1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Prior

Anna Brownell Jameson, "Prior's Chloe" Loves of the Poets (1829; 1857) 429-30.



Prior's Chloe, the "nut-brown maid," was taken from the opposite extremity of society [than Lady Newburgh], but could scarce have been more worthless. She was a common woman of the lowest description, whose real name was, I believe, Nancy Derham, — but it is not a matter of much importance.

Prior's attachment to this woman, however unmerited, was very sincere. For her sake he quitted the high society into which his talents and his political connections had introduced him; and for her, he neglected, as he tells us—

Whate'er the world thinks wise and grave,
Ambition, business, friendship, news,
My useful books and serious muse,

to bury himself with her in some low tavern for weeks together. Once, when they quarrelled, she ran away and carried off his plate; but even this could not shake his constancy: at his death he left her all he possessed, and she — his Chloe — at whose command and in whose honor he wrote his "Henry and Emma," — married a cobbler! Such was Prior's Chloe.

Is it surprising that the works of a poet once so popular, should now be banished from a lady's library? — a banishment from which all his sprightly wit cannot redeem him. But because Prior's love for this woman was real, and that he was really a man of feeling and genius, though debased by low and irregular habits, there are some sweet touches scattered through his poetry, which show how strong was the illusion in his fancy: — as in "Chloe Jealous."

Reading thy verse, "who cares," said I,
"If here or there his glances flew?
O free forever be his eye,
Whose heart to me is always true!"

And in his "Answer to Chloe Jealous."

O when I am wearied with wandering all day
To thee, my delight, in the evening I come.
No matter what beauties I saw in my way,
They were but my visits, but thou art my home!

The address to Chloe, with which the "Nut-brown Maid" commences, "Thou, to whose eyes I bend, &c" will ever be admired, and the poems will always find readers among the young and gentle-hearted who have not yet learned to be critics or to tremble at the fiat of Dr. Johnson. It is perhaps one of the most popular poems in the language.