Theophilus Cibber.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume IV online

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We must not omit one instance in Mr. Prior's conduct, which will
appear very remarkable: he was chosen a member of that Parliament
which impeached the Partition Treaty, to which he himself had been
secretary; and though his share in that transaction was consequently
very considerable, yet he joined in the impeachment upon an honest
principle of conviction, that exceptionable measures attended it.

The lord Bolingbroke, who, notwithstanding many exceptions made both
to his conduct, and sentiments in other instances, yet must be allowed
to be an accomplished judge of fine talents, entertained the highest
esteem for Mr. Prior, on account of his shining abilities. This noble
lord, in a letter dated September 10, 1712, addressed to Mr. Prior,
while he was the Queen's minister, and plenipotentiary at the court of
France, pays him the following compliment; 'For God's sake, Matt. hide
the nakedness of thy country, and give the best turn thy fertile brain
will furnish thee with, to the blunders of thy countrymen, who are not
much better politicians, than the French are poets.' His lordship thus
concludes his epistle; 'It is near three o'clock in the morning, I
have been hard at work all day, and am not yet enough recovered to
bear much fatigue; excuse therefore the confusedness of this scroll,
which is only from Harry to Matt, and not from the secretary to the
minister. Adieu, my pen is ready to drop out of my hand, it being now
three o'clock in the morning; believe that no man loves you better, or
is more faithfully yours, &c.


There are several other letters from Bolingbroke to Prior, which, were
it necessary, we might insert as evidences of his esteem for him; but
Mr. Prior was in every respect so great a man, that the esteem even of
lord Bolingbroke cannot add much to the lustre of his reputation,
both as a statesman, and a poet. Mr. Prior is represented by those who
knew, and have wrote concerning him, as a gentleman, who united the
elegance and politeness of a court, with the scholar, and the man of
genius. This representation, in general, may be just, yet it holds
almost invariably true, that they who have risen from low life, still
retain some traces of their original. No cultivation, no genius, it
seems, is able entirely to surmount this: There was one particular in
which Mr. Prior verified the old proverb.

The same woman who could charm the waiter in a tavern, still
maintained her dominion over the embassador at France. The Chloe of
Prior, it seems, was a woman in this station of life; but he never
forsook her in the heighth of his reputation. Hence we may observe,
that associations with women are the most lasting of all, and
that when an eminent station raises a man above many other acts of
condescension, a mistress will maintain her influence, charm away the
pride of greatness, and make the hero who fights, and the patriot
who speaks, for the liberty of his country, a slave to her. One would
imagine however, that this woman, who was a Butcher's wife, must
either have been very handsome, or have had something about her
superior to people of her rank: but it seems the case was otherwise,
and no better reason can be given for Mr. Prior's attachment to her,
but that she was his taste. Her husband suffered their intrigue to go
on unmolested; for he was proud even of such a connexion as this, with
so great a man as Prior; a singular instance of good nature.

In the year 1715 Mr. Prior was recalled from France, and upon his
arrival was taken up by a warrant from the House of Commons; shortly
after which, he underwent a very strict examination by a Committee of
the Privy Council. His political friend, lord Bolingbroke, foreseeing
a storm, took shelter in France, and secured Harry, but left poor
Matt. in the lurch.

On the 10th of June Robert Walpole, esq; moved the House against
him, and on the 17th Mr. Prior was ordered into close custody, and no
person was admitted to see him without leave from the Speaker. For
the particulars of this procedure of the Parliament, both against Mr.
Prior, and many others concerned in the public transactions of the
preceding reign, we refer to the histories of that time. In the year
1717 an Act of Grace was passed in favour of those who had opposed
the Hanoverian succession, as well as those who had been in open
rebellion, but Mr. Prior was excepted out of it. At the close of this
year, however, he was discharged from his confinement, and retired to
spend the residue of his days at Downhall in Essex.

The severe usage which Mr. Prior met with, perhaps was the occasion of
the following beautiful lines, addressed to his Chloe;

From public noise, and factious strife,
From all the busy ills of life,
Take me, my Chloe, to thy breast;
And lull my wearied soul to rest:
For ever, in this humble cell,
Let thee and I, my fair one, dwell;
None enter else, but Love - - and he
Shall bar the door, and keep the key.

