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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

X. Writers of Burlesque and Translators

§ 10. John Phillips’s Literary Career

John Phillips, whose travesties have already been mentioned, was eminent among the translators of the time. He took his share in Englishing Lucian and Plutarch, and the folios to which he put his name were neither few nor slight. He was bred in classical learning by his uncle John Milton, whose influence he early shook off. For many years, he seems to have gained his livelihood by his pen, and was as versatile as he was industrious. What Aubrey calls his “jiggish phancy” inspired him to the making of almanacks, the inditing of satires and to the conduct of political controversy. A loyal disciple of Rabelais, he composed a sermon with a passage from Gargantua for his text, and embraced the doctrine of Pantagruel with a constant heart. His policy shifted with the convenience of the hour. He approached Cromwell cap in hand when it suited him, and afterwards, in a travesty, set the Protector in hell. He shouted for the king at the restoration, and hailed the infamous Oates as the saviour of his country. He naturally incurred the hatred of Anthony à Wood, both for his own sake and on account of Milton, “that villainous leading incendiary.” But, whatever blots there may have been upon his honour, he was tireless in industry. He died, so to say, with a pen in his hand. At seventy years of age, he is described by Dunton as “a gentleman of good learning, and well born; and will write you a design off in a very little time, if the gout or claret does not stop him.” For many years, he edited a grave periodical, The Present State of Europe, and, in the compass and extent of his translations, he was a near rival to Philemon Holland. To provide two vast folios in a year is a triumph of persistence, if no other merit be claimed for it.

And John Phillips’s versions are always workmanlike. La Calprenède’s Pharamond was once, no doubt, “a fam’d romance,” though it is no more likely to find readers to-day than Madeleine de Scudery’s Almahide, or The Captive Queen; and Phillips’s task, in Englishing both, was faithfully performed. His chief lack is a lack of distinction. There is not a page that most of the other hacks might not have written with equal ease. For ease is its chief characteristic—ease of phrase, ease of movement. With the same nonchalance, he Englished Tavernier’s Voyages in the East, Ludolphus’s History of Aethiopia, Grelot’s Voyage to Constantinople and many another forgotten work of travel or fiction. Besides these monuments of energy, a version of Scarron’s Typhon seems but the solace of a summer’s afternoon. None of these, as we have said, bears the sole and individual mark of Phillips’s talent.