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standing this aversion or indifference, made
marquis of Normanby, (1694,) but still opposed
the court on some important questions; yet at
last he was received into the cabinet-council,
with a pension of three thousand pounds.

that sometimes glimmers, but rarely shines, fee-
bly laborious, and at best but pretty. His songs
are upon common topics; he hopes, and grieves,
and repents, and despairs, and rejoices, like
any other maker of little stanzas: to be great,
he hardly tries; to be gay, is hardly in his

At the accession of Queen Anne, whom he is
said to have courted when they were both young,
In his "Essay on Satire," he was always sup
he was highly favoured. Before her coronation
(1702) she made him lord privy-seal, and soon posed to have had the help of Dryden. His
Essay on Poetry" is the great work for which
after lord-lieutenant of the north riding of "
Yorkshire. He was then named commissioner he was praised by Roscommon, Dryden, and
for treating with the Scots about the Union; Pope; and doubtless by many more whose eu-
and was made next year, first, Duke of Norman-logies have perished.
by, and then of Buckinghamshire, there being
suspected to be somewhere a latent claim to the
title of Buckingham.

Upon this piece he appears to have set a high
value; for he was all his lifetime improving it
by successive revisals, so that there is scarcely
Amongst other
any poem to be found of which the last edition
differs more from the first.
changes, mention is made of some compositions
of Dryden, which were written after the first

Soon after, beeoming jealous of the Duke of Marlborough, he resigned the privy-seal, and joined the discontented tories in a motion, extremely offensive to the Queen, for inviting the Princess Sophia to England. The Queen court-appearance of the essay. ed him back with an offer no less than that of the chancellorship; which he refused. He now retired from business, and built that house in the Park which is now the Queen's, upon ground granted by the crown.

When the ministry was changed, (1710,) he was made lord-chamberlain of the household, and concurred in all transactions of that time, except that he endeavoured to protect the Catalans. After the Queen's death he became a constant opponent of the court; and, having no public business, is supposed to have amused himself by writing his two tragedies. He died February 24, 1720-21.

At the time when this work first appeared, The epic Milton's fame was not yet fully established, and therefore Tasso and Spenser were set before him. The two last lines were these. poet, says he,

Must above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where great Torquato, and where greater
Spenser fail.

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, Succeed where Spenser, and ev'n Milton fail. Amendments are seldom made without some token of a rent; lofty does not suit Tasso so well as Milton.

He was thrice married: by his two first wives he had no children; by his third, who was the daughter of King James by the Countess of Dorchester, and the widow of the Earl of Anglesey, he had, besides other children that died early, a son, born in 1716, who died in 1735, and put an end to the line of Sheffield. It is observable, that the Duke's three wives were all widows. The dutchess died in 1742.

Of this Essay, which Dryden has exalted so

His character is not to be proposed as worthy of imitation. His religion he may be supposed to have learned from Hobbes; and his morality was such as naturally proceeds from loose opi-highly, it may be justly said that the precepts nions. His sentiments with respect to women he picked up at the court of Charles; and his principles concerning property were such as a gaming-table supplies. He was censured as covetous, and has been defended by an instance of inattention to his affairs, as if a man might not at once be corrupted by avarice and idleness. He is said, however, to have had much tenderness, and to have been very ready to apologize for his violences of passion.

expressed; but there are, after all the emenda. are judicious, sometimes new, and often happily tions, many weak lines, and some strange aplaws of elegy, he insists upon connexion and pearances of negligence: as when he gives the coherence; without which, says he,

He is introduced into this collection only as a poet; and if we credit the testimony of his contemporaries, he was a poet of no vulgar rank. But favour and flattery are now at an end; criticism is no longer softened by his bounties, or awed by his splendour, and, being able to take a more steady view, discovers him to be a writer

One celebrated line seems to be borrowed. 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.

'Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will:
But not an elegy, nor writ with skill,
No Panegyric, nor a Cooper's Hill.

Who would not suppose that Waller's "Panegyric" 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.



MATTHEW PRIOR is one of those that has burst out from an obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburn, 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.


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 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.

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 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

He entered his name in St. John's College, at Cambridge, in 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.

The conduct of Prior in this splendid initiation into public 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 cultivation of literature and poetry.