To painted roofs, and shining spires
(Uneasy feats of high desires)
Let the unthinking many croud,
That dare be covetous, and proud;
In golden bondage let them wait,
And barter happiness for state:
But oh! my Chloe when thy swain
Desires to see a court again;
May Heav'n around his destin'd head
The choicest of his curses shed,
To sum up all the rage of fate.
In the two things I dread, and hate,
May'st thou be false, and I be great.

In July 1721, within two months of his death, Mr. Prior published the
following beautiful little tale on the falshood of mankind, entitled
The Conversation, and applied it to the truth, honour, and justice of
his grace the duke of Dorset.


It always has been thought discreet
To know the company you meet;
And sure, there may be secret danger
In talking much before a stranger.
Agreed: what then? then drink your ale;
I'll pledge you, and repeat my tale.

No matter where the scene is fix'd,
The persons were but odly mix'd,
When sober Damon thus began:
(And Damon is a clever man)

I now grow old; but still from youth,
Have held for modesty and truth,
The men, who by these sea-marks steer,
In life's great voyage, never err;
Upon this point I dare defy
The world; I pause for a reply.

Sir, either is a good assistant,
Said one, who sat a little distant:
Truth decks our speeches, and our books,
And modesty adorns our looks:
But farther progress we must take;
Not only born to look and speak,
The man must act. The Stagyrite
Says thus, and says extremely right;
Strict justice is the sovereign guide,
That o'er our actions should preside;
This queen of virtue is confess'd
To regulate and bind the rest.
Thrice happy, if you can but find
Her equal balance poise your mind:
All diff'rent graces soon will enter,
Like lines concurrent to their center.

'Twas thus, in short, these two went on,
With yea and nay, and pro and con,
Thro' many points divinely dark,
And Waterland assaulting Clarke;
'Till, in theology half lost,
Damon took up the Evening-Post;
Confounded Spain, compos'd the North,
And deep in politics held forth.

Methinks, we're in the like condition,
As at the treaty of partition;
That stroke, for all King William's care,
Begat another tedious war.
Matthew, who knew the whole intrigue,
Ne'er much approv'd that mystic league;
In the vile Utrecht treaty too,
Poor man! he found enough to do.
Sometimes to me he did apply;
But downright Dunstable was I,
And told him where they were mistaken,
And counsell'd him to save his bacon:
But (pass his politics and prose)
I never herded with his foes;
Nay, in his verses, as a friend,
I still found something to commend.
Sir, I excus'd his Nut-brown maid;
Whate'er severer critics said:
Too far, I own, the girl was try'd:
The women all were on my side.
For Alma I return'd him thanks,
I lik'd her with her little pranks;
Indeed, poor Solomon, in rhime,
Was much too grave to be sublime.
Pindar and Damon scorn transition,
So on he ran a new division;
'Till, out of breath, he turn'd to spit:
(Chance often helps us more than wit)
T'other that lucky moment took,
Just nick'd the time, broke in, and spoke.

Of all the gifts the gods afford
(If we may take old Tully's word)
The greatest is a friend, whose love
Knows how to praise, and when reprove;
From such a treasure never part,
But hang the jewel on your heart:
And pray, sir (it delights me) tell;
You know this author mighty well -
Know him! d'ye question it? ods fish!
Sir, does a beggar know his dish?
I lov'd him, as I told you, I
Advis'd him - here a stander-by
Twitch'd Damon gently by the cloke,
And thus unwilling silence broke:
Damon, 'tis time we should retire,
The man you talk with is Matt. Prior.

Patron, thro' life, and from thy birth my friend,
Dorset, to thee this fable let me send:
With Damon's lightness weigh thy solid worth;
The foil is known to set the diamond forth:
Let the feign'd tale this real moral give,
How many Damons, how few Dorsets live!

Mr. Prior, after the fatigue of a length of years past in various
services of action, was desirous of spending the remainder of his days
in rural tranquility, which the greatest men of all ages have been
fond of enjoying: he was so happy as to succeed in his wish, living a
very retired, and contemplative life, at Downhall in Essex, and found,
as he expressed himself, a more solid, and innocent satisfaction among
woods, and meadows, than he had enjoyed in the hurry, and tumults
of the world, the courts of Princes, or the conducting foreign
negotiations; and where as he melodiously sings,

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.

