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MATTHEW PRIOR, a distinguished poet, was born | It will not be worth while here to take notice of all in 1664. in London according to one account, his changes in the political world, except to mention according to another at Winborne, in Dorsetshire. the disgraces which followed the famous congress His father dying when he was young, an uncle, of Utrecht, in which he was deeply engaged. For who was a vintner, or tavern-keeper, at Charing-the completion of that business he was left in Cross, took him under his care, and sent him to France, with the appointments and authority of an Westminster-school, of which Dr. Busby was ambassador, though without the title, the proud then master. Before he had passed through the Duke of Shrewsbury having refused to be joined in school, his uncle took him home, for the purpose commission with a man so meanly born. Prior, of bringing him into his own business; but the however, publicly assumed the character till he Earl of Dorset, a great patron of letters, having was superseded by the earl of Stair, on the accesfound him one day reading Horace, and being sion of George I. The Whigs being now in power, pleased with his conversation, determined to give he was welcomed, on his return, by a warrant from him an university education. He was accordingly the House of Commons, under which he was comadmitted of St. John's College, Cambridge, in mitted to the custody of a messenger. He was ex1682, proceeded bachelor of arts in 1686, and was amined before the Privy Council respecting his soon after elected to a fellowship. After having share in the peace of Utrecht, was treated with proved his poetic talents by some college exercises, rigor, and Walpole moved an impeachment he was introduced at court by the Earl of Dorset, against him, on a charge of high treason, for holdand was so effectually recommended, that, in 1690, ing clandestine conferences with the French pleni he was appointed secretary to the English pleni- potentiary. His name was excepted from an act of potentiaries who attended the congress at the grace passed in 1717: at length, however, he was Hague. Being now enlisted in the service of the discharged, without being brought to trial, to end court, his productions were, for some years, chiefly his days in retirement. directed to courtly topics, of which one of the most considerable was an Ode presented to King William in 1695, on the death of Queen Mary. In 1697, he was nominated secretary to the commissioners for the treaty of Ryswick; and, on his return, was made secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He went to France in the following year, as secretary, first to the earl of Portland, and then to the Earl of Jersey; and being now regarded as one and amatory pieces are generally elegant and clasconversant in public affairs, he was summoned by King William to Loo, where he had a confidential audience. In the beginning of 1701, he sat in Parliament for East Grinstead.
We are now to consider Prior among the poetical characters of the time. In his writings is found that incongruous mixture of light and rather indecent topics with grave and even religious ones, which was not uncommon at that period. In the faculty of telling a story with ease and vivacity, he yields only to Swift, compared to whom his humor is occasionally strained and quaint. His songs
sical. The most popular of his serious compositions are "Henry and Emma," or the Nut-brown Maid, modernized from an antique original; and "Solomon," the idea of which is taken from the Prior had hitherto been promoted and acted with book of Ecclesiastes. These are harmonious in the Whigs: but the Tories now having become the their versification, splendid and correct in their prevalent party, he turned about, and ever after ad- diction, and copious in poetical imagery; but they hered to them. He even voted for the impeach- exert no powerful effect on the feelings or the ment of those lords who advised that partition fancy, and are enfeebled by prolixity. His "Alma," treaty in which he had been officially employed. a piece of philosophical pleasantry, was written to Like most converts, he embraced his new friends console himself when under confinement, and diswith much zeal, and from that time almost all his plays a considerable share of reading. As to his social connexions were confined within the limits elaborate effusions of loyalty and patriotism, they of his party. seem to have sunk into total neglect.
The successes in the beginning of Queen Anne's The life of Prior was cut short by a lingering reign were celebrated by the poets on both sides; illness, which closed his days at Wimpole, the seat and Prior sung the victories of Blenheim and of Lord Oxford, in September, 1721, in the 58th Ramilies he afterwards, however, joined in the year of his age.
attack of the great general who had been his theme.
Upon the Model of the Nut-Brown Maid.
THOU, to whose eyes I bend, at whose command (Though low my voice, though artless be my
I take the sprightly reed, and sing, and play,
Careless of what the censuring world may say:
Bright Cloe, object of my constant vow,
Wilt thou awhile unbend thy serious brow?
Wilt thou with pleasure hear thy lover's strains,
And with one heavenly smile o'erpay his pains?
