1721 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Prior

A Gentleman of Cambridge, Verses to the Memory of Matthew Prior, Esq. inscrib'd to the Right Honourable Edward Lord Harley (1721) 3-16.



Shall HARLEY'S Sorrows then no Limits know?
Tell me, Great Man, shall Tears eternal flow?
And will you yet indulge the generous Grief,
Nor be intreated to accept Relief?
Impatient, till the noble Debt be paid
To Merit, or more scared Friendship dead.
It is enough, My Lord, your Sorrows cease,
And be your sad tumultuous Soul at peace.
Achilles wept o'er his Patroclus slain,
The Sorrows he express'd he could restrain;
He knew what Tears were due to such a Friend,
And where the Tributary Grief should end:
For, mindful of his Country's great Affairs,
The private Grief was lost in publick Cares.
But shall your Sorrows and your Griefs prevail,
Where both your Kindness, and your Zeal could fail?
Troy fell, my Lord, beneath the Grecian Pow'r,
When Hector, her Defender, was no more:
Then give the due Restriction to your Woes,
And teach th' observant World that HARLEY knows.
To tax the Gods or censure Destiny,
Or to repine at the unkind Decree;
To show a wild extravagance of Grief,
And impotently offer at Relief,
Were to detract from the illustrious Shade,
And do a known Injustice to the Dead.
Flow not at all, ye unavailing Tears,
And you, be gone, ye visionary Fears.
Those common Forms of Woe, those Tributes pay
To common Merit, or to common Clay;
Ignoble Peasants, or imprisoned Slaves,
Born to decay, and moulder in their Graves,
Whose fleeting Lives depend upon their breath,
Who boast no Expectations after Death;
Mortals, and subject to the Tyrant's Power,
Meer Men and transient Beings of an hour.
Our Tears, the soft Interpreters of Woe,
More from our Error, than our Pity flow:
And show at best but a mistaken Zeal,
Or surer signs of a misguided Will.

These meaner Souls our juster Sorrows claim,
Our Tears are generous, as they're due to them,
As Debts and common Tokens of Respect
Paid, to excuse us from a rude Neglect.

Wept the great Cato, when young Marcus died;
Or did he tell the Gods, I'm satisfied;
And, with a secret joy, the Youth survey
Crown'd with the brightest Honours of the day?
The Sire should have lamented o'er the Son,
But that he knew his Course of Glory run,
His Precepts well obey'd, with ev'n himself outdone.
Those Tears, the pious Father should have paid,
The Hero intercepted and forbad.
Then, Then alone, had upright Cato griev'd,
Had Caesar conquer'd, or had Marcus liv'd.

The laurell'd Chiefs, the Hero, and the Bard,
One born to act, as t' other to record,
Alike secure of an immortal Name,
(The most deserving Candidates of Fame)
Pleas'd with the thoughts of an approaching Tomb,
Thirst after Death, for in their Graves they bloom,
Like the green Bough they bear, which, hid in Earth,
Spread by degrees, and rises into birth;
And, as it grows, projects those lasting Boughs,
Which grace the Hero's and the Poet's Brows.

Let the Plebeian, born to care and strife,
Heir to the many Miseries of life,
From instant Death sollicit his Release,
The ready Victim of some kind Disease;
Nor be the common Priviledge deny'd,
Some friendly Stone to tell he liv'd and dy'd.
Poets and Heroes boast a nbler Make,
And more of the Divinity partake;
To them alone the larger Share is giv'n,
Belov'd of Gods, and Favourites of Heaven;
Its shining Lights of universal Worth,
The Representative of God on Earth.

Their mortal part may feel a Fever's Rage,
Subject to Sickness, Accidents, or Age;
It may not last a Year, perhaps a Day;
Hourly endanger'd by some quick Decay:
But the Diviner Being still remains,
Pure and unsully'd by polluting Stains;
Proof against all Vicissitudes of Fate,
Nor scanted by a transitory Date;
And like the Gold, in searching Fires refin'd,
Leaves not the Substance, but the Dross, behind.
These, These alone, th' Insults of Death defy,
They disappear, but they can never die.
For, disencumber'd from the Body's Load,
The Poet rises and commences God;
Unchangeable in Essence, Time, and Place,
In higher Spheres he shines, and boasts a nobler Race.