This great man died on the 18th of September, 1721, at Wimple in
Cambridgshire, the seat of the earl of Oxford, with whose friendship
he had been honoured for some years. The death of so distinguished a
person was justly esteemed an irreparable loss to the polite world,
and his memory will be ever dear to those, who have any relish for the
muses in their softer charms. Some of the latter part of his life was
employed in collecting materials for an History of the Transactions of
his own Times, but his death unfortunately deprived the world of what
the touches of so masterly a hand, would have made exceeding valuable.

Mr. Prior, by the suffrage of all men of taste, holds the first rank
in poetry, for the delicacy of his numbers, the wittiness of his
turns, the acuteness of his remarks, and, in one performance, for the
amazing force of his sentiments. The stile of our author is likewise
so pure, that our language knows no higher authority, and there is an
air of original in his minutest performances.

It would be superfluous to give any detail of his poems, they are in
the hands of all who love poetry, and have been as often admired, as
read. The performance however, for which he is most distinguished, is
his Solomon; a Poem in three Books, the first on Knowledge, the second
on Pleasure, and the third on Power. We know few poems to which this
is second, and it justly established his reputation as one of the best
writers of his age.

This sublime work begins thus,

Ye sons of men, with just regard attend,
Observe the preacher, and believe the friend,
Whose serious muse inspires him to explain,
That all we act, and all we think is vain:
That in this pilgrimage of seventy years,
O'er rocks of perils, and thro' vales of tears
Destin'd to march, our doubtful steps we tend,
Tir'd of the toil, yet fearful of its end:
That from the womb, we take our fatal shares,
Of follies, fashions, labours, tumults, cares;
And at approach of death shall only know,
The truths which from these pensive numbers flow,
That we pursue false joy, and suffer real woe.

After an enquiry into, and an excellent description of the various
operations, and effects of nature, the system of the heavens, &c. and
not being fully informed of them, the first Book concludes,

How narrow limits were to wisdom given?
Earth she surveys; she thence would measure Heav'n:
Thro' mists obscure, now wings her tedious way;
Now wanders dazl'd, with too bright a day;
And from the summit of a pathless coast
Sees infinite, and in that sight is lost.

In the second Book the uncertainty, disappointment, and vexation
attending pleasure in general, are admirably described; and in the
character of Solomon is sufficiently shewn, that nothing debases
majesty, or indeed any man, more than ungovernable passion.

When thus the gath'ring storms of wretched love
In my swoln bosom, with long war had strove;
At length they broke their bounds; at length their force
Bore down whatever met its stronger course:
Laid all the civil bounds of manhood waste.
And scatter'd ruin, as the torrent past.

The third Book treats particularly of the trouble and instability
of greatness and power, considers man through the several stages and
conditions of life, and has excellent reasoning upon life and death.
On the last are these lines;

Cure of the miser's wish, and cowards fear,
Death only shews us, what we knew was near.
With courage therefore view the 'pointed hour;
Dread not death's anger, but expect its power;
Nor nature's laws, with fruitless sorrow mourn;
But die, O mortal man! for thou wast born.

The poet has likewise these similies on life;

As smoke that rises from the kindling fires
Is seen this moment, and the next expires:
As empty clouds by rising winds are tost,
Their fleeting forms no sooner found than lost:
So vanishes our state; so pass our days;
So life but opens now, and now decays;
The cradle, and the tomb, alas! so nigh;
To live is scarce distinguished from to die.

We shall conclude this account of Mr. Prior's life with the following
copy of verses, written on his Death by Robert Ingram, esq; which is a
very successful imitation of Mr. Prior's manner.


Mat. Prior! - (and we must submit)
Is at his journey's end;
In whom the world has lost a wit,
And I, what's more, a friend.


Who vainly hopes long here to stay,
May see with weeping eyes;
Not only nature posts away,
But e'en good nature dies!

Should grave ones count these praises light,
To such it may be said:
A man, in this lamented wight,
Of business too is dead.


From ancestors, as might a fool!
He trac'd no high-fetch'd stem;
But gloriously revers'd the rule,
By dignifying them.


O! gentle Cambridge! sadly say,
Why fates are so unkind
To snatch thy giant sons away,
Whilst pigmies stay behind?


