« PreviousContinue »
long, because Jersey was removed ; but he was The battle of Ramillies soon afterwards (in Boon made commissioner of trade.
1706) excited him to another effort of poetry This year (1700) produced one of his longest | On this occasion he had fewer or less formidaand most splendid compositions, the “ Carmen ble rivals; and it would be not easy to name Seculare,” in which he exhausts all his powers any other composition produced by that event of celebration. I mean not to accuse him of flat- which is now remembered. tery: he probably thought all that he wrote, and Every thing has its day. Through the reigns retained as much veracity as can be properly ex
of William and Anne no prosperous event passacted from a poet professedly encomiastic. King ed undignified by poetry.
In the last war, William supplied copious materials for either when France was disgraced and overpowered in verse or prose. His whole life had been action, every quarter of the globe ; when Spain, coming and none ever denied him the resplendent qua- to her assistance, only shared her calamities, and lities of steady resolution and personal courage. the name of an Englishman was reverenced He was really in Prior's mind what he repre- through Europe, no poet was heard amidst the sents him in his verses ; he considered him as a general acclamation ; the fame of our counselhero, and was accustomed to say that he praised lors and heroes was intrusted to the Gazetteer. others in compliance with the fashion, but that The nation in time grew weary of the war, in celebrating King William he followed his in- and the Queen grew weary of her ministers. clination. To Prior gratitude would dictate The war was burdensome, and the ministers praise which reason would refuse.
were insolent. Harley and his friends began Among the advantages to arise from the fu- hope that they might, by driving the whigs from ture years of William's reign, he mentions a court and from power, gratify at once the Queen Society for useful Arts, and among them and the people. There was now a call for
writers, who might convey intelligence of past Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,
abuses, and show the waste of public money, And to just idioms fix our doubtful speech;
the unreasonable conduct of the allies, the avarThat from our writers distant realms may know The thanks we to our monarchs owe,
ice of generals, the tyranny of minions, and the And schools profess onr tongue through every land general danger of approaching ruin. That has invoked bis aid or bless'd his hand.
For this purpose 'a paper called “ The Exam
iner” was periodically published, written, as it Tickell, in his “ Prospect of Peace," has the happened, by any wit of the party, and somesame hope of a new academy:
times, as is said, by Mrs. Manley. Some are In happy chaids our daring language bound,
owned by Swift; and one, in ridicule of Garth's Shall sport no more in arbitrary sound.
verses to Godolphin upon the loss of his place,
was written by Prior, and answered by AddiWhether the similitude of those passages, which son, who appears to have known the Author exhibit the same thought on the same occasion either by conjecture or intelligence. proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy The tories, who were now in power, were in to determine. Tickell might have been impressed haste to end the war; and Prior, being recalled with his expectation by Swift's “ Proposal for (1710) to his former employment of making treaascertaining the English Language," then lately ties, was sent (July, 1711) privately to Paris published.
with propositions of peace. He was rememberIn the parliament that met in 1701 he was ed at the French court; and, returning in about chosen representative of East Grinstead. Per- a month, brought with him the Abbe Gualtier, haps it was about this time that he changed his and Mr. Mesnager, a minister from France, inparty; for he voted for the impeachment of vested with full powers. those lords who had persuaded the King to the This transaction not being avowed, Mackay, Partition-treaty, a treaty in which he had him- the master of the Dover packet-boat, either self been ministerially employed.
zealously or officiously, seized Prior and his asa A great part of Queen Anne's reign was a sociates at Canterbury. It is easily supposed time of war, in which there was little employ- that they were soon released. ment for negotiators, and Prior had therefore The negotiation was begun at Prior's house, leisure to make or to polish verses. When the where the Queen's ministers met Mesnager battle of Blenheim called forth all the versemen, (September 20, 1711), and entered privately upPrior, among the rest, took care to show bis de- on the great business. The importance of Prior light in the increasing honour of his country by appears from the mention made of him by St. an Epistle to Boileau.
