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Matthew was brought up by his uncle, a vintner at Charing Cross, who sent him to Westminster school. He was afterwards taken home to assist in the busiof the inn; and whilst there, was one day seen by the Earl of Dorset reading Horace. The earl generously undertook the care of his education; and in his eighteenth year, Prior was entered of St John's college, Cambridge. He distinguished himself during his academical career, and amongst other copies of verses, produced, in conjunction with the Honourable Charles Montagu, the City Mouse and Country Mouse, in ridicule of Dryden's Hind and Panther.' The Earl of Dorset did not forget the poet he had snatched from obscurity. He invited him to London, and obtained for him an appointment as secretary to the Earl of Berkeley, ambassador to the Hague. In this capacity Prior obtained the approbation of King William, who made him one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber. In 1697 he was appointed secretary to the embassy on the treaty of Ryswick, at the conclusion of which he was presented with a considerable sum of money by the lords justices. Next year he was ambassador at the court of Versailles; and after some other temporary honours and appointments, was made a commissioner of trade. In 1701, he entered the House of Commons as representative for the borough of East-Grimstead, and abandoning his former friends, the Whigs, joined the Tories in impeaching Lord Somers. This came with a peculiarly bad grace from Prior, for the charge against Somers was, that he had advised the partition treaty, in which treaty the poet himself had acted as agent. He evinced his patriotism, however, by afterwards celebrating in verse the battles of Blenheim and Ramilies. When the Whig government was at length overturned, Prior became attached to Harley's administration, and went with Bolingbroke to France in 1711, to negotiate a treaty of peace. He lived in splendour in Paris, was a favourite of the French monarch, and enjoyed all the honours of ambassador. He returned to London in 1715; and the Whigs being again in office, he was committed to custody on a charge of high-treason. The accusation against Prior was, that he had held clandestine conferences with the French plenipotentiary, though, as he justly replied, no treaty was ever made without private interviews and preliminaries. The Whigs were indignant at the disgraceful treaty of Utrecht; but Prior only shared in the culpability of the government. The able but profligate Bolingbroke was the masterspirit that prompted the humiliating concession to France. After two years' confinement, the poet was released without a trial. He had in the interval written his poem of Alma; and being now left without any other support than his fellowship of St John's college, he continued his studies, and produced his Solomon, the most elaborate of his works. He had also recourse to the publication of a collected edition of his poems, which was sold to subscribers for five guineas, and realised the sum of £4000. An equal sum was presented to Prior by the Earl of Oxford, and thus he had laid up a provision for old age. He was ambitious only of comfort and private enjoyment. These, however, he did not long possess; for he died on the 18th of September 1721, at Lord Oxford's seat at Wimpole, being at the time in the fifty-seventh year of his age.
The works of Prior range over a variety of style and subject-odes, songs, epistles, epigrams, and tales. His longest poem, Solomon,' is of a serious character, and was considered by its author to be his best production, in which opinion he is supported by Cowper. It is the most moral, and perhaps the most correctly written; but the tales and lighter pieces of Prior are undoubtedly his happiest efforts. In these
It was in some respects a disadvantage to the poets of this period that most of them enjoyed a consider-ness able degree of worldly prosperity and importance, such as has too rarely blessed the community of authors. Some filled high diplomatic and official situations, and others were engaged in schemes of politics and ambition, where offices of state and the ascendency of rival parties, not poetical or literary laurels, were the prizes contended for. Familiar and constant in
