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Martury PRIoR, a distinguished poet, was born in 1664, in London according to one account, according to another at Winborne, in Dorsetshire. His father dying when he was young, an uncle, who was a vintner, or tavern-keeper, at CharingCross, took him under his care, and sent him to Westminster-school, of which Dr. Busby was then master. Before he had passed through the school, his uncle took him home, for the purpose of bringing him into his own business; but the Earl of Dorset, a great patron of letters, having found him one day reading Horace, and being pleased with his conversation, determined to give him an university education. He was accordingly admitted of St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1682, proceeded bachelor of arts in 1686, and was won after elected to a fellowship. After having proved his poetic talents by some college exercises, he was introduced at court by the Earl of Dorset, and was so effectually recommended, that, in 1690, he was appointed secretary to the English plenipotentiaries who attended the congress at the Hague. Being now enlisted in the service of the court, his productions were, for some years, chiefly directed to courtly topics, of which one of the most considerable was an Ode presented to King William in 1695, on the death of Queen Mary. In 1697, he was nominated secretary to the commissioners for the treaty of Ryswick; and, on his return, was made secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He went to France in the following year, as secretary, first to the Earl of Portland, and then to the Earl of Jersey; and being now regarded as one conversant in public affairs, he was summoned by King William to Loo, where he had a confidential audience. In the beginning of 1701 he sat in ParHament for East Grinstead.
Prior had hitherto been promoted and acted with the Whigs: but the Tories now having become the prevalent party, he turned about, and ever after adhered to them. He even voted for the impeachthent of those lords who advised that partition treaty in which he had been officially employed. Like most converts, he embraced his new friends with much zeal, and from that time almost all his *xial connections were confined within the limits of his party.
The successes in the beginning of Queen Anne's reign were celebrated by the poets on both sides; and Prior sung the victories of Blenheim and Hamilies: he afterwards, however, joined in the *ack of the great general who had been his theme.
It will not be worth while here to take notice of all his changes in the political world, except to mention the disgraces which followed the famous congress of Utrecht, in which he was deeply engaged. For the completion of that business he was left in France, with the appointments and authority of an ambassador, though without the title, the proud Duke of Shrewsbury having refused to be joined in commission with a man so meanly born. Prior, however, publicly assumed the character till he was superseded by the Earl of Stair, on the accession of George I. The Whigs being now in power, he was welcomed, on his return, by a warrant from the House of Commons, under which he was committed to the custody of a messenger. He was examined before the Privy Council respecting lis share in the peace of Utrecht, was treated with rigour, and Walpole moved an impeachment against him, on a charge of high treason, for holding clandestine conferences with the French plenipotentiary. His name was excepted from an act of grace passed in 1717: at length, however, he was discharged, without being brought to trial, to end his days in retirement.
We are now to consider Prior among the poetical characters of the time. In his writings is found that incongruous mixture of light and rather indecent topics with grave and even religious ones, which was not uncommon at that period. In the faculty of telling a story with ease and vivacity, he yields only to Swift, compared to whom his humour is occasionally strained and quaint. His songs and amatory pieces are generally elegant and classical. The most popular of his serious compositions are “Henry and Emma,” or the Nut-brown Maid, modernised from an antique original; and “Solomon,” the idea of which is taken from the book of Ecclesiastes. These are harmonious in their versification, splendid and correct in their diction, and copious in poetical imagery; but they exert no powerful effect on the feelings or the fancy, and are enfeebled by prolixity. His “Alma,” a piece of philosophical pleasantry, was written to console himself when under confinement, and displays a considerable share of reading. As to his elaborate effusions of loyalty and patriotism, they seem to have sunk into total neglect.
The life of Prior was cut short by a lingering illness, which closed his days at Wimpole, the seat of Lord Oxford, in September, 1721, in the 58th year of his age.
HENRY AND EMMA. A Poext,
Cpon the Model of the Nut-Brown Maid.