It is the established practice of that College, to send every year to the Earl of Exeter some poems upon sacred subjects, in acknowledgment of a benefaction enjoyed by them from The death of Queen Mary (in 1695) produced the bounty of his ancestor. On this occasion | a subject for all the writers; perhaps no funeral were those verses written, which, though no- was ever so poetically attended. Dryden, inthing is said of their success, seem to have re- deed, as a man discountenanced and deprived, commended him to some notice; for his praise was silent; but scarcely any other maker of of the Countess's music, and his lines on the verses omitted to bring his tribute of tuneful famous picture of Seneca, afford reason for ima-sorrow. An emulation of elegy was universal. gining that he was more or less conversant Maria's praise was not confined to the English with that family. language, but fills a great part of the "Musa Anglicana."

The difficulty of settling Prior's birthplace is great. In the Register of his College he is called, at his admission by the President, Matthew Prior, of Winburn, in Middlesex; by himself, next day, Matthew Prior of Dorsetshire, in which county, not in Middlesex, Winborn, or Winborne, as it stands in the Villare, is found. When he stood candidate for his fellowship, five years afterwards, he was registered again by himself as of Middlesex. The last record ought to be preferred, because it was made upon oath. It is observable, that, as a native of Winborne, he is styled Filius Georgii Prior, generosi; not consistently with the common account of the meanness of his birth.-Dr. J.


envy raised by superior abilities every day gra tified: 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.

Samuel 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 hel at his house, October 14, that year.-N. He was admitted to his bachelor's degree in 1686; and to his master's, by mandate, in 1700.-N.


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 degree 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 Louis, which at last did not produce effects proportionate to the magnificence of the transaction.

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 shown the victories of Louis, 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 every where but in his own house."

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The pictures of Le Brun are not only in themselves sufficiently ostentatious, but were explained by inscriptions so arrogant, that Boi

He received, in September, 1697, a present of 200 guineas from the lords justices, for his trouble in bringing over the treaty of peace.-N.

leau 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 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.

Among the advantages to arise from the future years of William's reign, he mentions a Society for useful Arts, and among them

Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,
And to just idioms fix our doubtful speech;
That from our writers distant realms may know
The thanks we to our monarchs owe,
And schools profess our tongue through every land
That has invok'd his aid or bless'd his hand.

This year (1700) produced one of his longest and most splendid compositions, the "Carmen Seculare," in which he exhausts all his powers of celebration. I mean not to accuse him of The nation in time grew weary of the war, and flattery he probably thought all that he wrote, the Queen grew weary of her ministers. The and retained as much veracity as can be properly war was burdensome, and the ministers were inexacted from a poet professedly encomiastic. solent. Harley and his friends began to hope King William supplied copious materials for that they might, by driving the whigs from court either verse or prose. His whole life had been and from power, gratify at once the Queen and action, and none ever denied him the resplendent the people. There was now a call for writers, qualities of steady resolution and personal cou- who might convey intelligence of past abuses, rage. He was really in Prior's mind what he and show the waste of public money, the unrearepresents him in his verses; he considered him sonable conduct of the allies, the avarice of geas a hero, and was accustomed to say that henerals, the tyranny of minions, and the general praised others in compliance with the fashion, danger of approaching rum. but that in celebrating King William he followed his inclination. To Prior gratitude would dictate praise which reason would not refuse.

For this purpose a paper 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.

The tories, who were now in power, were in haste to end the war; and Prior, being recalled (1710) to his former employment of making trea

Tickell, in his "Prospect of Peace," has the ties, was sent (July, 1711) privately to Paris, same hope of a new academy:

with propositions of peace. He was remembered at the French court; and, returning in about a month, brought with him the Abbe Gualtier, and Mr. Mesnager, a minister from France, invested with full powers.

Whether the similitude of those passages, which exhibit the same thought on the same occasion, This transaction not being avowed, Mackay, proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy the master of the Dover packet-boat, either zeato determine. Tickell might have been im-lously or officiously, seized Prior and his assopressed with his expectation by Swift's "Propo- ciates at Canterbury. It is easily supposed that sal for ascertaining the English Language," then they were soon released. lately published.