tercourse with the great on the part of authors, has a tendency to fix the mind on the artificial distinctions and pursuits of society, and to induce a tone of thought and study adapted to such associates. Now, it is certain that high thoughts and imaginations can only be nursed in solitude; and though poets may gain in taste and correctness by mixing in courtly circles, the native vigour and originality of genius, and the steady worship of truth and nature, must be impaired by such a course of refinement. It is evident that most of the poetry of this period, exquisite as it is in gaiety, polish, and sprightliness of fancy, possesses none of the lyrical grandeur and enthusiasm which redeem so many errors in the elder poets. The French taste is visible in most of its strains; and where excellence is attained, it is not in the delineation of strong passions, or in bold fertility of invention. Pope was at the head of this school, and was master even of higher powers. He had access to the haunted ground of imagination, but it was not his favourite or ordinary walk. Others were content with humbler worship, with propitiating a minister or a mistress, reviving the conceits of classic mythology, or satirising, without seeking to reform, the fashionable follies of the day. One of the most agreeable and accomplished of the number was MATTHEW PRIOR, born in 1664. Some accounts give the honour of his birth to Wimborne, in Dorsetshire, and others to the city of London. His father died early, and
he displays that charming ease' with which Cowper
says he embellished all his poems, added to the lively
illustration and colloquial humour of his master,
Horace. No poet ever possessed in greater perfection
the art of graceful and fluent versification. His
narratives flow on like a clear stream, without break
or fall, and interest us by their perpetual good
humour and vivacity, even when they wander into
metaphysics, as in Alma,' or into licentiousness, as
in his tales. His expression was choice and studied,
abounding in classical allusions and images (which
were then the fashion of the day), but without any
air of pedantry or constraint. Like Swift, he loved
to versify the common occurrences of life, and relate
his personal feelings and adventures. He had, how-
ever, no portion of the dean's bitterness or misan-
thropy, and employed no stronger weapons of satire
than raillery and arch allusion. He sported on the
surface of existence, noting its foibles, its pleasures,
and eccentricities, but without the power of pene-
trating into its recesses, or evoking the higher pas-
sions of our nature. He was the most natural of
artificial poets-a seeming paradox, yet as true as
the old maxim, that the perfection of art is the con-
cealment of it.
For My Own Monument.
As doctors give physic by way of prevention,
Matt, alive and in health, of his tombstone took care;
For delays are unsafe, and his pious intention
May haply be never fulfill'd by his heir.
Then take Matt's word for it, the sculptor is paid;
That the figure is fine, pray believe your own eye;
Yet credit but lightly what more may be said,
For we flatter ourselves, and teach marble to lie.
Yet counting as far as to fifty his years,
His virtues and vices were as other men's are;
High hopes he conceiv'd, and he smother'd great fears,
In a life party-colour'd, half pleasure, half care.
Nor to business a drudge, nor to faction a slave,
He strove to make int'rest and freedom agree;
In public employments industrious and grave,
And alone with his friends, Lord! how merry was he.
Now in equipage stately, now humbly on foot,
Both fortunes he tried, but to neither would trust;
And whirl'd in the round as the wheel turn'd about,
He found riches had wings, and knew man was but dust.
This verse, little polish'd, though mighty sincere,
Sets neither his titles nor merit to view;
It says that his relics collected lie here,
And no mortal yet knows if this may be true.
Fierce robbers there are that infest the highway,
So Matt may be kill'd, and his bones never found;
False witness at court, and fierce tempests at sea,
So Matt may yet chance to be hang'd or be drown'd.
If his bones lie in earth, roll in sea, fly in air,
To Fate we must yield, and the thing is the same;
And if passing thou giv'st him a smile or a tear,
He cares not-yet, prithee, be kind to his fame.
Epitaph Extempore. Nobles and heralds, by your leave,
Here lies what once was Matthew Prior, The son of Adam and of Eve;
Can Stuart or Nassau claim higher?
Interr'd beneath this marble stone,
Lie sauntering Jack and idle Joan.
While rolling threescore years and one
Did round this globe their courses run;
If human things went ill or well,
If changing empires rose or fell,
The morning past, the evening came,
And found this couple just the same.
They walk'd and ate, good folks: What then?
Why, then they walk'd and ate again;
They soundly slept the night away;
They did just nothing all the day.
Nor sister either had nor brother;
They seemed just tallied for each other.
