Matthew Prior

(1664 - 1721 / Dorset / England)

Biography of Matthew Prior

Matthew Prior poet

Matthew Prior, poet and diplomat, was born near Wimborne Minster, Dorset. His family moved to London while he was still a child. He was educated at Westminister School, but was taken out when his father died and apprenticed to his uncle, a tavern-keeper. In 1680 he went to Cambridge on a scholarship from the Earl of Dorset and while there he co-wrote with Charles Montague, The Hind and the Panther Transversed to the Story of the Country and City Mouse (1687), a burlesque on Dryden's Hind and the Panther which cuts it down to size by making it absurd.

Prior held various diplomatic posts, and in 1700 entered parliament with the Tories. He was Ambassador at Paris when he was recalled at the death of Queen Anne in 1715, and imprisoned for two years. During his time in prison he composed Alma or the Progress of the Mind (1715), a sceptical and humorous poem for which he is best known today. A folio edition of his work was published in 1719 and secured him a profit of 4000 guineas. He died in 1921 in Down Hall which he had purchased two years previously. At its best his work stands alongside Swift, and was admired by Samuel Johnson and William Cowper. He is buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

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An Epitaph

Interr'd beneath this marble stone,
Lie saunt'ring Jack and idle Joan.
While rolling threescore years and one
Did round this globe their courses run;
If human things went ill or well;
If changing empires rose or fell;
The morning passed, the evening came,
And found this couple still the same.
They walk'd and eat, good folks: what then?

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