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ATTHEW PRIOR is one of those
that have burst out from an obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburne in Dorsetshire, of I know not what parents ; 6thers say that he was the fon of a Joiner of London: he was perhaps willing enough to leave his birth unsettled, in hope, like Don Quixote, that the historian of his actions might find him fome illustrious alli
* The difficulty of settling Prior's birth-place is great. In the register of his College he is called, at his admission by the President, Matthew Prior of Winburn in Middlesex ; by himself text day, Matthew Prior of Dorset fhire, in which county, not in Middlesex, Winborn, or Wimborne, as it stands in the Villare, is found. When he ftood candidate for his fellowship, five years afterwards, he was registered again by himself as of Middlesex. The last record ought to he
He is supposed to have fallen, by his fa* ther's death, into the hands of his uncle, a vintner near Charing-cross, who sent him for some time to Dr. Busby at Westminster; but, not intending to give him
education beyond that of the school, took him, when he was well advanced. in literature, to his own house; where the earl of Dorset, celebrated for patronage of genius, found him by chance, as Burnet relates, reading Horace, and was so well pleased with his proficiency, that he undertook the cảre and cost of his academical education.
He entered his name in St. John's College at Cambridge in 1682, in his eighteenth year; and it may be reasonably supposed that he was distinguished among his contemporaries. He became a Bachelor, as is usual, in four
years; and two years afterwards wrote the
poem on the Deity, which stands first in his volume.
It is the established practice of that College to send every year to the earl of Exeter some preferred, because it was made upon oath. It is observable, that, as a native of Winborne, he is stiled Filius Georgii Prior; generosi; not consistently with the common account of the meanness of his birth.
poems upon sacred subjects, in acknowledge ment of a benefaction enjoyed by them from the bounty of his ancestor. On this occasion were those verses written, which, though nothing is said of their success, seem to have recommended him to some notice; for his praise of the countess's music, and his lines on the famous picture of Seneca, afford reason for imagining that he was more or less conversant with that family.
The same year he published the City Mouse and Country Mouse, to ridicule Dryden's Hind and Panther, in conjunction with Mr. Montague. There is a story* of great pain suffered, and of tears shed, on this occasion, by Dryden, who thought it hard that an old man should be fo treated by those to whom he had always been civil. By tales like these is the envy raised by superior abilities every day gratified: when they are attacked, every one hopes to see them humbled; what is hoped is readily believed, and what is believed is confidently told. Dryden had been more accustomed to hoftilities, than that such enemies should break his quiet; and if we can suppose
him vexed, it would be hard to deny him sense enough to conceal his uneasiness.
The City Mouse and Country Mouse procured its authors more solid advantages than the pleasure of fretting Dryden; for they were both speedily preferred. Montague indeed obtained the first notice, with some degree of discontent, as it seems, in Prior, who proba, bly knew that his own part of the performance was the best. He had not, however, much reason to complain; for he came to London, and obtained such notice, that (in 1691) he was sent to the congress at The Hague as secretary to the embassy. In this assembly of princes and nobles, to which Euz rope has perhaps scarcely seen any thing equal, was formed the grand alliance against Lewis; which at last did not produce effects proportionate to the magnificence of the transaction,
The conduct of Prior, in this fplendid initiation into public business, was so pleasing to king William, that he made him one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber; and he is fupposed to have passed some of the next years in the cultivation of literature and poetry.