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sion of a bailiff's man, with a crowd of little creditors,
grocers, butchers, and small-coal men, lingering round the door with their bills and jeering at him. Alas! for
Dick Steele! For nobody else of course. There is no man or woman in our time who makes fine projects and gives them up from idleness or want of means. When Duty calls upon us,
no doubt are always at home and ready to pay that grim taxgatherer. When · we are stricken with remorse and promise reform, we keep our promise, and are never angry, or idle, or extravagant any more.
There are no chambers in our hearts, destined for family friends and affections, and now occupied by some Sin's emissary and bailiff in possession. There are no little sins, shabby peccadilloes, importunate remembrances, or disappointed holders of our promises to reform, hovering at our steps, or knocking at our door! Of course not.
We are living in the nineteenth century, and poor Dick Steele stumbled and got up again, and got into jail and out again, and sinned and repented; and loved and suffered; and lived and died scores of years ago. Peace be with him! Let us think gently of one who was so gentle: let us speak kindly of one whose own breast exuberated with human kindness.
MATTHEW PRIOR was one of those famous and lucky wits of the auspicious reign of Queen Anne, whose name it behoves us not to pass over. Mat was a worldphilosopher of no small genius, good nature, and * He loved, he drank, he
* Gay calls him .“Dear Prior .... beloved by every
Pope's Welcome from Greece.
We often walk round the park together.'
“Matthew Prior, Esq., Commissioner of Trade. “On the Queen's accession to the throne, he was continued in his office; is very well at court with the ministry, and is an entire creature of my Lord Jersey's, whom he supports by his advice; is one of the best poets in England, but very factious in conversation. A thin, hollow-looked man, turned of 40 years old. This is near the truth.” “Yet counting as far as to fifty his years,
His virtues and vices were as other men's are,
himself, in one of his lyrics, “in a little Dutch chaise on a Saturday night; on his left hand his Horace, and a friend on his right,” going out of town from the Hague to pass that evening and the ensuing Sunday, boozing at a Spiel-haus with his companions, perhaps bobbing for perch in a Dutch canal, and noting down, in a strain and with a grace not unworthy of his Epicurean master, the charms of his idleness, his retreat, and his Batavian Chloe. A vintner's son in Whitehall, and a distinguished pupil of Busby of the Rod, Prior attracted some notice by writing verses at St. John's College, Cambridge, and, coming up to town, aided Montague* in an attack on the noble old English lion John Dryden, in ridicule of whose work, "The Hind and the Panther," he brought out that remarkable and famous burlesque, “The Town and Country High hopes he conceived and he smothered great fears,
In a life party-coloured – half pleasure, half care. Not to business a drudge, nor to faction a slave,
He strove to make interest and freedom agree; In public employments industrious and grave,
And alone with his friends, Lord, how merry was he! Now in equipage stately, now humbly on foot,
Both fortunes he tried, but to neither would trust; And whirled in the round as the wheel turned about, He found riches had wings, and knew man was but dust."
Prior’s Poems. (For my own monument.] * “They joined to produce a parody, entitled the 'Town and Country Mouse,' part of which Mr. Bayes is supposed to gratify his old friends Smart and Johnson, by repeating to them. The piece is therefore founded upon the twice-told jest of the ‘Rehearsal.'... There is nothing new or original in the idea ... In this piece, Prior, though the younger man, seems to have had by far the largest share." Scott's Dryden, vol. i. p. 330.
Aren't you all acquainted with it? Have
- all got it by heart? What! have you never heard of it? See what fame is made of! The wonderful part of the satire was, that, as a natural consequence of "The Town and Country Mouse," Matthew Prior was made Secretary of Embassy at the Hague! I believe it is dancing, rather than singing, which distinguishes the young English diplomatists of the present day; and have seen them in various parts perform that part of their duty very finely. In Prior's time it appears a different accomplishment led to preferment. Could you write a copy of Alcaics ? that was the question. Could you turn out a neat epigram or two? Could you compose “The Town and Country Mouse?” It is manifest that, by the possession of this faculty, the most difficult treaties, the laws of foreign nations, and the interests of our own, are easily understood. Prior rose in the diplomatic service, and said good things that proved his sense and his spirit
. When the apartments at Versailles were shown to him, with the victories of Louis XIV. painted on the walls, and Prior was asked whether the palace of the king of England had any such decorations, “The monuments of my master's actions," Mat said, of William, whom he cordially revered, are to be seen everywhere except in his own house." Bravo, Mat! Prior rose to be full ambassador at Paris,* where he somehow was
* "He was to have been in the same commission with the Duke of Shrewsbury, but that that nobleman,” says Johnson, "refused to be associated with one so meanly born. Prior therefore continued to act without a title till the Duke's return next year to England, and then he assumed the style and dignity of embassador.'
cheated out of his ambassadorial plate; and in a heroic poem, addressed by him to her late lamented majesty Queen Anne, Mat makes some magnificent allusions to these dishes and spoons, of which Fate had deprived him. All that he wants, he says, is her Majesty's picture; without that he can't be happy. "Thee, gracious Anne, thee present I adore: Thee, Queen of Peace, if Time and Fate have power Higher to raise the glories of thy reign, In words sublimer and a nobler strain. May future bards the mighty theme rehearse. Here, Stator Jove, and Phoebus, king of Verse,
The votive tablet I suspend.” With that word the poem stops abruptly. The votivetablet is suspended for ever like Mahomet's coffin. News came that the Queen was dead. Stator Jove, and Phæbus, king of verse, were left there, hovering to this day, over the votive tablet. The picture was never got any more than the spoons and dishes the inspiration ceased the verses were not wanted - the ambassador wasn't wanted. Poor Mat was re-called from his embassy, suffered disgrace along with his patrons, lived under a sort of cloud ever after, and disappeared in Essex. When deprived of all his pensions and emoluments, the hearty and generous
He had been thinking of slights of this sort when he wrote his Epitaph:
“Nobles and heralds by your leave,
Here lies what once was Matthew Prior,
Can Bourbon or Nassau claim higher?” But, in this case, the old prejudice got the better of the old joke.