Their Moral and Economy
Most perfectly they made agree;
Each virtue kept its proper bound,
Nor trespass'd on the other's ground.
Nor fame nor censure they regarded;
They neither punish'd nor rewarded.
He cared not what the footman did;
Her maids she neither prais'd nor chid:
So every servant took his course,
And, bad at first, they all grew worse.
Slothful disorder fill'd his stable,
And sluttish plenty deck'd her table.
Their beer was strong, their wine was port;
Their meal was large, their grace was short.
They gave the poor the remnant meat,
Just when it grew not fit to eat.
They paid the church and parish rate,
And took, but read not, the receipt;
For which they claim'd their Sunday's due,
Of slumbering in an upper pew.
No man's defects sought they to know,
So never made themselves a foe.
No man's good deeds did they commend,
So never rais'd themselves a friend.
Nor cherish'd they relations poor,
That might decrease their present store;
Nor barn nor house did they repair,
That might oblige their future heir.
They neither added nor confounded;
They neither wanted nor abounded.
Nor tear nor smile did they employ
At news of public grief or joy.
When bells were rung and bonfires made,
If ask'd, they ne'er denied their aid;
Their jug was to the ringers carried,
Whoever either died or married.
Their billet at the fire was found,
Whoever was depos'd or crown'd.
Nor good, nor bad, nor fools, nor wise,
They would not learn, nor could advise ;
Without love, hatred, joy, or fear,
They led-a kind of-as it were;
Nor wish'd, nor car'd, nor laugh'd, nor cried;
And so they liv'd, and so they died.
That eye dropp'd sense distinct and clear,
As any muse's tongue could speak,
When from its lid a pearly tear
Ran trickling down her beauteous cheek.
Dissembling what I knew too well,
My love, my life, said I, explain
This change of humour; prithee tell-
That falling tear-what does it mean?
She sigh'd, she smil'd; and to the flowers
Pointing, the lovely mor'list said,
See, friend, in some few fleeting hours,
See yonder, what a change is made.
Ah me! the blooming pride of May
And that of beauty are but one;
At morn both flourish bright and gay,
Both fade at evening, pale, and gone.
[Abra's Love for Solomon.]
[From Solomon on the Vanity of the World."]
Another nymph, amongst the many fair,
That made my softer hours their solemn care,
Before the rest affected still to stand,
And watch'd my eye, preventing my command.
Abra, she so was call'd, did soonest haste
To grace my presence; Abra went the last;
Abra was ready ere I call'd her name;
And, though I call'd another, Abra came.
Her equals first observ'd her growing zeal,
And laughing, gloss'd that Abra serv'd so well.
To me her actions did unheeded die,
Or were remark'd but with a common eye;
Till, more appris'd of what the rumour said,
More I observ'd peculiar in the maid.
The sun declin'd had shot his western ray,
When, tir'd with business of the solemn day,
I purpos'd to unbend the evening hours,
And banquet private in the women's bowers.
I call'd before I sat to wash my hands
(For so the precept of the law commands);
Love had ordain'd that it was Abra's turn
To mix the sweets, and minister the urn.
With awful homage, and submissive dread,
The maid approach'd, on my declining head
To pour the oils: she trembled as she pour'd;
With an unguarded look she now devour'd
My nearer face; and now recall'd her eye,
And heav'd, and strove to hide, a sudden sigh.
And whence, said I, canst thou have dread or pain?
What can thy imagery of sorrow mean?
Secluded from the world and all its care,
Hast thou to grieve or joy, to hope or fear?
For sure, I added, sure thy little heart
Ne'er felt love's anger, or receiv'd his dart.
Abash'd she blush'd, and with disorder spoke:
Her rising shame adorn'd the words it broke.
If the great master will descend to hear
The humble series of his handmaid's care;
O! while she tells it, let him not put on
The look that awes the nations from the throne!
O! let not death severe in glory lie
In the king's frown and terror of his eye!