In the parliament that met in 1701 he was chosen representative of East 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, a treaty in which he had himself been ministerially employed.

The negotiation was begun at Prior's house, where the Queen's ministers met Mesnager, (September 20, 1711,) and entered privately upon the great business. The importance of Prior appears from the mention made of him by St. John in his letter to the Queen.

"My Lord Treasurer moved, and all my Lords were of the same opinion, that Mr. Prior should be added to those who are empowered to

A great part of Queen Anne's reign was a time of war, in which there was little employ-sign: the reason for which is, because he, havment for negotiators, and Prior had therefore ing personally treated with Monsieur de Torcy, leisure to make or to polish verses. When the is the best witness we can produce of the sense battle of Blenheim called forth all the versemen, in which the general preliminary engagements Prior, among the rest, took care to show his de- are entered into; besides which, as he is the best ight in the increasing honour of his country by versed in matters of trade of all your Majesty's an Epistle to Boileau. servants, who have been trusted in this secret, if you should think fit to employ him in the future treaty of commerce, it will be of consequence that he has been a party concerned in concluding that convention which must be the rule of this treaty."

In happy chains our daring language bound,
Shall sport no more in arbitrary sound.

He published soon afterwards a 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."

other composition produced by that event which

is now remembered.

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 be not easy to name any

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 assembly of this important night was in some degree clandestine, the design of treating not being yet openly declared, and, when the whigs returned to power, was aggravated to a

charge of high treason; though, as Prior re- | own house, under the custody of the messenger, marks in his imperfect answer to the report of till he was examined before a committee of the the Committee of Secrecy, no treaty ever was privy council, of which Mr. Walpole was chairmade without private interviews and preliminary man, and Lord Coningsby, Mr. Stanhope, and discussions. Mr. Lechmere, were the principal interrogators; My business is not the history of the peace, who, in this examination, of which there is but the life of Prior. The conferences began at printed an account not unentertaining, behaved Utrecht, on the first of January, (1711-12,) and with the boisterousness of men elated by recent the English plenipotentiaries arrived on the fif- authority. They are represented as asking questeenth. The ministers of the different poten- tions sometimes vague, sometimes insidious, and tates conferred and conferred; but the peace writing answers different from those which they advanced so slowly, that speedier methods were received. Prior, however, seems to have been found necessary, and Bolingbroke was sent to overpowered by their turbulence; for he conParis to adjust differences with less formality; fesses that he signed what, if he had ever come Prior either accompanied him or followed him, before a legal judicature, he should have contraand, after his departure, had the appointments dicted or explained away. The oath was adand authority of an ambassador, though no pub-ministered by Boscawen, a Middlesex justice, lic character. who at last was going to write his attestation on the wrong side of the paper.

By some mistake of the Queen's orders, the court of France had been disgusted; and Bolingbroke says in his letter, "Dear Mat, hide the nakedness of thy country, and give the best turn thy fertile brain will furnish thee with to the blunders of thy countrymen, who are not much better politicians than the French are poets."

Soon after, the Duke of Shrewsbury went on a formal embassy to Paris. It is related by Boyer, that the intention was to have joined Prior in the commission, but that Shrewsbury refused to be associated with a man so meanly born. Prior therefore continued to act without a title till the Duke returned next year to England, and then he assumed the style and dignity of ambassador.

They were very industrious to find some charge against Oxford; and asked Prior, with great earnestness, who was present when the preliminary articles were talked of or signed at his house? He told them, that either the Earl of Oxford or the Duke of Shrewsbury was absent, but he could not remember which; an answer which perplexed them, because it supplied no accusation against either. "Could any thing be more absurd," says he, "or more inhuman, than to propose to me a question, by the answering of which I might, according to them, prove myself a traitor? And notwithstanding their solemn promise, that nothing which I could say should hurt myself, I had no reason to trust them; for they violated that promise about five hours after. However, I owned I was there present. Whether this was wisely done or not, I leave to my friends to determine.”

