תמונות בעמוד
PDF

the negotiations. Prior had been for a short time Commissioner of Trade and Plantations," and was now member for East Grinstead, a constituency which he had chosen in spite of the desire of his friends to bring him forward for the University of Cambridge. He voted for the impeachment, and has not unnaturally been accused of treachery for so doing, though an ingenious flatterer adduced his vote as “a rare instance of a generous mind, who scorned to persist in a vindication of any proceedings that his riper judgment convinced him were unjustifiable.” Sir James Montague excuses him by a piece of ingenious casuistry which fits in much better with Prior's political conscience, i.e., with his calculation of what course of action would look best in the eyes of his future patrons. The argument may be briefly stated as follows:— Prior had personally conducted the negotiations between the French and English monarchs, who were too cautious to commit their instructions to writing. Subsequent events made William anxious to shift his responsibility to the shoulders of his ministers, who were naturally supposed to have advised him in the action. Although Prior knew

* Swift said he hated this work because it spoilt his wit. “Prior says he dreams of nothing but cockets and dockets and drawbacks and other jargon, words of the Custom House.”

better than anyone else that they had not been consulted, he may well have seen that it was safer for himself and for the king, and therefore perhaps better for the nation at large, that its chosen head should not bear the blame of an arrangement which had now become unpopular. He had practically to accuse the monarch or the ministers, and, of two evils, chose what seemed to him the less. On the accession of Queen Anne, the influence of the Tories was in the ascendant, and Prior joined their ranks. Perhaps his vote against the Whig lords paved the way, for it is certain that he escaped any serious abuse for his change of colours. He became alienated from some of his old friends, but gained the intimacy of Harley and Bolingbroke, and, it is clear, lost none of his diplomatic prestige. Of the two great Tory ministers, Prior was most attracted to St. John by the same easy and careless brilliance that so persistently repelled Swift. For the time being, however, Marlborough was active in the field and left little scope for negotiation. Prior was courting the muses and wrote" to Sir Thomas Hammer, “if you can bear with the worst poetry in the world, because the author is more than any man your servant, my present will be very acceptable. I write you no news, for that is only proper for the “Postboy’ and the “Gazette,’ and remarks upon news I leave to the Observator and the Review. Prose, you see, sir, is below me; I have left method for rage, and common sense for enthusiasm. As soon as I can recover from this distemper, and can think my mare a better beast than Pegasus, you will be troubled by me.” He was, in fact, devoting himself to the celebration of victories in verse and the other avocations of a court poet, for which he is roughly handled in Defoe's Reformation of Mammers.

* MS. Morrison.

“His prince's favours follow'd him in vain,
They chang'd the circumstance but not the man.
While out of pocket and his spirits low,
He’d beg, write panegyricks, cringe and bow;
But when good pensions had his labour crown'd,
His panegyrics into satyrs turn'd,
And with a true mechanic spirit curs'd,
Abus'd his royal benefactor first.
O what assiduous pains does Prior] take,
To let great Dorset] see he cou’d mistake :
Dissembling nature false description gave,
Shew'd him the poet, and concealed the knave.”

Neither eulogy nor satire, however, was sufficient to support the poet, and we find him begging Godolphin for the trifling sum of £500 to settle his debts and “hoping in God her majesty will be pleased once more to employ him either abroad or in her service here.” He published his first collections of poems in 1709, and in 1710 was one of the early writers of the Ezaminer, in which the new Tory ministry were supported with brilliant abuse of their adversaries. The paper was originally conducted, under the direct influence of Harley and St. John, by Prior, Swift, Oldsworth, Dr. Freind, and Mrs. Manley, but rapidly fell entirely into the hands of Swift, whose satiric pen played such an important part in the political influences of those days. Prior was at the time considered responsible for many of the Dean's numbers, but those actually written by him are not particularly important. His Fable from Phaedrus (vol. ii. p. 201), and the Sphina (vol. ii. p. 247), first came out in the Ezaminer, and the 6th No. (Sep. 7, 1710), which contained a criticism upon a poem of Dr. Garth's to the Earl of Godolphin, was also his. It was apparently in opposition to this number that Addison started the Whig Eraminer on Sep. 14, 1710, with the design of censuring “the writings of others and giving to all persons a re-hearing who have suffered under any unjust sentence of the “Examiner.’” The first number is devoted to the defence of Dr. Garth against Prior's satire. The ministry, however, soon found other and more lucrative employment for him. Their policy was to be friendly with France, and diplomatists were in request. Prior went to Paris in 1711 to continue the secret negotiations which had been opened with the Court at Versailles by an obscure priest, “the holy Gaultier,” whom he soon brought back to England. To this man Prior wrote later “L’empereur est fou, et moi, je suis toujours à vous,” and the following passage throws light on his character, “Pardon, my dear fellow-traveller, d'avoir le moins soupçonné que le prêtre l'eut emporté dans votre esprit sur le gentilhomme.” With them came the astute Ménager, afterwards one of the French plenipotentiaries at Utrecht. The government had intended these arrivals to be kept as secret as Prior's departure had been, but suspicions were aroused as he landed at Deal, and he was arrested by the custom-house officers. Orders from the government secured his immediate release, but the curiosity of the country had been excited and would not be allayed. Yet it was impossible that the negotiations should be avowed. To solve the difficulty, Swift wrote his New Journey to Paris, which professed to be translated from the French, and which, “without communicating a syllable of real intelligence, had the effect of at once amusing the idle, confusing the suspicious, and sounding the temper of the nation on the subject of negotiation.”” Its progress is detailed in the Journal to Stella. August 31. “I have just thought of a project to bite the town. I have told you, that it is now known that Mr. Prior has been lately in France. I will make a printer of my

* MS. Saxe-Wyndham.

* MS. Morrison.
* See Sir Walter Scott's Swift.

WOL. 1. G

« הקודםהמשך »