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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 *.
* Isaac Vossius relates, that he also delighted in having his hair combed when he could have it done by barbers or other per. sons skilled in the rules of prosody. Of the passage that contains this ridiculous fancy, the following is a translation : “ Many people take delight in the rubbing of their limbs, and the combing of their hair; but these exercises would delight much more, if the servants at the baths, and of the barbers, were so skilful in
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 college 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. this art, that they could express any measures with their fingers. I remember that more than once I have fallen into the hands of men of this sort, who could imitate any measure of songs in combing the hair, so as sometimes to express very intelligibly jambics, trochees, dactyls, &c. from whence there arose to me no small delight." See his Treatise de Poematum cantu et viribus Rythmi. Oxon. 1673, p. 62.
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 Georgick, 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. Freind.
His Epitaph at Hereford :
Ætat. suæ 32.
Si Tumulum desideras,
Qualis quantusque Vir fuerit,
Testetur hoc saxum A Maria Philips, Matre ipsius piissima, Dilecti Filii Memoriæ non sine Lacrymis dicatum.
His Epitaph at Westminster:
Herefordiæ conduntur Ossa,
Immortale suum Ingenium,
Miro animi candore,
In illo Musarum Domicilio Præclaris Æmulorum studiis excitatus, Optimis scribendi Magistris semper intentus,
Carinina sermone patrio composuit A Græcis Latinisque fontibus feliciter deducta,
Atticis Romanisque auribus omnino digna,
Versuum quippe Harmoniam
Primoque pæne par.
Et videt, et assecutus est,
Fas sit Huic,
Alterum tibi latus claudere.
Non dedecebit Chorum.
Simon HARCOURT Miles,
Quoad viveret Fautor,
Hoc illi Saxum poni voluit.
Salop, Filius, natus est Bamptoniæ
In agro Oxon. Dec. 30, 1676.
Philips has been always praised, without contradiction, as a man modest, blameless, and pious; who bore narrowness of fortune without discontent, and tedious and painful maladies without impatience; beloved by those that knew him, but not ambitious to be known. He was probably not formed for a wide circle. His conversation is com