1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Prior

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 123.



Of obscure parentage, Prior (1664-1721) owed his advancement in life to the friendship of the Earl of Dorset, through which he rose to be ambassador to the Court of Versailles. His best-known poems are his light lyrical pieces of the artificial school. Thackeray says, with some exaggeration, that they "are among the easiest, the richest, the most charmingly humorous in the English language;" but Prior's poetical fame, considerable in his day, has waned, and not undeservedly. His longest work is the serious poem of Solomon, highly commended by Wesley and Hannah More, but now having few readers. His Henry and Emma, called by Cowper "an enchanting piece," is a paraphrase of The Nut-brown Maide, and a formidable specimen of "verse bewigged" to suit the false taste of the day. Compared with the original it is like tinsel to rich gold in the ore. Like many men of letters of his day, Prior never ventured on matrimony.