Philips, Ambrose (1674–1749), official and writer, was born in Shropshire, England, son of Ambrose Philips, cloth manufacturer, and his wife Margaret, née Brookes. He attended Shrewsbury school and St John's College, Cambridge. He was a fellow of St John's (1699–1708), and seems to have taken deacon's orders, but left academic life to travel in Europe, possibly on government business. He is known to have seen service in the army in Spain, and on his return to London became part of the intellectual and social life centred on the coffeehouses there. He had written a number of pastoral poems while at university, and in Copenhagen (1709) produced a verse ‘Epistle to the earl of Dorset’, in which he vividly described the winterbound northern landscape. This, his best piece, was praised even by the poet Alexander Pope, who had bitterly resented it when Philips's pastorals were noticed in the Guardian, a paper edited by Richard Steele (qv). Pope took his revenge on both Philips and Steele by sending to the paper an anonymous mock critique of pastoral poetry, in which he ironically contrasted his own work with that of Philips. Steele was taken in and published it; the vicious cleverness of the attack and especially Pope's cruelly chosen quotations ended any hope Philips had of maintaining a reputation in pastoral poetry. The two men were supported by opposing political factions, and spent their lives thereafter in what Dr Samuel Johnson called ‘a perpetual reciprocation of malevolence’ (Johnson, quoted in Waller). Philips is now remembered chiefly because of Pope's ferocious attacks on him in several satirical poems, though in his own day his tragedy ‘The distressed mother’ (1711–12), based on Racine's ‘Andromaque’, had some success. He also edited and largely wrote a newspaper, the Freethinker (1718–19), which was republished three times in three volumes.
Philips was secretary of the Hanover Club, a society that met to support the eventual Hanoverian succession to the crown of England, and when one of his colleagues in that group and in the Freethinker, Hugh Boulter (qv), became archbishop of Armagh, Philips accompanied him to Ireland in 1724 as secretary. Boulter returned Philips to parliament for Armagh borough (1727–49). He was also made a judge of the prerogative court, and was a founder member of the Dublin Society in 1731. He and Jonathan Swift (qv) had been friends, but Swift came to regard him with disfavour because of Addison's support and Pope's enmity.
During his time in Ireland Philips wrote fawning verses in praise of several infant children, including the daughters of John Carteret (qv), the lord lieutenant. Though some Victorian critics felt that the simple diction matched the subjects, contemporaries disapproved of the sentimental and mellifluous style, taking particular exception to Philips's phrase ‘dimply darling’. In a 1725 parody by Henry Carey, the term ‘namby-pamby’, derived from Philips's Christian name, was first used. Philips returned to London in 1747 and died there at his lodgings in Hanson St., on 18 June 1749, after a stroke.