Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Prior, Matthew
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

British poet and diplomat. He was associated under the Whigs with the negotiation of the treaty of Ryswick (1697) ending the war with France and under the Tories with that of Utrecht (1714) (‘Matt's Peace’) ending the War of the Spanish Succession, but on the Whigs' return to power he was imprisoned by the government leader Walpole from 1715–17. His gift as a writer was for light occasional verses, epigrams, and tales, in a graceful yet colloquial manner.

Style There is sincerity and wit in many of his short poems, such as ‘The Lady's Looking-glass’, ‘On my Birthday’, ‘For my own Monument’, ‘The Question to Lisetta’, ‘The Secretary’, and ‘Jinny the Just’. These are mostly pieces of ironical or sensual badinage, depending for effect on wit and the exact suitability of form.

Life Prior was born in Wimborne Minster, Dorset. He attracted the attention of the earl of Dorset, and was educated at Westminster school and St John's College, Cambridge, becoming a fellow in 1688. The earl's influence also gained Prior the appointment in 1690 as secretary to Lord Dursley (later Earl of Berkeley), English ambassador in The Hague; Prior was undersecretary of state in England in 1699. In 1700 he entered Parliament as a Whig, but joined the Tories in 1701. He was commissioner of customs from 1711–14 and plenipotentiary in Paris in 1713. After his release from prison in 1717, he lived in retirement by writing and with the help of friends.

WorksThe Hind and the Panther Transvers'd to the Story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse, written in 1687 in collaboration with his friend Charles Montagu, is a travesty of John Dryden's The Hind and the Panther. ‘Alma; or the Progress of the Mind’, written in prison in imitation of Samuel Butler's Hudibras, is a humorous speculative poem on the relations of body and soul. Other similar works include ‘Solomon on the Vanity of the World’ (1718), ‘Henry and Emma’ (about 1701), and An English Ballad on the Taking of Namur (1695).


Prior, Matthew


Selected Poetry of Matthew Prior (1664–1721)

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Prior, Matthew
Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature

It is regrettable that many today only know Prior through anthologies, because it is necessary to read his work in quantity...

Full text Article Prior, Matthew (1664 - 1721)
The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

Of a humble but respectable Dorset family, Prior was born in Stephen's Alley, Westminster, and sent to nearby Westminster...

Full text Article Prior, Matthew (1664 - 1721)
The Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature

The son of a joiner, Prior was educated under the patronage of the Earl of Dorset . While an undergraduate at Cambridge he...

See more from Credo