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field. It is observable, that the duke's three wives were all widows. The dutchefs died in 1742.
His character is not to be propofed as worthy of imitation. His religion he may be fuppofed to have learned from Hobbes; and his morality was fuch as naturally proceeds from loofe opinions. His fentiments with respect to women he picked up in the court of Charles; and his principles concerning property were such as a gaming table fupplies. He was cenfured as covetous, and has been defended by an inftance of inattention to his affairs, as if a man might not at once be corrupted by avarice and idlenefs. He is faid, however, to have had much tendernefs, and to have been very ready to apologise for his violences of paffion.
He is introduced into this collection only as a poet; and, if we credit the teftimony of his contemporaries, he was a poet of no vulgar rank. But favour and flattery are now at an end; criticism is no longer foftened by his bounties, or awed by his fplendour, and, being able to take a more steady view, discovers him to be a writer that fometimes glimmers, but rarely fhines, feebly laborious, and at best but pretty. His fongs are upon common topicks; he hopes, and grieves, and repents, and defpairs, and rejoices, like any other maker of little ftanzas; to be great, he hardly tries; to be gay, is hardly in his power.
In the Effay on Satire he was always fuppofed to have had the help of Dryden. His Effay on Poetry is the great work for which he was praifed by Rofcommon, Dryden, and Pope; and doubtlefs by many more whofe eulogies have perished.
Upon this piece he appears to have fet a high value; for he was all his life-time improving it by fucceffive revifals, fo that there is scarcely any poem to be found of which the laft edition differs more from the firft. Amongst other changes, mention is made of fome compofitions of Dryden, which were written after the first appearance of the Essay.
At the time when this work firft appeared, Milton's fame was not yet fully established, and therefore Taffo and Spenfer were fet before him. The two laft lines were thefe. The Epick Poet, fays he,
Muft above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where great Torquato, and where greater Spenfer, fail.
The laft line in fucceeding editions was fhortened, and the order of names continued: but now Milton is at laft advanced to the highest place, and the paffage thus adjusted :
Muft above Taffo's lofty flights prevail,
Amendments are feldom made without fome token of a rent: lofty does not fuit Taffo fo well as Milton. One celebrated line feems to be borrowed. The Effay calls a perfect character
A faultlefs monfter which the world ne'er fav.
Scaliger, in his poems, terms Virgil fine labe manftrum. Sheffield can fcarcely be fuppofed to have read Scaliger's poetry; perhaps he found the words in a quotation,
Of this Effay, which Dryden has exalted fo highly, it be justly said that the precepts are judicious, fometimes new, and often happily expreffed; but there are, after all the emendations, many weak lines, and some strange appearances of negligence; as, when he gives the laws of elegy, he infifts upon connection and coherence; without which, fays he,
'Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will;
No Panegyrick, nor a Cooper's Hill.
Who would not suppose that Waller's Panegyrick and Denham's Cooper's Hill were elegies?
His verses are often infipid; but his memoirs are lively and agreeable; he had the perfpicuity and elegance of an hiftorian, but not the fire and fancy of a poet.
MATTHEW PRIOR is one of those that have burst out from an obfcure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to fome, at Winburn in Dorsetshire, of I know not what parents; others fay, that he was the fon of a joiner of London: he was perhaps willing enough to leave his birth unfettled *, in hope, like Don Quixote, that the hiftorian of his actions might find him fome illuftrious alliance.
* The difficulty of settling Prior's birth-place is great. In the regifter of his College he is called, at his admission by the Prefident, Matthew Prior of Winburn in Middlefex; by himself next day, Matthew Prior of Dorsetshire, in which county, not in Middlefex, 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 Middlefex. The laft record ought to be preferred, because it was made upon oath. It is obfervable, that, as a native of Winlorne, he is ftiled Filius Georgii Prior, generofi; not confiftently with the common account of the meanness of his birth. Dr. J..
He is fuppofed to have fallen, by his father's death, into the hands of his uncle, a vintner* near Charingcrofs, who fent him for fome time to Dr. Bufby, 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 Dorfet, celebrated for patronage of genius, found him by chance, as Burnet relates, reading Horace, and was fo well pleased with his proficiency, that he undertook the care and coft 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 ufual, in four years; and two years afterwards wrote the poem on the Deity, which ftands firft in his volume.
It is the eftablished practice of that College, to fend every year to the earl of Exeter fome poems upon facred fubjects, in acknowledgment of a benefaction enjoyed by them from the bounty of his anceftor. On this occafion were thofe verfes written, which, though nothing is faid of their fuccefs, feem to have recommended him to fome notice; for his praife of the countess's mufick, and his lines on the famous picture of Seneca, afford reafon for imagin
* 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 houfe, Oct. 14, that year. N.
+ He was admitted to his Bachelor's degree in 1686; and to his Mafter's, by mandate, in 1700. N.