A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Prior, Matthew

PRIOR, Matthew (1664-1721).—Poet, b. near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, s. of a joiner who, having d., he was ed. by an uncle, and sent to Westminster School. Befriended by the Earl of Dorset he proceeded to Camb., and while there wrote, jointly with Charles Montague, The Town and Country Mouse, a burlesque of Dryden's Hind and Panther. After holding various diplomatic posts, in which he showed ability and discretion, he entered Parliament in 1700, and, deserting the Whigs, joined the Tories, by whom he was employed in various capacities, including that of Ambassador at Paris. On the death of Queen Anne he was recalled, and in 1715 imprisoned, but after two years released. In 1719 a folio ed. of his works was brought out, by which he realised £4000, and Lord Harley having presented him with an equal sum, he looked forward to the peace and comfort which were his chief ambition. He did not, however, long enjoy his prosperity, dying two years later. Among his poems may be mentioned Solomon, which he considered his best work, Alma, or the Progress of the Mind, The Female Phaeton, To a Child of Quality, and some prose tales. His chief characteristic is a certain elegance and easy grace, in which he is perhaps unrivalled. His character appears to have been by no means unimpeachable, but he was amiable and free from any trace of vindictiveness.