« AnteriorContinuar »
can only hope to be considered as the repeater of a jeft.
“ The parody on Milton,” says Gildon, “is the
only tolerable production of its author.” This is a censure too dogmatical and violent. The
of Blenheim was never denied to be tolerable, even by thofe who do not allow it supreme excellence. It is indeed the poem of a scholar, all inexpert of war; of a man who writes books from books, and ftudies the world in a college. He seems to have formed his ideas of the field of Blenbeim from the battles of the heroic ages, or the tales of chivalry, with very little comprehension of the qualities necessary to the composition of a modern hero, which Addison has displayed with so much propriety. He makes Marlborough behold at a distance the Naughter made by Tallard, then haste to encounter and restrain him, and mow his way through ranks made headless by his sword.
He imitates Milton's numbers indeed, but imitates them very injudiciously. Deformity is easily copied; and whatever there is in Milton which the reader wishes away, all that is obsolete, peculiar, or licentious, is accumulated with great care by Philips. Milton's verse was harmonious, in proportion to the general state of our metre in Milton's age; and, if he had written after the improvements made by Dryden, it is reasonable to believe that he would have admitted a more pleasing modulation of numbers into his work; but Philips fits down with a resolution to make no more musick than he found; to want all that his master wanted, though he is very far from having what his master had. Those asperities,
therefore, that are venerable in the Paradise Loft, are contemptible in the Blenheim.
There is a Latin ode written to his patron St. John, in return for a present of wine and tobacco, which cannot be passed without notice. It is
gay and elegant, and exhibits several artful accommodations of classick expressions to new purposes. It seems better turned than the ode of Hannes *.
To the poem on Cider, written in imitation of the Georgicks, may be given this peculiar praise, that it is grounded in truth; that the precepts which it contains are exact and just; and that it is therefore, at once, a book of entertainment and of science. This I was told by Miller, the great gardener and botanist, whose expression was, that there were many books written on the same subject in prose, wbich do not contain so much truth as that poem.
In the disposition of his matter, so as to intersperse precepts relating to the culture of trees with sentiments more generally alluring, and in easy and graceful transitions from one subject to another, he has very diligently imitated his master; but he unhappily pleased himself with blank verse, and supposed that the numbers of Milton, which impress the inind with veneration, combined as they are with subjects
* This ode I am willing to mention, because there seems to be an error in all the printed copies, which is, I find, retained in the last. They all read;
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
O! O! labellis cui Venus insidet.
Quam Gratiarum cura dece im
of inconceivable grandeur, could be sustained by images which at most can rise only to elegance. Contending angels may shake the regions of Heaven in blank verse; but the flow of equal measures, and the embellishment of rhyme, must recommend to our attention the art of engrafting, and decide the merit of the redsireak and permain.
What study could confer, Philips had obtained; but natural deficience cannot be supplied. He seems not born to greatness and elevation. He is never lofty, nor does he often surprise with unexpected excellence; but perhaps to his last poem may be applied what Tully said of the work of Lucretius, that it is written with much art, though wiib few blazes of genius. The following fragment, written by Edmund Smith,
upon the works of Philips, has been transcribed
from the Bodleian manuscripts. “A Prefatory Discourse to the poem on Mr. Philips,
with a character of his writings. “ It is altogether as equitable fome account should be given of those who have distinguished themselves by their writings, as of those who are renowned for great actions. It is but reasonable they, who contribute so much to the immortality of others, should have some share in it themselves; and fince their genius only is discovered by their works, it is just that their virtues should be recorded by their friends. For no modest men (as the person I write of was in perfection) will write their own panegyricks; and it is very hard that they should go without reputation, only because they the more deserve it. The end of
writing Lives is for the imitation of the readers. It will be in the power of very few to imitate the Duke of Marlborough; we must be content with admiring his great qualities and actions, without hopes of following them. The private and social virtues are more easily transcribed.
The life of Cowley is more instructive, as well as more fine, than any we have in our language. And it is to be wished, since Mr. Philips had so many of the good qualities of that poet, that I had some of the abilities of his historian.
The Grecian philosophers have had their Lives written, their morals commended, and their sayings recorded. Mr. Philips had all the virtues to which most of them only pretended, and all their integrity without any of their affectation.
The French are very just to eininent men in this point; not a learned man nor a poet can die, but all Europe must be acquainted with his accomplishments. They give praise and expect it in their turns: they commend their Patru's and Moliere's as well as their Condé's and Turenne's; their Pellison's and Racine's have their elogies, as well as the prince whom they celebrate ; and their poems, their mercuries, and orations, nay their very gazettes, are filled with the praises of the learned.
I am satisfied, had they a Philips among them, and known how to value him; had they one of his learning, his temper, but above all of that particular turn of humour, that altogether new genius, he had been an example to their poets, and a subject of their panegyricks, and perhaps set in competition with the ancients, to whom only he ought to submit.
I shall therefore endeavour to do justice to his memory, since nobody else undertakes it. And indeed I can assign no cause why so many of his acquaintance (that are as willing and more able than myself to give an account of him) should forbear to celebrate the memory of one so dear to them, but only that they look upon it as a work entirely belonging to me. · I shall content myself with giving only a character of the person and his writings, without meddling with the transactions of his life, which was altogether private : I shall only make this known observation of his family, that there was scarcely so many extraordinary men in any one. I have been acquainted with five of his brothers (of which three are still living), all men of fine parts, yet all of a very unlike temper and genius. So that their fruitful mother, like the mother of the gods, seems to have produced a numerous offspring, all of different though uncommon facultics. Of the living, neither their modesty, nor the humour of the present age, permits me to speak : of the dead, I may say something.
One of them had made the greatest progress in the study of the law of nature and nations of any one I know. He had perfectly mastered, and even improved, the notions of Grotius, and the more refined ones of Puffendorff. He could refute Hobbes with as much folidity as some of greater name, and expose him with as much wit as Echard. That noble study, which requires the greatest reach of reason and nicety of distinction, was not at all difficult to him. 'Twas a national loss to be deprived of one who understood a science fo necessary, and yet to 3