No longer shall the Nut-brown Maid be old;
Though since her youth three hundred years have
At thy desire, she shall again be rais'd;
And her reviving charms in lasting verse
No longer man of woman shall complain,
That he may love, and not be lov'd again:
That we in vain the fickle sex pursue,
Who change the constant lover for the new.
Whatever has been writ, whatever said,
Of female passion feign'd, or faith decay'd,
Henceforth shall in my verse refuted stand,
Be said to winds, or writ upon the sand.
And, while my notes to future times proclaim
Unconquer'd love, and ever-during flame,
O fairest of the sex! be thou my Muse:
Deign on my work thy influence to diffuse.
Let me partake the blessings I rehearse,
And grant me, love, the just reward of verse!
As beauty's potent queen, with every grace, That once was Emma's, has adorn'd thy face; And, as her son has to my bosom dealt That constant flame, which faithful Henry felt: O let the story with thy life agree: Let men once more the bright example see; What Emma was to him, be thou to me. Nor send me by thy frown from her I love, Distant and sad, a banish'd man to rove. But, oh! with pity, long-entreated, crown My pains and hopes; and, when thou say'st that one Of all mankind thou lov'st, oh! think on me alone.
WHERE beauteous Isis and her husband Tame, With mingled waves, for ever flow the same, In times of yore an ancient baron liv'd; Great gifts bestow'd, and great respect receiv'd. When dreadful Edward, with successful care, Led his free Britons to the Gallic war; This lord had headed his appointed bands, In firm allegiance to his king's commands; And (all due honors faithfully discharg'd) Had brought back his paternal coat, enlarg'd With a new mark, the witness of his toil, And no inglorious part of foreign spoil.
From the loud camp retir'd, and noisy court, In honorable ease and rural sport, The remnant of his days he safely past; Nor found they lagg'd too slow, nor flew too fast. He made his wish with his estate comply, Joyful to live, yet not afraid to die.
One child he had, a daughter chaste and fair, His age's comfort, and his fortune's heir. They call'd her Emma; for the beauteous dame, Who gave the virgin birth, had borne the name: The name th' indulgent father doubly lov'd : For in the child the mother's charms improv'd. Yet as, when little, round his knees she play'd, He call'd her oft, in sport, his Nut-brown Maid, The friends and tenants took the fondling word, (As still they please, who imitate their lord): Usage confirm'd what fancy had begun; The mutual terms around the land were known And Emma and the Nut-brown Maid were one.
As with her stature, still her charms increas'a
Through all the isle her beauty was confess'd.
Oh! what perfections must that virgin share,
Who fairest is esteem'd, where all are fair!
From distant shires repair the noble youth,
And find report, for once, had lessen'd truth.
By wonder first, and then by passion mov'd,
They came; they saw; they marvell'd; and they
By public praises, and by secret sighs,
Each own'd the general power of Emma's eyes.
In tilts and tournaments the valiant strove,
By glorious deeds, to purchase Emma's love.
In gentle verse the witty told their flame,
And grac'd their choicest songs with Emma'
In vain they combated, in vain they writ:
Useless their strength, and impotent their wit.
Great Venus only must direct the dart,
Which else will never reach the fair-one's heart,
Spite of th' attempts of force, and soft effects of
Great Venus must prefer the happy one :
In Henry's cause her favor must be shown;
And Emma, of mankind, must love but him alone.
While these in public to the castle came,
And by their grandeur justified their flame;
More secret ways the careful Henry takes;
His squires, his arms, and equipage forsakes:
In borrow'd name, and false attire array'd,
Oft he finds means to see the beauteous maid.
When Emma hunts, in huntsman's habit drest,
Henry on foot pursues the bounding beast.
In his right-hand his beechen pole he bears;
And graceful at his side his horn he wears.
Still to the glade, where she has bent her way,
With knowing skill he drives the future prey.
Bids her decline the hill, and shun the brake;
And shows the path her steed may safest take;
Directs her spear to fix the glorious wound;
Pleas'd in his toils to have her triumph crown'd;
And blows her praises in no common sound.
A falconer Henry is, when Emma hawks:
With her of tarsels and of lures he talks.
Upon his wrist the towering merlin stands,
Practis'd to rise, and stoop, at her commands.
