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Matthew Prior (1664-1721). Portrait by Alexis Simon Belle (1674-1734). Courtesy Poets' Graves.

Matthew Prior (21 July 1664 - 18 September 1721) was an English poet and diplomat.



Prior was born near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, son of a joiner, who having died, he was raised by an uncle, and sent to Westminster School. Befriended by the Earl of Dorset he proceeded to Cambridge, and while there wrote, jointly with Charles Montagu, The Town and Country Mouse, a burlesque of Dryden'spage 309 Hind and Panther. After holding various diplomatic posts, in which he showed ability and discretion, Prior entered Parliament in 1700, and, deserting the Whigs, joined the Tories, by whom he was employed in various capacities, including that of ambassador at Paris. On the death of Queen Anne he was recalled, and in 1715 imprisoned, but after 2 years released. In 1719 a folio edition of his works was brought out, by which he realised £4000, and Lord Harley having presented him with an equal sum, he looked forward to the peace and comfort which were his chief ambition. He did not, however, long enjoy his prosperity, dying 2 years later. Among his poems may be mentioned Solomon (which he considered his best work), Alma; or, The progress of the mind, The Female Phaeton, To a Child of Quality, and some prose tales. His chief characteristic is a certain elegance and easy grace, in which he is perhaps unrivalled. His character appears to have been by no means unimpeachable, but he was amiable and free from any trace of vindictiveness.[1]

Youth and education[]

Prior was born in the Westminster area of London, the 5th of 6 children (and the only child to survive infancy) of Elizabeth and George Prior, a London joiner (skilled carpenter). George Prior had left his native Dorset to practice his carpenter’s trade in London, where two of his brothers had already opened taverns.[2] He moved the family to Stephen's Alley, Westminster, either to be near the school or to be near his own brother Samuel, a vintner at the Rhenish Wine House in Channel (now Cannon) Row.[3]

George Prior sent his son to Westminster School, then under the rule of Dr. Busby, but died shortly afterwards. His widow was unable to pay the school fees, and young Prior, who had then reached the middle of the 3rd form, was taken into his uncle's house to assist in keeping the accounts, his seat being in the bar. Here, on a visit to his friend, Fleetwood Sheppard, Lord Dorset, found the boy reading Horace, and, after questioning him a little, set him to turn an ode into English. Prior speedily brought it upstairs to Dorset and his friends, so well rendered in verse that it became the fashion with the users of the house to give him passages out of Horace and Ovid to translate.[3]

At last, when Dr. Sprat (the dean of Westminster) and Mr. Knipe (the 2nd master at the school) were both present, Lord Dorset asked the boy whether he would go back to his studies. Uncle and nephew being nothing loth, Prior returned to Westminster, the earl paying for his books, and his uncle for his clothes, until such time as he could become a king's scholar, which he did in 1681.[3]

Prior made the acquaintance of Charles and James Montagu, the sons of Hon. George Montagu, whose residence, Manchester House, was in Channel Row, opposite the Rhenish Wine House. Prior formed a close friendship with both of the brothers, but chiefly with the younger, James (afterwards lord chief baron of the exchequer).[3]


In 1682 Charles Montagu, also a king's scholar, was admitted a fellow commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a year later Prior, finding that James Montagu would probably follow his brother's example, and fearing also that he himself would be sent to Christ Church, Oxford, accepted, against Lord Dorset's wish, 1 of 3 scholarships then recently established at St John's College, Cambridge, by the Duchess of Somerset. Being the only Westminster boy at St. John's, he attracted exceptional notice; but for the time he alienated his patron.[3]

He earned a B.A. in 1687,[4] and made his initial literary essay, a reply to Dryden's "Hind and Panther." This was entitled "The Hind and the Panther transvers'd to the Story of the Country-Mouse and the City-Mouse." His ostensible collaborator in this satire, which had small literary merit but gave much satisfaction to the "no popery" party, was Charles Montagu; but it is probable that Prior was the active partner.[3]

In April 1688 Prior obtained a fellowship, and composed the annual poetical tribute which St. John's College paid to one of its benefactors, the Earl of Exeter. This was a rhymed exercise, in the Cowley manner, upon Exodus iii, and is preserved in Prioe'spoems. A result was that Prior became tutor to Lord Exeter's sons. His office, however, was of brief duration, for Lord Exeter broke up his household after the revolution and went to Italy.[3]

17th century career[]

Prior applied to his old patron, Lord Dorset, and ultimately, probably by the good offices of Fleetwood Sheppard, was appointed secretary to Lord Dursley (afterwards Earl of Berkeley), then starting as King William's ambassador to the Hague. This appointment is usually regarded as a reward of literary merit; but apart from his share in the "Town and Country Mouse," the interest of which was mainly political, Prior had at this date produced nothing of importance, and his post might have been given to any other university man of promise who could command the patronage of Dorset.[3]

In Holland he stayed for several years, being made in the interim gentleman of the bedchamber to King William, with whom he found considerable favour, especially during the great congress of 1691. He also at this time wrote several court poems, notably a "Hymn to the Sun," 1694; memorial verses on Queen Mary's death, 1695; and an admirable ballad paraphrase of Boileau's pompous ‘Ode sur la Prise de Namur,’ which stronghold, it will be remembered, had fallen to the French in 1692, only to be retaken by the English three years later. This last jeu d'esprit was published anonymously in September 1695. Another metrical tribute to William followed the assassination plot of 1696, to which year, in addition, belongs the clever little occasional piece, not printed until long after its author's death, entitled "The Secretary" and describing his distractions while in Holland.[3]

