Philip James Bailey Biography

Philip James Bailey (22 April 1816 – 6 September 1902), English poet, author of Festus, was born at Nottingham.

Its author is known almost exclusively by his one voluminous poem, for though Bailey published other verses he is essentially a man of one book. Festus underwent many changes and incorporations, but it remains a singular example of a piece of work virtually completed in youth, and never supplanted or reinforced by later achievements of its author. It is a vast pageant of theology and philosophy, comprising in some twelve divisions an attempt to represent the relation of God to man and of man to God, to emphasize the benignity of Providence, to preach the immortality of the soul, and to postulate "a gospel of faith and reason combined." It contains fine lines and dignified thought, and for the daring of its theme and the imaginative power and moral altitude which it displays, it is one of the most notable of the century; as the work of one little past boyhood it is a prodigy of intellectual precocity. Along with its great qualities it has many faults in execution, a certain incoherency in the manner in which it is worked out preventing it from being easily readable by any but the most sympathetic student, and its final place in literature remains to be determined. Among its greatest admirers was Tennyson.

The subsequent poems of Bailey, The Angel World (1850), The Mystic (1855), The Age (1858), and The Universal Hymn (1867), were failures, and the author adopted the unfortunate expedient of endeavouring to buoy them up by incorporating large extracts in the later editions of Festus, with the effect only of sinking the latter, which ultimately extended to over 40,000 lines.

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