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ATTHEW PRIOR is one of those that have burst out
from an obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburne in Dorsetshire, of I know not what parents; others say that he was the son of a Joiner of London': he was perhaps willing enough to leave his birth unsettled?, in hope, like Don Quixote, that the historian
of his actions might find him some illustrious alliance 3. 2 He is supposed to have fallen by his father's death into the hands of his uncle, a vintner* near Charing-cross, who sent him
I 'The son of Mr. George Prior, Middlesex. The last record ought Citizen of London, by trade a joiner, to be preferred, because it was made and was born there in 1664.' Life of upon oath. It is observable that, as Prior, by Samuel Humphreys; Prior's a native of Winborne, he is styled Poemson Several Occasions, 1733,iii. I. Filius Georgii Prior, generosi; not
'He was the son of a reputable consistently with the common accitizen of London, where he was count of the meanness of his birth. born July 21, 1664. Prior's History JOHNSON. of my own Time, 1740, p. 2; a work, * In the Admission Register of St. says the title-page, compiled from John's, ii. 92, we read "Matthaeus the original MSS. of Prior, revised Prior Dorcestr," altered by a later and signed by himself, and copied hand to “Middlesexiensis.". N. & fair for the press by Adrian Drift, his 9.6 $. ix. 209. For the local tradiexecutor.' It was published after the tion in favour of his having been death of Drift, who was his Secretary. born at Wimborne' see Mr. Austin With the exception of Prior's account Dobson's Prior, 1889, p. 205. of his examination before a Parlia 3. Perhaps the sage who writes mentary Committee (post, PRIOR, my history may so brighten up my 34) it contains little but State Papers. kindred and genealogy that I may The editor was so ignorant that he be found the fifth or sixth in descent calls this Committee a Committee of fromaking.' Don Quixote, 1820, 1.234. the Privy Council.
'Burns, wrote Cowper, ‘is, I beThe difficulty of settling Prior's lieve, the only poet these kingdoms birth-place is great. In the register have produced in the lower rank of of his College he is called, at his ad lifesince Shakespeare (I should rather mission by the President, Matthew say since Prior) who need not be Prior of Winburn in Middlesex ; by indebted for any part of his praise himself next day Matthew Prior of to a charitable consideration of his Dorsetshire, in which county, not in origin, and the disadvantages under Middlesex, Winborn, or Wimborne, which he has laboured.' Southey's as it stands in the Villare (ante, Cowper, vi. 54. ROWE, I n.), is found. When he 4 My uncle, rest his soul! when stood candidate for his fellowship living five years afterwards he was re Might have contrived me ways of gistered again by himself as of thriving ;
for some time to Dr. Busby' at Westminster ; but, not intending to give him any education beyond that of the school, took him, when he was well advanced in literature, to his own house, where the earl of Dorset, celebrated for patronage of genius“, found him by chance, as Burnet relates, reading Horace, and was so well pleased with his proficiency that he undertook the care and cost of his academical education ?
He entered his name in St. John's College at Cambridge in 3 1682, in his eighteenth year; and it may be reasonably supposed that he was distinguished among his contemporaries. He became a Bachelor, as is usual, in four years; and two years afterwards wrote the poem on the Deity, which stands first in his volume 6.
It is the established practice of that College to send every year 4 to the earl of Exeter some poems upon sacred subjects, in acknowledgment of a benefaction enjoyed by them from the bounty of his ancestor?. On this occasion were those verses
Taught me with cyder to replenish Prior, sooner than I found myself
My vats, or ebbing tide of Rhenish. obliged to his [the Earl's) favour.' PRIOR, An Epistle to F. Shephard, Eng. Poets, xxxii. 137. Eng. Poets, xxxii. 160.
He had been removed from school See Wheatley's Pepys, i. 42, Feb. when he was in the third form. He 3, 1660, for Pepys taking his cousin, was sent back, 'the Earl paying for a barrister, out of Westminster Hall his books and his uncle for his clothes, 'to Prior's, the Rhenish Wine House.' until he became a King's scholar in Seealso Prior's Selected Poems, 1889,p. 1681. Dict. Nat. Biog. xlvi. 397. 207, where the question of the locality 4 Malone quotes the following from of the tavern in which Prior was an unpublished MS. in Prior's writemployed is exhaustively treated by ing: I felt this impulse (to write Mr. Austin Dobson. Theold Rummer verses] very soon, and shall continue Tavern near Charing Cross was kept to feel it as long as I can think. I by one Samuel Prior in 1685. NI remember nothing farther in life than CHOLS, Johnson's Works, viii. 1.] that I made verses. I chose Guy of Ante, DRYDEN, 4.
Warwick for my first hero, and killed . Ante, DORSET, 13.
