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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.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 14. Ambrose Philips and his Pastorals; His “Namby-Pamby” poems

Gay’s parodies of Ambrose Philips in The Shepherd’s Week (which pleased by the very quality they were intended to ridicule) were suborned by Pope, and the quarrel was accentuated by the fact that Ambrose not only belonged to the rival or whig faction (he was secretary of the Hanover club in 1714) but was also a friend and adherent of Addison. A native of the midlands, Ambrose Philips (born in 1675) was educated at Shrewsbury and St. John’s college, Cambridge (1693–6), of which he was fellow from 1699 to 1708. At Cambridge, he began writing English verse. In 1709, he abridged Hacket’s well-known Life of Archbishop Williams. On 9 March of the same year, he addressed, from Copenhagen, his Epistle to the Earl of Dorset, Prior’s early patron. It was published by Steele in The Tatler and praised as a great “winter-piece.” His Pastorals appeared in the following autumn in Tonson’s Miscellany, his being the first, and Pope’s the last, in this same volume. In The Guardian, Ambrose was thoughtlessly praised by Thomas Tickell as the only worthy successor of Spenser, Pope being completely ignored. Philips had also been cordially applauded in The Spectator for his artless type of eclogue. Pretending to criticise the rival pastorals and compare them, Pope, in an anonymous contribution to The Guardian, gave the preference to Philips, but quoted all his worst passages as his best, and placed by the side of them his own finest lines, which, he says, want rusticity, and often deviate into downright poetry. The satire stung, as was intended, and Philips bought a rod and hung it up at a popular coffee-house (Button’s) in order to carry out his threatened chastisement of Pope in public. The encounter was averted by Pope’s prudence. To keep up the “reciprocation of malevolence,” Pope scoffed at Philips in The Dunciad and elsewhere as one of Curll’s authors, “a Pindaric writer in red stockings.” Philips played his cards sufficiently well to extract some very fair Irish sinecures from the dominant whig party, but he did not live to “enjoy them.” The poems of Philips which please best, says Johnson, are “those which from Pope or Pope’s adherents procured him the name of Namby-Pamby, the poems of short lines by which he paid his court to all ages and characters, from Walpole, the steerer of the realm, to Miss Pulteney in the nursery.” Henry Carey, the author of Sally in our Ally, mocked Philips under this name, and Swift called his pretty waxworks “little flams.” But the machinations of Pope managed to raise a perfect storm of ridicule, which, in numberless parodies and broadsides, broke over the “new versification,” as it was called. The line generally consists of three trochees, followed by an extrastressed monosyllabic foot. Many critics have pronounced these sweetmeats delightful, though cloying; and, it must be granted, in spite of ridicule, that Philips had a genuine sensibility and a kindness for the elder music in English poetry which is to his credit and which his age, for the most part, ignored. In 1723, he brought out A Collection of Old Ballads, including Robin Hood, Johnny Armstrong and the famous Children in the Wood, much belauded by Addison. The ballads are, in the main, bad versions derived from current broadsides; but the collection, such as it was, was one of the earliest of its kind. His only play of any note, The Distressed Mother, was derived immediately from Racine’s Andromaque. He died in Hanson street, London, on 18 June, 1749. His poems, with a dedication to the duke of Newcastle, had been published in the year before his death.