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however, from the large number of works on Continental history, which were then probably standard books and which might provide the student of that period with a splendid field for research. Among these is a volume of fortythree French pamphlets collected, bound together and indexed by Prior himself. They are dated from 1612–1666 and called Recueil de Diverses Pièces. There is a similar volume, which he had acquired from some earlier collector, called Pièces touchant Mazarin, and containing 103 French pamphlets, all dated 1649.
Besides a few bequests to patrons, friends, and servants, Prior left £1,000 each to Mrs. Cox, and Adrian Drift," with the residue of his fortune to be equally divided between them. Such were the outward events of Prior's life. Of his private affairs we know little, and are tempted to wish some of that little unrevealed. Among the wits of the day he evidently held his own, and was as ready to give his society as they were to seek it. Neat sayings and puns of his were remembered in circles which had the right to be critical in such matters, and we meet with familiar references to him in Swift's Journal to Stella, the biographies and letters of Arbuthnot, Atterbury, Pope, etc., and especially of Bolingbroke. He belonged to Bolingbroke's brotherhood of sixteen for “the established improvement of . friendship and the encouragement of letters.” Before his political transformation he had also known something of Addison, Garth, Steele and the men of light and leading among the eighteenth century Whigs. In a word, as the pompous Dr. Friend hath it, “It is a matter of doubt, whether in his writings, he was the more elegant poet; or in his conversation, the more facetious companion.” There remain a few characteristic anecdotes of him, which are more or less familiar and may be repeated here. Everyone knows that, when he was being shown Le Brun's picture of the victories of Louis XIV. at Versailles, and was asked whether the King of England's palace had any such decorations, he was bold and prompt enough to reply, “The monuments
* A letter of Arbuthnot's to Mr. Watkins has been often reprinted, in which he says that “Prior has left his estate between his servant Jonathan Drift and Bessy Cox.” This is probably a slip of the pen, but it has caused subsequent biographers to suppose that “Jonathan’” (as spoken of by Prior in letters and poems) was the famliar nickname of his executor Adrian Drift. The following letter (Bolingbroke's Correspondence, II. 86), from Prior to Bolingbroke, dated Paris, Oct. 17, 1712, seems to me to prove that Jonathan and Drift were two persons. “I have more to write than I can possibly perform, and dare not employ one hand in France; and can get neither Drift or any other clerk from England . . . add to this the honest stupidity of my English Jonathan in France, etc.” The closing lines of the Alma also suggest that Drift had charge of Prior’s “papers” and Jonathan ot his “bottles,” so that I imagine the latter to have been his valet—possibly the “John Oeman or Newman” specially remembered among his servants in Prior's will.
of my master's actions are to be seen everywhere but in his own house.” We have also the impromptu French verses, printed in vol. ii. p. 303, and the story of his cutting rebuke to a Frenchman who was sitting by him at an opera and accompanying the principal singer with his voice. Prior began abusing the performer, and when his neighbour expostulated with him for censuring a person of acknowledged merit, replied that he knew all that, “mais il chante si haut, que je ne sgaurois vous entendre.” Macaulay tells the story of his satisfying the correct Lord Portland as to the soundness of his faith. “That nobleman fancied, not altogether without reason, that the wits and poets who congregated at Will's, were a most profane and licentious set.” Prior quoted the New Testament and the Articles till Portland could restrain his astonishment no longer. “I knew that you were a poet,” he said, “and I took it for granted that you did not believe in God.” Then Prior determined at once to mystify and to silence his orthodox chief. “My Lord, you do us poets the greatest injustice : of all people we are the farthest from atheism. For the atheists do not even worship the true God, whom the rest of mankind acknowledge; and we are always invoking and hymning false gods whom every one else has renounced.” We gain our pleasantest impression of Prior, however, from his intimacies with his
patrons, the Dorsets and Oxfords. His poems to the ladies and children of these families touch a chord of sympathy for which we must look in vain throughout the rest of his poetry. The Female Phaeton, that “most adorable of nursery idylls that ever was or ever will be,”" the verses To a Child of Quality, and the Letter to Peggy enable one to believe the testimony of “the noble, lovely, little Peggy” herself, afterwards Duchess of Portland, that “he made himself beloved by every living thing in the honse —master, child, and servant, human creature or animal.” That is no small praise and may be weighed against other traits not so admirable. We have seen that he was popular in Parisian society and a trusted friend of Bolingbroke's, but it may be noticed also that he did not altogether forget his humbler friends. He always speaks with affection of his secretary Drift, and his will testifies to the lastingness and practicality of the sentiment. And in a letter to Lord Halifax, in which he begs a favour for Drift, a word is inserted for “our old fellow-collegiate and my fidus Achates Mr. Richard Shelton,” the “Dick” of Alma and other poems, to which Prior's will “remits all bonds, notes, or obligations, by which he stands anyway indebted to me”—a tell-tale clause. There is, unfortunately, a dark side to the picture, for with his evident fitness for polite society Prior had an inherent touch of coarse
! Mr. Swinburne.
ness which he never attempted to refine or to conceal. Early associations had accustomed him to a kind of society which never lost its hold on his taste. Biographers have been at some pains to identify his Chloe with a certain Mrs. Elizabeth Coxe (substantially remembered in his will), who kept a small alehouse in Long Acre, and is described by his contemporaries in terms as unequivocal as they are unchivalrous. The other nymphs of his poems led an equally earthy and discreditable existence, that seems to have disgusted even the lax society of Prior's circle, from which women were practically excluded. It may be, as Mr. Dobson charitably suggests, that Prior's tavern associates were rough humourists, but the fibre of his own morality is only too evident in his poetry. His biographer in the Annual Register, 1766, p. 70, describes “Chloe" thus: “The same woman who could charm the waiter in a tavern still maintained her hold over the ambassador at France. The Chloe of Prior, it seems, was a woman in this station of life ; but he never forsook her in the height of his reputation. One would imagine that this woman, who was a butcher's [?] wife, must either have been very handsome or have had something about her superior to people of her rank, but it seems the case was otherwise, and no better reason can be given for Mr. Prior's attachment to her, but that she was his taste.” "
* Concerning Mrs. Coxe, see further, Appendix B.