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John Philips

Poet John Philips is commemorated in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. His standing monument of white marble is next to that of Geoffrey Chaucer. The memorial shows an oval portrait medallion framed by an apple tree and a laurel bush, with books either side. The Latin inscription was composed by Dr Robert Freind and can be translated:

In the church at Hereford lies the body, in this [church] is erected the portrait, and through all Britain is spread the fame of John Philips, who esteemed alike by all good and learned men, his immortal wit (cultivated with various kinds of learning), adorned and embellished with extraordinary candour of mind, and plainness and sincerity of manners. That early thirst of learning which (when a boy) siezed him at Winchester, he continually gratified while a student at Christ Church; in which seat of the muses, fire'd by the curious performances of his collegians, and intently familiar with the best of authors, he attempted poetry in the English language, happily drawn from the Greek and Latin spring, and well worthy an Attick or Roman ear. The jingle of verse in rhyme he gave up for that ancient, free and various manner, suited and attempered to things themselves, not always returning in the same round of measure, nor meeting in the same close of sound.
In this single instance of fame he was second to Milton, but in the first, equal to him. Whenever he undertook to embellish any subjects, whether they were low, lofty or middling, he both discovered and imitated whatever was beautiful in others. To whatever subject he adapted his style, he was just in his expression, and curiously inventive of words. O Chaucer, father and founder of English poetry, suffer this, though a bold deviation from thy ancient law of rhyme, a place adjoining thee: for surely it will not misbecome thy dust, to be encircled by a chorus of bards every where around thee.
Simon Harcourt, Knight, who (in regard he was valuable both for his character and writings) was, whilst living his encourager, after his death, in respectful remembrance of him, hath erected this monument.
J. Philips, son of Stephen Philips D.D. archdeacon of Salop [Shropshire], was born at Bampton in Oxfordshire, 30 December 1676, died at Hereford 15 February 1708.

His mother was Mary Cook. His grandfather had been a canon of Hereford. He was educated at Winchester College and Oxford (where two of his brothers were also studying). At university he started to write poetry and his greatest poem Cyder talks about the county where he lived and cider making. He died of asthma and is buried in Hereford Cathedral. J. Crull, writing an Abbey guidebook in 1710, went along to copy the inscription but he was told by the authorities not to copy the line about Milton as it was to be erased. He did however copy them but came back a few days later and they had been obliterated. It is thought that Dean Atterbury later had the words re-instated.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Born

30th December 1676

Died

15th February 1708

Field

Poet

Location

South Transept; Poets' Corner

Memorial Type

Bust

Material Type

Marble

John Philips
John Philips monument

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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