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of provoking censure; for, when he forsook the whigs, under whose patronage he first entered the world, he became a tory so ardent and determinate, that he did not willingly consort with men of different opinions. He was one of the sixteen tories who met weekly, and agreed to address each other by the title of brother; and seems to have adhered, not only by concurrence of political designs, but by peculiar affection, to the Earl of Oxford and his family. With how much confidence he was trusted has been already told.

He was, however, in Pope'st opinion, fit only to make verses, and less qualified for business than Addison himself. This was surely said without consideration. Addison, exalted to a high place, was forced into degradation by the sense of his own incapacity: Prior, who was employed by men very capable of estimating his value, having been secretary to one embassy, had, when great abilities were again wanted, the same office another time; and was, after so much experience of his knowledge and dexterity, at last sent to transact a negotiation in the highest degree arduous and important, for which he was qualified, among other requisites, in the opinion of Bolingbroke, by his influence upon the French minister, and by skill in questions of commerce, above other men.

Of his behaviour in the lighter parts of life, it is too late to get much intelligence. One of his answers to a boastful Frenchman has been related; and to an impertinent one he made another equally proper. During his embassy, he sat at the opera by a man, who, in his rapture, accompanied with his own voice the principal singer. Prior fell to railing at the performer with all the terms of reproach that he could collect, till the Frenchman, ceasing from his song, began to expostulate with him for his harsh censure of a man who was confessedly the ornament of the stage. 'I know all that,' says the ambassador, mais il chante si haut, que je ne sçaurois vous entendre.'

In a gay French company, where every one sang a little song or stanza, of which the burden was, 'Bannissons la Melancholie:' when it came to his turn to sing, after the performance of a young lady that sat next him, he produced these extemporary lines:

* Spence.

↑ Ibid.


Mais cette voix, et ces beaux yeux,
Font Cupidon trop dangereux;
Et je suis triste quand je crie,
Bannissons la Melancholie.

Tradition represents him as willing to descend from the dignity of the poet and statesman to the low delights of mean company. His Chloe probably was sometimes ideal; but the woman with whom he cohabited was a despicable drab* of the lowest species. One of his wenches, perhaps Chloe, while he was absent from his house, stole his plate, and ran away; as was related by a woman who had been his servant. Of this propensity to sordid converse I have seen an account so seriously ridiculous, that it seems to deserve insertion.+

'I have been assured that Prior, after having spent the evening with Oxford, Bolingbroke, Pope, and Swift, would go and smoke a pipe, and drink a bottle of ale, with a common soldier and his wife, in Long Acre, before he went to bed; not from any remains of the lowness of his original, as one said, but, I suppose, that his faculties,

-Strain'd to the height,

In that celestial colloquy sublime,

Dazzled and spent, sunk down, and sought repair.'

Poor Prior! why was he so strained, and in such want of repair, after a conversation with men, not, in the opinion of the world, much wiser than himself? But such are the conceits of speculatists, who strain their faculties to find in a mine what lies upon the surface.

His opinions, so far as the means of judging are left us, seem to have been right; but his life was, it seems, irregular, negligent, and sensual.

PRIOR has written with great variety; and his variety has made him popular. He has tried all styles, from the grotesque to the solemn, and has not so failed in any as to incur derision or disgrace.

His works may be distinctly considered, as comprising Tales, Love-verses, Occasional Poems, Alma' and 'Solomon.'

His Tales have obtained general approbation, being written with great familiarity and great sprightliness; the lan

Spence; and see Gent. Mag. vol. lvii. p. 1039.
† Richardsoniana.

guage is easy, but seldom gross, and the numbers smooth, without appearance of care. Of these Tales there are only four. The Ladle;' which is introduced by a preface, neither necessary nor pleasing, neither grave nor merry. 'Paulo Purganti;' which has likewise a preface, but of more value than the Tale. 'Hans Carvel, not over decent; and Protogenes and Apelles,' an old story, mingled, by an affectation not disagreeable, with modern images. The Young Gentleman in Love' has hardly a just claim to the title of a Tale. I know not whether he be the original author of any Tale which he has given us. The adventure of Hans Carvel' has passed through many successions of merry wits; for it is to be found in Ariosto's 'Satires,' and is perhaps yet older. But the merit of such stories is the art of telling them.

