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and massive wisdom, the axiomatic and pregnant brevity of the original are diffused into a flowing eloquence and weakened by ornamental diction. The current of the story moves languidly along : and wants that variety of embellishment, and that force of illustration, which draws its examples from the history of men and of society, and which Pope so happily introduces into the Essay on Man—
To point a moral, or adorn a tale.
Of the Alma, the only defects appear to be in
The woods are traversed, and the lakes are drain'd;
1 Mr. Pope said that the Alma of Prior was the only work that, abating its excessive scepticism, he could wish to have been the author of. Yet so unable, said he, are authors to make a true estimate of what they write, either from the fondness of their subject, or the pains it costs them in the composition, that Prior, asking him soon after the publication of his works by subscription how he liked his Solomon, he replied,—Your Alma is a masterpiece. The other, with great impatience and resentment, replied,—“What, do you tell me of my Alma, a loose and hasty scribble to relieve the tedious hours of imprisonment, while in the messenger's hand.”—This judgment of his friend occasioned these two satiric lines in the small poem of the Impertinent. (The Conversation.)
Indeed, poor Solomon in rhyme
See Ruffhead's Life of Pope, 8vo. p. 482. Goldsmith
its rambling and inconclusive plan. Though formed (it is said) upon the model of Hudibras, there is sufficient originality to redeem it from the servility of a copy. Inferior in its pregnant brevity of wit, and unexpected quaintness of allusion, but far excelling in easy and graceful turns of thought: and in the unaffected clearness of its language, which flows on with perfect ease, as if totally unembarrassed by the restraints of rhyme. Of Prior's larger poems it is undoubtedly the most perfect.
To Prior must be allotted the praise of giving a grace and delicacy of finish to our versification, which alone was wanting among the improvements introduced by Dryden; and in which he was scarcely inferior to Pope. In this respect, compared to Prior, Denham and Waller," appear rugged and unfinished. To this refinement, Prior was
says, (see his Beauties of Eng. Poetry, vol. ii. p. 205,) “What Prior meant by this poem I can't understand. By The Greek motto to it, one would think it was either to laugh at the subject or his reader. There are some parts of it very fine, and let them save the badness of the rest.” Shenstone observed, that Pope never mentions Prior, though so handsomely spoken of in the Alma. One might imagine that Mr. Pope, indebted as he was to Prior for such numberless beauties, should have readily repaid this poetical obligation. This can only be imputed to pride, or party cunning; but Prior's name twice occurs in the Dunciad, B. ii. C. 124, 138, though but slightly. 1 Our poetry was not quite harmonized in Waller's time: so that this which would be now looked upon as a slovenly sort of versification, was, with respect to the time in which it was
probably led by his familiarity with the French poets, and by his choice, like them, of those light and miniature subjects, which derive half their merit from minuteness of finish, and delicacy of touch. It would appear, at first sight, that he was more defective in the accuracy of his rhymes,” than might have been supposed: but a very great latitude had been allowed in that respect, till Pope's example, stimulated by Swift's fastidiousness, corrected the evil: the few hemistichs which he introduces in his Solomon, were probably intended to relieve the monotony of the piece: Prior perhaps cannot be called a great poet: * but he has the merit of writing in a style and manner formed with such taste and skill,” with such knowledge of the laws of poetry, and such attention to the choice of words, and beauty of language, as to prove that he was a great proficient in his art. In his own lively, picturesque, and gay manner, he is still unrivalled, and he may justly be called the first poet, of the dressed age of poetry, and who brought to perfection the polished ease, the vivacity and graces of the French school.
written, almost a prodigy of harmony.—Goldsmith, B. Engl. Poetry, ii. 91. 2 The chief are—has, face—means, intends—carvel, barrell—relief, life—frowns, surrounds—voice, noise—kindness, fineness—lawn, man—proclaim, swain—such rhymes as way and sea were allowed. Pope always rhymes tea to such
words: it was then pronounced as in French.
8 See verses by Prior to lady Henrietta Harley, not in the common edition of his works in Scott's ed. of Swift, vol. xvi. p. 328.
4 Pope mentions Prior in the list which he drew up of writers who might serve as authorities for poetical language; it was begun twice, but left imperfect. There were but nine mentioned, and two of these only in the burlesque style.— Spenser Shakspeare, Fletcher, Waller, Butler, Dryden, Prior, Swift.—W. Spence's Anecdotes, p. 311.
SUI temporis Historiam meditante Paulatim obrepens Febris Operi simul et vitæ filum abripuit. Sep. 18. Am. IDom. 1721. ætat. 57. H. S. E. Vir eximius Serenissimis Regi Gulielmo, Reginæque Mariæ In congressione fœderatorum Hagæ Anno 1690 celebrata IDeinde Magnæ Britanniæ Legatis Tum iis Qui Anno 1697 Pacem Ryswicki confecerunt Tum iis Qui apud Gallos Annis proximis Legationem obierunt IEodem etiam Anno 1697 in Hibernia Secretarius Necnon in utroque honorabili confessu Eorum Qui Anno 1700 ordinandis commercii negotiis Quique Anno 1711 dirigendis Portorii rebus IPræsidebant Commissionarius Eostremo Ab Anna