Colborn the Giant before I was big Burnet describes him as one enough for Westminster. ... I was Prior,' and continues:–He had been bred in a College where prose was taken a boy out of a tavern by the morein fashion than verse.' Malone's Earl of Dorset, who found him read- Dryden, i. 546. ing Horace, and he, being very gene
He obtained a scholarship on rous, gave him an education in litera entering, and a fellowship (post, ture. History, iv. 276.
PRIOR, 40) in 1688. Dict. Nat. Biog. ' He probably was the Duke of xlvi. 397-8. Dorset's brother.' HORACE WAL 6 Eng. Poets, xxxii. 145. POLE, Letters, ii. 160. There is no [Lord Burghley founded in 1581 evidence to support this probability. two exhibitions at St. John's College. CUNNINGHAM." The Duke was the A sermon in which the gift is to be Earl's son.
declared is preached annually by a 'I scarce knew what life was,' writes member of the College at Hatfield
written, which, though nothing is said of their success, seem to have recommended him to some notice; for his praise of the countess's musick and his lines on the famous picture of Seneca ? afford reason for imagining that he was more or less conversant
with that family. 5 The same year he published The City Mouse and Country
Mouse 3, to ridicule Dryden's Hind and Panther, in conjunction with Mr. Montague. There is a story of great pain suffered and of tears shed on this occasion by Dryden, who thought it hard that an old man should be so treated by those to whom he had always been civil. By tales like these is the envy raised by superior abilities every day gratified: when they are attacked, every one hopes to see them humbled; what is hoped is readily believed, and what is believed is confidently told. Dryden had been more accustomed to hostilities than that such enemies should break his quiet, and if we can suppose him vexed it
would be hard to deny him sense enough to conceal his uneasiness 4. 6 The City Mouse and Country Mouse procured its authors more
solid advantages than the pleasure of fretting Dryden; for they were both speedily preferred. Montague, indeed, obtained the first notices, with some degree of discontent, as it seems, in Prior, who probably knew that his own part of the performance was the best 6. He had not, however, much reason to complain; for he and at Stamford. The preacher pre been very civil to, to use an old man sents copies of Latin and Greek verses in misfortunes in so cruel a manner !' written by scholars. Camb. Univ. —and he wept as he said it" (Spence's Cal. 1902-3, p. 821.]
Anec. p. 61). Malone's Dryden, i. To the Countess of Exeter playing 199. Dryden was fifty-seven years on the Lute. It contains the follow old in 1688. ing couplet :
In the MS. quoted above Prior Some cherub finishes what you be writes:- From the prospect of some gun,
little fortune to be made, and friendAnd to a miracle improves a tune.' ship to be cultivated with the great
Eng. Poets, xxxii. 155. men, I did not launch much into satire, : On a Picture of Seneca dying in which, however agreeable for the prea Bath. By Jordain [Jordaens). At sent to the writers or encouragers of the Earlof Exeter's at Burleigh House. it, does in time do neither of them Ib. p. 156.
good.' 16. i. 545. 3 The Deity was written in 1688, 5 Ante, HALIFAX, 5. but The City Mouse in 1687. Ante, 6 Prior ends his first Epistle to HALIFAX, 5. See also ante, DRYDEN, Shephard (Eng. Poets, xxxii. 161) as 127, 288; Prior's Poems, 1733, iii. 169. follows:
*This,' writes Malone, 'is not “There's one thing more I had a traditional tale. Dr. Lockier re almost slipt,
[script: lated it to Spence. His words were: But that may do as well in post-"I have heard Dryden say:-'For My friend Charles Montague's pretwo young fellows that I have always
came to London, and obtained such notice that (in 1691) he was sent to the Congress at the Hague as secretary to the embassy. In this assembly of princes and nobles, to which Europe has perhaps scarcely seen any thing equal, was formed the grand alliance against Lewis"; which at last did not produce effects proportionate to the magnificence of the transaction.
The conduct of Prior in this splendid initiation into public 7 business was so pleasing to king William, that he made him one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber"; and he is supposed to have passed some of the next years in the quiet 3 cultivation of literature and poetry.
The death of queen Mary in 1695) produced a subject for all 8 the writers: perhaps no funeral was ever so poetically attended. Dryden, indeed, as a man discountenanced and deprived, was silent; but scarcely any other maker of verses omitted to bring his tribute of tuneful sorrow 4. An emulation of elegy was universal. Maria's praise was not confined to the English language, but fills a great part of the Musæ Anglicanæ5.
Prior, who was both a poet and a courtier, was too diligent 9 to miss this opportunity of respect. He wrote a long ode, which was presented to the king, by whom it was not likely to be ever read.
