Prior, Matthew

Prior, Matthew an English poet, writer of verse both sacred and profane, whose period of authorship was contemporary with the last years of Dryden and the earliest stage of Pope, was possessed of little vigor or originality, but was remarkable for his skill in versification and his gay and easy grace of imagery and diction. His occasional epigrams, and his lively but indecent tales, are his best productions; though there is merit, also in his semi- metaphysical poem Alma, or the Progress of the Soul, and in his attempt at religious poetry in Solomon, a work which has been compared to Pope's Essay on Man. It was greatly preferred to Pope's poem by John Wesley, because more consistent with the orthodox theory of human corruption. The design is certainly more poetical, because less tending to the argumentative; though the inferior execution has prevented Prior from attaining the occasional success which redeems parts of Pope's poem from oblivion. Prior's poems were only the recreations of a man actively engaged in public life. He was born July 21,1664, and was the son of a joiner in London. Accident having directed the attention of lord Dorset to the boy's studious habits, education was procured for him; and, on leaving Oxford, he distinguished himself, under the government of king William, as a dexterous diplomatist in several foreign missions. Deserting his political party, like so many men of higher rank in that slippery time, he shared, in the latter part of his life, the vicissitudes and danger of the Tories. He died Sept. 18,1721. See the excellent article in Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v., and the references there given. (J. H. W.)

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