John in bis letter to the Queen. He published soon afterwards a volume of “ My Lord Treasurer moved, and all my poems, with tủe encomiastic character of his de-Lords were of the same opinion, that Mr. Prior ceased patron, the Duke of Dorset; it began should be added to those who are empowered to
I with the College Exercise, and ended with the sign : the reason for which is, because he, having - Nut-brown Maid,"
personally treated with Monsieur de Torcy, is
the best witness we can produce of the sense in our parliament and our people according to their which the general preliminary engagements are resolution at this crisis.” entered into ; besides which, as ba is the best Prior's public dignity and splendour comversed in matters of trade of all your Majesty's menced in August, 1713, and continued till the servants, who have been trusted in this secret, if August following; but I am afraid that, accoryou should think fit to employ him in the future ding to the usual fate of greatness, it was attreaty of commerce, it will be of consequence tended with some perplexities and mortifications. that he has been a party concerned in conclud- | He had not all that is customarily given to aming that convention which must be the rule of bassadors : he hints to the Queen in an imperthis treaty.”
fect poem, that he had no service of plate ; and The assembly of this important night was in it appeared by the debts which he contracted, some degree clandestine, the design of treating that his remittances were not punctually made. not being yet openly declared, and, when the On the first of August, 1714, ensued the whigs returned to power, was aggravated to a downfal of the tories and the degradation of charge of high treason; though, as Prior re- Prior. He was recalled, but was not able to marks in his imperfect answer to the report of return, being detained by the debts which he the Committee of Secrecy, no treaty ever was had found it necessary to contract, and wbich made without private interviews and prelimi- were not discharged before March, though his nary discussions.
old friend Montague was now at the head of the My business is not the history of the peace, Treasury. but the life of Prior. The conferences began at He returned then as soon as he could, and Utrecht on the first of January (1711-12), and was welcomed on the 25th of March* by a warthe English plenipotentiaries arrived on the rant, but was, however, suffered to live in his fifteenth. The ministers of the different poten- own house, under the custody of the messenger, tates conferred and conferred; but the peace ad- till he was examined before a committee of the vanced so slcwly, that speedier methods were privy council, of which Mr. Walpole was found necessary, and Bolingbroke was sent to chairman, and Lord Coningsby, Mr. Stanhope, Paris to adjust differences with less formality: and Mr. Lechmere, were the principal interroPrior either accompanied him or followed him, gators; who, in this examination, of which ánd, after his departure, had the appointments there is printed an account not unentertaining, and authority of an ambassador, though no pub- behaved with the boisterousness of men elated lic character.
by recent authority. They are represented as By some mistake of the Queen's orders, the asking questions sometimes vague, sometimes court of France had been disgusted ; and Bol- insidious, and writing answers different from ingbroke says in his letter, “ Dear Mat, hide those which they received. Prior, however, the nakedness of thy country, and give the best seems to have been overpowered by their turbuturn thy fertile brain will furnish thee with to lence; for he confesses that he signed what, if the blunders of thy countrymen, who are not he had ever come before a legal judicature, he much better politicians than the French are should have contradicted or explained away. poets.”
The oath was administered by Boscawen, a Soon after, the Duke of Shrewsbury went on Middlesex justice who at last was going to write a formal embassy to Paris. It is related by his attestation on the wrong side of the paper. Boyer, that the intention was to have joined They were very industrious to find some Prior in the commission, but that Shrewsbury charge against Oxford; and asked Prior, with refused to be associated with a man so meanly great earnestness, who was present when the born. Prior therefore continued to act without preliminary articles were talked of or signed at a title till the Duke returned next year to his house? He told them, that either the Earl England, and then he assumed the style and of Oxford or the Duke of Shrewsbury was dignity of ambassador.
absent, but he could not remember wbich; an But, while he continued in appearance a answer which perplexed them, because it supprivate man, he was treated with confidence by plied no accusation against either. “ Could any Lewis, who sent him with a letter to the Queen, thing be more absurd,” says he, “or more inwritten in favour of the Elector of Bavaria. human, than to propose to me a question, by " I shall expect,” says he, “ with impatience, the answering of which I might, according to the return of Mr. Prior, whose conduct is very them, prove myself a traitor ? And notwithagreeable to me.” And while the Duke of standing their solemn promise, that nothing Shrewsbury was still at Paris, Bolingbroke which I could say should hurt myself, I had no wrote to Prior thus : “ Monsieur de Torcy has reason to trust them; for they violated that a confidence in you : make use of it, once for promise about five hours after. However, I all, upon this occasion, and convince him thoroughly, that we must give a different turn to
owned I was there present.' Whether this was ! He had now, what wits and philosophers wisely done or not, I leave to my friends to de- have often wished, the power of passing the day términe.”
in contemplative tranquillity.
