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Ambrose Philips

Born: c. 1675
Birthplace: Shropshire, England
Died: 18-Jun-1749
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Poet

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Pastorals

English poet, born in Shropshire of a Leicestershire family. He was educated at Shrewsbury school and St. John's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in 1699. He seems to have lived chiefly at Cambridge until he resigned his fellowship in 1708, and his pastorals probably belong to this period. He worked for Jacob Tonson the bookseller, and his Pastorals opened the 6th volume of Tonson's Miscellanies (1709), which also contained the pastorals of Alexander Pope. Philips was a staunch Whig, and a friend of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison. In Nos. 22, 23, 30 and 32 (1713) of the Guardian he was injudiciously praised as the only worthy successor of Edmund Spenser. The writer of the papers, who is supposed to have been Thomas Tickell, pointedly ignored Pope's pastorals. In the Spectator Addison applauded him for his simplicity, and for having written English eclogues unencumbered by the machinery of classical mythology. Pope's jealousy was roused, and he sent an anonymous contribution to the Guardian (No. 40) in which he drew an ironical comparison between his own and Philips' pastorals, censuring himself and praising Philips's worst passages. Philips is said to have threatened to cane Pope with a rod he kept hung up at Button's coffee-house for the purpose. It was at Pope's request that Gay burlesqued Philips's pastorals in his Shepherds Week, but the parody pleased by the very qualify of simplicity which it was intended to ridicule. Samuel Johnson describes the relations between Pope and Philips as a "perpetual reciprocation of malevolence." Pope lost no opportunity of scoffing at Philips, who figured in the Bathos and the Dunciad, as Macer in the Characters; and in the "Instructions to a porter how to find Mr. Curll's authors" he is a "Pindaric writer in red stockings." Tn 1718 he started a Whig paper, The Freethinker, in conjunction with Hugh Boulter, then vicar of St. Olave's, Southwark. He had been made justice of the peace for Westminster, and in 1717 a commissioner for the lottery, and when Boulter was made archbishop of Armagh, Philips accompanied him as secretary. He sat in the Irish parliament for Co. Armagh, was secretary to the lord chancellor in 1726, and in 1733 became a judge of the prerogative court. His patron died in 1742, and six years later Philips returned to London, where he died on the 18th of June 1749.

His contemporary reputation rested on his pastorals and epistles, particularly the description of winter addressed by him from Copenhagen (1709) to the Earl of Dorset. In T. H. Ward's English Poets, however, he is represented by two of the simple and charming pieces addressed to the infant children of Lord Carteret and of Daniel Pulteney. These were scoffed at by Jonathan Swift as "little flams on Miss Carteret", and earned for Philips from Henry Carey the nickname of "Namby-Pamby."

Philips's works are an abridgment of Bishop Hacket's Life of John Williams (1700); The Thousand and One Days; Persian Tales... (1722), from the French of F. Pétis de la Croix; three plays: The Distrest Mother (1712), an adaptation of Jean Racine's Andromaque; The Briton (1722); Humfrey, duke of Gloucester (1723). Many of his poems, which included some translations from Sappho, Anacreon and Pindar, were published separately, and a collected edition appeared in 1748.

    University: St. John's College, Cambridge University



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