had made the young student welcome at his house. This lady, who was accomplished and beautiful, was also a flirt, and was believed to have been married secretly; in any case, Philips seems never to have gone beyond hinting at his passion in his verse.

Philips was loth to publish his verses. His ‘Splendid Shilling’ was included, without his consent, in a ‘Collection of Poems’ published by David Brown and Benjamin Tooke in 1701; and on the appearance of another false copy early in 1705, Philips printed a correct folio edition in February of that year. This piece, which Addison (Tatler, No. 249) called ‘the finest burlesque poem in the British language,’ was ‘an imitation of Milton,’ and in playful mock-heroic strains depicted—perhaps for the benefit of his impecunious friend Edmund Smith—the miseries of a debtor, in fear of duns, who no longer had a shilling in his purse wherewith to buy tobacco, wine, food, or clothes. ‘The merit of such performances,’ says Johnson, ‘begins and ends with the first author.’ The most important result of the production of this poem was that Philips was introduced to Harley and St. John, and was employed to write verses upon the battle of Blenheim, which were intended as the tory counterpart to Addison's ‘Campaign.’ ‘Blenheim, a poem, inscribed to the Right Honourable Robert Harley, Esq.’ (1705), has little interest for the reader of to-day; at the end Philips says that it was in the sweet solitude of St. John's ‘rural seat’ that he ‘presumed to sing Britannic trophies, inexpert of war, with mean attempt.’ The piece imitates Milton's verse, and the warfare resembles that of the Iliad or Æneid. In the following year (1706) ‘Cerealia: an Imitation of Milton,’ was published by Thomas Bennet, the bookseller who issued ‘Blenheim;’ and though it was not included in the early editions of Philips's works, there can be no doubt that it is by him.

Early in January 1707–8 Fenton published, in his ‘Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany Poems,’ a short ‘Bacchanial Song’ by Philips. On 24 Jan. following Fenton wrote to Warton (Wooll, Memoirs of Thomas Warton, p. 203): ‘I am glad to hear Mr. Philips will publish his “Pomona.” Who prints it? I should be mightily obliged to you if you could get me a copy of his verses against Blackmore. … I'll never imitate Milton more till the author of “Blenheim” be forgotten.’ The first book of ‘Cyder,’ to which Fenton alluded, had been written while Philips was at Oxford; and on 27 Nov. 1707 Tonson had entered into an agreement with Philips to pay forty guineas for it in two books, with ten guineas for a second edition. There were to be one hundred large-paper copies, and two dedication copies bound in leather. Philips gave a receipt for the forty guineas on 24 Jan. 1707–8 (Johnson, Lives of the Poets, ed. Cunningham, ii. 22n.), and the poem was published on the 29th (Daily Courant). It called forth, in May, a folio pamphlet, ‘Wine,’ the first poem published by John Gay [q. v.], in which ‘Cyder’ is spoken of somewhat disparagingly. The poem, which is the most important of Philips's productions, was written in imitation of Virgil's Georgics, and an exact account of the culture of the apple-tree and of the manufacture of cider is varied by compliments to various friends and patrons, and by many local allusions to Herefordshire, the county of Philips's ancestors, where Withington was specially famous for cider. Philip Miller, the botanist [q. v.], told Johnson that ‘there were many books written on the same subject in prose which do not contain so much truth as that poem.’ But Johnson objected, not without reason, that the blank verse of Milton, which Philips imitated, could not ‘be sustained by images which at most can rise only to elegance.’ And Pope said that Philips succeeded extremely well in his imitation of ‘Paradise Lost,’ but was quite wrong in endeavouring to imitate it on such a subject (Spence,