« 上一頁繼續 »
FROM "THE DISPENSARY.'
[Dr. Horoscope flies to consult Fortune at Tenerisse.]
Aurora, on Etesian breezes borne,
The vine undressed her swelling clusters bears,
Spadillio, that at table serv'd of late,
Drinks rich tokay himself and eats in plate; Has levees, villas, mistresses in store,
And owns the racers which he rubb'd before. Souls heavenly born my faithless boons defy; The brave is to himself a deity;
Though blest Astrea's gone, some soil remains Where Fortune is the slave, and Merit reigns. The Tiber boasts his Julian progeny,
Thames his Nassau, the Nile his Ptolemy.
(MATTHEW PRIOR was born in 1664 near Wimborne Minster in Dorsetshire. He was educated at Westminster under Dr. Busby, and at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. degree in 1686. In the following year he published, in connection with Charles Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax, a caricature of Dryden's His and Panther, under the title of The Hind and the Panther transvers'd to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse. In 1709 he published a volume of poems, and another with additions in 1718. He died in 1721.]
• Dan Prior next, belov'd by every Muse.' So sings Gay in that welcome to Pope after his labours of the 'Iliad.' And indeed not every Muse, but all the world seem to have looked kindly on the fortunate young Horatian whom the noble Dorset had taken from the Rummer tavern to be successively a Secretary of Embassy, a Secretary of State, a Commissioner of Trade and Plantations, a Member of Parliament, and, to crown all, an Ambassador. Among the subscribers to that stately folio of 1718, by which its author, happy man! cleared some £4,000, are numbered most of the illustrious names of the age, from Newton to Beau Nash,—to say nothing of lively maids of honour like 'the Honble Mrs. Mary Bellenden,' and bishops like his Right Reverence of Winchester. Bishops and maids of honour would, we imagine, be somewhat embarrassed now-a-days by much of the ingenuous verse which the tall volume contains. But readers under Anna Augusta were either not squeamish, or they confined themselves to the portentous poem of Solomon on the Vanity of the World which occupies its latter pages.
When one looks to the general character of Prior's writings it is hard to understand how he could ever have penned this egregious didactic work. Yet he not only wrote it, but he hoped to live by VOL. III.
it, and grew petulant when Pope declined to praise it as a masterpiece.
'Indeed, poor Solomon in rhyme
Was much too grave to be sublime,' exclaimed its disappointed author in his last-published piece of The Conversation. Another long poem, the frigid paraphrase of the fine old ballad of The Not-Browne Maid to which he gave the title of Henry and Emma,' although it contains the oft-quoted (and mis-quoted) 'Fine by degrees, and beautifully less,' is almost equally unendurable. Nor are the official performances of Prior, the Carmen Seculare and the rest, always excepting the clever skit upon Boileau's pompous Ode sur la prise de Namur, likely to attract the modern reader. His distinctive and personal note is to be found in one only of his longer pieces, and in his vivacious tales, songs, epigrams and familiar verses. This long poem is Alma, written in 1715 and 1716 while the author lay in prison under suspicion of high treason. It is a whimsical and delightfully vagrant dialogue between Mat (Prior) and Dick (his friend Mr. Shelton) upon the various speculations of philosophers as to the relations of the soul and the body, and full of fine caprices and fitful fresh departures. Plan there is little or none; but the wayward turns of the humour lure the reader from page to page with all the fascination of a Will o' the Wisp.
We suspect, however, that in spite of its many good things, Alma is more quoted than read. With Prior's minor pieces the case is different. In these he exhibits all the verbal fitness and artful ease of such Latins as Horace and Martial, with both of whom he has considerable affinity. But his continental residence had also made him familiar with their Gallic imitators, and added a French grace and lightness to his already unencumbered muse. In his treatment of love and women he thoroughly follows his masters. However ardent, his adoration of the other sex is always conventional, while his appreciation of their foibles is keen even to malice. He seldom or never writes of them with real respect and deep feeling. What interests him most, it is clear, is not the tender passion in its more refined conditions, but those pretty episodes and accidents at which, they say, Dame Venus laughs, -
•rident Simplices Nymphae, ferus et Cupido Semper ardentes acuens sagittas