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He became, as may be easily supposed, a favourite of King William, who, the day after his accession, made him lord chamberlain of the household, and gave him afterwards the garter. He happened to be among those that were tossed with the King in an open boat sixteen hours, in very rough and cold weather, on the coast of Holland. His health afterwards declined; and on January 19, 1705-6, he died at Bath.
He was a man whose elegance and judgment were universally confessed, and whose bounty to the learned and witty was generally known. To the indulgent affection of the publick, Lord Rochester bore ample testimony in this remark; I know not how it is, but Lord Buckhurst may do what he will, yet is never in the wrong
If such a man attempted poetry, we cannot wonder that his works were praised. Dryden, whom, if Prior tells truth, he distinguished by his beneficence, and who lavished his blandishments on those who are not known to have so well deserved them, undertaking to produce authors of our own country superior to those of antiquity, says, I would instance your Lordship in satire, and Shakespeare in tragedy. Would it be imagined that, of this rival to antiquity, all the satires were little personal invectives, and that his longest composition was a song of eleven stanzas ?
The blame, however, of this exaggerated praise falls on the encomiast, not upon the author; iwhose performances are, what they pretend to he, the effusions of a man of wit; gay, vigorous, and airy. His verses to Howard show great fertility of mind; and his Dorinda has been imitated by Pope.
George Stepney, descended from the Stepneys of Pendigrast in Pembrokeshire, was born in Westminster in 1663. Of his father's condition or fortune I have no account. Having received the first part of his education at Westminster, where he passed six years in the College, he went at nineteen to Cambridge, where he continued a friendship begun at school with Mr. Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax. They came to London together, and are said to have been invited into publick life by the Duke of Dorset.
His qualifications recommended him to many foreign employments, so that his time seems to have been spent in negociations. In 1692 he was sent envoy to the Elector of Brandenburgh: in 1693, to the Imperial Court; in 1694, to the Elector of Saxony; in 1696, to the Electors of Mentz and Cologne, and the Congress at Francfort ; in 1698, a second time to Brandenburgh; in 1699, to the King of Poland; in 1701, again to the Emperor; and in 1706, to the States General. In 1697 he was made one of the commissioners of trade. His life was busy, and not long. He died in 1707; and is buried in Westminster Abbey, with this epitaph, which Jacob transcribed :
H. S. E.
Linguæ, Styli, ac Vitæ Elegantiam,
Sua ætate multum celebratus,
Plurimas Legationes obiit
Gulielmi & Annæ
Haud raro superaverit.
Brevi Temporis Spatio confectum,
On the Left hand,
Electus in Collegium
Sancti Trinitatis Cantab, 1682.
Cura commissa est 1697.
It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney made
authors blush. I know not whether his poems
such wonders to the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote ; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to publick honours, and are therefore not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.
He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties of
In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may perhaps be found, and now and then a short composition may give pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit, the vigour of nature,
John Philips was born on the 30th of December, 1676, at Bampton in Oxfordshire; of which place his father, Dr. Stephen Philips, archdeacon of Salop, was minister. The first part of his education was domestick; after which he was sent to Winchester, where, as we are told by Dr. Sewel, his biographer, he was soon distinguished by the superiority of his exercises; and, what is less easily to be credited, so much endeared himself to his schoolfellows by his civility and good-nature, that they, without murmur or ill-will, saw him indulged by the master with particular immunities. It is related, that when he was at school, he seldom mingled in play with the other boys, but retired to his chamber; where his sovereign pleasure was to sit, hour after hour, while his hair was combed by somebody, whose service he found means to procure.
At school he became acquainted with the poets, ancient and modern, and fixed his attention particularly on Milton.
In 1694 he entered himself at Christ-church, a col. lege at that time in the highest reputation, by the transmission of Busby's scholars to the care first of Fell, and afterwards of Aldrich. Here he was distinguished as a genius eminent among the eminent, and for friendship particularly intimate with Mr. Smith, the author of Phædra and Hippolytus. The profession which he intended to follow was that of Physick; and he took much delight in Natural History, of which Botany was his favourite part.
His reputation was confined to his friends and to the university; till about 1703 he extended it to a wider circle by the Splendid Shilling, which struck the publick attention with a mode of writing new and unexpected.
This performance raised him so high, that, when Europe resounded with the victory of Blenheim, he was, probably with an occult opposition to Addison,
employed to deliver the acclamation of the Tories. It is said that he would willingly have declined the task, but that his friends urged it upon him. It appears that he wrote this poem at the house of Mr. St. John.
Blenheim was published in 1705. The next year produced his great work, the poem upon Cider, in two books; which was received with loud praises, and continued long to be read, as an imitation of Virgil's Geor. gic, which needed not shun the presence of the original.
He then grew probably more confident of his own abilities, and began to meditate a poem on the Last Day; a subject on which no mind can hope to equal expectation.
This work he did not live to finish ; his diseases, a slow consumption and an asthma, put a stop to his studies, and on Feb. 15, 1708, at the beginning of his thirty-third year, put an end to his life.
He was buried in the cathedral of Hereford; and Sir Simon Harcourt, afterwards Lord Chancellor, gave him a monument in Westminster Abbey. The inscription at Westminster was written, as I have heard, by Dr. Atterbury, though commonly given to Dr. Friend.
His Epitaph at Hereford :
Ætat. suæ 32.
Si Tumulum desideras,
Testetor hoc saxum