Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Thomas (1708-1774)

PHILLIPS, THOMAS (1708–1774), the biographer of Cardinal Pole, was born at Ickford, Buckinghamshire on 5 July 1708, being descended of a good family. His great-uncle was William Joyner [q. v.] His father was a convert to the Roman catholic religion, in which he was himself brought up. At an early age he was sent to a protestant school, where he supplied the deficiency in religious teaching by studying the ‘Imitation of Christ,’ the ‘Introduction to a Devout Life,’ and the ‘Lives of the Saints.’ His father soon sent him to the college of the English jesuits at St. Omer, where he carried off the prizes in all the schools. When he had completed his course of rhetoric he entered the novitiate at Watten on 7 Sept. 1726, and he made the simple vows of the Society of Jesus on 8 Sept. 1728. He was then removed to the English College at Liège to study a triennial course of philosophy. Soon after his admission to holy orders his father died, leaving him a fortune which ‘placed him above dependence.’ He travelled through the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy, visiting the universities, and forming many useful friendships.

Towards the end of the third year of his philosophical course, viz. on 17 July 1731, while still retaining the fixed resolution to abide in the Society of Jesus, he made a voluntary renunciation of his actual and contingent property in favour of the college at Liège and of the provincial father, John Turberville. Being passionately fond of classical literature, he subsequently, in the second year of his course of divinity, sought permission from his superiors to conduct a course of humanities at St. Omer. The institute of the society enjoins indifference respecting employments, and his petition was rejected. The refusal piqued his vanity, and on 4 July 1733 he withdrew from the society, though his affection for it suffered no diminution.

He now proceeded to Rome, where Father Henry Sheldon, rector of the English College, introduced him to Prince Charles Edward, who procured for him the appointment to a canonry at Tongres (1 Sept. 1739), with a dispensation to enjoy the proceeds of it while serving the English mission. After his return to England he officiated as chaplain to George, fourteenth earl of Shrewsbury; then to Sir Richard Acton at Aldenham, Shropshire; and subsequently (1763–5) to Mr. Berkeley of Spetchley Park, Worcestershire. Eventually he retired to Liège, where, at his earnest solicitation, he was readmitted to the Society of Jesus on 16 June 1768. He died at Liège in July 1774. Foley says ‘he was a man of eminent piety, and always appeared strongly affected with the idea of the presence of God, particularly in his last illness.’

His principal literary production is:

  1. ‘The History of the Life of Cardinal Pole,’ 2 pts., Oxford, 1764, 8vo (reprinted 2 vols., Dublin, 1765, 12mo); 2nd edition, without author's name on the title-page, 2 vols. London, 1767. Phillips's object in writing this valuable piece of biography was to give to the English nation a correct account of the council of Trent from a Roman catholic point of view. The work excited, on the protestant side, a general alarm, and elicited many replies from Timothy Neve (1724–1798) [q. v.], John Jortin [q. v.], and others. William Cole's ‘Observations’ on the answers to Phillips's book are in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 5831, f. 117 b). Phillips himself appended to his ‘Study of Sacred Literature,’ 1765, ‘An Answer to the principal Objections.’

His other works are:

  1. Lines ‘To the Right Reverend and Religious Dame Elizabeth Phillips [his sister] on her entering the Religious Order of St. Benet, in the Convent of English Dames of the same Order at Gant,’ privately printed, sine loco [1748?], 4to. Reprinted in the ‘European Magazine,’ September 1796, and in the ‘Catholic Magazine and Review,’ Birmingham, March 1833.
  2. ‘A Letter to a Student at a Foreign University on the Study of Divinity, by T. P. s. c. t.’ (i.e. senior canon of Tongres), London, 1756, 8vo, pp. 126; 2nd edit. 1758; 3rd edit., London, 1765, 8vo. This last edition is entitled ‘The Study of Sacred Literature fully stated and considered, in a Discourse to a Student in Divinity.’
  3. ‘Philemon,’ privately printed, sine loco, 1761, 8vo—a pamphlet suppressed by the author containing incidents in his early life.
  4. ‘Censura Commentariorum Cornelii à Lapide,’ in Latin, on a single sheet.
  5. A metrical translation of the ‘Lauda Sion Salvatorem,’ beginning ‘Sion, rejoice in tuneful lays.’

De Backer attributes to him ‘Reasons for the Repeal of the Laws against the Papists,’ by Mr. Berkeley of Spetchley.

His correspondence with William Cole, the antiquary, is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 5831, ff. 101 b–126 b).

[Catholic Mag. and Review, Birmingham, iii. 223, v. 150; Catholic Miscellany, October 1822, p. 443; Chambers's Worcestershire Biogr. p. 436; De Backer's Bibl. de la Compagnie de Jésus, ii. 1939; European Mag. September 1796, p. 169; Foley's Records, v. 855, vii. 596; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), pp. 1849, 1858; Martin's Privately Printed Books, 2nd edit. p. 58; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vii. 319, viii. 384; Oliver's Jesuit Collections, p. 165; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.