When he had signed the paper, he was told by Walpole, that the committee were not satisfied with his behaviour, nor could give such an ac count of it to the Commons as might merit favour; and that they now thought a stricter confinement necessary than to his own house, "Here," says he, "Boscawen played the moralist, and Coningsby the Christian, but both very awkwardly." The messenger, in whose custody he was to be placed, was then called, and very decently asked by Coningsby, "if his house was secured by bars and bolts ?" The messenger answered, "No!" with astonishment. At which Coningsby very angrily said, "Sir, you must

Prior's public dignity and splendour commenced in August, 1713, and continued till the August following; but I am afraid that, according to the usual fate of greatness, it was attend-secure this prisoner; it is for the safety of the ed with some perplexities and mortifications. nation: if he escape, you shall answer for it.” He had not all that is customarily given to ambassadors: he hints to the Queen, in an imperfect poem, that he had no service of plate; and it appeared by the debts which he contracted, that his remittances were not punctually made.

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 againt 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.

But, while he continued in appearance a private man, he was treated with confidence by Louis, who sent him with a letter to the Queen, written in favour of the Elector of Bavaria. "İ shall expect," says he, "with impatience, the return of Mr. Prio, whose conduct is very agreeable to me." And while the Duke of Shrewsbury was still at Paris, Bolingbroke wrote to Prior thus: "Monsieur de Torcy has a confidence in you: make use of it, once for all, upon this occasion, and convince him thoroughly, that we must give a different turn to our parliament and our people according to their resolution at this crisis."

On the first of August, 1714, ensued the downfall of the tories and the degradation of Prior. He was recalled, but was not able to return, being detained by the debts which he had found it necessary to contract, and which were not discharged before March, though his old friend Montague was now at the head of the Treasury.

He returned then as soon as he could, and was welcomed on the 25th of March* by a warrant, but was, however, suffered to live in his

* 1713.

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 Downhall, 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 in 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 eighteenth 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 Temporis Historiam meditanti, Paulatim obrepens Febris Operi simul et Vitæ filum abrupit, Sept. 18, An. Dom. 1721. Etal. 57.

H. S. E.

Vir Eximius,

Regi GULIELMO Reginæque MARIE In Congressione Fœderatorum Hage, anno 1690, celebrata Deinde Magne Britanniæ Legatis, Tum iis

Qui anno 1697 Pacem RYSWICKI confecerunt,
Tum iis
Qui apud Gallos annis proximis Legationem
Obierunt, eodem etiam anno 1697 in Hibernia

Necnon in utroque Honorabili consessu

Eorum Qui anno 1700 ordinandis Commercii negotiis Quique anno 1711 dirigendis Portorii rebus, Præsidebant, COMMISSIONARIUS;



Felicissimæ memoriæ Regina

Ad LUDOVICUM XIV. Galliæ Regem
Missus anno 1711

De Pace stabilienda,
(Pace etiamnum durante

*Swift obtained many subscriptions for him in Ire. land.-H.

Diuque ut boni jam omnes sperant duratura,) Cum summa potestate Legatus; MATTHEUS PRIOR, Armiger:


Hos omnes, quibus cumulatus est, Titulos Humanitatis, Ingenii, Eruditionis laude Superavit ;

Cui enim nascenti faciles arriserant Musæ, Hunc Puerum Schola hic Regia perpolivit; Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis Cantabrigia optimis Scientiis instruxit; Virum denique auxit; et perfecit Malta cum viris Principibus consuetudo; Ita natus, ita institutus,

A Vatum Choro avelli nunquam potuit,
Sed solebat sæpe rerum Civilium gravitatem
Amaniorum Literarum Studiis condire :
Et cum omne adeo Poetices genus
Haud infeliciter tentaret,

Tum in Fabellis concinnè lepidèque texendis
Mirus Artifex
Neminem habuit parem.

Hæc liberalis animi oblectamenta, Quam nullo Illi labore constiterint, Facile i perspexere quibus usus est Amici; Apud quos Urbanitatum et Leporum plenus Cum ad rem, quæcunque forte inciderat, Aptè, variè, copiosè que alluderet, Interea nihil quæsitum, nihil vi expressum Videbatur,

Sed omnia ultro effluere,

Et quasi jugi è fonte affatim exuberâre, Ita suos tandem dubios reliquit, Essetne in Scriptis Poeta Elegantior An in Convictu Comes Jucundior.

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 now be 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 ar dent 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'st 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 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

† Spence

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