« PreviousContinue »
En læta vernantes Favoni
Flamina, perpetuosque flores ! O pectus ingens ! O animum gravem Mundi capacem! Si bonus auguror, Te, nostra quo tellus superbit,
Accipiet renovata civem.
PRIOR is generally ranked among the celebrated poets of England; but, as his talents for business introduced him to considerable public employments, he is also politically entitled to a place in this work. He was the son of Mr. George Prior, citizen of London and joiner, and was born in 1664. His father dying when he was young, left him to the care of his uncle, a vintner near Charing Cross; who discharged the trust reposed in him, as Prior himself always gratefully acknowledged, with a tenderness truly paternal.
Part of his education he received under Dr. Busby, at Westminster School, where he acquired a taste, which led him, when he was afterward taken home to his uncle's employment, to prosecute at leisurehours his study of the classics, and especially of his favourite Horace. Hence, he was speedily noticed by the more enlightened company, who resorted to the Rummer Tavern, Mr. Prior's house. It happened one day, that the Earl of Dorset being there with several gentlemen of rank, the discourse turned upon a passage in Horace's Odes; and, the party being divided in their sentiments, one of them said, “I find 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 all right:” upon which Prior was immediately sent for, and at their request delivered his opinion so highly to their satisfaction, that Dorset determined instantly to remove him to a station more suited to his genius.* He accordingly sent him to St. John's College, Cam- ' bridge, t where he took his degree of B. A. in 1686, and afterward became a Fellow of the College.
* AUTHORITY. Memoirs by Humphrey, prefixed to his Poems, 1733.
During his residence in the University, he contracted an intimate friendship with Charles Montagu, . Esq. of Trinity College, subsequently Earl of Halifax; in conjunction with whom he wrote a humorous piece, entitled · The Hind and the Panther, transversed to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse,' printed in 1687, in answer to Dryden's • Hind and Panther,' which had been published the year before. This performance was followed by more solid advantages than the mere pleasure of fretting Dryden, who thought it hard, that an old man should be so treated by those to whom he had always been civil ;' for both it's authors were speedily pre
* From one of Prior's epistles, however, to Fleetwood Sheppard, Esq. it would appear that his earliest benefactor was that gentleman, and that it was probably he who recommended him to Lord Dorset:
Now as you took me up when little,
Ask'd for me from my Lord things fitting, &c.' + Here he was recorded by the President, at his admission, as of Winborne in Middlesex; by himself the next day, of Dorsetshire; and five years afterward, when he stood candidate for a fellowship, as of Middlesex: in the last instance, upon oath.
ferred. Montagu obtained the first notice, with some degree of discontent, as it appears, to his poetical confederate :
• My friend Charles Montagu's preferr'd;
That one Mouse eats, while t'other's starved.' Prior gave a farther proof of his poetic talent by an Ode to the Deity,' written in 1688 as a collegeexercise. Upon the Revolution, he was brought to court by Dorset, and through his interest introduced to public employment; being made in 1690 Secretary to the Earl of Berkeley, the English Plenipotentiary at the Congress held at the Hague.
In this station he acquitted himself so well, that his Majesty, desirous to retain him near his person, made him one of the Gentlemen of his Bedchamber. On the death of the Queen, when an emulation of elegy was universal, he brought his tribute of tuneful sorrow among the rest, in an · Ode presented to the King on his Majesty's arrival in Holland;' of which the language might be censured as encomiastic, if Mary's virtues did not justify the most unqualified praise. In 1697, he was appointed Secretary to the Earls of Pembroke and Jersey and Sir Joseph Williamson, Embassadors and Plenipotentiaries at the treaty of Ryswick; and received, from the Lords Justices, a present of two hundred guineas for bringing it over to England. In the same year, he was nominated Principal Secretary of State for Ireland; and, the year following, Secretary to the Earl of Portland, Embassador at the court of France.
While he was in that kingdom, one of the officers of the royal household, showing him the paintings of Le Brun at Versailles, in which the victories of Louis
XIV. are portrayed, asked him, “ Whether King William's actions were to be seen in his palace ?" “ No, Sir,” replied Prior; “ the monuments of my master's achievements are to be seen every where but in his own house.” In this station he continued, during the two embassies of the Earls of Portland and Jersey
The next year William sent for him, from England, to a private conference at his palace at Loo in Holland; and, upon his return, he was made Under Secretary in the office of the Earl of Jersey, Secretary for the Northern Provinces. At a subsequent period, he went to Paris, where he had a principal share in negotiating the Partition Treaty.
In 1700, he was created M. A. by Mandamus ; and appointed one of the Lords Commissioners of trade and plantations, upon the resignation of Mr. Locke. The same year, he published his « Carmen Seculare,' the largest and most splendid of his compositions. In praise of King William, says Anderson, he exhausts all his powers of celebration. William, as even Dr. Johnson admits, supplied copious materials for either verse or prose. His whole life had been action, and he possessed the high qualities of steady resolution and personal courage. After defending his own country from foreign invasion, and delivering others from domestic usurpation, he headed a confederacy formed by his wisdom and his vigour against Louis XIV., who wished to reduce England under the arbitrary sway of a tyrant depending on himself, and to subjugate the rest of Europe. By his efforts the French Monarch was stopped in his career, and compelled to acknowledge that man as Chief Magistrate of England, on whom the people
against Louis Formed by his wiscurpation, he headed