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ry's seat, in the Earl of Jersey's office; but he was soon ordered back to Paris to assist the ambassador. In the Christmas of this year, he printed his Carmen Seculare; in which King William received all the prodigality of a poet's commendation. Yet, as Johnson justly observes, We must not accuse Prior of flattery. Of the domestic life, of the private virtues, and perhaps the temper of the monarch, no very favourable account could be given; but his great public actions, his zeal in the cause of liberty and of Europe, his perseverance and inflexible steadfastness in adversity, his courage and military skill, acquit Prior of lavishing an inelegant and undistinguished praise: he said, that he praised others out of compliance with fashion, but that, in praising William, he followed his inclination. In 1700, the university conferred on him the degree of master of arts: he succeeded Locke at the board of trade; and he was elected representative of East Grinstead in Sussex, in 1701, when he seems to have changed his political opinions, and to have voted for impeaching the lords who were charged with advising the Partition treaty.
He excuses himself, however, in one of his poems,
(Conversation) by saying that he never approved the treaty, though obliged to carry it through in obedience to his sovereign.
Mathew, who knew the whole intrigue,
During the reign of Anne, the negotiators and secretaries gave way to persons of more active virtues, and the sword took the place of the pen. Prior published his well known letter to Boileau on the Battle of Blenheim, and an ode addressed to the queen. Soon after he printed a volume of his poems, beginning with his College Exercise, and ending with his Nut-Brown Maid.” Eugene and Marlborough gave for some years ample employments to the court-poets, and accordingly, the Battle of Ramilies was celebrated by Prior, as Blenheim had been before. By some it has been believed, that the queen and the nation were wearied of the war, before the great commander who had so successfully prosecuted it, was inclined to listen to terms of pacification. It has been said, that Marlborough was influenced by private views in its continuance; perhaps, however, his sagacity and experience enabled him to foresee what still greater conquests his military talents, assisted by his powerful allies, could enable him to achieve: and he might not have been willing to have his long career of victories separated from the great end to which they were directed,—The reduction of the power of France, and the assured safety of the liberties of Europe. Prior joined the party of Harley in endeavouring to drive the whigs from power: and a paper called the Examiner was set up, of which much is said in Swift's works, and to which all the wits of the party contributed. One in ridicule of Garth's verses to Godolphin on the loss of his place was written by Prior, and answered by Addison. He is thought also to have been the author of a very satirical attack on the Duke of Marlborough, called the Widow and her Cat, which concludes with the following stanza:
2 On the origin of this poem of the Nut-Brown Maid, see Censura Literaria, vol. vi. p. 114.
So glaring is thy insolence,
That longer with thee to dispense
Were want of power, or want of sense,
The change in Prior's political sentiments did not pass unnoticed. He turned, says Pope, from a strong whig (which he had been when most with Lord Halifax) to a violent tory; and did not care to converse with any whigs after, any more than Rowe did with tories.
In 1711, Prior was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the Court of France, for the purpose of negotiating a peace. In a few weeks he returned, bringing with him Monsieur Mesnager, and the Abbé Gualtier. As the whole of this transaction was private, Prior and his companions were seized at Canterbury,” but immediately re
8 See account of Prior's arrest at Deal, in Scott's ed. of Swift, vol. ii. p. 356 ; and Annals of Queen Anne's Reign, p. 231, and vol. iv. p. 59.
leased by the queen's orders. The meetings were held at Prior's house, who was joined with the privy council in the commission to sign the articles, after the agreement; and who would have been joined with the two ministers at Utrecht, but the president, Lord Strafford, not willing to act with a person of so mean an extraction as Prior,” the business of trade was committed to the Lord Privy Seal; the letters of St. John and the queen, however, sufficiently evince their conviction of Prior's knowledge and services, especially in matters of trade. In 1712, he went to Paris, it is supposed with Lord Bolingbroke, to arrange those matters which remained unsettled at Utrecht. He had the appointments of an ambassador, though he did not assume the character till after the departure of the Duke of Shrewsbury. In October, he returned to England: bearing a private letter from the French King" to the queen, and returned in November. He remained at Paris in the character of a public minister for some
4 Swift says, in his Journal to Stella, “I dined with Lady Betty. I hear Prior's commission is passed to be ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for the peace. ....And so I must go see his Excellency, 'tis a noble advancement, but they could do no less, after sending him to France. Lord Strafford is as proud as hell, and how he will bear one of Prior's mean birth on an equal character with him, I know not.’
5 “Prior was personally acceptable to Louis the XIVth, and well known to Boileau.’ See Scott's Swift, iv. p. 75.
months after the accession of George the First, when he was succeeded by Lord Stair, who took possession of all his papers." The proceedings of the new ministry against all who had any concern in the negotiations of the peace of Utrecht, were sufficient to put him on his guard, and made him expect the storm that soon followed. His letters to Bolingbroke, about this time, are full of anxiety and despondence. His private fortune was unsecured, he had nothing but the irregularly paid salary of his situation, and in his public capacity, he saw the long-gathered storm of a hostile party
6 *Prior had manifested much weakness at the time of Bolingbroke's attainder; his conduct was at least equivocal, if not treacherous; and it is said that it was the news, that he was returning from France, prepared to discover all he knew, and to save himself by the sacrifice of his friend, that prompted, or at least accelerated, Bolingbroke's sudden flight. Whether Prior really meant to implicate his patron admits, however, of much doubt. His evidence entirely disappointed the whigs, who had much relied on it, and they vented their wrath by the imprisonment of the poet for contempt and prevarication. We are not possessed of Bolingbroke's opinion of his conduct at this juncture, it probably caused a coolness between them, and there is no evidence that they ever again corresponded: but from the manner in which he mentions Prior's death, which happened before Bolingbroke's return to England, we may conclude that if he really considered his conduct to be treacherous, he felt rather pity than resentment for the traitor.’ Cooke's Life of Bolingbroke, vol. ii. p. 19.
In one of his letters, Bolingbroke says, “My friendship, dear Matt,” shall never fail thee, employ it all, and continue to love Bolingbroke.’ See Corr. vol. iii. p. 361.