« السابقةمتابعة »
His literary acquisitions are more wonderful, | he was yet not twenty years old, his recommenas those years in which they are commonly made dation advanced Dryden to the laurel. were spent by him in the tumult of a military life, or the gayety of a court. When war was declared against the Dutch, he went, at seventeen, on board the ship in which Prince Rupert and the Duke of Albemarle sailed, with the command of the fleet: but by contrariety of winds they were restrained from action. His zeal for the King's service was recompensed by the command of one of the independent troops of horse, then raised to protect the coast.
Next year he received a summons to parliament, which, as he was then but eighteen years old, the Earl of Northumberland censured as at least indecent, and his objection was allowed. He had a quarrel with the Earl of Rochester, which he has perhaps too ostentatiously related, as Rochester's surviving sister, the Lady Sandwich, is said to have told him with very sharp reproaches.
When another Dutch war (1672) broke out, he went again a volunteer in the ship which the celebrated Lord Ossory commanded; and there made, as he relates, two curious remarks:
"I have observed two things which I dare affirm, though not generally believed. One was, that the wind of a cannon bullet, though flying never so near, is incapable of doing the least harm; and indeed, were it otherwise, no man above deck would escape. The other was, that a great shot may be sometimes avoided, even as it flies, by changing one's ground a little; for, when the wind sometimes blew away the smoke, it was so clear a sunshiny day, that we could easily perceive the bullets (that were half spent) fall into the water, and from thence bound up again among us, which gives sufficient time for making a step or two on any side; though in so swift a motion, it is hard to judge well in what line the bullet comes, which, if mistaken, may by removing cost a man his life, instead of saving it."
His behaviour was so favourably represented by Lord Ossory, that he was advanced to the command of the Catherine, the best second-rate ship in the navy.
The Moors having besieged Tangier, he was sent (1680) with two thousand men to its relief. A strange story is told of the danger to which he was intentionally exposed in a leaky ship, to gratify some resentful jealousy of the King, whose health he therefore would never permit at his table till he saw himself in a safer place. His voyage was prosperously performed in three weeks; and the Moors without a contest retired | before him.
In this voyage he composed "The Vision," a licentious poem; such as was fashionable in those times, with little power of invention or propriety of sentiment.
At his return he found the king kind, who perhaps had never been angry; and he continued a wit and a courtier as before.
At the succession of King James, to whom he was intimately known, and by whom he thought himself beloved, he naturally expected still brighter sunshine; but all know how soon that reign began to gather clouds. His expectations were not disappointed; he was immediately admitted into the privy-council, and made lordchamberlain. He accepted a place in the high commission, without knowledge, as he declared after the Revolution, of its illegality. Having few religious scruples, he attended the King to mass, and kneeled with the rest, but had no disposition to receive the Romish faith, or to force it upon others; for when the priests, encouraged by his appearances of compliance, attempted to convert him, he told them, as Burnet has recorded, that he was willing to receive instruction, and that he had taken much pains to believe in God who had made the world and all men in it; but that he should not be easily persuaded that man was quits, and made God again.
A pointed sentence is bestowed by successive transmission to the last whom it will fit: this censure of transubstantiation, whatever be its value, was uttered long ago by Anne Askew, one of the first sufferers for the protestant religion, who, in the time of Henry VIII. was tortured in the Tower; concerning which there is reason to wonder that it was not known to the historian of the Reformation.
He afterwards raised a regiment of foot, and commanded it as colonel. The land-forces were sent ashore by Prince Rupert; and he lived in In the Revolution he acquiesced, though he the camp very familiarly with Schomberg. He did not promote it. There was once a design of was then appointed colonel of the old Holland associating him in the invitation of the Prince regiment, together with his own, and had the of Orange; but the Earl of Shrewsbury dispromise of a garter, which he obtained in his couraged the attempt, by declaring that Multwenty-fifth year. He was likewise made gen- grave would never concur. This King William tleman of the bedchamber. He afterwards afterwards told him; and asked him what he went into the French service to learn the art of would have done if the proposal had been made: war under Turenne, but stayed only a short "Sir," said he, "I would have discovered it to time. Being by the Duke of Monmouth opposed the King whom I then served." To which King in his pretensions to the first troop of horse-William replied, "I cannot blame you." guards, he, in return, made Monmouth suspected Finding King James irremediably excluded, by the Duke of York. He was not long after, when the unlucky Monmouth fell into disgrace, recompensed with the lieutenancy of Yorkshire and the government of Hull.
