PHILLIPS, STEPHEN (1868- ), British poet and dramatist, was born on the 28th of July 1868 at Somertown near Oxford, the son of the Rev. Stephen Phillips, precentor of Peterborough, Cathedral. He was educated at Stratford and Peterborough Grammar Schools, and entered Queen's College, Cambridge; but during his first term at Cambridge, when F. R. Benson's dramatic company visited the town, he joined it, and for six years played various small parts. In 1890 a slender volume of verse was published at Oxford with the title Primavera, which contained contributions by him and by his cousin Laurence Binyon and others. In 1894 he published Eremus, a long poem of loose structure in blank verse of a philosophical complexion. In 1896 appeared Christ in Hades, forming with a few other short pieces one of the slim paper-covered volumes of Elkin Mathews's " Shilling Garland." This poem arrested the attention of watchful critics of poetry, and when it was followed by a collection of Poems in 1897 the writer's position as a new poet of exceptional gifts was generally recognized. This volume contained a new edition of " Christ in Hades," together with " Marpessa," " The Woman with the Dead Soul," " The Wife " and shorter pieces, including the fine lines " To Milton, Blind." The volume won the prize of 100 offered by the Academy newspaper for the best new book of its year, ran through half a dozen editions in two years, and established Mr Phillips's rank as poet, which was sustained by the publication in the Nineteenth Century in 1898 of his poem " Endymion." George Alexander, the actor-manager, moved perhaps by a certain clamour among the critics for a literary drama, then commissioned Mr Phillips to write him a play, the result being Paolo and Francesca (1900), a drama founded on Dante's famous episode. Encouraged by the great success of the drama in its literary form, Mr Alexander produced the piece at the St James's Theatre in the course of 1901. In the meantime, Mr Phillips's next play, Herod: a Tragedy, had been produced by Beerbohm Tree on the 3151 of October 1900, and was published as a book in 1901 ; Ulysses, also produced by Beerbohm Tree, was published in 1902; The Sin of David, a drama on the story of David and Bathsheba, translated into the times and terms of Cromwellian England, was published in 1904; and Nero, produced by Beerbohm Tree, was published in 1906. In these plays the poet's avowed aim was, instead of attempting to revive the method of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, to revitalize the method of Greek drama. Paolo and Francesca (which admitted certainly one scene on an Elizabethan model) was the most successful, the subject being best adapted to the lyrical cast of Mr Phillips's poetical temperament ; but all contained fine poetry, skilfully stage-managed by a writer who had practical experience of stage craft.
See the section on Stephen Phillips in Poets of the Younger Generation, by William Archer (1902); also the articles on " Tragedy and Mr Stephen Phillips," by William Watson, in the Fortnightly Review (March 1898); " The Poetry of Mr Stephen Phillips," in the Edinburgh Review (January 1900) ; " Mr Stepuen Phillips," in the Century (January 1901), by Edmund Gosse; and " Mr Stephen Phillips," in the Quarterly Review (April 1902), by Arthur Symons.
For bibliography up to July 1903, see English Illustrated Magazine new series, vol. xxix. p. 442.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)