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but an indifferent negotiator.’ His contemporaries have supplied us with little information as to the lighter parts of his life. His deportment seemed to be gay, and his conversation humourous and pleasant. One of his answers to a vain coxcomb of a Frenchman is worth reporting. Prior was at the opera seated next to a person who accompanied with his voice the principal singer; Prior began abusing the performer in the strongest terms of reproach, till the Frenchman expostulated with him for censuring a person of acknowledged merit. ‘I
self much upon his talents for it. What a simple thing was it to say upon his tombstone, that he was writing a history of his own times' he could not write in a style fit for history, and I dare say he never had set down a word toward any such thing. Swift, however, calls Mr. Prior a person of great distinction, not only on account of his wit, but for his abilities in the management of affairs. See Last Years of Q. Anne, p. 78, ed. Nichols. See Cooke's Life of Bolingbroke, vol. i. p. 165. In a letter from Ld. Bolingbroke to Q. Anne, Sept. 20, 1711, he writes, ‘My Lord Treasurer moved, and all my Lords were of the same opinion, that Mr. Prior should be added to those who are empowered to sign. The reason for which is, because he having personally treated with Mons. de Torcy, is the best witness we can produce of the sense in which the general preliminary engagements are entered into. Besides which, as he is the best versed in matters of trade of all your majesty's servants, who have been trusted in this secret, if you shall think fit to employ him in the future treaty of commerce, it will be of consequence that he has been a party concerned in concluding that convention, which must be the rule of this treaty.” In one of his letters to Ld. Bolingbroke, he signs himself--M. Prior, animal peregrine missum ad mentiendum R. P. causã.
know all that, said Prior, mais il chante si haut, que je ne sgaurois vous entendre.” In a French company, when every one sang a little song or stanzas, of which the burden was given,_ Banissons la Mélancolie, when it came to his turn to sing, after the performance of a young lady, he produced these extemporary and elegant lines: Maiscette voix, et ces beaux yeux Font Cupidon trop dangereux, Etje suis triste quandje crie Banissons la mélancolie. Prior never had much money at command, and either by reason that he had not wherewithal to purchase the venal favours of the higher class of beauties, perhaps from indolence, or perhaps from a naturally inferior taste, he is said to have been coarse and low in his amours. Prior, says Pope, was not a right good man. He used to bury himself for whole days and nights together with a poor mean creature, and often drank hard. He left most of his effects to the poor woman he kept company with —his Chloe. Every body knows what a wretch she was ; I think she had been a little alehouse keeper's wife, and Spence adds, “that after the death of her friend the Poet, she became the wife of a country cobbler.” Arbuthnot wrote to Mr. Watkins—“Prior had a narrow escape by dy- | ing, for if he had lived he had married a brimstone bitch, one Bessy Cox, that keeps an alehouse in Long Acre. Her husband died about a month ago, and Prior has left his estate between his servant
Jonathan Drift," and Bessy Cox. Lewis got drunk with punch with Bess night before last. Do not you say where you had this news of Prior. I hope all my mistress’ (Q. Anne's) ministers will not behave themselves so. We are to have a bowl of punch at Bessy Cox's. She would fain have put it upon Lewis that she was his (Prior's) Emma. She owned Flanders Jane was his Chloe. I know of no security against this dotage in batchelors, but to repent of their misspent time, and marry with speed.”—The Duchess Dowager of Portland (says Hannah More) was Prior's noble, lively little Peggy. Dr. Johnson calls his Chloes dirty drabs and despicable, who stole his plate and ran away. Richardson says, Prior would leave Pope and Swift, and smoke his pipe with a common soldier and his wife in Long Acre. Yet, if we believe Swift, Prior was much loved and esteemed both by Bolingbroke and Harley, as he well deserved, upon account of every virtue that can qualify a man for private conversation. In another place he commends his talent as a punster. Mr. Hazlitt says ‘Some of Prior's bon mots are the best that are recorded.” Johnson, however, considers that his opinions were correct and right, though his life was loose and sensual: a distinction rather dangerous for a moralist to maintain, unless he believes our reason to be unaffected by our passions and our will: and that the integrity of the mind can long coexist with
the degradation of the appetites, the impurity of the affections, and the seductive wanderings of the heart. From such anecdotes as the above, as well as from his works, we should judge our poet to have been a person of an easy, indolent, and careless turn of mind; who having passed through the business of his early life, and acquired an independence of fortune by the kindness of his friends, spent the remainder of his days in a leisure, where amusement could be acquired with the least trouble, and with indifference towards all who censured the indelicacy of his choice, and the coarseness of his company. In one of Bolingbroke's letters to Sir Thomas Hanmer, he writes—If I have the honour of a line from you, pray give me some account of Mat's private life. Once I was in the gentleman's secret, but his last despatch contains, in almost a ream of paper, nothing but solemn accounts of baseness, such as made me expect to find Jo. Werden instead of Mat. Prior at the bottom of the voluminous epistle. We hear much of a certain eloped mun" who has supplanted the nut-brown maid. Many years after Prior's death there appeared a small volume called—The History of his own time, compiled from the original manuscripts” of
1 This person is alluded to in a subsequent letter of Prior, as his réligieuse défroquée.
* The title-page has this motto underneath —“I had rather be thought a good Englishman, than the best poet, or greatest scholar, that ever wrote.” Matt. Prior.
his late Excellency Matthew Prior, Esq. It was copied for the press by Mr. Adrian Drift, his executor, and is dedicated to Lord Oxford. After his death, they came into possession of Charles Foreman, Esq. who had intended to publish them; but dying before his design was executed, the papers were delivered to Mr. Bancks. As the author of the article on Prior's life in the Biographia Britannica observes, “Notwithstanding all this parade, upon the perusal, very little of Mr. Prior's writing will be found in this piece.” Of Prior's personal appearence I am not aware that any description has been given. Swift, in his Journal to Stella, incidentally mentions, that he walked to make himself fat, and that he generally had a cough ; * and Lord Bolingbroke, in a letter to M. de Torcy, writes —“Au surplus, vous voulez bien que je me remette à ce que j'aurai l'honneur de vous écrire en deux jours d'ici par son Excellence Matthieu. Je crois que vous le trouverez instruit a finir toutes les choses, et que malgré sa phisionomie, qui n'est pas des plus heureuses, il ne sera pas perdu pour le coup; ” and in a subsequent one, speaking also of Matthieu, he says “Ce visage de bois ne commencera son voyage que Lundi prochain; and his cor
8 “The days are now long enough to walk in the park after dinner, and so I do whenever it is fair. This walking is a strange remedy. Mr. Prior walks to make himself fat, and I to bring myself down. He has generally a cough, which he only calls a cold. We often walk round the park together.” Journ. to Stella, b. xiv. 361.