Shall we then weep, and, with succesless Tears,
Upbraid our Hopes, and gratify our Fears?
Does PRIOR'S Worth demand the poor supplies
Of broken Accents, Groans, and streaming Eyes?
No: be the false mistaken Grief supprest,
And thou, most troubled, most unruly Breast,
Lull all thy sorrows and thy cares asleep;
Calm be my Soul, as is the peaceful Deep.

He is not dead, but only gone to claim
The sure reversion of eternal Fame;
The blessing of an endless length of days,
Undoubted Heir of an endless length of days.

His Worth let France confess, for France has seen
The sweet deportment and attractive mien:
She heard, and she admir'd, the finest Sense,
Set off with unaffected Eloquence;
In strength of reason, and in charms of wit,
She found the Statesman and the Bard compleat.
The rival France reluctantly beheld
As well her Courtiers, as her Wits, excell'd;
Forc'd such uncommon Talents to admire,
And own Boileau, for once, surpass'd by Prior.
Abash'd, asham'd, she dropt her false pretence,
Nor longer claim'd her old preeminence.
In Manners, Arts, and Wit no more supreme,
She plac'd the due Supremacy in Him.
As Phoebus to the lesser Orbs gives Law,
And the pale Stars, at his approach, withdraw.

But what Applause can equal his Desert,
Whose Merits far surmount the heights of Art.
Mock the weak efforts of aspiring Wit,
Lost in the wondrous Thought of Infinite?
Wise was the Man who drew the artful Veil,
And, what he could not paint, could yet conceal.

Yet should I say when, by the Queen's commands,
Destin'd to reconcile the hostile Lands;
To bid the Famine and the Battle cease,
And reunite a jarring World in Peace;
How, like a second Moses, thou wast sent
To bid the Pharoah of his Land repent,
And sheath the Sword, so long unsheath'd in vain,
And make attonement for the Guiltless slain:
Nor Thought could form, nor Numbers could express,
The graceful Motion, and the fine Address;
What Doubts were solv'd, what Obstacles improv'd:
How warm, and yet how wary in Debate;
And oh! how anxious o'er thy Country's Fate.
That was thy constant Guide, thy leading Star:
Thy Actions, Words, and Thoughts, all center'd there.
For sure whate'er you did, whate'er you said,
The best of Subjects, and of Queens display'd.

But it is done. — The Trumpet sounds no more,
No Husband, from his Wifes Embraces tore,
To nuptial Joys shall noisy Camps prefer;
Led in the fond pursuit of Fame to War.
France shall enjoy some respite from her Toils,
To count her Losses, and bewail her Spoils:
A fatal leisure: to review the slain
Spread o'er Ramillias, and o'er Bleinheim's Plain.
Lewis shall fall from his aspiring Thought,
And universal Empire be forgot:
Rivers no more shall flow, distain'd with Blood,
Nor Children ask their Sires where Cities stood:
Peace and the Olive shall return again,
And smiling Plenty bask upon the Plain.
Great ANNA, in concurrence with thy Care,
Prevented all the future Ills of War:
Remotest Nations trembled, as they saw
A British Princess giving Europe Law;
And dealing from her Throne, with fair increase,
The plagues of War, or milder joys of Peace.

As, when the mighty Neptune show'd his Head,
Rebellious Tempests heard him, and obey'd:
The Winds are laid, the Hurricane's no more,
But peaceful Waters lave the silent Shore.

