Katherine Philips (16311664)



  • Poet
  • Translator


  • Katherine Philips
  • Katherine Fowler
  • Orinda

Biographical details

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Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

PHILIPS, KATHERINE (1631–1664), verse-writer, daughter of John Fowler, a merchant of Bucklersbury, in the city of London, and Katherine, his wife, third daughter of Dr. John Oxenbridge was born in the parish of St. Mary Woolchurch on 1 Jan. 1631, and was there baptised on 11 Jan. following. She owed her early education to a cousin, a Mrs. Blacket, and at the age of eight was sent to a then fashionable boarding school at Hackney, kept by Mrs. Salmon. Mrs. Fowler, after the death of her husband, married Hector Philips of Porth Eynon, and her daughter became, in 1647, the second wife of James Philips of the Priory, Cardigan, the eldest son of Hector Philips by a former marriage. Katherine Philips, after her marriage, divided her time between London and her husband's house at Cardigan. She gathered about her a society of friendship, the members of which were distinguished by various fanciful names, her husband appearing as Antenor, Sir Edward Dering as Silvander, and Jeremy Taylor as Palæmon. She herself adopted the pseudonym of Orinda, by which, with the addition of the epithet ‘matchless,’ she became widely known to her contemporaries. From early life of studious habits, she devoted herself to the composition of verses. Her earliest verses to appear in print were those prefixed to the poems of Henry Vaughan, 1651, and to the collected edition of Cartwright of the same year. Other verses, handed about in manuscript, secured her a considerable reputation; and when, in 1662, she journeyed to Dublin to prosecute a claim of her husband to certain lands in Ireland, she was received with great consideration in the family of the Countess of Cork. While in Dublin she became acquainted with Lord Roscommon and the Earl of Orrery, and the approval of the latter encouraged her to complete a translation of Corneille's ‘Pompée,’ which was produced there in the Smock-Alley Theatre with great success in February 1662–1663. The piece was printed in Dublin in 1663, and in London, in two different editions, in the same year. It was followed by a surreptitious and unauthorised edition, dated 1664, of her miscellaneous poems, which caused her so much annoyance that Marriott, the publisher, was induced to express his regret, and his intention to forbear the sale of the book, in an advertisement in the London ‘Intelligencer’ of 18 Jan. 1664. At the height of her popularity Mrs. Philips was seized with smallpox, and died in Fleet Street on 22 June 1664. She was buried in the church of St. Benet Sherehog. She had two children: a son Hector, born in 1647, who lived only forty days; and a daughter Katherine, born 13 April 1656, who married Lewis Wogan of Boulston in Pembrokeshire.

The verses of ‘the matchless Orinda’ were collected and published after her death under the supervision of Sir Charles Cotterel (1667, folio). ‘Pompey’ was included in the volume, and also a portion of a translation of Corneille's ‘Horace,’ which was begun in 1664. There is prefixed a portrait of Mrs. Philips, engraved by Faithorne from a posthumous bust. Many details of the life of Orinda are to be gathered from the ‘Letters of Orinda to Poliarchus’ (Sir Charles Cotterel), printed in 1705, and, with additions, in 1709. The later edition contains a portrait engraved by Vandergucht, apparently from the same bust as that which Faithorne used. Orinda's fame as a poet, always considerably in excess of her merits, did not long survive her, though Keats, writing to J. H. Reynolds in 1817, quoted with approval her verses to ‘Mrs. M. A. at parting.’ Jeremy Taylor addressed to her his ‘Letter on the Measures and Offices of Friendship.’

[Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 434, v. 202; Addit. MS. 24490, f. 426; Curll's Miscellanea, 1727, i. 149; Meyrick's Cardiganshire, p. 101; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 787; Granger's Biogr. Hist. 1779, iii. 103–4; Ballard's Memoirs of British Ladies, p. 201; Edmund Gosse's Seventeenth Century Studies.]

G. T. D.

Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)

PHILIPS, KATHARINE (1631-1664), English poet, daughter of John Fowler, a merchant of Bucklersbury, London, was born on the 1st of January 1631. Her father was a Presbyterian, and Katharine is said to have read the Bible through before she was five years old. On arriving at years of discretion she broke with Presbyterian traditions in both religion and politics, became an ardent admirer of the king and his church policy, and in 1647 married James Philips, a Welsh royalist. Her home at the Priory, Cardigan, became the centre of a "society of friendship," the members of which were known to one another by fantastic names, Mrs Philips being "Orinda," her husband "Antenor," Sir Charles Cotterel "Poliarchus." The "matchless" Orinda, as her admirers called her, posed as the apostle of female friendship. That there was much solid worth under her affectations is proved by the respect and friendship she inspired. Jeremy Taylor in 1659 dedicated to her his "Discourse on the Nature, Offices and Measures of Friendship," and Cowley, Henry Vaughan the Silurist, the earl of Roscommon and the earl of Cork and Orrery all celebrated her talent. In 1662 she went to Dublin to pursue her husband's claim to certain Irish estates, and there she completed a translation of Corneille's Pompée, produced with great success in 1663 in the Smock Alley Theatre, and printed in the same year both in Dublin and London. She went to London in March 1664 with a nearly completed translation of Corneille's Horace, but died of smallpox on the 22nd of June. The literary atmosphere of her circle is preserved in the excellent Letters of Orinda to Poliarchus, published by Bernard Lintot in 1705 and 1709. "Poliarchus" (Sir Charles Cotterel) was master of the ceremonies at the court of the Restoration, and afterwards translated the romances of La Calprenède. Mrs Philips had two children, one of whom, Katharine, became the wife of Lewis Wogan of Boulston, Pembrokeshire. According to Mr Gosse, this lady may have been "Joan Philips," the author of a volume of Female Poems ... written by Ephelia, which are in the style of Orinda, and display genuine feeling with very little reserve.

See E. W. Gosse, Seventeenth Century Studies (1883). Poems, By the Incomparable Mrs K. P. appeared surreptitiously in 1664 and an authentic edition in 1667. Selected Poems, edited with an appreciation by Miss L. I. Guiney, appeared in 1904; but the best modern edition is in Saintsbury's Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (vol. i., 1905).