In two years he was secretary to another embassy at the treaty 10 of Ryswick (in 1697)?; and next year had the same office at the Nor would I have it long observ'd more appear in the fourth volume, That one mouse eats, while t'other's 1694. All these eight poems are starv'd.'
included in English Poets.] * Macaulay's Hist. vi. 6.
It was lamented by Pomfret · Biog. Brit. P. 3440.
(Eng. Poets, xvii. 48); Stepney (ib. Quiet' is not in the first edition. xvii. 193); Prior (ib. xxxii
. 200); Prior was at the Hague on April 2, Congreve (ib. xxxiv. 131; post, ConN.S. 1694. Cata. of MSS. in Record GREVE, 13); Addison (ante, ADDISON, Office Museum, p. 85. In The Secre 14); A. Philips (post, PHILIPS, 1); tary (1696) he describes himself as and by Steele (H. R. Montgomery's 'In a little Dutch chaise on a Satur Steele, i. 6). day night;
In the three volumes there are On my left hand my Horace, a six elegies on Mary, eight on Anne, Nymph on my right.'
and eight on her son, the Duke of Eng. Poets, xxxii. 232. Gloucester. In June 1697 he wrote from the Ante, ADDISON, 17; post, BLACKHague:-The King has named me MORE, 12; YALDEN, 4. Prior,' his secretary in Ireland.' Cunning wrote Hughes in 1718, omitted this ham's Lives of the Poets, iii. 426; post, ode in the late edition of his poems.' PRIOR, 44.
Hughes Corres. i. 205. [In the third volume of Dryden's 7 The treaty was signed on Sept. Miscellany Poems, 1693, are included II, 1697. 'A sloop was in waiting six poems under Prior's name. Two for Prior. He hastened on board,
court of France, where he is said to have been considered with
great distinction. 11
As he was one day surveying the apartments at Versailles, being shewn the Victories of Lewis painted by Le Brun, and asked whether the king of England's palace had any such decorations, “The monuments of my Master's actions, said he, 'are to be seen everywhere but in his own house',' The pictures of Le Brun are not only in themselves sufficiently ostentatious, but were explained by inscriptions so arrogant, that Boileau and
Racine thought it necessary to make them more simple ?. 12 He was in the following year at Loo 3 with the king, from
whom, after a long audience, he carried orders to England, and upon his arrival became under-secretary of state in the earl of Jersey's office*; a post which he did not retain long, because Jersey was removed: but he was soon made commissioner of
Trade 5. 13 This year (1700) produced one of his longest and most splendid
and on the third day... landed on the 4 Prior wrote to Dorset from Paris coast of Suffolk. ... In the afternoon in Dec. 1698 :'I am weary of this of the thirteenth of September some dancing on the high-rope in spangled speculators in the City received by breeches; and if my Lord Jersey be a private channel, certain intelligence Secretary of State I'll endeavour to that the treaty had been signed before get home, and seat myself in a desk dawn on the morning of the eleventh. in his office.' Cunningham's Lives ... On the next day Prior, with the of the Poets, iii. 428. treaty, presented himself before the In his Carmen Seculare for the Lords Justices at Whitehall. Mac Year 1700, he foretells that Jersey aulay's Hist. vii. 437. 'Prior re shall receive the Garter. Addressing ceived from them a reward of 200 Windsor he says:guineas.' NICHOLS, Johnson's Works, 'Jersey shall at thy altars stand;
Shall there receive thy azure band.' 1 The French courtier asked Mr.
Eng. Poets, xxxii. 307. Prior whether King William's actions In Collins's Peerage there is no were also to be seen in his palace. mention of a Garter conferred on the “No, Sir," replied the English Se Earl. cretary, “the monuments,&c." OLD 5 In 1700. Post, PRIOR, 44. MIXON, Hist. of Eng. 1735, 178. Burke, speaking in 1780 on the
: 'Les inscriptions doivent être clause in his Establishment Bill for simples, courtes, et familières. La abolishing the Board of Trade, expompe, ni la multitude des paroles claimed :- Alas, poor clause ! if it n'y valent rien, et ne sont point pro be thy fate to be put to death, thou pres au style grave, qui est le vrai shalt be gloriously entombed; thou style des inscriptions...."Le passage shalt lie under a splendid mausodu Rhin" dit beaucoup plus que “le leum. The corners of thy cenotaph merveilleux passage du Rhin.". Boi shall be supported by Locke, by LEAU, Euvres, iii. 73.
Addison [ante, ADDISON, 25), by 3 For Loo see Macaulay's Hist. ii. Prior, and by Molesworth.' Pari. 440, and for the Second Treaty of Hist. xxi. 236. For Gibbon as a Partition negotiated there in 1699 see Lord of Trade see his Memoirs, ib. viii. 186.
pp. 207, 322.