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Bailey, Philip James

Category: Poet

 

Philip James Bailey (22 April 1816 – 6 September 1902) was an English poet,  best known as the author of Festus, (1839), a version of the Faust legend. Containing 50 scenes of blank-verse dialogue, about 22,000 lines in all, it was first published anonymously. 

But he also wrote some smaller and equally beautiful poems - The Angel World (1850), The Mystic (1855), The Age (1858), and The Universal Hymn (1867), which according to Wikipedia were ‘failures’ presumably judging them on much the same lines as one does a new detergent – success then being equated to sales and money.

They are anything but ‘failures’, as you will be able to see.

Bailey was born on 22 April 1816 in Nottingham, the only son of Thomas Bailey by his first wife, Mary Taylor.

Encyclopedia Britannica

 

Bailey’s father, who himself published both prose and verse, owned and edited from 1845 to 1852 the Nottingham Mercury.

The young Bailey received a local education until his 16th year, when he matriculated at the University of Glasgow. He did not, however, take his degree but moved in 1835 to London and entered Lincoln’s Inn. Without making serious practice of the law, he settled at Basford (in Nottingham) and for three years was occupied with the composition of Festus.

He was associated with the Spasmodic school—poets whose aesthetic, based on Romantic ideas of association and intuition, rejected the restraint of literary form.


 

Whilst in Nottingham he was tutored in classics by Benjamin Carpenter, a Unitarian minister.

This minister appears to have preached a religious but softly applied form of the classics, as there is none of the strident, moralising anywhere in Bailey’s poetry, simply a complete faith in the existence of the spirit world and of ‘God’ or at least some concept of a power that far exceeds  that of puny man. 

Festus, first published anonymously in 1839, and then expanded is a work of both spirit and philosophy, it aimed to describe the relationship of God to man, and to postulate "a gospel of faith and reason combined."  Among the admirers of Festus was Tennyson. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow imitated it in The Golden Legend (1851).

 

In 1836 Bailey moved to his father's house at Old Basford, near Nottingham, where he could simply write without needing to worry about secular things and in 1856 he obtained his reward -  a civil list pension in recognition of his literary work. In 1864 he moved to Jersey, and travelled. In 1876 he returned to England, settling first at Lee near Ilfracombe, and in 1885 at Blackheath. Finally he retired to Nottingham. In June 1901, he received the honorary Doctor of Laws (DLL) from the University of Glasgow.

Bailey died after an attack of influenza on 6 September 1902.

Respect is what we owe; love what we give

 

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