Mine to obey, thy part is to ordain;
And, though to mention be to suffer pain,
If the king smile whilst I my wo recite,
If weeping, I find favour in his sight,
Flow fast, my tears, full rising his delight.
O! witness earth beneath, and heaven above!
For can I hide it? I am sick of love;
If madness may the name of passion bear,
Or love be call'd what is indeed despair.
Thou Sovereign Power, whose secret will controls The inward bent and motion of our souls!
Why hast thou plac'd such infinite degrees
Between the cause and cure of my disease?
The mighty object of that raging fire,
In which, unpitied, Abra must expire.
Had he been born some simple shepherd's heir,
The lowing herd or fleecy sheep his care,
At morn with him I o'er the hills had run,
Scornful of winter's frost and summer's sun,
Still asking where he made his flock to rest at noon;
For him at night, the dear expected guest,
I had with hasty joy prepar'd the feast;
And from the cottage, o'er the distant plain,
Sent forth my longing eye to meet the swain,
Wavering, impatient, toss'd by hope and fear,
Till he and joy together should appear,
And the lov'd dog declare his master near.
On my declining neck and open breast
I should have lull'd the lovely youth to rest,
And from beneath his head, at dawning day,
With softest care have stol'n my arm away,
To rise, and from the fold release his sheep,
Fond of his flock, indulgent to his sleep.
Or if kind heaven, propitious to my flame
(For sure from heaven the faithful ardour came),
Had blest my life, and deck'd my natal hour
With height of title, and extent of power;
Without a crime my passion had aspir'd,
Found the lov'd prince, and told what I desir'd.
Then I had come, preventing Sheba's queen,
To see the comeliest of the sons of men,
To hear the charming poet's amorous song,
And gather honey falling from his tongue,
To take the fragrant kisses of his mouth,
Sweeter than breezes of her native south,
Likening his grace, his person, and his mien,
To all that great or beauteous I had seen.
Serene and bright his eyes, as solar beams
Reflecting temper'd light from crystal streams;
Ruddy as gold his cheek; his bosom fair
As silver; the curl'd ringlets of his hair
Black as the raven's wing; his lip more red
Than eastern coral, or the scarlet thread;
Even his teeth, and white like a young flock
Coeval, newly shorn, from the clear brook
Recent, and branching on the sunny rock.
Ivory, with sapphires interspers'd, explains
How white his hands, how blue the manly veins.
Columns of polish'd marble, firmly set
On golden bases, are his legs and feet;
His stature all majestic, all divine,
Straight as the palm-tree, strong as is the pine.
Saffron and myrrh are on his garments shed,
And everlasting sweets bloom round his head.
What utter I? where am I? wretched maid!
Die, Abra, die: too plainly hast thou said
Thy soul's desire to meet his high embrace,
And blessing stamp'd upon thy future race;
To bid attentive nations bless thy womb,
With unborn monarchs charg'd, and Solomons to
Here o'er her speech her flowing eyes prevail. O foolish maid! and oh, unhappy tale! I saw her; 'twas humanity; it gave Some respite to the sorrows of my slave. Her fond excess proclaim'd her passion true, And generous pity to that truth was due. Well I intreated her, who well deserv'd; I call'd her often, for she alway serv'd. Use made her person easy to my sight, And ease insensibly produc'd delight. Whene'er I revell'd in the women's bowers (For first I sought her but at looser hours), The apples she had gather'd smelt most sweet, The cake she kneaded was the savoury meat: But fruits their odour lost, and meats their taste, If gentle Abra had not deck'd the feast.
Dishonour'd did the sparkling goblet stand,
Unless received from gentle Abra's hand;
And, when the virgins form'd the evening choir,
Raising their voices to the master lyre,
Too flat I thought this voice, and that too shrill,
One show'd too much, and one too little skill;
Nor could my soul approve the music's tone,
Till all was hush'd, and Abra sung alone.
Fairer she seem'd distinguish'd from the rest,
And better mien disclos'd, as better drest.
