Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Samuel

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PHILLIPS, SAMUEL (1814–1854), journalist, born on 28 Dec. 1814, was of Jewish origin, and was the third son of Philip Phillips, a tradesman (at first in St. James's Street, and afterwards in Regent Street, London), who dealt principally in lamps and chandeliers. At an early age Samuel showed so much talent for mimicry and recitation that his parents were disposed to train him for the stage. He attracted the attention of the Duke of Sussex by an essay on Milton, and was invited to recite before the duke, when Mrs. Bartley taught him to declaim Collins's ‘Ode to the Passions,’ and he repeated the performance on the stage of the Haymarket Theatre. On 23 June 1829 a benefit was given at Covent Garden Theatre to Isaacs, a popular singer, and ‘Master Phillips, only fourteen years of age,’ appeared in an act of ‘Richard III.’ For a short time he was reading for the university of London; he was then sent by his parents to the university of Göttingen, where he remained for more than a year, and on 12 Sept. 1836 he was entered as a pensioner at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, intending to take orders in the church of England. After little more than one term at Cambridge, he was obliged, through the death of his father in embarrassed circumstances, to leave the university. He then endeavoured, in conjunction with a brother, to carry on the father's business, but they failed in their enterprise, and Phillips was forced in 1841 to take to his pen for subsistence. He was already married, and was moreover suffering from consumption, but he worked on with indomitable courage, though with little success. While living in desperate straits at Ventnor, he began a novel, ‘Caleb Stukely,’ and sent the first part to the publishing firm of Blackwood at Edinburgh. Phillips had come to his last guinea, but after a week of suspense a kind letter was received with a remittance of 50l. He thereupon came to London to complete the work, and obtained temporary employment as private secretary and private tutor. In 1845, through the interest of Lord Stanley (afterwards Earl of Derby), he was engaged on the ‘Morning Herald,’ and wrote two leaders a week for it for two years, chiefly on the subject of protection. About 1845 he obtained an appointment on the staff of the ‘Times’ as a writer of literary reviews, and this post he filled for the rest of his life. He was also appointed secretary to an association formed in 1845, under the patronage of the Duke of Richmond, for the support of the farmers who had been injured through fiscal changes.

With the aid of Alderman Salomons he soon afterwards purchased the ‘John Bull’ newspaper, and for little more than a year he was both editor and proprietor; but the speculation was not very prosperous, and the labour overtaxed his strength. He parted with the paper in 1846. During his last three years he contributed to the ‘Literary Gazette’ besides working for the ‘Times.’

On the establishment of the Crystal Palace in 1853 Phillips was appointed its literary director, and for a time he was the company's treasurer. He wrote the general handbook to the palace and an account of its portrait gallery (1854). In August 1853 he suggested the formation of a society for promoting Assyrian archæological exploration, and in a short time a staff of skilled operators was despatched to Nineveh. He died very suddenly at Brighton on 14 Oct. 1854. He was buried in Sydenham church on 21 Oct. His first wife died in 1843, and he married again in 1845. His widow and five children survived him. In 1852 he was created LL.D. of Göttingen.

Phillips, who was the most genial of companions, was at his best in purely literary articles, which were always written with vivacity and keen critical perception. He did not love novelties. It was said of him that he could see nothing in ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin’ but a violation of the rights of property. He was a strong conservative in politics (cf. Fox-Bourne, English Newspapers, ii. 189–90).

The novel of ‘Caleb Stukely’ was published anonymously in three volumes in 1844. It was also published without his name and in a curtailed form in 1854, and in 1862 it appeared in the ‘Railway Library,’ with his name on the title-page. Among the articles contributed by him to the ‘Times’ was one on the ‘Literature of the Rail,’ which appeared on 9 Aug. 1851, and was published separately in the same year. He was also the author of ‘Literature for the People’ in the ‘Times’ of 5 Feb. 1854. The first of these articles suggested to Mr. Murray the series entitled ‘Reading for the Rail,’ and to Messrs. Longman that entitled ‘The Traveller's Library.’ Mr. Murray's series started in 1851 with an anonymous volume of ‘Essays from the Times,’ being a selection of literary papers by Phillips, and in 1854 it was followed, also anonymously, by ‘A Second Series of Essays from the “Times.”’ Both volumes were also printed in New York, and they were republished by Mr. Murray in 1871 as ‘by Samuel Phillips, B.A.,’ and with his portrait prefixed. His ‘Memoir of the Duke of Wellington’ was printed in the ‘Times’ on 15 and 16 Sept. 1852, and was No. 31 of the ‘Traveller's Library’ of Messrs. Longman. The criticism in the ‘Times’ of the ‘Kickleburys on the Rhine,’ which deeply offended Thackeray, is said to have been by Phillips (Maclise Portrait Gallery, ed. Bates, p. 441; Vizetelly, Glances Back, i. 356). A collection of his contributions to ‘Blackwood,’ entitled ‘We're all low people there,’ ran into an eighth thousand in 1854. One of them, called ‘The Banking House,’ was republished at Philadelphia in 1855.

Three editions of his ‘Guide to the Crystal Palace and Park’ were issued in 1854. It was again published in 1860, revised by F. K. J. Shenton.

[Times, 17 Oct. 1854, p. 5; Gent. Mag. 1854, pt. ii. pp. 635–6; Literary Gazette, 1854, pp. 906–907; Tait's Mag. January 1855, pp. 41–2; Bentley's Miscellany, xxxviii. 129–36; Halkett and Laing's Anon. Literature, pp. 299, 743, 825, 2308, 2797; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 336; information from the master of Sidney-Sussex College.]

W. P. C.