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Ambrose Philips

Ambrose Philips (1674–1749) was an English poet and politician. He was born in Shropshire of a Leicestershire family. Educated at Shrewsbury School then St John's College, Cambridge, he seems to have lived chiefly at Cambridge until he resigned his fellowship in 1708. Philips worked for the bookseller Jacob Tonson, and his Pastorals opened the sixth volume of Tonson's Miscellanies (1709), which also contained the pastorals of Alexander Pope. This seems to have resulted in a bitter feud between dueling pastoralists!

Philips was a staunch Whig, and a friend of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison. Philips was "rashly praised" in The Guardian as Edmund Spenser's only worthy successor. The writer, suspected to be Thomas Tickell, pointedly ignored Pope's pastorals. In The Spectator, Addison applauded Philips for his simplicity and for having written English eclogues unencumbered by the machinery of classical mythology. Pope's apparent jealousy resulted in an anonymous contribution to The Guardian in which he drew an ironic comparison between his and Philips's pastorals, censuring himself and praising Philips's worst passages. Philips is then said to have threatened to hit Pope with a rod he kept hung up at Button's coffee house specifically for the purpose! At Pope's request, John Gay burlesqued Philips's pastorals in his Shepherd's Week, but the parody was admired for the very quality of simplicity which it was intended to ridicule. Samuel Johnson described the relations between Pope and Philips as a "perpetual reciprocation of malevolence." Pope mocked Philips, who figured in his Peri Bathous (the origin of the term "Bathos"), The Dunciad, and in Macer as a Pindaric writer in red stockings. Others who ridiculed Philips included Henry Carey, who coined the nickname Namby-Pamby in the 1725 poem of that name. Pope's The Dunciad (1728) follows: "Beneath his reign, shall ... Namby Pamby be prefer'd for Wit!" Gay and Swift also picked up the nickname.

As Marion K. Bragg observed, Philips was the first English writer of his period who showed a "decided tendency to insert details of English life in his poems" and therefore was "the first eighteenth-century writer who attempted to combine with the pastoral tradition elements of realism."

Pope, the feud and colorful coinages aside, Ambrose Philips should be remembered for poems like these ...

A Fragment of Sappho
translation by Ambrose Philips

BLESS'D as th' immortal gods is he,
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
And hears and sees thee all the while
Softly speak, and sweetly smile.

'Twas this depriv'd my soul of rest,
And rais'd such tumults in my breast,
For while I gaz'd, in transport toss'd,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost.

My bosom glow'd: the subtle flame
Ran quickly through my vital frame;
O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung,
My ears with hollow murmurs rung.

In dewy damps my limbs were chill'd.
My blood with gentle horrors thrill'd.
My feeble pulse forgot to play,
I fainted, sunk, and died away,

A Hymn to Venus
from the Greek of Sappho

translation by Ambrose Philips

O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferred,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
O gentle goddess, hear me now.
Descend, thou bright immortal guest,

In all thy radiant charms confessed.
Thou once didst leave almighty Jove
And all the golden roofs above;
The car thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hovering in air they lightly flew;
As to my bower they winged their way
I saw their quivering pinions play.

The birds dismissed (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again:
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In every heavenly feature smiled,
And asked what new complaints I made,
And why I called you to my aid?

What frenzy in my bosom raged,
And by what cure to be assuaged?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Though now thy offerings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Though now he freeze, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.

Celestial visitant, once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distempered soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.

To Miss Charlotte Pulteney
In her mother’s arms, May 1, 1724

Timely blossom, infant fair,
Fondling of a happy pair,
Every morn and every night
Their solicitous delight;
Sleeping, waking, still at ease,
Pleasing, without skill to please;
Little gossip, blithe and hale,
Tattling many a broken tale,
Singing many a tuneless song,
Lavish of a heedless tongue.
Simple maiden, void of art,
Babbling out the very heart,
Yet abandoned to thy will,
Yet imagining no ill,
Yet too innocent to blush;
Like the linnet in the bush,
To the mother-linnet's note
Moduling her slender throat,
Chirping forth thy pretty joys;
Wanton in the change of toys,
Like the linnet green, in May,
Flitting to each bloomy spray;
Wearied then, and glad of rest,
Like the linnet in the nest.
This thy present happy lot,
This, in time, will be forgot;
Other pleasures, other cares,
Ever-busy Time prepares;
And thou shalt in thy daughter see
This picture once resembled thee.

To Miss Margaret Pulteney
Daughter of Daniel Pulteney, Esq, in the Nursery

Dimply damsel, sweetly smiling,
All caressing, none beguiling,
Bud of beauty, fairly blowing,
Every charm to nature owing,
This and that new thing admiring,
Much of this and that enquiring,
Knowledge by degrees attaining,
Day by day some virtue gaining,
Ten years hence, when I leave chiming,
Beardless poets, fondly rhyming,
(Fescu’d now, perhaps in spelling),
On thy riper beauties dwelling,
Shall accuse each killing feature
Of the cruel charming creature
Whom I knew complying, willing,
Tender, and averse to killing.

In Answer to the Question,
What is Thought?