Horace and he were call'd, in haste,
From this vile earth to heav'n;
The cruel year not fully past,
Ætatis, fifty seven.


So, on the tops of Lebanon,
Tall cedars felt the sword,
To grace, by care of Solomon,
The temple of the Lord.


A tomb amidst the learned may
The western abbey give!
Like theirs, his ashes must decay,
Like theirs, his fame shall live.

Close, carver, by some well cut books,
Let a thin busto tell,
In spite of plump and pamper'd looks,
How scantly sense can dwell!


No epitaph of tedious length
Should overcharge the stone;
Since loftiest verse would lose its strength,
In mentioning his own.


At once! and not verbosely tame,
Some brave Laconic pen
Should smartly touch his ample name,
In form of - O rare Ben!

* * * * *


This lady was daughter of one Mr. Freeman, of Holbeack in
Lincolnshire. There was formerly an estate in the family of her
father, but being a Dissenter, and a zealous parliamentarian, he was
so very much persecuted at the restoration, that he was laid under a
necessity to fly into Ireland, and his estate was confiscated; nor was
the family of our authoress's mother free from the severity of those
times, they being likewise parliamentarians. Her education was in the
country, and her father dying when she was but three years of age,
and her mother not living 'till she was twelve, the improvements our
poetess made were merely by her own industry and application. She was
married before the age of fifteen, to a nephew of Sir Stephen Fox.
This gentleman living with her but a year, she afterwards married Mr.
Carrol, an officer in the army, and survived him likewise in the space
of a year and a half. She afterwards married Mr. Joseph Centlivre,
yeoman of the mouth to his late Majesty. She gave early discoveries of
a genius for poetry, and Mr. Jacob in his Lives of the Poets tells us,
that she composed a song before she was seven years old. She is
the author of fifteen plays; her talent is comedy, particularly the
contrivance of the plots, and incidents. Sir Richard Steele, in one of
his Tatlers, speaking of the Busy Body, thus recommends it. 'The plot,
and incidents of the play, are laid with that subtilty, and spirit,
which is peculiar to females of wit, and is very seldom well performed
by those of the other sex, in whom craft in love is an act of
invention, and not as with women, the effect of nature, and instinct'.

She died December 1, 1723; the author of the Political State thus
characterizes her. 'Mrs. Centlivre, from a mean parentage and
education, after several gay adventures (over which we shall draw
a veil) she had, at last, so well improved her natural genius by
reading, and good conversation, as to attempt to write for the stage,
in which sh had as good success as any of her sex before her. Her
first dramatic performance was a Tragi-Comedy, called The Perjured
Husband, but the plays which gained her most reputation were, two
Comedies, the Gamester, and the Busy Body. She wrote also several
copies of verses on divers subjects, and occasions, and many ingenious
letters, entitled Letters of Wit, Politics, and Morality, which I
collected, and published about 21 years ago[A].'

Her dramatic works are,

1. The Perjured Husband, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1702,
dedicated to the late Duke of Bedford. Scene Venice.

2. The Beau's Duel, or a Soldier for the Ladies, a Comedy; acted at
the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, 1703; a Criticism was written
upon this play in the Post-Angel for August. 3. The Stolen Heiress, or
The Salamancha Doctor Out-plotted; a Comedy; acted at the Theatre in
Lincolns-Inn-Fields 1704. The scene Palermo.

4. The Gamester, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields
1704, dedicated to George Earl of Huntingdon. This play is an improved
translation of one of the same title in French. The prologue was
written by Mr. Rowe.

5. The Basset Table, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal in
Drury-Lane, dedicated to Arthur Lord Altham, 4to. 1706.

6. Love's Contrivance, or Le Medicin Malgre lui; a Comedy; acted
at Drury-Lane 1705, dedicated to the Earl of Dorset. This is a
translation from Moliere.

7. Love at a Venture, a Comedy; acted at Bath, 4to. 1706, dedicated to
the Duke of Beaufort.

8. The Busy Body, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1708, dedicated to Lord
Somers. This play was acted with very great applause.

9. Marplot, or the Second Part of the Busy Body; acted at the
Theatre-Royal 1709, dedicated to the Earl of Portland.

10. The Perplex'd Lovers, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1710,
dedicated to Sir Henry Furnace.

11. The Platonic Lady, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1711. 12.
The Man's Bewitch'd, or The Devil to do about Her; a Comedy; acted
at the Theatre in the Haymarket 1712, dedicated to the Duke of

13. The Wonder, a Woman keeps a Secret, a Comedy; acted at the
Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. This play was acted with success.