Taou, to whose eyes I bend, at whose command
WHEar beauteous Isis and her husband Tame, With mingled waves, for ever flow the same, In times of yore an ancient baron liv'd; Great gifts bestow'd, and great respect receiv'd.
When dreadful Edward, with successful care, Led his free Britons to the Gallic war; This lord had headed his appointed bands, In firm allegiance to his king's commands; And (all due honours faithfully discharg'd) Had brought back his paternal coat, enlarg’d With a new mark, the witness of his toil, And no inglorious part of foreign spoil.
From the loud camp retir'd, and noisy court, In honourable ease and rural sport, The remnant of his days he safely past; Nor found they lagg'd too slow, nor flew too fast. He made his wish with his estate comply, Joyful to live, yet not afraid to die.
One child he had, a daughter chaste and fair, His age's comfort, and his fortune's heir. They call'd her Emma; for the beauteous dame, Who gave the virgin birth, had borne the name: The name th' indulgent father doubly lov'd : For in the child the mother's charms improv’d. Yet as, when little, round his knees she play'd, He call'd her oft, in sport, his Nut-brown Maid, The friends and tenants took the fondling word, (As still they please, who imitate their lord): Usage confirm'd what fancy had begun; The mutual terms around the land were known : And Emma and the Nut-brown Maid were one.
As with her stature, still her charms increas'd; Through all the isle her beauty was confess'd. Oh! what perfections must that virgin share, Who fairest is esteem’d, where all are fair From distant shires repair the noble youth, And find report, for once, had lessen'd truth. By wonder first, and then by passion mov’d, They came; they saw ; they marvell'd; and they
By public praises, and by secret sighs,
And, with his jolly pipe, delights the groves.
The neighbouring swains around the stranger throng, Or to admire, or emulate his song: While with soft sorrow he renews his lays, Nor heedful of their envy, nor their praise. But, soon as Emma's eyes adorn the plain, His notes he raises to a nobler strain, With dutiful respect and studious fear; Lest any careless sound offend her ear. A frantic gipsy now, the house he haunts, And in wild phrases speaks dissembled wants. With the fond maids in palmistry he deals: They tell the secret first, which he reveals; Says who shall wed, and who shall be beguil'd; What groom shall get, and squire maintain the child. But, when bright Emma would her fortune know, A softer look unbends his opening brow; With trembling awe he gazes on her eye, And in soft accents forms the kind reply; That she shall prove as fortunate as fair; And Hymen's choicest gifts are all reserv'd for her. Now oft had Henry chang'd his sly disguise, Unmark'd by all but beauteous Emma's eyes: 0ft had found means alone to see the dame, And at her feet to breathe his amorous flame; And oft, the pangs of absence to remove, By letters, soft interpreters of love: Till Time and Industry (the mighty two That bring our wishes nearer to our view) Made him perceive, that the inclining fair Receiv'd his vows with no reluctant ear; That Venus had confirm'd her equal reign, And dealt to Emma's heart a share of Henry's pain. While Cupid smil'd, by kind occasion bless'd, And, with the secret kept, the love increas'd ; The amorous youth frequents the silent groves; And much he meditates, for much he loves. He loves, 'tis true; and is belov'd again: Great are his joys; but will they long remain 2 Emma with smiles receives his present flame; But, smiling, will she ever be the same 2 Beautiful looks are rul’d by fickle minds; And summer seas are turn'd by sudden winds. Another love may gain her easy youth: Time changes thought, and flattery conquers truth. 0 impotent estate of human life Where Hope and Fear maintain eternal strife; Where fleeting joy does lasting doubt inspire; And most we question, what we most desire Amongst thy various gifts, great Heaven, bestow Our cup of love unmix'd; forbear to throw Bitter ingredients in ; nor pall the draught With nauseous grief: for our ill-judging thought Hardly enjoys the pleasurable taste; Or deems it not sincere; or fears it cannot last. With wishes rais'd, with jealousies opprest, (Alternate tyrants of the human breast) By one great trial he resolves to prove The faith of woman, and the force of love. If, scanning Emma's virtues, he may find That beauteous frame enclose a steady mind, He'll fix his hope, of future joy secure; And live a slave to Hymen's happy power. But if the fair-one, as he fears, is frail; If, pois'd aright in Reason's equal scale, Light fly her merit, and her faults prevail; His mind he vows to free from amorous care, The latent mischief from his heart to tear, Resume his azure arms, and shine again in war. South of the castle, in a verdant glade, A spreading beech extends her friendly shade:
Here of the nymph his breathing vows had heard;
: On which her conduct and his life depend.
