Imatges de pÓgina

orders to England, and upon his arrival became under secretary of state ir 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 compo sitions, 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 writ, 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 to just idioms fix our doubtful speech;
That from our writers distant realms may know
The thanks we to our monarchs owe,

And schools profess our tongue through every land,

That has invok'd his aid, or bless'd his hand.

Tickell, in his Prospect of Peace, has the same hope of a new academy: 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, proceeded from accident or imitation, is not easy to determine. Tickell might have been impressed with his expectation by Swift's Proposal for ascertaining the English Language, then 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 himself had 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 Earl of Dorset: it began with the College exercise, and ended with the Nutbrown Maid.

The battle of Ramillies soon afterwards (in 1706) excited him to another cffort of poetry. On this occasion he had fewer or less formidable rivals and it would be not easy to name any other composition produced by that event which is now remembered.

Everything 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 unreasonable conduct of the allies, the avarice of generals, the tyranny of minions, and the general danger of approaching ruin. 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 Mrs. 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 treaties, was sent (July, 1711) privately to Paris with propositions of peace. He was remembered at the French court; and, returning in about a month, brought with him the Abbé Gaultier, and M. Mesnager, a minister from France, invested with full powers. This transaction not being avowed, Mackay, the master of the Dover packet-boat, either zealously or officiously, seized Prior and his associates at Canterbury. It is easily supposed they were soon released. 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.

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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 shall 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 remarks in his imperfect answer to the Report of the Committee of Secrecy, no treaty ever was made without private interviews and preliminary discussions.

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 fifteenth. 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 accom- · panied him or followed him, and after his departure, had the appointments and authority of an ambassador, though no public 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 Lewis, 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.”

Prior's public dignity and splendour commenced in August, 1713, and continued till the August following; but I am afraid that, according to the usual fate of greatness, it was attended with some perplexities and mortifications. 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.go

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 Montagué 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 own house, under the custody of the messenger, 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 authority. They are represented as asking questions 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 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 whichi perplexed them, because it supplied no accusation against either. "Could anything 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 should 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 indecently 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 for it."

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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 f 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 penury, 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 had printed, and to publish them by subscription. The expedient succeeded by the industry of many friends, who circulated the proposals.* 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.

In a

Of any occurrences of his remaining life I have found no account. letter to Swift, "I have," says he, "treated Lady Harriot, at Cambridge (a Fellow of a College treat I), 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

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Sui Temporis Historiam meditanti,

wet goz nobinda bas esitti Paulatim obrepens Febristonima,rol¶ 10 Operi simul et Vita filum abrupit, good end a'siroment

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mollow on Sept. 18, An, Dom. 1721. Etat. 57. statite od wou

Vin enw di abi H. H.S.E.

Vir Eximius Serenissimis

and dormi son in Regi GULIELMO Reginæque MARIA 22 finn robid of Jeistoonch si odw to In Congressione Foederatorum on any sil tasoa adblow edt b Hage anno 1690 celebrata,

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Deinde Magnæ Britannia Legatis has toonus or vidT
Tum iis,
minigo messill to

Qui anno 1697 Pacem RYSWICKI confecerunt,

Tum iis,

s of boome bus

Qui apud Gallos annis proximis Legationem obierunt hobic over Eodem etiam anno 1697 in Hiberniani sir of nonsuits hina wheatly used and boter esa od

Swift obtained many subscriptions for him in Ireland.

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sto su nollution Qui anno 1700 ordinandis Commercii negotiis, Quique anno 1711 dirigendis Portorii rebus,

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Postremo ab ANNA,

15 or Felicissimæ memoriæ Regina,
Missus anno 1711


De Pace stabiliendâ,
(Pace etiamnum durante

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Diuque ut boni jam omnes sperant duraturâ)
Cum summâ potestate Legatus;

Hos omnes, quibus cumulatus est, Titulos
Humanitatis, Ingenii, Eruditionis laude

Cui enim nascenti faciles arriserant Muse.
Hunc Puerum Schola hîc Regia perpolivit;

Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis
Cantabrigia optimis Scientiis instruxit;

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Virum denique auxit, et perfecit, di bloddiy biniai. Multa cum viris Principibus consuetudo;w.sumler ofice up bro Ita natus, ita institutus,

A Vatum Choro avelli nunquam potuit,

Sed solebat sæpe rerum eivilium gravitatem
Amoniorum Literarum Studiis condire :
Et cum omne adeo Poeticës genus
ved Haud infeliciter tentaret,
Tum in Fabellis concinne lepideque texendis

4200 yeu la tasa dibile Mirus Artifex

Neminem habuit parem.

Hæc liberalis animi oblectamenta:
Quam nullo illi labore constiterint,
Facile ii perspexêre, quibus usus est Amici;
Apud quos Urbanitatem et Leporum plenus
Cum ad rem, quæcunque forte inciderat,
Aptè variè copiosèque alluderet,
Interea nihil quæsitum, nihil vi expressum

Sed omnia ultro effluere,

Et quasi jugi è fonte affatim exuberare,
Ita suos tandem dubios reliquit,
Essetne in Scriptis, Poeta Elegantior,
An in Convictu, Comes Jucundior.

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n to wolls!

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Of Prior, eminent as he was, both by his abilities and station, very few memorials have been left by his contemporaries; the account therefore nust 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 heard 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.


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