In 1725-26 the English poet, Ambrose Philips, chiefly noted for his pastoral poems, published some simple pieces addressed to the infant children of his friends, Lord John Carteret and Daniel Pulteny.
These little poems, though charming, would probably have attracted little attention had it not been for Alexander Pope.
Some years earlier Pope and Philips had become bitter enemies, and Pope, with his gift for satire, lost no opportunity to hold Philips up to ridicule.
On this occasion, however, it was a friend of Pope’s, the poet Henry Carey, who opened the attack. Philips’ poems were, perhaps, somewhat sentimental. Carey seized upon that feature and wrote a parody upon the verses that he thought most insipid.
His title, “Namby Pamby,” he took from “Amby,” the diminutive of Ambrose, with the initial of Philips suggesting the alliterative. Pope carried the name further into the language when he republished his Dunciad in 1733.
Through the wide popularity of the latter, namby-pamby came to denote anything, especially of a literary nature, that was sweetly sentimental.