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phia Britannica,” which describes his father as a citizen and joiner, being in good repute. Dr. Johnson thinks that he was willing to leave his birth unsettled: but it is to be observed, that the account which describes him of Winburn, and Parentis generosi, is written by the president of the college, and that one great mistake at the least, regarding the county in which his native place is found, exists in it. Yet the family appear to have had some land or property at Winburn, and to have parted with it; and so the term “generosus' might apply to his father as a proprietor: it is, however, impossible to extricate the subject from difficulties that have too long closed round it to be removed. At his father's death, which happened when he was young, he was affectionately received” into the house of his uncle, a butcher of respectability near Charing Cross, and by him placed under Dr. Busby at Westminster. There he remained sufficiently long to receive many of the advantages of a scholastic education, and he is said to have distinguished himself by his talents and acquirements. His uncle, however, removed him, after a certain time, with the intention of bringing him up to his own business. His house was in good repute, and frequented by some of the leading wits and patrons of the day, the Earl of Dorset among others.” It happened that the company differed with regard to the meaning of a passage in one of Horace's odes, when one of the gentlemen said—‘I find that we are not likely to agree in our criticisms, but if I am not mistaken, there is a young fellow in the house, who is able to set us right.” Matthew Prior was immediately sent for, and explained the passage with such ability and modesty, as gained him the approbation of all present: and the Duke of Dorset from that time resolved to remove him from the tap of the Rummer to the more congenial bowers of the academy. He was accordingly sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, and in part supported by the generosity of his patron. ‘Prior, says Burnet,” had been taken a boy out of a tavern by the Earl of Dorset, who accidentally found him reading Horace, and he, being very generous, gave him an education in literature.’ He was admitted in 1682, in his eighteenth year, and taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1686, was shortly after
2 See Biographia Britannica, p. 3438.
8 Dr. Johnson says—He is supposed to have fallen into his uncle's hands,-a term not warranted by the earlier account of the Biographia. See also Prior's Life by Hum phreys, prefixed to the 3rd vol. of his Poems, p. 1, 3rd ed.
4 S. Prior kept the Rummer tavern at Charing Cross, in 1685. The annual meeting of the nobility and gentry in the parish being held at his house, Oct. 14, 1685. See the lines My uncle, rest his soul, when living, Might have contrived the ways of thriving. P. 3439, B. Brit,
chosen fellow of the college,” where, as Johnson observes, it may reasonably be supposed, that he was distinguished among his contemporaries. About two years after he wrote the poem on the Deity, which stands foremost in his volume. It was sent,” according to the established practice of the college, among others on sacred subjects, to the Earl of Exeter, in acknowledgment of a benefaction received from his ancestors: and Johnson thinks that it was well received, and that from Prior's mention of a picture, and of the countess's music, he was probably known to the family. It was during his residence at college, that he formed an intimacy with Charles Montagu, of Trinity College, afterwards the Earl of Halifax. In conjunction with him he wrote his well known travestie on Dryden's Hind and Panther, entitled—The Hind and Panther transversed to the story of the Country Mouse, and City Mouse, which was published in 1687.* In the next year he wrote, as a college exercise, his ode on the necessary existence of the Deity. His abilities being now recognised, and becoming, as one of his biographers asserts, the delight and admiration of his contemporaries, he wisely endeavoured to advance his fortune by a wider acquaintance with the world. At the solicitation of his friend Fleetwood Shepherd,” he was introduced to the Earl of Dorset, and, in 1690, he was appointed secretary to the embassy that joined the Congress at the Hague: his conduct gave such satisfaction to his employers, that he was subsequently made gentleman of the bed-chamber to the king: and it is supposed that love and poetry equally occupied the leisure which he enjoyed. He wrote several small poems, and paid his addresses to Mrs. Elizabeth Singer, afterwards the famous Mrs. Rowe. In 1695 he joined with the general Corpus Poetarum by inditing an elegy on the death of Queen Mary, which Johnson suspects was never read by the afflicted monarch; but as he adds, that great part of the Musae Anglicanae was filled with poetic tears on the same subject; we may charitably excuse a king, who was never much given to poetry or lite
6 Dr. Johnson does not mention Prior's fellowship. His life of the poet is founded on that in the Biographia. This fellowship he retained to his death. When he was made ambassador, some one intimated that he ought to resign his fellowship; he answered “That every thing he had besides was precarious, and when all failed, that would be bread and cheese at the last, and therefore he did not mean to part from it.”
7 Jacob says, “a discerning eye might in this piece have seen the promises of a Solomon, v. Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. p. 154. It was translated into Latin by Dobson, the translator of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
8 ‘Did not Halifax, asked Spence of Lord Peterborough, ‘write the Country Mouse with Mr. Pryor?’ Yes—just as
if I was in a chaise with Mr. Cheselden here, drawn by his
fine horse, and should say—Lord, how finely we draw this
chaise.” 9 See his Epistle to F. Shepherd, ending
My friend Charles Montagu's preferr'd,
rature, and who was at that time more profitably employed in endeavouring to settle ageneral peace." Prior was again employed as secretary to the English negotiations at the treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Having been nominated the same year principal secretary of state in Ireland. In 1698 he was secretary to the embassy to France, in which he continued both under the Earl of Portland, and the Earl of Jersey: and where he was said to be considered of great distinction. An anecdote, honourable alike to his wot and his sincerity, is recorded in his memoirs:–Being shown the pictures at Versailles which Le Brun painted to commemorate the victories of Louis the XIVth, and being asked whether the King of England's Palace had any such decorations, he answered—“The monuments of my master's actions are to be seen everywhere but in his own house.’ He did not leave Paris till some time after the arrival of the Earl of Manchester, to whom his experience in foreign affairs, and his interest at the French Court, were of eminent service. In the middle of August, 1699, he went to King William in Loo in Holland, when, after a very particular audience with his majesty, he departed for England, and took possession of the under-secreta
1 In the second volume of the Analecta Mus: Anglican: there is a copy of verses “In obitum Augustissimae et Desi. deratissimae Reginae Mariae, by H. Sacheverell-–G. Adams —Ant. Alsop –-P. Foulkes—Ed. Chishull.