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found of which the last edition differs more from the first. Amongst other changes, mention is made of some compositions of Dryden, which were written after the first appearance of the Essay.
At the time when this work first appeared, Milton's fame was not yet fully established, and therefore Tasso and Spenser were set before him. The two last lines were these. The Epic Poet, says he,
Must above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
The last line in succeeding editions was shortened, and the order of names continued; but now Milton is at last advanced to the highest place, and the passage thus adjusted,
Must above Tasso's lofty flights prevail,
Amendments are seldom made without some token of a rent : lofty does not suit Tagso so well as Milton,
One celebrated line seems to be borroved. The Essay calls a perfect character
A faultless monster which the world ne'er saw.
Scaliger in his poems, terms Virgil sine labe monstrum. Sheffield can scarcely be supposed to have read Scaliger's poetry, perhaps he found the words in a quotation.
Of this Essay, which Dryden has exalted so highly, it may be justly said that the precepts are judicious, sometimes new, and often happily expressed ; but there are, after all the emendations, many weak lines, and some strange appearances of negligence ; as, when he gives the laws of elegy, he insists upon connection and coherence; without which, says he,
"Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will.;
Who would not suppose that Walier's Panegyrick and Denham's Cooper's Hill were Elegies ?
His verses are often insipid; but his memoirs are lively and agreeable; he had the perspicuity and elegance of an historian, but not the fire and fancy
of a poet,
PRI O R.
obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburne in Dorsershire, 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.
He is suposed to have fallen, by his father's death, into the hands of his uncle, a vintner + near Charing-cross, who sent him 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 1682, in his eighteenth year; and it inay be reasonably supposed that he was distinguished among his contemporaries. He became a Bachelor, as is usual, in four years t; and two years afterwards wrote the poem on the Deity, which stands first in his volume.
It is the established practice of that College, to send every year to the earl of Exeter some poems upon sacred subjects, in acknowledgement of a benefaction enjoyed by them from the bounty of his ancestor. On this occasion
* The difficulty of settling Prior's birth-place is great. In the register of his College he is called, at his admission by the President, Matthew Prior of Windburn in Middlesex ; by himself next day, Matthew Prior of Dorsetshire, in which county, not in Middlesex, Windborn, or Wimborne as it stands in the Villeure, is found. When he stood candidate for his fellowship, five years afterwards, he was registered again by himselí as of Middiesex. The last record ought to be preferred, because it was made upon cath. It is observable, that, as a native of Winborne, he is stiled Filius Georgii Prior, Generosi ; not consistently with the common account of the meaniness of his birth. Dr. J.
of Samue! Prior kept the Rummer Tavern near Charing Cross in 1685. The annual feast of the nobility and gentry living in the parish of St. Martin in the fields was held at his house, Oct. 14, that
He was admitted to his Bachelor's degree in 1686, and to his Master's, by mandate, in 1700. Ha were those vertes written, which, though nothing is said of their success seem to have recommended him to some notice ; for his praise of the cours tess'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
The same year he published the City mouse and country Mouse, 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 bought 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.
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 notice, with some degrec of discontent, as it seems, in Prior, who probably knew that his own part of the performance was the best. He had not, however, much reason to complain; for he 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 business, was 30 pleasing ro king William that he made him one of the gentlemen of his bed-chamber; and he is supposed to have passed some of the next years in the quiet cultivation of literature and poetry.
The death of Queen Mary (in 1695) produced a subject for all the writers: perhaps no funeral was ever so poetically attended. Dryden, indeed, as a man discountenanced and deprived, was siient; but scarcely any other maker of verses omitted to bring his tribute of tuneful sorrow, An emula. tion of elegy was universal. Maria's praise was not confined to the English language, but fills a great part of the Musæ Anglicana.
Prior who was both a poet and a courtier, was too diligent 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 of Ryswick (in 1697 *); and next year had the same office at the court of France, where he is said to have been considered with great distinction.
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 Masos ter's actions,” said he, are to be seen every where but in his own house.", The pictures of Le Brun are not only in theinselves sufficiently ostentatious, but were explained by inscriptions so arrogant, that Boilean and Racine thought it necessary to make them more simple.
He was in the following year at Loo with the king ; from whom, after a Jong 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.
This year (1700) produced one of his longest and most splendid compositions, the Carmen Seculare, in which he exhausts all his powers of celebrati
I mean not to accuse him of flatiery; he probably thought all that he writ, and retained as much veracity as can be properly exacted from a poet professedly encomiastie. King William supplied copious materials for either verse or prose. His whole life had been action, and none ever denied him. the resplendent qualities of steady resolution and personal courage. He was really in Prior's mind what he represents him in his verses ; he considered him as a hero, and was accustomed to say, that he praised others in compliance with the fashion, but that in celebrating king William he followed his inclination. To Prior gratitude would dictate praise, which reason would not refuse,
Among the advantages to arise from the future years of William's reign, he mentions a Saciety for useful Arts, and among them
Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,
'Tickell, in his Prospect of Peace, has the same hope of a new academy:
In happy chains our daring language bound,
* He received in September 1697, a present of 200 guineas from the lords justices, for bis trouble in bringing over the treaty of peace. N.
Whether the similitude of those passages which exhibit the same thought on the same occasion proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy to determine. Tickell might have been impressed with his expectation by Swift's Proposal for ascertaining the English Language, then lately published.
In the parliament that met in 1701, he was chosen representative of Ease Grinstead. Perhaps it was about this time that he changed his party; for he voted for the impeachment of those lords who had persuaded the king to the Partition-treaty, & treaty in which he had himself been ministerially employed.
A great part of queen Anne's reign was a time of war, in which there was little employment for negotiators, and Prior had therefore leisure to make or to polish verses.
When the battle of Blenheim called forth all the versemen, Prior, among the rest, took care to shew his delight in the increasing honour of his country by an Epistle to Boilean.
He published, soon afterwards, à volume of poems, with the encomiastic character of his deceased patron the duke of Dorset : it began with the College Exercise, and ended with the Nut-brown Maid.
The battle of Ramilies soon afterwards (in 1706) excited him to another effort of poetry. On this occasion he had fewer or less formidable rivals ; and it would not be easy to name any other composition produced by that event which is now remembered.
Every thing has its day. Through the reigns of William and Anne no prosperous event passed undignified by poetry. In the last war, when France was disgraced and overpowered in every quarter of the globe, when Spain, coming to her assistance, only shared her calamities, and the name of an Englishman was reverenced through Europe, no poet was heard amidst the general acclamation ; the fame of our counsellors and heroes was intrusted to the Gazetteer.
The nation in time grew weary of the war, and the queen grew weary of her ministers. The war was burdensome, and the ministers were insolent, Harley and his friends began to hope that they might, by driving the Whigs from court and from power, gratify at once the
at once the queen and the people. There was now a call for writers, who might convey intelligence of past abuses, and shew the waste of public money, the unreasonable Conduct of the Allies, the avarice of generals, the tyranny of minions, and the general danger of approaching ruin.
For this purpose a páper called the Examiner was periodically published, written as it happened, by any wit of the party, and sometimes as is said by Mrs. Manley. Some are owned by Swift; and one, in ridicule of Garth's verses to Godolphin upon the loss of his place, was written by Prior, and answered by Addison, who appears to have known the author either by conjecture or intelligence". Vol. I. xx