But it seems When he had signed the paper, he was told that busy men seldom live long in a state of by Walpole, that the committee were not satis- quiet. It is not unlikely that his health defied with his behaviour, nor could give such an clined. He complains of deafness ; “ for,” says account of it to the Commons as might merit he, “ I took little care of my ear3 while I was favour; and that they now thought a stricter con- not sure if my head was my own.” finement necessary than to his own house. Of any occurrences in his remaining life, I “ Here," says he, “ Boscawen played the moral- have found no account. In a letter to Swift, ist, and Coningsby the Christian, but both very “ I have,” says he, “ treated Lady Harriot at awkwardly.” The messenger, in whose custody Cambridge (a fellow of a college treat!) and spoke ne was to be placed, was then called, and very verses to her in a gown and cap! What, the decently asked by Coningsby, “ if his house plenipotentiary, so far concerned in the damned was secured by bars and bolts ?” The messen-peace at Utrecht-the man that makes up half ger answered, “ No !” with astonishment. At the volume of terse prose, that makes up the which Coningsby very angrily said, “ Sir, you report of the committee, speaking verses ! Sic est, must secure this prisoner; it is for the safety of homo sum.' the nation : if he escape you shall answer for He died at Wimpole, a seat of the Earl of it.”
Oxford, on the eighteenth of September, 1721, They had already printed their report; and and was buried in Westminster; where, on a in this examination were endeavouring to find monument for which, as the “last piece of huproofs.
man vanity,” he left five hundred pounds, is He continued thus confined for some time; engraven this epitaph: and Mr. Walpole (June 10, 1715) moved for an impeachment against him. What made him so
Sui Temporis Historiam meditanti, acrimonious does not appear : he was by nature
Paulatim obrepens Febris no thirster for blood. Prior was a week after
peri simul & Vitæ filum abrupit, committed to close custody, with orders that
Sept. 18. An. Dom. 1721. Ætat. 57. “no person should be admitted to see him with
H. S. E. out leave from the speaker."
Serenissimis When two years after, an Act of Grace was
Regi GULIELMO Reginæque MARIR passed, he was excepted, and continued still in
In Congressione Foederatorum custody, which he had made less tedious by
Hagæ, anno 1600, celebrata writing his “ Alma.” He was, however, soon
Deiude Magnæ Britanniæ Legatis, after discharged.
Tum iis He had now his liberty, but he had nothing Qui anno 1897 Pacem RYSWICKI confecerunt, else. Whatever the profit of his employments
Tum iis might have been, he had always spent it; and
Qui apud Gallos annis proximis Legationem
Obierunt; eodem etiam anno 1697 in Hiberni at the age of fifty-three was, with all his abili
SECRETARIUS; ties, in danger of penury, having yet no solid re- Necnon in utroque Honorabili consessu venue but from the fellowship of his college,
Eorum which, when in his exaltation he was censured Qui auno 1700 ordinandis Commercii negotiis for retaining it, he said, he could live upon
Quique anno 1711 dirigendis Portorii rebus, at last.
COMMISSIONARIUS; Being however generally known and esteem
Postremo ed, he was encouraged to add other poems to
Ab ANNA those which he had printed, and to publish
Felicissimæ memoriæ Regina them by subscription. The expedient succeeded
Ad LUDOVICUM XIV. Galliæ Regem by the industry of many friends, who circulated
Missus anno 1711 the proposals, * and the care of some, who, it is
De Pace stabilienda, said, withheld the money from him lest he should
(Pace etiamnum durante
Diuque at boni jam omnes sperant duratura) squander it. The price of the volume was two
Cum summa potestate Legatus; guineas; the whole collection was four thou
MATTHÆUS PRIOR, Armiger: sand; to which Lord Harley, the son of the
Qui Earl of Oxford, to whom he had invariably Hos omnes, quibus cumulatus est, Titulos
dhered, added an equal sum for the purchase of Humanitatis, Ingenii, Eruditionis laude Down-hall, which Prior was to enjoy during
Superavit; life, and Harley after his decease.
Cui enim nascenti faciles arriserant Musæ.
Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis
Virum denique auxit; & perfecit
Multa cum viris Priocipibas consuetudo; of his behaviour in the lighter parts of life,
it is too late to get much intelligence. One of A Vatum Choro avelli nunquam potuit,
his answers to a boastful Frenchman has been Sed solebat sæpe rerum Civilium gravitatem Amoniorum Literarum S:adiis condire :
related; and to an impertinent he made another Et cum omne adeo Poetices genus
equally proper. During his embassy, he sat at Haud infeliciter tentaret,
the opera by a man, who, in his rapture, accomTum in Fabellis concinné lepidéque texendis panied with his own voice the principal singer. Mirus Artifex
Prior fell to railing at the performer with all Neminem habuit parem.
the terms of reproach that he could collect, till Hæc liberalis animi oblectamenta,
the Frenchman, ceasing from his song, began to Quam nullo Illi labore constiterint, Facile ii perepexere quibus usus est Amici;
expostulate with him for his harsh censure of a Apud quos Urbanitatum & Leporum plenus
man who was confessedly the ornament of the Cum ad rem, quæcunque forte inciderat, stage. “I know all that,” says the ambassador, Apte, varie, copiosèque alluderet,
“ mais il chante si haut, que je ne sçaurois vous Interea nihil quæsitum, nihil vi expressum entendre." Videbatur,
In a gay French company, where every one Sed omnia ultro effluere,
sang a little song or stanza, of which the burden Et quasi jugi è fonte affatim exuberars, Ita suos tandem dubios reliquit,
was, “ Bannissons la Melancholie :" when it Essetne in Scriptis Poeta Elegantior
came to his turn to sing, after the performance Au in Convictu Comes Jucundior,
of a young lady that sat next him, he produced
these extemporary lines: Of Prior, eminent as he was, both by his abilities and station, very few memorials have
Mais cette voix, et ces beaux yeux, been left by his contemporaries; the account.
Font Cupidon trop dangereux ; therefore must now be destitute of his private
Et je suis triste quand je crie, character and familiar practices. He lived at
Bannissons la Melancholie. a time when the rage of party detected all which it was any man's interest to hide; and, Tradition represents him as willing to descend as little ill is heard of Prior, it is certain that from the dignity of the poet and statesman to not much was known. He was not afraid of the low delights of mean company. His Chloe provoking censure, for when he forsook the probably was sometimes ideal; but the woman whigs,* under whose patronage he first entered with whom he cohabited was a despicable drab* the world, he became a tory so ardent and de- of the lowest species. One of his wenches, perterminate, that he did not willingly consort haps Chloe, while he was absent from his house, with men of different opinions. He was one
stole his plate, and ran away; as was related by of the sixteen tories who met weekly, and agreed a woman who had been his servant. Of this to address each other by the title of brother; and propensity to sordid converse I have seen an acseems to have adhered, not only by concurrence count so seriously ridiculous, that it seems to of political designs, but by peculiar affection, to deserye insertion.f the Earl of Oxford and his family. With how
“ I have been assured that Prior, after hape much confidence he was trusted has been already ing spent the evening with Oxford, Bolingbroke, told,
Pope, and Swift, would go and smoke a pipe, He was, however, in Pope's* opinion, fit and drink a bottle of ale, with a common soldier only to make verses, and less qualified for and his wife, in Long Acre, before he went to business than Addison himself. This was bed; not from any remains of the lowness of his surely said without consideration. Addison, original, as one said, but, I suppose, that bịs exalted to a high place, was forced into degrada- faculties, tion by the sense of his own incapacity ; Prior, who was employed by men very capable of esti
Strain'd to the height, mating his value, having been secretary to ono
In that celestial colloquy sublime, embassy, had, when great abilities were again Dazzled and spent, sunk down, and sought repair.” wanted, the same office another time; and was, after so much experience of his knowledge and Poor Prior, why was he so strained, and in dexterity, at last sent to transact a negotiation such want of repair, after a conversation with in the highest degree arduous and important, for men, not, in the opinion of the world, much which he was qualified, among other requisites, wiser than himself? But such are the conceits in the opinion of Boling broke, by his influence of speculatists, who strain their faculties to find upon the French minister, and by skill in ques- in a mine what lies upon the surface. tions of commerce above other men.
• Spence; and see Gent. Mag. vol. lvü. p. 1039. Richardsoniana.
His opinions, so far as the means of judging | by which Henry tries the lady's constancy, is are left us, seem to have been right; but his life such as must end either in infamy to her, or in was, it seems, irregular, negligent, and sensual. disappointment to himself.