And when superior now the bird has flown,
And headlong brought the tumbling quarry down
With humble reverence he accosts the fair,
And with the honor'd feather decks her hair.
Yet still, as from the sportive field she goes,
His downcast eye reveals his inward woes;
And by his look and sorrow is exprest,
A nobler game pursued than bird or beast.
A shepherd now along the plain he roves; And, with his jolly pipe, delights the groves.
The neighboring swains around the stranger throng, Here oft the nymph his breathing vows had heard ;
Or to admire, or emulate his song:
While with soft sorrow he renews his lays,
Nor heedful of their envy, nor their praise.
But, soon as Emma's eyes adorn the plain,
His notes he raises to a nobler strain,
With dutiful respect and studious fear;
Lest any careless sound offend her ear.
A frantic gipsy now, the house he haunts,
And in wild phrases speaks dissembled wants.
With the fond maids in palmistry he deals:
They tell the secret first, which he reveals;
Says who shall wed, and who shall be beguil'd;
What groom shall get, and squire maintain the child.
But, when bright Emma would her fortune know,
A softer look unbends his opening brow;
With trembling awe he gazes on her eye,
And in soft accents forms the kind reply;
That she shall prove as fortunate as fair;
And Hymen's choicest gifts are all reserv'd for her.
Now oft had Henry chang'd his sly disguise,
Unmark'd by all but beauteous Emma's eyes:
Oft had found means alone to see the dame,
And at her feet to breathe his amorous flame;
And oft, the pangs of absence to remove,
By letters, soft interpreters of love:
Till Time and Industry (the mighty two
That bring our wishes nearer to our view)
Made him perceive, that the inclining fair
Receiv'd his vows with no reluctant ear;
That Venus had confirm'd her equal reign,
And dealt to Emma's heart a share of Henry's pain.
While Cupid smil'd, by kind occasion bless'd,
And, with the secret kept, the love increas'd;
The amorous youth frequents the silent groves;
And much he meditates, for much he loves.
He loves, 'tis true; and is belov'd again:
Great are his joys; but will they long remain?
Emma with smiles receives his present flame;
But, smiling, will she ever be the same?
Beautiful looks are rul'd by fickle minds;
And summer seas are turn'd by sudden winds.
Another love may gain her easy youth:
Time changes thought, and flattery conquers truth.
O impotent estate of human life!
Where Hope and Fear maintain eternal strife;
Where fleeting joy does lasting doubt inspire;
And most we question, what we most desire!
Amongst thy various gifts, great Heaven, bestow
Our cup of love unmix'd; forbear to throw
Bitter ingredients in; nor pall the draught
With nauseous grief: for our ill-judging thought
Hardly enjoys the pleasurable taste;
Or deems it not sincere; or fears it cannot last.
With wishes rais'd, with jealousies opprest,
(Alternate tyrants of the human breast)
By one great trial he resolves to prove
The faith of woman, and the force of love.
If, scanning Emma's virtues, he may find
That beauteous frame inclose a steady mind,
He'll fix his hope of future joy secure;
And live a slave to Hymen's happy power.
But if the fair-one, as he fears, is frail;
If, pois'd aright in Reason's equal scale,
Light fly her merit, and her faults prevail;
His mind he vows to free from amorous care,
The latent mischief from his heart to tear,
Resume his azure arms, and shine again in war.
South of the castle, in a verdant glade,
A spreading beech extends her friendly shade:
Here oft her silence had her heart declar'd.
As active Spring awak'd her infant buds,
And genial life inform'd the verdant woods;
Henry, in knots involving Emma's name,
Had half express'd, and half conceal'd, his flame,
Upon this tree: and, as the tender mark
Grew with the year, and widen'd with the bark,
Venus had heard the virgin's soft address,
That, as the wound, the passion might increase.
As potent Nature shed her kindly showers,
And deck'd the various mead with opening flowers,
Had left a frequent wreath for Henry's hair;
Upon this tree the nymph's obliging care
Which, as with gay delight the lover found,
Pleas'd with his conquest, with her present crown'd,
Glorious through all the plains he oft had gone,
And to each swain the mystic honor shown;
The gift still prais'd, the giver still unknown.
