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a certain time, with the intention of bringing him up to his own business. His house was in good repute, and frequented by some of the leading wits and patrons of the day, the Earl of Dorset among others. It happened that the company differed with regard to the meaning of a passage in one of Horace's odes, when one of the gentlemen said• I find that we are not likely to agree in our criticisms, but if I am not mistaken, there is a young fellow in the house, who is able to set us right.' Matthew Prior was immediately sent for, and explained the passage with such ability and modesty, as gained him the approbation of all present : and the Earl of Dorset from that time resolved to remove him from the tap of “ The Rummer” to the more congenial bowers of the university. He was accordingly sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, and in part supported by the generosity of his patron. •Prior,' says Burnet,? " had been taken a boy out of a tavern by the Earl of Dorset, who accidentally found him reading Horace, and he, being very generous, gave him an education in literature.' He was admitted in 1682, in his eighteenth year, and taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1686, was shortly after chosen fellow of
IS. Prior kept the Rummer tavern at Charing Cross, in 1685. The annual meeting of the nobility and gentry in the parish being held at his house, Oct. 14, 1685. See the lines
My uncle, rest his soul, when living,
P. 3439, B. Brit. 2 See Burnet's History, vol. ii. p. 584,
the college, where, as Johnson observes, it may reasonably be supposed, that he was distinguished among his contemporaries. About two years after he wrote the poem on the Deity, which stands foremost in this volume. It was sent,” according to the established practice of the college, among others on sacred subjects, to the Earl of Exeter, in acknowledgment of a benefaction received from his ancestors : and Johnson thinks that it was well received, and that from Prior's mention of a picture, and of the countess's musick, he was probably known to the family. It was during his residence at college, that he formed an intimacy with Charles Montagu, of Trinity College, afterwards the Earl of Halifax. In conjunction with him he wrote his well known travestie on Dryden's Hind and Panther, entitled— The Hind and Panther transversed to the story of the Country Mouse, and City Mouse, which was published in 1687.3 In the next year he wrote, as a college exercise,
| Dr. Johnson does not mention Prior’s fellowship. His life of the poet is founded on that in the Biographia. This fellowship he retained to his death. When he was made ambassador, some one intimated that he ought to resign his fellowship; he answered, “That everything he had besides was precarious, and when all failed, that would be bread and cheese at the last, and therefore he did not mean to part from it."
? Jacob says, ' a discerning eye might in this piece have seen the promises of a Solomon,' v. Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. p. 154. It was translated into Latin by Dobson, the translator of Milton's I -dise Lost.
3 • Did not Halifax,' asked Spence of Lord Peterborough, write the Country Mouse with Mr. Pryor?' 'Yes-just as if I was in a chaise with Mr. Cheselden here, drawn by nis fine horse, and should say–Lord, how finely we draw this chaise.'
his Ode on the necessary existence of the Deity.
My friend Charles Montagu's preferr’d,
That one man eats, while t" ģer's starv'd. 2 In the second volume of the Analecta Mus: Anglican : there is a copy of verses 'In obitum Augustissimæ et Desideratissimæ Reginæ Mariæ, by H. Sacheverell—G. Adams -Ant. Alsop-P. Foulkes-Ed. Chishull.
Prior was again employed as secretary to the English negotiations at the treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Having been nominated the same year principal Secretary of State in Ireland. In 1698 he was secretary to the embassy to France, in which he continued both under the Earl of Portland, and the Earl of Jersey: and where he was said to be considered of great distinction. An anecdote, honourable alike to his wit and his sincerity, is recorded in his memoirs :-Being shown the pictures at Versailles which Le Brun painted to commemorate the victories of Louis the XIVth, and being asked whether the King of England's Palace had any such decorations, he answered• The monuments of my master's actions are to be seen everywhere but in his own house.'
He did not leave Paris till some time after the arrival of the Earl of Manchester, to whom his experience in foreign affairs, and his interest at the French Court, were of eminent service. In the middle of August, 1699, he went to King William at Loo in Holland, when, after a very particular audience with his majesty, he departed for England, and took possession of the under-secretary's seat, in the Earl of Jersey's office; but he was soon ordered back to Paris to assist the ambassador. In the Christmas of this year, he printed his Carmen Seculare ; in which King William received all the prodigality of a poet's commendation. Yet, as Johnson justly observes,—We must not accuse Prior of flattery. Of the domestic life, of the private virtues, and perhaps the temper of the monarch no very favourable account could be given ; but his great public actions, his zeal in the cause of liberty and of Europe, his perseverance and inflexible steadfastness in adversity, his courage and military skill, acquit Prior of lavishing an inelegant and undistinguished praise: he said, that he praised others out of compliance with fashion, but that, in praising William, he followed his inclination.
In 1700, the university conferred on him the degree of master of arts: he succeeded Locke at the board of trade; and he was elected representative of East Grinstead in Sussex, in 1701, when he seems to have changed his political opinions, and to have voted for impeaching the lords who were charged with advising the Partition treaty. He excuses himself, however, in one of his poems, (Conversation) by saying that he never approved the treaty, though obliged to carry it through in obedience to his sovereign.
Matthew, who knew the whole intrigue,
Nor much approved that mystic league. During the reign of Anne, the negotiators and secretaries gave way to persons of more active virtues, and the sword took the place of the pen. Prior published his well known letter to Boileau on the Battle of Blenheim, and an Ode addressed to the queen. Soon after he printed a volume of his poems, beginning with his College Exercise, and ending with his Nut-Brown Maid. Eugene and Marlborough gave for some years ample em
! On the origin of this poem of the Nut-Brown Maid, see Censura Literaria, vol. vi. p. 114.