he voted for the conjunctive sovereignty, upon this principle, that he thought the title of the Prince and his Consort equal, and it would please the prince, their protector, to have a share Thus rapidly did he make his way both to in the sovereignty. This vote gratified King military and civil honours and employments; yet, William; yet, either by the king's distrust, or busy as he was, he did not neglect his studies, his own discontent, he lived some years without but at least cultivated poetry; in which he must employment. He looked on the king with have been early considered as uncommonly malevolence, and, if his verses or his prose may skilful, if it be true, which is reported, that when I be credited, with contempt. He was, notwith
standing this aversion or indifference, made marquis of Normanby, (1694,) but still opposed the court on some important questions; yet at last he was received into the cabinet-council, with a pension of three thousand pounds.
that sometimes glimmers, but rarely shines, feebly laborious, and at best but pretty. His songs are upon common topics; he hopes, and grieves, and repents, and despairs, and rejoices, like any other maker of little stanzas: to be great, he hardly tries; to be gay, is hardly in his power.
At the accession of Queen Anne, whom he is said to have courted when they were both young, he was highly favoured. Before her coronation In his "Essay on Satire," he was always sup(1702) she made him lord privy-seal, and soon posed to have had the help of Dryden. His after lord-lieutenant of the north riding of "Essay on Poetry" is the great work for which Yorkshire. He was then named commissioner he was praised by Roscommon, Dryden, and for treating with the Scots about the Union; Pope; and doubtless by many more whose euand was made next year, first, Duke of Norman-logies have perished. by, and then of Buckinghamshire, there being suspected to be somewhere a latent claim to the title of Buckingham.
Upon this piece he appears to have set a high value; for he was all his lifetime improving it by successive revisals, so that there is scarcely Soon after, becoming jealous of the Duke of any poem to be found of which the last edition Marlborough, he resigned the privy-seal, and differs more from the first. Amongst other joined the discontented tories in a motion, ex- changes, mention is made of some compositions tremely offensive to the Queen, for inviting the of Dryden, which were written after the first Princess Sophia to England. The Queen court-appearance of the essay. ed him back with an offer no less than that of the chancellorship; which he refused. He now retired from business, and built that house in the Park which is now the Queen's, upon ground granted by the crown.
When the ministry was changed, (1710,) he was made lord-chamberlain of the household, and concurred in all transactions of that time, except that he endeavoured to protect the Catalans. After the Queen's death he became a constant opponent of the court; and, having no public business, is supposed to have amused himself by writing his two tragedies. He died February 24, 1720-21.
He was thrice married: by his two first wives he had no children; by his third, who was the daughter of King James by the Countess of Dorchester, and the widow of the Earl of Anglesey, he had, besides other children that died early, a son, born in 1716, who died in 1735, and put an end to the line of Sheffield. It is observable, that the Duke's three wives were all widows. The dutchess died in 1742.
His character is not to be proposed as worthy of imitation. His religion he may be supposed to have learned from Hobbes; and his morality was such as naturally proceeds from loose opinions. His sentiments with respect to women
he picked up at the court of Charles; and his principles concerning property were such as a gaming-table supplies. He was censured as covetous, and has been defended by an instance of inattention to his affairs, as if a man might not at once be corrupted by avarice and idleness. He is said, however, to have had much tenderness, and to have been very ready to apologize for his violences of passion.
He is introduced into this collection only as a poet; and if we credit the testimony of his contemporaries, he was a poet of no vulgar rank. But favour and flattery are now at an end; criticism is no longer softened by his bounties, or awed by his splendour, and, being able to take a more steady view, discovers him to be a writer
At the time when this work first appeared, Milton's fame was not yet fully established, and therefore Tasso and Spenser were set before him. The two last lines were these. The epic poet, says he,
Must above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where great Torquato, and where greater
The last line in succeeding editions was short-
Must above Tasso's lofty flights prevail,
Amendments are seldom made without some
One celebrated line seems to be borrowed. The Essay calls a perfect character
A faultless monster which the world ne'er saw.
Scaliger, in his poems, terms Virgil sine labe to have read Scaliger's poetry; perhaps he monstrum. Sheffield can scarcely be supposed found the words in a quotation.
highly, it may be justly said that the precepts Of this Essay, which Dryden has exalted so are judicious, sometimes new, and often happily expressed; but there are, after all the emenda. tions, many weak lines, and some strange aplaws of elegy, he insists upon connexion and pearances of negligence: as when he gives the coherence; without which, says he,
'Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will: But not an elegy, nor writ with skill, No Panegyric, nor a Cooper's Hill. Who would not suppose that Waller's "Panegyric" and Denham's Cooper's Hill" were elegies?
