The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 15, 2016

February 15, 1709

John Philips, (December 30, 1676 to Febvruary 15, 1709) was an English writer, who though writing anonymously most of the time, attracted the attention of his peers.

According to his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article, Philips was the son of the

.... archdeacon of Shropshire and vicar of Bampton, ... Philips's grandfather was canon of Hereford Cathedral and vicar of Lugwardine, his great-grandfather a clothier at Ledbury. Royalists during the civil war, the family had an estate at Withington, Herefordshire.

....John Philips entered Winchester College as an elected scholar ...
[in] 1691. Remembered there for his 'tender constitution' and the 'sweetness of his temper'.... he was a superior scholar, excused from sport and from observing college rules. According to his fellow student William Oldisworth, when the other boys went to the field for games, Philips loved to retire to his room, 'where he procured a person to attend him, and comb his hair, of which he had a very handsome flow' ....Like Pepys before him, Philips felt from this exercise 'an exquisite delight', enhanced in his case by the reading of Milton very obvious choice for a descendant of royalists.

On 16 August 1697 Philips matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where...., he studied natural history, excelling particularly in botany, 'his greatest delight as well as accomplishment' .... Many of his fellow Christ Church students - John Mostyn, ...., Simon Harcourt, and William Bromley - along with the dean, Henry Aldrich, came from the Hereford, Worcester, and Oxford area, and were later complimented in his
[two volume poem titled] Cyder. (Most of them were, like Philips, grandsons of civil war royalists.) His health was still 'very infirm',.... One contemporary reported much later that Philips was invited by Dr John Meare, a Herefordshire man and principal of Brasenose (his father's college), to his lodgings, where Philips 'conceived a secret passion' for his daughter Mary. So awed was he by her 'disdain' that he 'never had courage to hint his passion to her'. This 'secret passion' is said to have been 'well known in the university' .... While at Christ Church, Philips began to write poems....

Philips remained at Christ Church until at least 1707, without taking a degree.... his
Splendid Shilling .... poem was later commended by Joseph Addison in Tatler (...1710) as 'the finest Burlesque Poem in the British Language'. .... [T]he tories, ... invited Philips to Henry St John's country seat and persuaded him to produce Bleinheim (1705),.....[Samuel] Johnson thought it the poem of a man who 'studies the world in a college' (Johnson, Poets, 1905) ...

Philips's greatest poem, a two-book georgic Cyder (1708), begun at Oxford, celebrates his native land (and in particular Herefordshire) with a combination of accurate knowledge of apples and cider making and a 'sketch of our National History' ....Cyder conveys compliments to the author's royalist friends, to nonjurors who refused to break their 'plighted faith' ... and to tory leaders, including [Robert] Harley .... The survey of English history [contained in Cyder] compliments Charles I, deplores 'the mad, headstrong rout' who 'Defy'd their prince to arms' in the civil war .... and passes over subsequent years without mentioning King William, 'till prudent Anna said,/ LET THERE BE UNION' commendation of the 1707 Act of Union that Harley and the tories were then promoting. There is no compliment to Marlborough, hero of Philips's Bleinheim, perhaps because, as Dunster notes, 'a party was secretly forming against him [Churchill] at court, and the particular Patrons of our Poet were at the head of the confederacy' ... Philips praises Milton as the first who 'ennobled Song/ With holy Raptures' (Poems of John Philips,...), hints at disapproval of his anti-royalist politics, but declines to 'blast his Fame' (ibid., ....The poem is dedicated to two Christ Church friends, book 1 to John Mostyn, book 2 to Simon Harcourt, whose father, the future lord chancellor, was Philips's 'zealous patron' ....

Our writer below demonstrates a purposeful style, dealing with the topical Battle of Bleinheim, in which England's forces, led by John Churchill, triumphed. The British lion is our feline reference from John Philips' oeuvre. In his poem titled Bleinheim, the enemy (the French) is described in this line:

... Imprudent, thus t'invite /A furious lion to his folds!

In closing we rely on the ODNB to summarize the significance of John Philips:

... Cyder was carefully studied, and more profitably imitated, by georgic writers, who learned from Philips how to treat a humble subject both ardently and wittily, and how to mix an account of native products with a survey of political history in order to celebrate their native land. Philips taught Pope, who drew on Cyder in Windsor Forest, how to use Paradise Lost for un-Miltonic purposes, and to suggest that paradise might still be found in England's green and pleasant land. He also taught James Thomson, John Dyer, and William Cowper how a Miltonic blank verse might be used for poems in the middle style.

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