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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 administered by Boscawen, a Middlesex justice, 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 no, 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 account 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 secured by bars and bolts ?” The messenger answered, “ No," with astonishment. At which Coningsby very angrily said, “ Sir, you must secure this prisoner; it is for the safety of the nation: if he escape, you shall answer bor it."
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 against 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 might have been, he had always spent it; and at the age of fifty-three was, with all his abilities, in danger of enury, having yet no solid revenue but from the fellowship of his college, which, when in his exaltation he was censured for retaining it, he said, he could live upon at last.
Being, however, generally known and esteemed, he was encouraged to add other poems to those which he bad printed, and to publish them by subscription. The expedient succeeded by the industry of many friends, who circulated the proposals?,
? Swift obtained many subscriptions for him in Ireland.
and the care of some, who, it is said, withheld the money from him, lest he should squander it. The price of the volume was two guineas; the whole collection was four thousand; to which lord Harley, the son of the earl of Oxford, to whom he had invariably adhered, added an equal sum for the purchase of Down-hall, which Prior was to enjoy during life, and Harley after his decease.
He had now, what wits and philosophers have often wished, the power of passing the day in contemplative tranquillity. But it seems that busy men seldom live long in a state of quiet. It is not unlikely that his health declined. He complains of deafness ; " for,” says he, “ I took little care of my ears while I was not sure if my head was my own.” Of any occurrences in his remaining life I have found no account.
In a letter to Swift, “ I have,” says he, “ treated lady Harriot at Cambridge (a fellow of a college treat!) and spoke verses to her in a gown and cap! What, the plenipotentiary, so far concerned in the damned peace at Utrecht; the man that makes up half the volume of terse prose, that makes up the report of the committee, speaking verses ! ,Sic est, homo sum.”
He died at Wimpole, a seat of the earl of Oxford, on the eighteenth of September, 1721, and was buried in Westminster; where on a monument, for which, as the last piece of human vanity, he left five hundred pounds, is engraven this epitaph:
Sui Temperis Historiam meditanti,
Paulatim obrepens Febris
H. S. E.
Hagæ anno 1690 celebrata,
Missus anno 1711
(Pace etiamnuin durante
Cuin summa potestate Legatus ;
Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis
Virum denique auxit; & perfecit
Ita natus, ita institatus,
Haud infeliciter tentarct,
Quàm nullo Illi labore constitcrint,
Aptė, variè, copiosėque alluderet,
Ita suos tandem dubios reliquit,
An in Convictu Comes Jucundior.
Of Prior, eminent as he was, both by his abilities and station, rery few memorials have been left by his contemporaries; the account, therefore, must now be destitute of his private character and familiar practices. He lived at a time when the rage of party detected all which it was any man's interest to hide; and, as little ill is beard of Prior, it is certain that not much was known. He was not afraid of provoking censure; for, when he forsook the Whigs', under whose patronage he first entered the world, he became a Tory so ardent and determinate, that he did not willingly consort with men of different opinions. He was one of the sixteen Tories who met weekly, and agreed to address each other by the title of brother; and seems to have adhered, not only by concurrence of political designs, but by peculiar affection, to the earl of Oxford and his family. With how much confidence he was trusted has been already told.
He was, however, in Pope's opinion", fit only to make verses, and less qualified for business than Addison himself. This was surely said without consideration. Addison, exalted to a high place, was forced into degradation by a sense of his own incapacity; Prior, who was employed by men very capable of estimating his value, having been secretary to one embassy, had, when great abilities were again wanted, the same office another time; and was, after so much experience of his knowledge and dexterity, at last sent to transact a negotiation in the highest degree arduous and
important, for which he was qualified, among other requisites, in the opinion of Bolingbroke, by his influence upon the French minister, and by skill in questions of commerce above other men.
Of his behaviour in the lighter parts of life, it is too late to get much intelligence. One of his answers to a boastful Frenchman has been related; and to an impertinent one be made another equally proper. During his embassy, he sat at the opera by a man, who, in his rapture, accompanied with his own voice the principal singer. Prior fell to railing at the performer with all the terms of reproach that he could collect, till the Frenchman, ceasing from his song, began to expostulate with him for his harsh censure of a man, who was confessedly the ornament of the stage. “ I know all that,” says the ambassador, " mais il chante si baut, que je ne sçaurois vous entendre."
