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The conduct of Prior, in this splendid initiation into publick business, was so pleasing to king William, that he made him one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber; and he is supposed to have passed some of the next years in the quiet cultivation of literature and poetry.
The death of queen Mary (in 1695) produced a subject for all the writers : perhaps no funeral was ever so poetically attended. Dryden, indeed, as a man discountenanced and deprived, was silent; but scarcely any other maker of verses omitted to bring his tribute of tuneful sorrow. An emulation of elegy was universal. Maria's praise was not confined to the English language, but fills a great part of the Musce Anglicanæ.
Prior, who was both a poet and a courtier, was too diligent to miss this opportunity of respect. He wrote a long ode, which was presented to the king, by whom it was not likely to be ever read.
In two years he was secretary to another embassy at the treaty of Ryswick (in 1697 *); and next year had the same office at the court of France, where he is said to have been considered with great distinction.
As he was one day surveying the apartments at Versailles, being shewn the victories of Louis, painted by Le Brun, and asked whether the king of England's palace had any such decorations; “ The mo“numents of my master's actions," said he, “ are “ to be seen every where but in his own house."
* He received, in September 1697, a present of 200 guineas from the lords justices, for his trouble in bringing over the treaty of peace. N.
The pictures of Le Brun are not only in themselves sufficiently ostentatious; but were explained by inscriptions so arrogant, that Boileau and Racine thought it necessary to make them more simple.
He was in the following year at Loo with the king; from whom, after a long audience, he carried orders to England, and upon his arrival became under-secretary of state in the earl of Jersey's office; à post which he did not retain long, because Jersey was removed; but he was soon made commissioner of trade.
This year (1700) produced one of his longest and most splendid compositions, the Carmen Seculare, in which he exhausts all his powers of celebration. I mean not to accuse him of flattery : he probably thought all that he writ, and retained as much veracity as can be properly exacted from a poet professedly encomiastick. King William supplied copious materials for either verse or prose. His whole life had been action, and none ever denied him the resplendent qualities of steady resolution and personal courage. He was really in Prior's mind what he represents him in his verses; he considered him as a hero, and was accustomed to say, that he praised others in compliance with the fashion, but that in celebrating king William he followed his inclination. To Prior gratitude would dictate praise, which reason would not refuse.
Among the advantages to arise from the future years of William's reign, he mentions a Society for useful Arts, and
That from our writers distant realms may know
The thanks we to our monarchs owe, And schools profess our tongue through every land, That has invok'd his aid, or bless'd his hand.
Tickell, in his Prospect of Peace, has the same hope of a new academy :
In happy chains our daring language bound,
Shall sport no more in arbitrary sound. Whether the similitude of those passages which exhibit the same thought on the same occasion proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy to determine. Tickelt might have been impressed with his expectation by Swift's Proposal for ascertaining the English Language, then lately published. · In the Parliament that met in 1701, he was chosen representative of East Grinstead. Perhaps it was about this time that he changed his party; for he voted for the impeachment of those Lords who had persuaded the king to the Partition treaty, a treaty in which he had himself been ministerially employed,
A great part of queen Anne's reign was a time of war, in which there was little employment for negotiators, and Prior had therefore leisure to make or to polish verses. When the battle of Blenheim called forth all the versemen, Prior, among the rest, took care to shew his delight in the increasing honour of his
country by an Epistle to Boileau.
He published, soon afterwards, a volume of poems, with the encomiastick character of his deceased patron the duke of Dorset ; it began with the College Exercise, and ended with The Nut-brown Maid.
The battle of Ramillies soon afterwards (in 1706) excited him to another effort of poetry. On this occasion he had fewer or less formidable rivals; and it would be not easy to name any other composition produced by that event which is now remembered.
Every thing has its day. Through the reigns of William and Anne no prosperous event passed undignified by poetry. In the last war, when France was disgraced and overpowered in every quarter of the globe, when Spain, coming to her assistance, only shared her calamities, and the name of an Englishman was reverenced through Europe, no poet was heard amidst the general exclamation ; the fame of our counsellors and heroes was entrusted to the Gazetteer:
The nation in time grew weary of the war, and the queen grew weary of her ministers. The war was burdensome, and the ministers were insolent. Harley and his friends began to hope that they might, by driving the whigs from court and from powers gratify at once the queen and the people. There was now a call for writers, who might convey intelligence of past abuses, and shew the waste of publick money, the unreasonable Conduct of the Allies, the avarice of generals, the tyranny of minions, and the general danger of approaching ruin.
For this purpose a paper called The Examiner was periodically published, written, as it happened, by any wit of the party, and sometimes, as is said, by Mrs. Manley. Some are owned by Swift; and one in ridicule of Garth's verses to Godolphin upon the loss of his place, was written by Prior, and an
swered by Addison, who appears to have known the author either by conjecture or intelligence.
The Tories, who were now in power, were in haste to end the war; and Prior, being recalled (1710) to his former employment of making treaties, was sent (July 1711) privately to Paris with propositions of peace. He was remembered at the French court; and, returning in about a month, brought with him the Abbé Gaultier, and M. Mesnager, a minister from France, invested with full powers.
This transaction not being avowed, Mackay, the master of the Dover packet-boat, either zealously or officiously, seized Prior and his associates at Canterbury. It is easily supposed that they were soon released.
The negotiation was begun at Prior's house, where the queen's ministers met Mesnager (September 20, 1711), and entered privately upon the great business. The importance of Prior appears from the mention made of him by St. John in his Letter to the Queen.
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 Monsieur 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 should think fit to “ employ him in the future treaty of commerce, it “ will be of consequence that he has been a party