His secret note the troubled Henry writes:
To the lone tree the lovely maid invites.
Imperfect words and dubious terms express,
That unforeseen mischance disturb'd his peace;
That he must something to her ear commend,
On which her conduct and his life depend.
Soon as the fair-one had the note receiv'd,
The remnant of the day alone she griev'd:
For different this from every former note,
Which Venus dictated, and Henry wrote;
Which told her all his future hopes were laid
Which always bless'd her eyes, and own'd her
On the dear bosom of his Nut-brown Maid;
And bid her oft adieu, yet added more.
Now night advanc'd. The house in sleep were
The nurse experienc'd, and the prying maid,
And, last, that sprite, which does incessant haunt
The lover's steps, the ancient maiden-aunt.
To her dear Henry, Emma wings her way,
With quicken'd pace repairing forc'd delay;
For Love, fantastic power, that is afraid
Undaunted then o'er cliffs and valleys strays,
To stir abroad till Watchfulness be laid,
And leads his votaries safe through pathless ways.
Not Argus, with his hundred eyes, shall find
Where Cupid goes; though he, poor guide! is blind
The maiden first arriving, sent her eye
To ask, if yet its chief delight were nigh:
With fear and with desire, with joy and pain,
She sees, and runs to meet him on the plain.
But, oh! his steps proclaim no lover's haste:
On the low ground his fix'd regards are cast;
His artful bosom heaves dissembled sighs;
And tears suborn'd fall copious from his eyes.
With ease, alas! we credit what we love :
His painted grief does real sorrow move
In the afflicted fair; adown her cheek
Trickling the genuine tears their current break;
Attentive stood the mournful nymph: the man
Broke silence first: the tale alternate ran.
SINCERE, O tell me, hast thou felt a pain,
Emma, beyond what woman knows to feign?
Has thy uncertain bosom ever strove
With the first tumults of a real love?
Hast thou now dreaded, and now blest his sway,
By turns averse, and joyful to obey?
Thy virgin softness hast thou e'er bewail'd,
As Reason yielded, and as Love prevail'd?
And wept the potent god's resistless dart,
His killing pleasure, his ecstatic smart,
And heavenly poison thrilling through thy heart?
If so, with pity view my wretched state;
At least deplore, and then forget my fate:
To some more happy knight reserve thy charms,
By Fortune favor'd, and successful arms;
And only, as the Sun's revolving ray
Brings back each year this melancholy day,
Permit one sigh, and set apart one tear,
To an abandon'd exile's endless care.
For me, alas! outcast of human race,
Love's anger only waits, and dire disgrace;
For, lo! these hands in murther are imbrued;
These trembling feet by Justice are pursued :
Fate calls aloud, and hastens me away;
A shameful death attends my longer stay;
And I this night must fly from thee and love,
Condemn'd in lonely woods, a banish'd man, to rove.
What is our bliss, that changeth with the Moon?
And day of life, that darkens ere 'tis noon?
What is true passion, if unblest it dies?
And where is Emma's joy, if Henry flies?
If love, alas! be pain; the pain I bear
No thought can figure, and no tongue declare.
Ne'er faithful woman felt, nor false one feign'd,
The flames which long have in my bosom reign'd:
The god of love himself inhabits there,
With all his rage, and dread, and grief, and care,
His complement of stores, and total war.
O! cease then coldly to suspect my love;
And let my deed at least my faith approve.
Alas! no youth shall my endearments share;
Nor day nor night shall interrupt my care;
No future story shall with truth upbraid
The cold indifference of the Nut-brown Maid;
Nor to hard banishment shall Henry run,
While careless Emma sleeps on beds of down.
View me resolv'd, where'er thou lead'st, to go,
Friend to thy pain, and partner of thy woe;
For I attest, fair Venus and her son,
That I, of all mankind, will love but thee alone.
Let prudence yet obstruct thy venturous way;
And take good heed, what men will think and say;|
That beauteous Emma vagrant courses took;
Her father's house and civil life forsook;
That, full of youthful blood, and fond of man,
She to the wood-land with an exile ran.
Reflect, that lessen'd fame is ne'er regain'd,
And virgin honor, once, is always stain'd:
Timely advis'd, the coming evil shun:
Better not do the deed, than weep it done.