In a gay French company, where every one sang a little song or stanza, of which the burthen was, Bannissons la Melancholie; when it came to his turn to sing, after the perforinance of a young lady that sat next him, he produced these extem
Tradition represents him as willing to descend from the dignity of the poet and statesman to the low delights of mean company. His Chloe probably was sometimes ideal: but the woman with whom he cohabited was a despicable drab of the lowest species'. One of his wenches, perhaps Chloe, while he was absent from his house, stole his plate, and ran away; as was related by a woman who had been his servant. Of this propensity to sordid converse I have seen an account so seriously ridiculous, that it seerns to deserve insertion?.
“ I have been assured, that Prior, after having spent the evening with Oxford, Bolingbroke, Pope, and Swift, would go and sinoke a pipe, and drink a bottle of
ale, with a common soldier and his wife, in Long Acre, before he went to bed; not from any remains of the lowness of his original, as one said, but, I suppose, that his e faculties,
-Strain'd to the height,
Poor Prior! why was he so strained, and in such want of repair, after a conS versation with men, not, in the opinion of the world, much wiser than himself? But
such are the conceits of speculatists, who strain their faculties to find, in a mine, what - lies upon the surface.
His opinions, so far as the means of judging are left us, seem to have been right; but his life was, it seems, irregular, negligent, and sensual.
PRIOR has written with great variety; and his variety has made him popular. He has tried all styles, from the grotesque to the solemn, and has not so failed in any as to incur derision or disgrace.
'Spence; and see Cent. Mag. Val. LVII. p. 1039. VOL X.
His works may be distinctly considered, as comprising tales, love-verses, or casional poems, Alma, and Solomon.
His tales have obtained general approbation, being written with great familiarity and great sprightliness; the language is easy, but seldom gross, and the numbers smooth, without appearance of care. Of these tales there are only four. The Ladler which is introduced by a preface, neither necessary nor pleasing, neither grave nor merry. Paulo Parganti; which has likewise a preface, but of more value than the tale. Hans Carvel, not over decent; and Protogenes and Apelles, an old story, mingled, by ap affectation not disagreeable, with modern images. 'The Young Gentleman in Love has hardly a just claim to the title of a tale. I know not whether he be the original author of any tale which he has given us. The adventure of Hans Carvel has passed through many successions of merry wits; for it is to be found in Ariosto's Satires, and is perhaps yet older. But the merit of such stories is the art of telling them.
In his amorous effusions he is less happy; for they are not dictated by nature or by passion, and have neither gallantry nor tenderness. They have the coldness of Cowley, without his wit, the dull exercises of a skilful versifier, resolved at all adventures to write something about Chloe, and trying to be amorous by dint of study. His fictions therefore are mythological. Venus, after the example of the Greek epigram, asks when she was seen naked and bathing. Then Cupid is mistaken; then Cupid is disarmed; then he loses his darts to Ganymede; then Jupiter sends him a summons by Mercury. Then Chloe goes a-hunting, with an ivory quiver graceful ut her side; Diana mistakes her for one of her nymphs, and Cupid laughs at the blunder. All this is surely despicable; and even when he tries to act the lover, without the help of gods or goddesses, his thoughts are unaffecting or remote. He talks not “ like a man of this world.”
The greatest of all his amorous essays is Henry and Emma; a dull and tedious dialogue, which excites neither esteem for the man, nor tenderness for the woman. The example of Emma, who resolves to follow an outlawed murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive him, deserves no imitation; and the experiment by which Henry tries the lady's constancy, is such as must end either in infamy to ber, or in disappointment to himself.
His occasional poems necessarily lost part of their value, as their occasions, being less remembered, raised less emotion. Some of them, however, are preserved by their inherent excellence. The burlesque of Boileau's Ode on Namur has, in some parts, such airiness and levity as will always procure it readers, even among those who cannot compare it with the original. The letter to Boileau is not so happy. The poems to the King are now perused only by young students, who read merely that they may learn to write; and of the Carmen Seculare, I cannot but suspect that I might praise or censure it by caprice, without danger of detection; for who can be supposed to have laboured through it? Yet the time has been when this neglected work was so popular, that it was translated into Latin by no common master.
His poem on the battle of Ramilies is necessarily tedious by the form of the stanza: an uniform mass of ten lines thirty-five times repeated, inconsequential and slightly connected, must weary both the ear and the understanding. His imitation of Spenser, which consists principally in I seen and I weet, without exclusion of later