Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

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 which perplexed them, because it supplied no accusation against either.. "Could any thing 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 could 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 not, 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 messen

ger, in whose custody he was to be placed, was 11 then called, and very decently 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."

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 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 subscrip tion. The expedient succeeded by the industry of many friends, who circulated the proposals, and the care of some, who, it is said, withheld the mo

• Swift obtained many subscriptions for him in Ireland.-H.

ney from him lest he should squander it. The price of the volume was two guineas; the whole collection was four thousand; to which Lord Har ley, 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."

Of any occurrences in his remaining life I have found no account. In a letter to Swift, "I have," says he, "treated Lady Harriot at Cambridge (a fellow of a college treat!) 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:

Sui Temporis Historiam meditanti,
Paulatim obrepens Febris
Operi simul & Vitæ filum abrupit,
Sept. 18. An. Dom. 1721. Etat. 57.
H. S. E.

Vir Eximius,

Serenissimis

Regi GULIELMO Reginæque MARIE
In Congressione Fœderatorum
Hage, anno 1690, celebrata,
Deinde Magnæ Britanniæ Legatis,

Tum iis

13

Qui anno 1697 Pacem RYSWICKI confecerunt,

Tum iis

Qui apud Gallos annis proximis Legationem
Obierunt; eodem etiam anno 1697 in Hibernia
SECRETARIUS;

Necnon in utroque Honorabili consessu

Eorum,

Qui anno 1700 ordinandis Commercii negotiis
Quique anno 1711 dirigendis Portorii rebus,
Præsidebant,

COMMISSIONARIUS;
Postremo

AS ANNA

Felicissimæ memoriæ Reginâ
Ad LUDOVICUM XIV, Galliæ Regem
Missus anno 1711

De Pace stabilienda,

(Pace etiamnum durante
Diuque ut boni jam omnes sperant duratura)
Cum summa potestate Legatus;
MATTHEUS PRIOR, Armiger:
Qui

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

Cui enim nascenti faciles arriserant Muste.
Hunc Puerum Schola hic Regia perpolivit;
Juvenem in Collegio S'ti Johannis
Cantabrigia optimis Scientiis instruxit;
Virum denique auxit; & perfecit
Multa cum viris Principibus consuetudo;
Ita natus, ita institutus,

A Vatum Choro avelli nunquam potuit,
Sed solebat sæpe rerum Civilium gravitatem
Amaniorum Literarum Studiis condire:
Et cum omne adeo Poetices genus
Haud infeliciter tentaret,

Tum in Fabellis concinne lepideque texendis
Mirus Artifex

Neminem habuit parem.

Hæc liberalis animi oblectamenta,
Quàm nullo Illi labore constiterint,
Facile ii perspexere quibus usus est Amici;
Apud quos Urbanitatum & Leporum plenus
Cum ad rem, quæcunque forte inciderat,
Aptè, varié, copiosèque alluderet,
Interea nihil quæsitum, nihil vi expressum
Videbatur,

Sed omnia ultro effluere,

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

Of Prior, eminent as he was, both by his abilities and station, very few memorials have been left by his contemporaries; the account therefore must now be destitute of his private character and famiJiar 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.

He was, however, in Pope's opinion, fit only to make verses, and less qualified for business than Addison himself. This was surely said without

[blocks in formation]
« VorigeDoorgaan »