No penance can absolve our guilty fame;
Nor tears, that wash out sin, can wash out shame.
Then fly the sad effects of desperate love,
Fair Truth, at last, her radiant beams will raise,
And Malice vanquish'd heightens Virtue's praise.
Let then thy favor but indulge my flight;
O! let my presence make thy travels light;
And potent Venus shall exalt my name
Above the rumors of censorious Fame;
Nor from that busy demon's restless power
Will ever Emma other grace implore,
Than that this truth should to the world be known
That I, of all mankind, have lov'd but thee alone.
But canst thou wield the sword, and bend the bow? With active force repel the sturdy foe? When the loud tumult speaks the battle nigh, And winged deaths in whistling arrows fly; Wilt thou, though wounded, yet undaunted stay, Perform thy part, and share the dangerous day? Then, as thy strength decays, thy heart will fail, Thy limbs all trembling, and thy cheeks all pale; With fruitless sorrow, thou, inglorious maid, Wilt weep thy safety by thy love betray'd: Then to thy friend, by foes o'ercharg'd, deny Thy little useless aid, and coward fly : Then wilt thou curse the chance that made thee love A banish'd man, condemn'd in lonely woods to rove.
With fatal certainty Thalestris knew
To send the arrow from the twanging yew;
And, great in arms, and foremost in the war,
Bonduca brandish'd high the British spear.
Could thirst of vengeance and desire of fame
Excite the female breast with martial flame?
And shall not love's diviner power inspire
More hardy virtue, and more generous fire?
Near thee, mistrust not, constant I'll abide,
And fall, or vanquish, fighting by thy side.
Though my inferior strength may not allow
That I should bear or draw the warrior bow;
With ready hand I will the shaft supply,
And joy to see thy victor arrows fly.
Touch'd in the battle by the hostile reed,
Shouldst thou, (but Heaven avert it!) shouldst thou
To stop the wounds, my finest lawn I'd tear,
Wash them with tears, and wipe them with my hair;
Blest, when my dangers and my toils have shown
That I, of all mankind, could love but thee alone.
But canst thou, tender maid, canst thou sustain
Afflictive want, or hunger's pressing pain?
Those limbs, in lawn and softest silk array'd,
From sunbeams guarded, and of winds afraid,
Can they bear angry Jove? can they resist
The parching dog-star, and the bleak north-east ?
When, chill'd by adverse snows and beating rain,
We tread with weary steps the longsome plain;
When with hard toil we seek our evening food,
And leave a banish'd man through lonely woods to Berries and acorns from the neighboring wood;
Let Emma's hapless case be falsely told By the rash young, or the ill-natur'd old: Let every tongue its various censures choose; Absolve with coldness, or with spite accuse:
And find among the cliffs no other house
But the thin covert of some gather'd boughs;
Wilt thou not then reluctant send thine eye
Around the dreary waste, and, weeping, try
(Though then, alas! that trial be too late)
To find thy father's hospitable gate,
And seats, where ease and plenty brooding sate?
Those seats, whence long excluded, thou must 'Tis long since Cynthia and her train were there,
That gate, for ever barr'd to thy return:
Wilt thou not then bewail ill-fated love,
Or guardian gods made innocence their care.
Vagrants and outlaws shall offend thy view:
For such must be my friends, a hideous crew,
And hate a banish'd man, condemn'd in woods to By adverse fortune mix'd in social ill,
Thy rise of fortune did I only wed,
From its decline determin'd to recede;
Did I but purpose to embark with thee
On the smooth surface of a summer's sea;
While gentle zephyrs play in prosperous gales,
And Fortune's favor fills the swelling sails;
But would forsake the ship, and make the shore,
When the winds whistle, and the tempests roar?
No, Henry, no one sacred oath has tied
Our loves: one destiny our life shall guide;
Nor wild nor deep our common way divide.
When from the cave thou risest with the day,
To beat the woods, and rouse the bounding prey;
The cave with moss and branches I'll adorn,
And cheerful sit, to wait my lord's return:
Train'd to assault, and disciplin'd to kill;
Their common loves, a lewd abandon'd pack,
The beadle's lash still flagrant on their back:
By sloth corrupted, by disorder fed,
Made bold by want, and prostitute for bread :
With such must Emma hunt the tedious day,
Assist their violence, and divide their prey :
With such she must return at setting light,
Though not partaker, witness of their night.
