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That is to say, his favourite poetical attitude is rather cynical than enthusiastic—rather material than ideal. Now and then, as in the verses To a Child of Quality five years old, he can assume a playful gravity which is altogether charming; but it is in such pieces as The Merchant, to secure his treasure, A Better Answer, A Song, that he shines most equably. As a tale-teller he comes near to La Fontaine for ease of narrative and careless finish; although his themes, like those of his model, are generally more witty than delicate. In his Epistles and pieces like The Secretary and A Simile he is delightful. As an epigrammatist he is unrivalled in English.

But however much one might attempt to define the work of Prior, there would always be a something left undefined,—a something that animates the whole and yet defies the critic, who falls back upon the old threadbare devices for describing the undescribable. His is the 'nameless charm' of Piron's epigram,—that fugitive je ne sais quoi of gaiety, of wit, of grace, of audacity, it is impossible to say what, which eludes analysis as the principle of life escapes the anatomist. In the present case it lifts its possessor above any other writer of familiar verse; but it is a something to which we cannot give a name, unless, indeed, we take refuge in paradox, and say that it is.... MATTHEW PRIOR.



[Written at the Hague, in the year 1696.]

While with labour assiduous due pleasure I mix,
And in one day atone for the business of six;
In a little Dutch-chaise on a Saturday night,
On my left hand my Horace, a Nymph on my right;
No Mémoire to compose and no Post-boy to move
That on Sunday may hinder the softness of love;
For her, neither visits, nor parties at tea,

Nor the long-winded cant of a dull refugee :
This night and the next shall be hers, shall be mine,
To good or ill fortune the third we resign:
Thus scorning the world and superior to fate
I drive on my car in processional state.

So with Phia through Athens Pisistratus rode;
Men thought her Minerva, and him a new God.
But why should I stories of Athens rehearse
Where people knew love, and were partial to verse;
Since none can with justice my pleasures oppose,
In Holland half-drowned in interest and prose?
By Greece and past ages what need I be tried,
When the Hague and the present are both on my side §
And is it enough for the joys of the day

To think what Anacreon or Sappho would say,
When good Vandergoes and his provident Vrouw,
As they gaze on my triumph, do freely allow,
That, search all the province, you'll find no man Lols is
So blessed as the Englishen Heer Secretar' is.


Lords, knights, and 'squires, the numerous band,
That wear the fair Miss Mary's fetters,
Were summoned by her high command,

To show their passions by their letters.

My pen among the rest I took,

Lest those bright eyes that cannot read Should dart their kindling fires, and look The power they have to be obeyed.

Nor quality, nor reputation,

Forbid me yet my flame to tell,
Dear five years old befriends my passion,
And I may write till she can spell.

For, while she makes her silk-worms beds
With all the tender things I swear;
Whilst all the house my passion reads,
In papers round her baby's hair;

She may receive and own my flame,

For, though the strictest prudes should know it

She'll pass for a most virtuous dame,
And I for an unhappy poet.

Then too, alas! when she shall tear

The lines some younger rival sends; She'll give me leave to write, I fear,

And we shall still continue friends.

For, as our different ages move,

'Tis so ordained, (would Fate but mend it!) That I shall be past making love,

When she begins to comprehend it


In vain you tell your parting lover,
You wish fair winds may waft him over.
Alas! what winds can happy prove,
That bear me far from what I love?
Alas! what dangers on the main
Can equal those that I sustain,
From slighted vows, and cold disdain?

Be gentle, and in pity choose

To wish the wildest tempests loose:
That thrown again upon the coast,
Where first my shipwrecked heart was lost,

I may once more repeat my pain;
Once more in dying notes complain
Of slighted vows, and cold disdain.

TO A LADY: she refusing to continue a dispute with me, an. leaving me in the argument.

Spare, generous Victor, spare the slave,
Who did unequal war pursue ;
That more than triumph he might have,
In being overcome by you.

In the dispute whate'er I said,

My heart was by my tongue belied;
And in my looks you might have read
How much I argued on your side.

You, far from danger as from fear,
Might have sustained an open fight:
For seldom your opinions err;
Your eyes are always in the right.

Why, fair one, would you not rely

On Reason's force with Beauty's joined? Could I their prevalence deny,

I must at once be deaf and blind.

Alas! not hoping to subdue,

I only to the fight aspired:
To keep the beauteous foe in view
Was all the glory I desired.

But she, howe'er of victory sure,

Contemns the wreath too iong delayed; An, armed with more immediate power, Calls cruel silence to her aid.

Deeper to wound, she shuns the fight:

She drops her arms, to gain the field: Secures her conquest by her flight;

And triumphs, when she seems to yield So when the Parthian turned his steed,

And from the hostile camp withdrew; With cruel skill the backward reed He sent; and as he fled, he slew.


The merchant, to secure his treasure,
Conveys it in a borrowed name :
Euphelia serves to grace my measure;
But Chloe is my real flame.

My softest verse, my darling lyre
Upon Euphelia's toilet lay;

When Chloe noted her desire,

That I should sing, that I should play.
My lyre I tune, my voice I raise ;
But with my numbers mix my sighs:
And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise,
I fix my soul on Chloe's eyes.

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