His verses are often insipid, but his memoirs are lively and agreeable; he had the perspicuity and elegance of an historian, but not the fire and fancy of a poet.
MATTHEW PRIOR is one of those that has burst | envy raised by superior abilities every day graout from an obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburn, in Ďorsetshire, of I know not what parents; others say, that he was the son 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 some illustrious alliance.
He is supposed to have fallen, by his father'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 any 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 care 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.
tified: 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.
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 probably 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 Europe has perhaps scarcely seen any thing equal, was formed the grand alliance against Louis, which at last did not produce effects proportionate to the magnificence of the transaction.
The conduct of Prior in this splendid initiation into public 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.
It is the established practice of that College, to send every year to the Earl of Exeter some poems upon sacred subjects, in acknowledgment of a benefaction enjoyed by them from The death of Queen Mary (in 1695) produced the bounty of his ancestor. On this occasion a subject for all the writers; perhaps no funeral were those verses written, which, though no- was ever so poetically attended. Dryden, inthing is said of their success, seem to have re-deed, as a man discountenanced and deprived, commended 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 so treated by those to whom he had always been civil.” By tales like these is the
*The difficulty of settling Prior's birthplace 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, next day, Matthew Prior of Dorsetshire, in which county, not in Middlesex, Winborn, or Winborne, as it stands in the Villare, is found. When he stood candidate for his fellowship, five years afterwards, he was registered again by himself as of Middlesex. The last record ought to be preferred, because it was made upon oath. It is observable, that, as a native of Winborne, he is styled Filius Georgii Prior, generosi; not consistently with the common account of the meanness of his birth.-Dr. J.
Samuel Prior kept the Rummer Tavern, near Charing Cross, in 1685. The annual feast of the nobility and gentry living in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields was held at his house, October 14, that year.-N. He was admitted to his bachelor's degree in 1686; and to his master's, by mandate, in 1700.-N.
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 "Musa Anglicana."
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 shown the victories of Louis, painted by Le Brun, and asked whether the King of England's palace had any such decorations: "The monuments of my master's actions," said he, "are to be seen every where but in his own house."
The pictures of Le Brun are not only in themselves sufficiently ostentatious, but were explained by inscriptions so arrogant, that Boi
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.
leau 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; a 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 wrote, and retained as much veracity as can be properly exacted from a poet professedly encomiastic. 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 among them
Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,
And schools profess our tongue through every land
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 acclamation; the fame of our counsellors and heroes was intrusted 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 power, gratify at once the Queen and the people. There was now a call for writers, who might convey intelligence of past abuses, and show the waste of public money, the unrea sonable conduct of the allies, the avarice of ge nerals, the tyranny of minions, and the general danger of approaching rum.
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 Mis. 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 answered 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 trea
Tickell, in his "Prospect of Peace," has the ties, was sent (July, 1711) privately to Paris, same hope of a new academy:
with propositions of peace. He was remembered at the French court; and, returning in about a month, brought with him the Abbe Gualtier, and Mr. Mesnager, a minister from France, invested with full powers.
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, This transaction not being avowed, Mackay, proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy the master of the Dover packet-boat, either zealo determine. Tickell might have been im-lously or officiously, seized Prior and his assopressed with his expectation by Swift's "Propo- ciates at Canterbury. It is easily supposed that sal for ascertaining the English Language," then they were soon released. 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 show his delight in the increasing honour of his country by an Epistle to Boileau.
He published soon afterwards a volume of poems, with the encomiastic 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 Ramilies 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
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 concerned in concluding that convention which must be the rule of this treaty."
The assembly of this important night was in some degree clandestine, the design of treating not being yet openly declared, and, when the whigs returned to power, was aggravated to a
charge of high treason; though, as Prior re-own house, under the custody of the messenger, marks in his imperfect answer to the report of the Committee of Secrecy, no treaty ever was made without private interviews and preliminary discussions.
till he was examined before a committee of the privy council, of which Mr. Walpole was chairman, and Lord Coningsby, Mr. Stanhope, and Mr. Lechmere, were the principal interrogators; who, in this examination, of which there is printed an account not unentertaining, behaved with the boisterousness of men elated by recent
My business is not the history of the peace, but the life of Prior. The conferences began at Utrecht, on the first of January, (1711-12,) and the English plenipotentiaries arrived on the fif-authority. They are represented as asking ques teenth. The ministers of the different potentates conferred and conferred; but the peace advanced so slowly, that speedier methods were found necessary, and Bolingbroke was sent to Paris to adjust differences with less formality; Prior either accompanied him or followed him, and, after his departure, had the appointments and authority of an ambassador, though no pub-ministered by Boscawen, a Middlesex justice, lic character.