14. The Cruel Gift, or The Royal Resentment; a Tragedy; acted at the
Theatre-Royal 1716, for the story of this play consult Sigismonda and
Guiscarda, a Novel of Boccace.

15. A Bold Stroke for a Wife, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre in
Lincoln's-Inn-Fields 1717, dedicated to the Duke of Wharton. Besides
these plays Mrs. Centlivre has written three Farces; Bickerstaff's
Burying, or Work for the Upholders. The Gotham Election. A Wife well

[Footnote A: See Bayer's Political State, vol. xxvi. p.670.]

* * * * *


This revd. gentleman was son of Nicholas Brady, an officer in the
King's army, in the rebellion 1641, being lineally descended from Hugh
Brady, the first Protestant bishop of Mieath[A]. He was born at Bandon
in the county of Cork, on the 28th of October 1659, and educated
in that county till he was 12 years of age, when he was removed
to Westminster school, and from thence elected student of Christ's
Church, Oxford. After continuing there about four years, he went to
Dublin, where his father resided, at which university he immediately
commenced bachelor of arts. When he was of due standing, his Diploma
for the degree of doctor of divinity was, on account of his uncommon
merit, presented to him from that university, while he was in
England, and brought over by Dr. Pratt, then senior travelling-fellow,
afterwards provost of that college. His first ecclesiastical
preferment was to a prebend, in the Cathedral of St. Barry's in the
city of Cork, to which he was collared by bishop Wettenhal, to whom
he was domestic chaplain. He was a zealous promoter of the revolution,
and suffered for it in consequence of his zeal. In 1690, when the
troubles broke out in Ireland, by his interest with King James's
general, Mac Carty, he thrice prevented the burning of Bandon town,
after three several orders given by that Prince to destroy it. The
same year, having been deputed by the people of Bandon, he went
over to England to petition the Parliament, for a redress of some
grievances they had suffered, while King James was in Ireland. During
his stay here, and to the time of his death, he was in the highest
esteem among all ranks of persons in this kingdom, for his eminent
attachment to the true interest of his country. Having quitted
his preferments in Ireland, he settled in London, where he, being
celebrated for his abilities in the pulpit, was elected minister of
St. Catherine-Cree Church, and lecturer of St. Michael's Woodstreet.
He afterwards became minister of Richmond in Surry, and Stratford upon
Avon in Warwickshire, and at length, rector of Clapham in the county
above-mentioned; which last, together with Richmond, he held to the
time of his death. He was also chaplain to the duke of Ormond's troop
of Horse-guards, as he was to their Majesties King William, and Queen
Anne. He died on the 20th of May 1726, in the 67th year of his age,
leaving behind him the reputation of a good man; he was of a most
obliging, sweet, affable temper, a polite gentleman, an excellent
preacher, and no inconsiderable poet.

His compositions in poetry are chiefly these,

1. A New Version of the Psalms of David, performed by him, in
conjunction with Mr. Tate, soon after he settled in London; now sung
in most churches of England, and Ireland, instead of that obsolete
and ridiculous Version made by Sternhold, and Hopkins, in the reign of
King Edward VI. As the 104th Psalm is esteemed one of the most sublime
in the whole book, we shall present the reader with the two first
Parts of his Version of that Psalm as a specimen. There have not been
less than forty different Versions, and Paraphrases of this Psalm, by
poets of very considerable eminence, who seem to have vied with one
another for the superiority. Of all these attempts, if we may trust
our own judgment, none have succeeded so happily as Mr. Blackclock, a
young gentleman now resident at Dumfries in Scotland. This Paraphrase
is the more extraordinary, as the author of it has been blind from
his cradle, and now labours under that calamity; it carries in it such
elevated strains of poetry, such picturesque descriptions, and such a
mellifluent flow of numbers, that we are persuaded, the reader cannot
be displeased at finding it inserted here.

Dr. Brady also translated the Æneid of Virgil, which were published
by subscription in four volumes octavo, the last of which came out in
1726, a little before the author's death.

He also published in his life-time three Volumes of Sermons in 8vo.

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