His Occasional Poems necessarily lost part of Prior has written with great variety; and their value, as their occasions, being less rehis variety has made him popular. He has tried membered, raised less emotion. Some of them, all styles, from the grotesque to the solemn, and however, are preserved by their inherent excelhas not so failed in any as to incur derision or lence. The burlesque of Boileau's Ode on disgrace.
Namur has, in some parts, such airiness and His works may be distinctly considered, as levity as will always procure it readers, even comprising Tales, Love-verses, Occasional among those who cannot compare it with the Poems, “ Alma" and " Solomon."
original. The epistle to Boileau is not so happy. His Tales have obtained general approbation, The poems to the King are now perused only being written with great familiarity and great by young students, who read merely that they sprightliness ; the language is easy, but seldom may learn to write; and of the “ Carmen Secugross, and the numbers smooth, without appear- lare," I cannot but suspect that I might praise ance of care. Of these Tales there are only or censure it by caprice, without danger of defour. « The Ladle;" which is introduced by a tection; for who can be supposed to have lam preface, neither necessary nor pleasing, neither boured through it? Yet the time has been when grave nor merry. “ Paulo Purganti ;” which this neglected work was so popular, that it was has likewise a preface, but of more value than translated into Latin by no common master. the Tale, “ Hans Carvel,” not over decent; His poem on the battle of Ramillies is necesand “ Protogenes and Apelles," an old story, sarily todious by the form of the stanza: an mingled, by an affectation not disagreeable, with uniform mass of ten lines thirty-five times remodern images. “ The Young Gentleman in peated, inconsequential and slightly connected, Love" has hardly a just claim to the title of a must weary both the ear and the understanding. Tale. I know not whether he be the original His imitation of Spenser, which consists prinauthor of any Tale which he has given us. The cipally in I' ween and I weet, without exclusion adventure of “ Hans Carvel" has passed through of later modes of speech, makes his poem many successions of merry wits; for it is to be neither ancient nor modern. His mention of found in Ariosto's “ Satires,
," and is perbaps Mars and Bellona, and his comparison of MarlBut the merit of such stories is the borough to the eagle that bears the thunder of art of telling them.
Jupiter, are all puerile and unaffecting; and yet In his amorous effusions he is less happy; for more despicable is the long tale told by Lewis they are not dictated by nature or by passion, in his despair, of Brute and Troynovante, and and have neither gallantry nor tenderness. the teeth of Cadmus, with his similies of the They have the coldness of Cowley, without bis raven and eagle, and wolf and lion. By the wit, the dull exercises of a skilful versifier, re- help of such easy fictions, and vulgar topics, solved at all adventures to write something without acquaintance with life, and without about Chloe, and trying to be amorous by dint knowledge of art or nature, a poem of any of study. His fictions therefore are mythologi- length, cold and lifeless like this, may be easily cal. Venus, after the example of the Greek written on any subject. Epigram, asks when she was seen naked and In his Epilogues to Phædra and to Lucius he bathing. Th Cupid is mistaken ; then Cupid is very happily facetious; but in the prologue is disarmed; therf he loses his darts to Gany- before the Queen, the pedant has found his way, mede'; then Jupiter sends him a summons by with Minerva, Perseus, and Andromeda. Mercury. Then Chloe goes a hunting, with an His Epigrams and lighter pieces are, like ivory quiver graceful at her side ; Diana mistakes those of others, sometimes elegant, sometimes her for one of her nymphs, and Cupid laughs at trifling, and sometimes dull; amongst the best the blunder. All this is surely despicable; and are the “ Camelion,” and the epitaph on John even when he tries to act the lover, without the and Joan. help of gods or goddesses, his thoughts are un- Scarcely any one of our poets has written so affecting or remote. He talks not “ like a man much and translated so little: the version of of this world.”
Callimachus is sufficiently licentious; the paraThe greatest of all his amorous essays is phrase on St. Paul's Exhortation to Charity is “ Henry and Emma;" a dull and tedious dia- eminently beautiful. logue, which excites neither esteem for the man, “ Alma” is written in professed imitation of nor tenderness for the woman. The example “ Hudibras," and has at least one accidental reof Emma, who resolves to follow an outlawed semblance: “ Hudibras" wants a plan, because murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive it is left imperfect; “ Alma" is imperfect, behim, deserves no imitation; and the experiment cause it seems never to have had a plan. Prior