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Prior
Prior
401

are, among other things, four ‘Dialogues of the Dead’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App. p. 194), which, having been greatly praised by Pope, Beattie, Nichols, and others who have seen them; and it is from his original papers that is said to be compiled the dubious ‘History of his Own Time,’ which, with a second volume of ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ including several pieces of verse now reckoned among his accepted efforts, was editorially put forth by one J. Bancks in 1740 [1739]. Both volumes purport to be derived from transcripts by Prior's executor, Adrian Drift, who died in 1738. But a letter from Heneage Legge to the Earl of Dartmouth on 6 Nov. 1739 (ib. 11th Rep. App. pt. v. p. 329) throws considerable doubt on these collections, and it is not easy to decide how far they were ‘a trick of a bookseller's.’ It is possible, however, to distrust too much, as they admittedly contain a very great deal that is authentic, and they are certainly not without interest.

Of his poems Prior speaks, either affectedly or with sincerity, as ‘the product of his leisure hours, who had commonly business enough upon his hands, and was only a poet by accident;’ and it seems clear that the collection of his fugitive pieces into a volume was precipitated by Curll's unauthorised issue in 1707 of the ‘Poems on Several Occasions,’ just as the larger collection of 1718 was prompted by Prior's necessitous circumstances. As it is, some of his now best known pieces, ‘The Secretary,’ ‘The Female Phaeton,’ ‘To a Child of Quality,’ were not included among his works until after his death. What he considered to be his most successful efforts are at present, as it often happens, the least valued. His three books of ‘Solomon on the Vanity of the World,’ of which he himself ruefully admitted in ‘The Conversation,’

Indeed, poor Solomon in rhyme
Was much too grave to be sublime,

although they once found admirers in John Wesley and Cowper, find few readers today; and his paraphrase of the fine old ballad of ‘The Nut-Brown Maid’ as ‘Henry and Emma’ shares their fate. His ‘Alma,’ which he regarded as a ‘loose and hasty scribble,’ is, on the contrary, still a favourite with the admirers of Butler, whose ‘Hudibras’ is its avowed model—a model which it perhaps excels in facility of rhyme and ease of versification. In Prior's imitations of the ‘Conte’ of La Fontaine this metrical skill is maintained, and he also shows consummate art in the telling of a story in verse. Unhappily, in spite of Johnson's extraordinary dictum that ‘Prior is a lady's book’ (Boswell, ed. Hill, 1887, iii. 192), his themes are not equally commendable. But he is one of the neatest of English epigrammatists, and in occasional pieces and familiar verse has no rival in English. ‘Prior's,’ says Thackeray, in an oft-quoted passage (English Humourists, 1864, p. 175) ‘seem to me amongst the easiest, the richest, the most charmingly humourous of English lyrical poems. Horace is always in his mind, and his song, and his philosophy, his good sense, his happy easy turns and melody, his loves, and his Epicureanism, bear a great resemblance to that most delightful and accomplished master.’

[The chief collections of Prior's poems published in his lifetime are: Poems on Several Occasions (1) 1707, (2) 1709, (3) 1716, and (4) 1718. Nos. 1 and 3 were unauthorised, the former being repudiated by Prior in the preface to No. 2, the latter by notice in the London Gazette of 24 March 1716, but both probably contain poems by Prior which ‘he thought it prudent to disown’ (Pope, Corresp. iii. 194–5). The Conversation and Down Hall came out in 1720 and 1723 respectively. Other pieces are included in the Miscellaneous Works of 1740. Of posthumous editions of his poetical works that of Evans (2 vols. 1779) long enjoyed the reputation of being the best. The most complete at present is the revised Aldine edition (also 2 vols.), edited in 1892 by Mr. R. Brimley Johnson. A selection by the writer of this paper, with a lengthy Introduction and Notes, containing fresh biographical material, chiefly derived from an unprinted statement by Prior's friend Sir James Montagu, appeared in the Parchment Library in 1889. Among other sources of information, in addition to Johnson's Lives, Thackeray's Lectures, and the letters of Hanmer, Bolingbroke, and Pope, may be mentioned North British Review, Nov. 1857; Contemporary Review, July 1872; Longman's Magazine, Oct. 1884; Contemporary Review, May 1890, an excellent article by Mr. G. A. Aitken; and Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, pp. 304, 348.]

A. D.


PRIOR, THOMAS (1682?–1751), founder of the Dublin Society and philanthropist, born about 1682 was a native of Rathdowny, Queen's County, He entered the public school at Kilkenny in January 1696-7, and continued there till April 1699. Among his school-fellows was George Berkeley [q. v.], subsequently bishop of Cloyne, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. Prior entered Trinity College, Dublin, obtained a scholarship in 1701, and graduated B.A. in 1703. He subsequently devoted himself to the promotion of material and industrial works among the protestant population in Ireland.