In his amorous effusions he is less happy; for they are not dictated by nature or by passion, and have neither gal. lantry nor tenderness. They have the coldness of Cowley, without his wit, the dull exercises of a skilful versifier, re solved at all adventures to write something about Chloe, and trying to be amorous by dint of study. His fictions therefore are mythological. Venus, after the example of the Greek Epigram, asks when she was seen naked and bathing. Then Cupid is mistaken; then Cupid is disarmed; then he loses his darts to Ganymede; then Jupiter sends him a summons by Mercury. Then Chloe goes a hunting, with an ivory quiver graceful at her side; Diana mistakes her for one of her nymphs, and Cupid laughs at the blunder. All this is surely despicable; and even when he tries to act the lover, without the help of gods or goddesses, his thoughts are unaffecting or remote. He talks not 'like a man of this world."

The greatest of all his amorous essays is 'Henry and Emma;' a dull and tedious dialogue, which excites neither esteem for the man, nor tenderness for the woman. The example of Emma, who resolves to follow an outlawed murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive him, deserves no imitation; and the experiment by which Henry tries the lady's constancy, is such as must end either in infamy to her, or in disappointment to himself.

His Occasional Poems necessarily lost part of their value, as their occasions, being less remembered, raised less emo

tion. Some of them, however, are preserved by their inherent excellence. The burlesque of Boileau's Ode on Namur has, in some parts, such airiness and levity as will always procure it readers, even among those who cannot compare it with the original. The epistle to Boileau is not so happy. The poems to the King are now perused only by young students, who read merely that they may learn to write; and of the Carmen Seculare,' I cannot but suspect that I might praise or censure it by caprice, without danger of detection; for who can be supposed to have laboured through it? Yet the time has been when this neglected work was so popular, that it was translated into Latin by no common master.

His poem on the battle of Ramillies is necessarily tedious by the form of the stanza: an uniform mass of ten lines thirty-five times repeated, inconsequential and slightly connected, must weary both the ear and the understanding. His imitation of Spenser, which consists principally in I ween and I weet, without exclusion of later modes of speech, makes his poem neither ancient nor modern. His mention of Mars and Bellona, and his comparison of Marlborough to the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter, are all puerile and unaffecting; and yet more despicable is the long tale told by Lewis in his despair, of Brute and Troy. novante, and the teeth of Cadmus, with his similes of the raven and eagle, and wolf and lion. By the help of such easy fictions, and vulgar topics, without acquaintance with life, and without knowledge of art or nature, a poem of any length, cold and lifeless like this, may be easily written on any subject.

In his Epilogues to Phædra' and to 'Lucius' he'is very happily facetious; but in the prologue before the Queen, the pedant has found his way, with Minerva, Perseus, and Andromeda.

His Epigrams and lighter pieces are, like those of others, sometimes elegant, sometimes trifling, and sometimes dull; amongst the best are the Camelion,' and the epitaph on John and Joan.

Searcely any one of our poets has written so much and translated so little: the version of Callimachus is sufficiently licentious; the paraphrase on St. Paul's Exhortation to Charity is eminently beautiful.

'Alma' is written in professed imitation of 'Hudibras," and has at least one accidental resemblance: 'Hudibras' wants a plan, because it is left imperfect; 'Alma' is imperfect, because it seems never to have had a plan. Prior appears not to have proposed to himself any drift or design, but to have written the casual dictates of the present mo


What Horace said, when he imitated Lucilius, might be said of Butler by Prior; his numbers were not smooth or neat. Prior excelled him in versification: but he was, like Horace, inventore minor: he had not Butler's exuberance of matter and variety of illustration. The spangles of wit which he could afford he knew how to polish; but he wanted the bullion of his master. Butler pours out a negligent profusion, certain of the weight, but careless of the stamp. Prior has comparatively little, but with that little he makes a fine show. Alma' has many admirers, and was the only piece among Prior's works, of which Pope said that he should wish to be the author.

'Solomon' is the work to which he intrusted the protection of his name, and which he expected succeeding ages to regard with veneration. His affection was natural; it had undoubtedly been written with great labour; and who is willing to think that he has been labouring in vain? He had infused into it much knowledge and much thought; had often polished it to elegance, often dignified it with splendour, and sometimes heightened it to sublimity: he perceived in it many excellences, and did not discover that it wanted that without which all others are of small avail, the power of engaging attention and alluring curiosity.

Tediousness is the most fatal of all faults: negligences or errors are single and local, but tediousness pervades the whole; other faults are censured and forgotten, but the power of tediousness propagates itself. He that is weary the first hour, is more weary the second; as bodies forced into motion contrary to their tendency pass more and more slowly through every successive interval of space.

Unhappily this pernicious failure is that which an author is least able to discover. We are seldom tiresome to ourselves; and the act of composition fills and delights the mind with change of language and succession of images; every couplet when produced is new, and novelty is the great

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