A bright tiara round her forehead tied,
To juster bounds confin'd its rising pride.
The blushing ruby on her snowy breast
Render'd its panting whiteness more confess'd;
Bracelets of pearl gave roundness to her arm,
And every gem augmented every charm.
Her senses pleased, her beauty still improv'd,
And she more lovely grew, as more belov❜d.
The fatal retreat of th' unfortunate brave; Where honour and justice most oddly contribute To ease heroes' pains by a halter and gibbet. Derry down, down, hey derry down.
There death breaks the shackles which force had put
And the hangman completes what the judge but begun ; There the 'squire of the pad, and the knight of the post,
Find their pains no more baulk'd, and their hopes no more cross'd, Derry down, &c.
Great claims are there made, and great secrets are known;
And the king, and the law, and the thief, has his own; But my hearers cry out, What a deuce dost thou ail? Cut off thy reflections, and give us thy tale.
Derry down, &c.
'Twas there, then, in civil respect to harsh laws, And for want of false witness to back a bad cause, A Norman, though late, was obliged to appear; And who to assist, but a grave Cordelier? Derry down, &c.
The 'squire, whose good grace was to open the scene, Seem'd not in great haste that the show should begin ; Now fitted the halter, now travers'd the cart; And often took leave, but was loath to depart. Derry down, &c.
The Thief and the Cordelier.-A Ballad.
To the tune of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury.'
Then, turning about to the hangman, he said,
Who has e'er been at Paris, must needs know the Despatch me, I prithee, this troublesome blade;
For thy cord and my cord both equally tie,
And we live by the gold for which other men die.
Derry down, &c.
What frightens you thus, my good son? says the priest,
You murder'd, are sorry, and have been confess'd.
O father! my sorrow will scarce save my bacon;
For 'twas not that I murder'd, but that I was taken.
Derry down, &c.
Pough, prithee ne'er trouble thy head with such fancies;
Rely on the aid you shall have from St Francis ;
If the money you promis'd be brought to the chest,
You have only to die; let the church do the rest.
Derry down, &c.
And what will folks say, if they see you afraid? It reflects upon me, as I knew not my trade; Courage, friend, for to-day is your period of sorrow; And things will go better, believe me, to-morrow. Derry down, &c.
That I would, quoth the father, and thank you to boot;
But our actions, you know, with our duty must suit;
The feast I proposed to you, I cannot taste,
For this night, by our order, is marked for a fast.
Derry down, &c.
As the Cameleon, who is known To have no colours of his own;
But borrows from his neighbour's hue,
His white or black, his green or blue;
And struts as much in ready light,
Which credit gives him upon sight,
As if the rainbow were in tail,
Settled on him and his heirs male;
So the young squire, when first he comes
From country school to Will's or Tom's,
And equally, in truth, is fit
To be a statesman, or a wit;
Without one notion of his own,
He saunters wildly up and down,
Till some acquaintance, good or bad,
Takes notice of a staring lad,
Admits him in among the gang;
They jest, reply, dispute, harangue;
He acts and talks, as they befriend him,
Smear'd with the colours which they lend him.
Thus, merely as his fortune chances,
His merit or his vice advances.
If haply he the sect pursues, That read and comment upon news; He takes up their mysterious face; He drinks his coffee without lace; This week his mimic tongue runs o'er What they have said the week before; His wisdom sets all Europe right, And teaches Marlborough when to fight. Or if it be his fate to meet
With folks who have more wealth than wit,
He loves cheap port, and double bub,
And settles in the Humdrum Club;
He learns how stocks will fall or rise;
Holds poverty the greatest vice;
Thinks wit the bane of conversation;
And says that learning spoils a nation.
But if, at first, he minds his hits,
And drinks champaign among the wits;
Five deep he toasts the towering lasses;
Repeats you verses wrote on glasses;
Is in the chair; prescribes the law;
And 's lov'd by those he never saw.