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They had already printed their report; and in this examination were endeavouring to find proofs.
He continued thus confined for some time; and Mr. Walpole (June 10, 1715) moved for an impeachment against him. What made him so acrimonious does not appear; he was by nature no thirster for blood. Prior was a week after committed to close custody, with orders that no person should be admitted to see him without leave from the Speaker.” When, two years after, an Act of Grace was passed, he was excepted, and continued still in custody, which he had made less tedious by writing his “ Alma.” He was, however, soon after discharged. He had now his liberty, but he had nothing else. Whatever the profit of his employments might have been, he had always spent it; and at the age of fifty-three was, with all his abilities, in danger of penury, having yet no solid revenue but from the fellowship of his college, which, when in his exaltation he was censured for retaining it, he said he could live upon at last. Being, however, generally known and esteemed, he was encouraged to add other poems to those which he had printed, and to publish them by subscription. The expedient succeeded by the industry of many friends, who circulated the proposals, and the care of some who, it is said, withheld the money from him lest he should squander it. The price of the volume was two guineas ; the whole collection was four thousand ; to which Lord Harley, the son of the Earl of Oxford, to whom he had invariably adhered, added an equal sum for the purchase of Down Hall, which Prior was to enjoy during life, and Harley after his decease. He had now, what wits and philosophers have often wished, the power of passing the day in contemplative tranquillity. But it seems that busy men seldom live long in a state of quiet. It is not unlikely that his health declined. He complains of deafness ; "for,” says he, “ I took little care of my ears while I was not sure if my head was my own."
Of any occurrences of his remaining life I have found no account. In a letter to Swift, “I have,” says he, “treated Lady Harriot, at Cambridge (a Fellow of a College treat !) and spoke verses to her in a gown and cap! What, the plenipotentiary, so far concerned in the damned peace at Utrecht; the man that makes up half the volume of terse prose, that makes up the report of the committee, speaking verses! Sic est, homo sum.”
He died at Wimpole, a seat of the Earl of Oxford, on the 18th of September, 1721, and was buried in Westminster; where on a monument, for which, as the “last piece of human vanity," he left five hundred pounds, is engraven this epitaph :
Sui Teinporis Historiam meditanti,
Paulatim obrepens Febris
Hagæ anno 1690 celebrata,
Postremo ab ANNA,
Ad LUDOVICUM XIV. Galliæ Regem
Missus anno 1711
De Pace stabiliendå
(Pace etiam num durante
Cum summâ potestate Legatus;
Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis
Virum denique auxit, et perfecit,
Ita natus, ita institutus,
Haud infeliciter tentaret,
Quam nullo illi labore constiterint,
Aptè varie copiosèque alluderet,
Ita suos tandem dubios reliquit,
Of Prior, eminent as he was, both by his abilities and station, very few memorials have been left by his contemporaries ; the account, therefore, must
destitute of his private character and familiar practices. He lived at a time when the rage of party detected all which it was any man's interest to hide ; and, as little ill is heard of Prior, it is certain that not much was known. He was not afraid 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's 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 own 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 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 Mélancolie,” when it came to his turn to sing, after the performance of a young lady that sat next him, he produced these extemporary lines :
“Mais cette voix, et ces beaux yeux,
Font Cupidon trop dangereux,
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 his 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
-strained 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