The hermit's solace in his cell,
The fire that warms the poet's brain,
The lover's heaven or his hell,
The madman's sport, the wise man's pain.

NOTE: The following poem was written to one of two warring divas. George Frideric Handel had employed the Italian sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni. Cuzzoni had a wonderful voice, but was know for her "insolence and caprice." Handel was said to have managed her by saying: "Oh! Madame I know well that you are a real she-devil, but I hereby give you notice, me, that I am Beelzebub, the Chief of Devils!" and threatening to throw her out a window. Bordoni was a younger, more beautiful rival. One steamy night in June 1727, the sopranos' rivalry exploded on the stage of the King's Theatre, in front of the Princess of Wales. The two women reportedly tore at each other's hair and hurled abusive insults in Italian before being escorted from the stage. The entire opera season at the theatre was ended by the incident! Soon thereafter Cuzzoni left England and the last anyone heard of her, she was sewing buttons for a living in Italy. 

To Signora Cuzzoni

Little siren of the stage,
Charmer of an idle age,
Empty warbler, breathing lyre,
Wanton gale of fond desire;
Bane of every manly art,
Sweet enfeebler of the heart;
Oh! too pleasing is thy strain.
Hence to southern climes again,
Tuneful mischief, vocal spell;
To this island bid farewell:
Leave us as we ought to be--
Leave the Britons rough and free.

Epistle to the Earl of Dorset

FROM frozen climes, and endless tracts of snow, 
From streams which northern winds forbid to flow, 
What present shall the Muse to Dorset bring, 
Or how, so near the Pole, attempt to sing? 
The hoary winter here conceals from sight 
All pleasing objects which to verse invite. 
The hills and dales, and the delightful woods, 
The flow'ry plains, and silver-streaming floods, 
By snow disguis'd, in bright confusion lie, 
And with one dazzling waste fatigue the eye. 
No gentle breathing breeze prepares the spring, 
No birds within the desert region sing. 
The ships, unmov'd, the boist'rous winds defy, 
While rattling chariots o'er the ocean fly. 
The vast Leviathan wants room to play, 
And spouts his waters in the face of day. 
The starving wolves along the main sea prowl, 
And to the moon in icy valleys howl. 
O'er many a shining league the level main 
Here spreads itself into a glassy plain: 
There solid billows of enormous size, 
Alps of green ice, in wild disorder rise. 
And yet but lately have I seen, ev'n here, 
The winter in a lovely dress appear. 
'Ere yet the clouds let fall the treasur'd snow, 
Or winds begun through hazy skies to blow, 
At ev'ning a keen eastern breeze arose, 
And the descending rain unsully'd froze. 
Soon as the silent shades of night withdrew, 
The ruddy morn disclos'd at once to view 
The face of nature in a rich disguise, 
And brighten'd ev'ry object to my eyes: 
For ev'ry shrub, and ev'ry blade of grass, 
And ev'ry pointed thorn, seem'd wrought in glass; 
In pearls and rubies rich the hawthorns show, 
While through the ice the crimson berries glow. 
The thick-sprung reeds, which wat'ry marshes yield, 
Seem'd polish'd lances in a hostile field. 
The stag in limpid currents, with surprise, 
Sees crystal branches on his forehead rise; 
The spreading oak, the beech, and tow'ring pine, 
Glaz'd over, in the freezing aether shine. 
The frighted birds the rattling branches shun, 
Which wave and glitter in the distant sun. 
When if a sudden gust of wind arise, 
The brittle forest into atoms flies, 
The crackling wood beneath the tempest bends, 
And in a spangled show'r the prospect ends: 
Or, if a southern gale the region warm, 
And by degrees unbind the wintry charm, 
The traveller a miry country sees, 
And journeys sad beneath the dropping trees: 
Like some deluded peasant Merlin leads 
Through fragrant bow'rs, and through delicious meads, 
While here enchanted gardens to him rise, 
And airy fabrics there attract his eyes, 
His wand'ring feet the magic paths pursue, 
And while he thinks the fair illusion true, 
The trackless scenes disperse in fluid air, 
And woods, and wilds, and thorny ways appear, 
A tedious road the weary wretch returns, 
And, as he goes, the transient vision mourns.

Supplication for Miss Carteret in the Small-Pox
POW'R o'er ev'ry pow'r supreme,
Thou the poet's hallow'd theme,
From thy mercy-seat on high,
Hear my numbers, hear my cry.
Breather of all vital breath,
Arbiter of life and death,
Oh, preserve this innocence,
Yet unconscious of offence,
Yet in life and virtue growing,
Yet no debt to nature owing.
Thou, who giv'st angelick grace
To the blooming virgin face,
Let the fell disease not blight
What thou mad'st for man's delight:
O'er her features let it pass
Like the breeze o'er springing grass,
Gentle as refreshing showers
Sprinkled over opening flowers.
O, let years alone diminish
Beauties thou wast pleas'd to finish
To the pious parents give
That the darling fair may live:
Turn to blessings all their care,
Save their fondness from despair.
Mitigate the lurking pains
Lodg'd within her tender veins;
Soften every throb of anguish,
Suffer not her strength to languish;
Take her to thy careful keeping,
And prevent the mother's weeping.

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