Soon as the fair-one had the note receiv'd, The remnant of the day alone she griev'd : For different this from every former note, Which Venus dictated, and Henry wrote; Which told her all his future hopes were laid On the dear bosom of his Nut-brown Maid; Which always bless'd her eyes, and own'd her
power; And bid her oft adieu, yet added more. Now night advanc'd. The house in sleep were laid; The nurse experienc'd, and the prying maid, And, last, that sprite, which does incessant haunt The lover's steps, the ancient maiden-aunt. To her dear Henry, Emma wings her way, With quicken'd pace repairing forc'd delay; For Love, fantastic power, that is afraid To stir abroad till Watchfulness be laid, Undaunted then o'er cliffs and valleys strays, And leads his votaries safe through pathless ways. Not Argus, with his hundred eyes, shall find ... Where Cupid goes; though he, poor guide! is blind. The maiden first arriving, sent her eye To ask, if yet its chief delight were nigh: With fear and with desire, with joy and pain, She sees, and runs to meet him on the plain. But, oh! his steps proclaim no lover's haste: On the low ground his fix'd regards are cast; His artful bosom heaves dissembled sighs; And tears suborn'd fall copious from his eyes. With ease, alas! we credit what we love: His painted grief does real sorrow move In the afflicted fair; adown her cheek Trickling the genuine tears their current break; Attentive stood the mournful nymph: the man Broke silence first: the tale alternate ran.
Thy virgin softness hast thou e'er bewail'd,
What is our bliss, that changeth with the Moon? And day of life, that darkens ere 'tis noon? What is true passion, if unblest it dies? And where is Emma's joy, if Henry flies? If love, alas! be pain; the pain I bear No thought can figure, and no tongue declare. Ne'er faithful woman felt, nor false one feign'd, The flames which long have in my bosom reign'd : The god of love himself inhabits there, With all his rage, and dread, and grief, and care, His complement of stores, and total war.
O! cease then coldly to suspect my love; And let my deed at least my faith approve. Alas! no youth shall my endearments share; Nor day nor night shall interrupt my care; No future story shall with truth upbraid The cold indifference of the Nut-brown Maid; Nor to hard banishment shall Henry run, While careless Emma sleeps on beds of down. View me resolv'd, where'er thou lead'st, to go, Friend to thy pain, and partner of thy woe; For I attest, fair Venus and her son, That I, of all mankind, will love but thee alone.
Let prudence yet obstruct thy venturous way; And take good heed, what men will think and say; That beauteous Emma vagrant courses took; Her father's house and civil life forsook; That, full of youthful blood, and fond of man, She to the wood-land with an exile ran. Reflect, that lessen'd fame is ne'er regain'd, And virgin honour, once, is always stain'd : Timely advis'd, the coming evil shun : Better not do the deed, than weep it done. No penance can absolve our guilty fame; Nor tears, that wash out sin, can wash out shame. Then fly the sad effects of desperate love, And leave a banish'd man through lonely woods to
Fair Truth, at last, her radiant beams will raise;
But canst thou wield the sword, and bend the bow? With active force repel the sturdy foe 2 When the loud tumult speaks the battle nigh, And winged deaths in whistling arrows fly; Wilt thou, though wounded, yet undaunted stay, Perform thy part, and share the dangerous day? Then, as thy strength decays, thy heart will fail, Thy limbs all trembling, and thy cheeks all pale; With fruitless sorrow, thou, inglorious maid, Wilt weep thy safety by thy love betray'd: Then to thy friend, by foes o'er-charg’d, deny Thy little useless aid, and coward fly: Then wilt thou curse the chance that made thee love A banish'd man, condemn'd in lonely woods to rove.