Thy ear, inur'd to charitable sounds
And pitying love, must feel the hateful wounds
Of jest obscene and vulgar ribaldry,
The ill-bred question, and the lewd reply;
Brought by long habitude from bad to worse,
Must hear the frequent oath, the direful curse,
That latest weapon of the wretches' war,
And blasphemy, sad comrade of despair.
Now, Emma, now the last reflection make,
By our ill-omen'd stars, and adverse Heaven,
No middle object to thy choice is given.
Or yield thy virtue, to attain thy love;
Or leave a banish'd man, condemn'd in woods to
And, when thou frequent bring'st the smitten deer, What thou wouldst follow, what thou must for(For seldom, archers say, thy arrows err) I'll fetch quick fuel from the neighboring wood, And strike the sparkling flint, and dress the food; With humble duty, and officious haste, I'll cull the furthest mead for thy repast; The choicest herbs I to thy board will bring, And draw thy water from the freshest spring: And, when at night with weary toil opprest, Soft slumbers thou enjoy'st, and wholesome rest, Watchful I'll guard thee, and with midnight prayer Weary the gods to keep thee in their care; And joyous ask, at morn's returning ray, If thou hast health, and I may bless the day. My thoughts shall fix, my latest wish depend, On thee, guide, guardian, kinsman, father, friend: By all these sacred names be Henry known To Emma's heart; and grateful let him own That she, of all mankind, could love but him alone!
Vainly thou tell'st me, what the woman's care
Shall in the wildness of the wood prepare:
Thon, ere thou goest, unhappiest of thy kind,
Must leave the habit and the sex behind.
No longer shall thy comely tresses break
In flowing ringlets on thy snowy neck;
Or sit behind thy head, an ample round,
In graceful braids with various ribbon bound:
No longer shall the bodice aptly lac'd,
From thy full bosom to thy slender waist,
That air and harmony of shape express,
Fine by degrees, and beautifully less:
Nor shall thy lower garments' artful plait,
From thy fair side dependent to thy feet,
Arm their chaste beauties with a modest pride,
And double every charm they seek to hide.
Th' ambrosial plenty of thy shining hair,
Cropt off and lost, scarce lower than thy ear
Shall stand uncouth: a horseman's coat shall hide
Thy taper shape, and comeliness of side:
Force thee to suffer what thy honor hates:
O grief of heart! that our unhappy fates
Mix thee amongst the bad; or make thee run
Too near the paths which Virtue bids thee shun.
Yet with her Henry still let Emma go;
With him abhor the vice, but share the woe:
And sure my little heart can never err
Amidst the worst, if Henry still be there.
And from the sinner's mind proceeds the sin:
Our outward act is prompted from within;
By her own choice free Virtue is approv'd;
Nor by the force of outward objects mov'd.
Who has assay'd no danger, gains no praise.
In a small isle, amidst the wildest seas,
Triumphant Constancy has fix'd her seat:
In vain the Syrens sing, the tempests beat:
Their flattery she rejects, nor fears their threat.
For thee alone these little charms I drest:
Condemn'd them, or absolv'd them by thy test.
In comely figure rang'd my jewels shone,
Or negligently plac'd for thee alone:
For thee again they shall be laid aside;
The woman, Henry, shall put off her pride
For thee: my clothes, my sex, exchang'd for thee,
I'll mingle with the people's wretched lee:
O line extreme of human infamy!
Wanting the scissars, with these hands I'll tear
(If that obstructs my flight) this load of hair.
Black soot, or yellow walnut, shall disgrace
These nails with scratches shall deform my breast,
This little red and white of Emma's face.
Lest by my look or color be express'd
The short trunk-hose shall show thy foot and knee The mark of aught high-born, or ever better dress'd.
Licentious, and to common eye-sight free:
And, with a bolder stride and looser air,
Mingled with men, a man thou must appear.
Nor solitude, nor gentle peace of mind,
Mistaken maid, shalt thou in forests find:
Yet in this commerce, under this disguise,
Let me be grateful still to Henry's eyes;
Lost to the world, let me to him be known:
My fate I can absolve, if he shall own
That, leaving all mankind, I love but him alone.