Blest was great ANNA in her choice of thee,
Fit Delegate from so much Piety:
No greater Instance could her People prove,
Nor could she better testifie her Love:
In thee at once she reconcil'd could see
True Greatness, with unfeign'd Humility:
In thee she saw those distant Beauties meet,
Merit and Meekness, Modesty and Wit:
A generous Soul, abhorring sordid Ends,
Firm to its Trust, and faithless to its Friends;
Untainted, and inflexibly sincere,
As void of fraud, as it was free from fear;
Whom neither Bribes could tempt, or Threats could move,
To wound its Fame, or prostitute its Love.
To late succeeding Times shall this be told,
Deeply engrav'd in monumental Gold,
How like a Rock, amidst a raging Sea,
Fix'd on the Basis of Integrity,
Great, firm and fearless, to the last you stood,
And with a Smile survey'd the angry Flood;
Or, like another Phocion, disdain'd
The kindled Rage of an ungrateful Land;
Whose greatest Grievance, and whose only Ill,
Was to be sav'd, and blest against its Will.
'Twas thus the Israelites of old repin'd,
Curs'd with the same ungovernable Mind,
And grown forgetful of the Manna given,
Sent not their Thanks, but Blasphemies to Heaven;
Spurn'd at the Threats of an avenging Rod,
And in the Messenger, revil'd the God.
But she repents, and makes a large amends:
Departed Worth and Envy shall be Friends.
Tho' late, the lawful Tribute still is paid;
We grudge the living what we give the dead:
Discord shall cease, and Britons shall unite,
And Factions shall agree to do thee right.

When the great Victim of Plebeian Rage,
That Glory and that Envy of his Age,
The guiltless Socrates, embrac'd his Fate;
Misguided Crouds forgot their causeless hate;
No more the counterfeited Crime abhor'd,
But own'd the wilful Guilt, and injur'd Worth ador'd.

Yet greater Virtues to your share might fall,
You wanted none, and you excell'd in all;
Like Memmius, whom the Latian Poet's rage
Transmits a Pattern to each future Age,
The most uncommon Prodigy of Worth,
That ever grac'd the Helm, or blest the Earth.

Let haughty Isis boast a rival Son,
And tell fine Tales, still partial to her own,
Of Arts improv'd in her refining Air,
And politickly plant Parnassus there.
Nor Cowley we, nor loftier Milton boast,
In greater Streams the lesser still are lost:
Our Wallers, and our Drydens, we forget,
And all those enterprizing Sons of Wit,
Who tore the Bays from the unworthy Brow,
And taught it in a better Soil to grow:
We only boast this eldest son of Cam,
And claim submission to superior Fame.
Books without Learning are of small esteem,
Bards make Parnassus, not Parnassus them:
Isus may plead her empty Title still,
Ours be the Poets, and be their the Hill.

Transcendent Man! we find reviv'd in thee,
The brightest Worthies of Antiquity:
As if, by Transmigration, you possest,
As well her Poets, as her Statesmens Breast.
Each once contending Bard no more relies
On 'stablish'd Fame, and former Victories,
But doubts his Merit, and betrays Surprize.
Convinc'd and conscious of the Warmth divine,
He points out ev'ry Grace in ev'ry Line;
And, justly lavish in a Rival's praise,
Owns the fair Conquest, and resigns the Bays.

Thus Marsyas fondly thought himself supream,
Till, wak'd by Phoebus from the golden Dream,
Seiz'd with surprize at each transcendent sound,
The daring Man the dear Conviction found;
And own'd too late, unequal to the strife,
To his Presumption sacrific'd his Life.

Most Poets some peculiar Talent boast,
We seldom find them all by one engross'd:
In Thought and Diction these perhaps excel:
Those may be famous for inventing well:
In thee it is, and in thy Works alone,
These bright Perfections center all in one:
As all the various Attributes agree
And are united in the Deity.

But thou art gone; and the impoverish'd Earth,
Complains of want of Wit, and want of Worth.
Farewel, Great Man, and sacred be thy Name,
Thrice sacred to th' enobled List of Fame.
Pass but an Age, the Marble shall decay,
And the more solid Brass shall wear away:
But Worth, more lasting Worth, shall still be known,
More bright than Brass, more durable than Stone;
A more extensive Lustre shall display,
And own no Limits but he last Great Day,
When Worlds no longer HARLEY'S Worth adore,
And Time and Thou together are no more.

This tributary Verse, my Lord, receive,
'Tis all the Living to the Dead can give:
Till HARLEY bid the stately Pile ascend,
And do the last great Office of a Friend.

[pp. 3-16]