With fatal certainty Thalestris knew
Near thee, mistrust not, constant I'll abide,
To stop the wounds, my finest lawn I'd tear,
But canst thou, tender maid, canst thou sustain Afflictive want, or hunger's pressing pain 2 Those limbs, in lawn and softest silk array'd, From sun-beams guarded, and of winds afraid, Can they bear angry Jove? can they resist The parching dog-star, and the bleak north-east? When, chill'd by adverse snows and beatin rain, We tread with weary steps the longsome plain : When with hard toil we seek our evening food, Berties and acorns from the neighbouring wood; And find among the cliffs no other house But the thin covert of some gather'd boughs = Wilt thou not then reluctant send thine eye Around the dreary waste, and, weeping, try (Though then, alas! that trial be too late) To find thy father's hospitable gate, And seats, where ease and plenty brooding sate 2.
Thy rise of fortune did I only wed, From its decline determin'd to recede; Did I but purpose to embark with thee On the smooth surface of a summer's sea; While gentle Zephyrs play in prosperous gales, And Fortune's favour fills the swelling sails; But would forsake the ship, and make the shore, When the winds whistle, and the tempests roar? No, Henry, no: one sacred oath has tied Our loves: one destiny our life shall guide; Nor wild nor deep our common way divide.
When from the cave thou risest with the day, To beat the woods, and rouse the bounding prey; The cave with moss and branches I'll adorn, And cheerful sit, to wait my lord's return: And, when thou frequent bring'st the smitten deer, (For seldom, archers say, thy arrows err) I'll fetch quick fuel from the neighbouring wood, And strike the sparkling flint, and dress the food; With humble duty, and officious haste, I'll cull the furthest mead for thy repast; The choicest herbs I to thy board will bring, And draw thy water from the freshest spring: And, when at night with weary toil opprest, Soft slumbers thou enjoy'st, and wholesome rest, Watchful I’ll guard thee, and with midnight prayer Weary the gods to keep thee in their care; And joyous ask, at morn's returning ray, If thou hast health, and I may bless the day. My thoughts shall fix, my latest wish depend, On thee, guide, guardian, kinsman, father, friend: By all these sacred names be Henry known To Emma's heart; and grateful let him own That she, of all mankind, could love but him alone!
Vainly thou tell'st me, what the woman's care Shall in the wildness of the wood prepare: Thou, ere thou goest, unhappiest of thy kind, Must leave the habit and the sex behind. No longer shall thy comely tresses break In flowing ringlets on thy snowy neck; Or sit behind thy head, an ample round, In graceful braids with various ribbon bound: No longer shall the bodice aptly lac'd, From thy full bosom to thy slender waist, That air and harmony of shape express, Fine by degrees, and beautifully less: Nor shall thy lower garments' artful plait, From thy fair side dependent to thy feet, Arm their chaste beauties with a modest pride, And double every charm they seek to hide. Th'ambrosial plenty of thy shining hair, Cropt off and lost, scarce lower than thy ear Stall stand uncouth: a horseman's coat shall hide Thy taper shape, and comeliness of side: The short trunk-hose shall show thy foot and knee Licentious, and to common eye-sight free : And, with a bolder stride and looser air, Mingled with men, a man thou must appear.
Nor solitude, nor gentle peace of mind, Mistaken maid, shalt thou in forests find :
'Tis long since Cynthia and her train were there,
O grief of heart! that our unhappy fates
Our outward act is prompted from within;
For thee alone these little charms I drest:
| That, leaving all * I love but him alone.