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LIFE OF PRIOR,
MATHEW PRIOR, the son of obscure parents," was born at Winburn, in Dorsetshire, July 21st, 1664. At the death of his father, he came to the hands of his uncle, Mr. Samuel Prior, who was a vintner, and the host of Rummer tavern, near Charing Cross, in London. He went, for a time, to the Westminster school; but was taken away, when somewhat advanced in his studies; and would, perhaps, have died in the obscurity of his birth, had not the earl of Dorset, as it is said, accidentally discovered him reading Horace, and been so well pleased with his proficiency as to undertake the expense of his education.
He entered St. John's college, in Cambridge, in 1682; became a bachelor, in 1686; and took his master's degree in 1700. In 1688, he produced his poem on the Deity; and it was in the same year, that he assisted Halifax in worrying Dryden with the City Mouse and Country Mouse. There is respon son to believe, that Halifax's share in this poem was extremely small; and 'Lord Peterborough, (says Mr. Scott,) on being asked whether the satire was
• He seems to have taken pains to conceal his origin. Some have said, he was the son of a joiner, in London : but, as he is registered, in his college, as Filius Georgii Prior, Generosi, he either was, or was determined to be thought, the son of less ignoble parents.
not written by Montague in conjunction with Prior, answered, 'Yes; as if I, seated in Mr. Cheselden's chaise, drawn by his fine horse, should say, Lord! how finely we draw this chaise !**
There is (says Dr. Johnson) 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 so treated by those to whom he had always been civil.' By tales like these is 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 hostilities, 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.
Perhaps there are few summary deductions in the Lives of the Poets, which are more readily assented to than this. It seems as if it should be so; and what seems rational is easily believed to be true. Yet, if we may trust what has come under our own observation, the hostilities of early days are not calculated to render us callous to ridicule in old age. Men look forward to three score as a season of quiet. Their object is no longer to fight,--but to enjoy; and they think it peculiarly ungenerous to be attacked at a time, when they have lost both the disposition and the power to defend themselves. We have known old men cry out for mercy at a single gibe in the newspapers; who, in the heat of juvenile blood, would have rejoiced at the opportunity of battle, and returned column for paragraph. It is known, that Dryden, though he stept forth against Stillingfleet in his earlier days, most promptly bent the knee to Collier,f in his old age; and, * Scott's Life of Dryden, p. 330.
+ I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, (says he, in the preface to the Fables,) because, in many things, he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine, which
as he was much more sensitive to ridicule than logic, we can easily believe, that even the tears sprung, when he found himself, “an old man,' exposed as a laughing-stock by Halifax and Prior, whom he had never molested.
But, the City Mouse and Country Mouse, if it did not afflict Dryden, was the means of procuring the advancement of the authors. Montague was preferred first; but Prior had an abundant, though a more tardy, reward. He was sent, in 1691, as secretary of the embassy to the Congress at the Hague, for forming the grand alliance against Lewis; and his conduct, in that capacity, was so satisfactory to King William, that he was afterwards made one of the gentlemen of the bed chamber. We hear no more of him, till the year 1695; when, with all the rest of the poets, he wrote an elegiac ode on the death of Queen Mary. He was secretary of the embassy to Ryswick, in 1697 ; and is said to have received 200 guineas, from the Lord's Justices, 'for the trouble' of bringing home the treaty. Prior unquestionably knew what it was for.
In 1698, he was sent in the same capacity to the Court of France. He was one day surveying the apartments of Versailles; and the company, having showed him, among other things, the victories of Louis, ostentatiously painted by Le Brun, and as os. tentatiously displayed in the rooms, asked whether the palace of the king of England had any such decorations. “The monuments of my master's actions,' answered Prior, are to be seen every where but in his own house.' He may have been asked such a question; and he may have returned this answer. But the French are not a people to ask a stranger such a question by way of suggesting an invidious comparison between the kings of the two nations ; and Prior must either have wanted discernment to perceive the fact, or gratitude enough to abstain from insulting a company of the most polite people in the world, who were endeavouring to gratify his curiosity with the sights in Paris.
can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad to be otherwise, it becomes not me to draw my pen in defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good one. In his prime, Dryden was not wont to yield a point in this manner; and we see that one of the very occasions of so much repentance, was his former readiness to draw his pen in defence of that cause, good or bad, which accident or choice had made his own.
In 1699, Prior was with the king at Loo; and, being sent with despatches to England, was made under secretary of State. He soon lost that office by the removal of Jersey, the Secretary; but was compensated by the appointment of Commissioner of Trade. In the following year he wrote the Carmen Seculare ; a pendict of all the flattering things that he could say concerning his master King Wil. liam. The author of the English Dictionary very appropriately notices, that, among the advantages to arise from the future years of William's reign, Prior mentions a Society of useful Arts, and among them,
Some that with caution eloquence shall teach,
The thanks we to our monarch's owe,
* Tickell he continues, “in his Prospect of Peace, has the same hope of a new Academy :
In happy chains our daring language bound
* It may have occurred to the biographer, that it would neither violate the nature. nor the truth, if his own name should be substi tuted for the word monarchs.