By some mistake of the Queen's orders, the court of France had been disgusted; and Bolingbroke says in his letter, "Dear Mat, hide the nakedness of thy country, and give the best turn thy fertile brain will furnish thee with to the blunders of thy countrymen, who are not much better politicians than the French are poets."
Soon after, the Duke of Shrewsbury went on a formal embassy to Paris. It is related by Boyer, that the intention was to have joined Prior in the commission, but that Shrewsbury refused to be associated with a man so meanly born. Prior therefore continued to act without a title till the Duke returned next year to England, and then he assumed the style and dignity of ambassador.
But, while he continued in appearance a private man, he was treated with confidence by Louis, who sent him with a letter to the Queen, written in favour of the Elector of Bavaria. "I shall expect," says he, "with impatience, the return of Mr. Prior, whose conduct is very agreeable to me." And while the Duke of Shrewsbury was still at Paris, Bolingbroke wrote to Prior thus: "Monsieur de Torcy has a confidence in you make use of it, once for all, upon this occasion, and convince him thoroughly, that we must give a different turn to our parliament and our people according to their resolution at this crisis."
tions sometimes vague, sometimes insidious, and writing answers different from those which they received. Prior, however, seems to have been overpowered by their turbulence; for he confesses that he signed what, if he had ever come before a legal judicature, he should have contradicted or explained away. The oath was ad
who at last was going to write his attestation on the wrong side of the paper.
They were very industrious to find some charge against Oxford; and asked Prior, with great earnestness, who was present when the preliminary articles were talked of or signed at his house? He told them, that either the Earl of Oxford or the Duke of Shrewsbury was absent, but he could not remember which; an answer which perplexed them, because it supplied no accusation against either. "Could any thing be more absurd," says he, "or more inhuman, than to propose to me a question, by the answering of which I might, according to them, prove myself a traitor? And notwithstanding their solemn promise, that nothing which I could say should hurt myself, I had no reason to trust them; for they violated that promise about five hours after. However, I owned I was there present. Whether this was wisely done or not, I leave to my friends to determine."
When he had signed the paper, he was told by Walpole, that the committee were not satisfied with his behaviour, nor could give such an ac count of it to the Commons as might merit favour; and that they now thought a stricter confinement necessary than to his own house. "Here," says he, "Boscawen played the moralist, and Coningsby the Christian, but both very awkwardly." The messenger, in whose custody he was to be placed, was then called, and very decently asked by Coningsby, "if his house was Prior's public dignity and splendour com- secured by bars and bolts?" The messenger menced in August, 1713, and continued till the answered, "No!" with astonishment. At which August following; but I am afraid that, accord- Coningsby very angrily said, "Sir, you must ing to the usual fate of greatness, it was attend-secure this prisoner; it is for the safety of the ed with some perplexities and mortifications.nation: if he escape, you shall answer for it." He had not all that is customarily given to ambassadors: he hints to the Queen, in an imperfect poem, that he had no service of plate; and it appeared by the debts which he contracted, that his remittances were not punctually made.
On the first of August, 1714, ensued the downfall of the tories and the degradation of Prior. He was recalled, but was not able to return, being detained by the debts which he had found it necessary to contract, and which were not discharged before March, though his old friend Montague was now at the head of the Treasury.
He returned then as soon as he could, and was welcomed on the 25th of March* by a warrant, but was, however, suffered to live in his
They had already printed their report; and in this examination were endeavouring to find proofs.
He continued thus confined for some time; and Mr. Walpole (June 10, 1715) moved for an impeachment againt him. What made him so acrimonious does not appear: he was by nature no thirster for blood. Prior was a week after committed to close custody, with orders that "no person should be admitted to see him without leave from the speaker."
When, two years after, an Act of Grace was passed, he was excepted, and continued still in custody, which he had made less tedious by writing his "Alma." He was, however, soon after discharged.
He had now his liberty, but he had nothing else. Whatever the profit of his employments