Throughout all this period, Prior was acting diligently as a diplomat. It has sometimes been considered that his qualifications in this way were slight; but his unprinted papers completely negate this impression. He had the good fortune to please both Anne and Louis XIV, as well as William; and the fact that Swift and Bolingbroke later acknowledged his business aptitude and acquaintance with matters of trade may fairly be set against any contention to the contrary on the part of political opponents.[3]

In 1697 he was employed as secretary in the negotiations at the treaty of Ryswick, for bringing over the articles of peace in connection with which, "to their Excellencies the Lords Justicies," he received a gratuity of two hundred guineas. Subsequently he was nominated secretary of state in Ireland, and then, in 1698, he went to Paris as secretary to the embassy, serving successively under the Earl of Portland and the Earl of Jersey, with the latter of whom he returned to England.[3]

He went again to Paris for some time with the Earl of Manchester, and then, after "a very particular audience" with his royal master, in August 1699, at Loo in Holland, was sent home in the following November with the latest tidings of the pending partition treaty. His old master, Lord Jersey, was secretary of state, and Prior became an under-secretary.[3]

In the winter of 1699 he produced his Carmen Seculare for the Year 1700, a glorification of the ‘acts and gests’ of ‘the Nassovian.’ The university of Cambridge made him an M.A., and upon the retirement of John Locke, he became a commissioner of trade and plantations, afterwards entering parliament as member for East Grinstead. His senatorial career was cut short, as the parliament in which he sat only lasted from February to June 1701. In the impeachment by the tories of Somers, Orford, and Halifax for their share in framing the partition treaty, Prior followed Lord Jersey in voting against those lords; but it is alleged that neither he nor Jersey had ever favoured the negotiation, although they considered themselves bound to obey the king's orders, and this, as far as Prior is concerned, receives support from his own words in the later poem of The Conversation, 1720:

Matthew, who knew the whole intrigue,
Ne'er much approv'd that mystic league.[3]

The explanation given by his friend, Sir James Montagu — namely, that he had to choose whether to condemn the king or the king's ministers, and that he chose the latter — may perhaps be accepted as the best reason for what has sometimes been regarded as a discreditable political volte-face.[5]


Portrait by Thomas Hudson (1701-1779). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The character of Prior has suffered somewhat from Johnson's unlucky application to it of the line in Horace about the cask which retains the scent of its earliest wine. "In his private relaxation," says the doctor, "he revived the tavern," i.e. the Rhenish Wine House of his youth; and certainly some of the stories which have been repeated from Spence, Arbuthnot, and others, of the very humble social status of his Chloes and ‘nut-brown maids’ lend a qualified support to Johnson's epigram.[6]

But the evidence of his better qualities rests upon a surer foundation. Those who knew him well — and, both by rank and intellect, they were some of the noblest in the land — concur in praising him; and even Johnson rather inconsistently admits that in a scandal-mongering age little ill is heard of him. But, by his, own admission, his standard can hardly have been a very elevated one; and in his official life, although he performed his duties creditably, he was probably an opportunist rather than an enthusiast.[6]

In private there can be no doubt that he was a kind friend, and, as far as is possible to a valetudinarian, a pleasant and an equable companion. Swift's picture of him as one who "has generally a cough, which he only calls a cold," and who walks in the park "to make himself fat," coupled with Davis's "thin, hollow-looked man," and Bolingbroke's "visage de bois," may stand in place of longer descriptions.[6]

As to his amiability, there is no better testimony than that of Lord Harley's daughter, afterwards the Duchess of Portland, to whom as a child Prior addressed the lines beginning "My noble, lovely little Peggy." Her recollection of him was that he made "himself beloved by every living thing in the house — master, child, and servant, human creature, or animal."[6]

18th century career[]

With the accession of Anne in 1702, Prior joined the tories, a step which brought him into close relations with Harley, Bolingbroke, and Swift, but landed him on the opposite side to Addison, Garth, Steele, and some others of his literary contemporaries.[5]

In 1707 his attachment to the tory party led to his being deprived of his commissionership of trade; but in 1711, a year after the tories' accession to power, he was made a commissioner of customs. In July of the same year he was privately despatched to Paris in connection with the negotiations which preceded the peace of Utrecht — negotiations in which again, if we are to believe the above-quoted poem, he was an obedient rather than a willing agent:

In the vile Utrecht Treaty too,
Poor man! he found enough to do.[5]

Upon his return, having assumed a false name for the sake of secrecy, he was stopped at Deal as a French spy by a bungling official, and detained until orders came from London for his release. This accident to some extent revealed his mission; and, to meet the gossip arising therefrom, Swift hastily drew up in September a clever mock account of his journey to Paris — "a formal grave lie, from the beginning to the end," which, besides mystifying the quidnuncs, misled, and did not particularly please, even Prior himself.[5]

But Mons. Mesnager and the Abbé Gualtier, who had accompanied him from France, had come fully armed with powers to treat with the English ministry, and after a succession of conferences, many of which took place at Prior's house in Duke Street, Westminster, the preliminaries were signed for what was popularly known as "Matt's Peace" on 27 Sept. Prior's intimate knowledge of these proceedings led to his being named one of the plenipotentiaries on the occasion; but Lord Strafford, it is said, declined to be associated with a colleague of so obscure an origin. His nomination was in consequence revoked, his place being taken by the bishop of Bristol, Dr. John Robinson.[5]

In August 1712, however, Prior went to Paris with Bolingbroke in connection with the suspension of arms during the progress of the Utrecht conference, and he remained at Paris after Bolingbroke's return to England, ultimately exercising the full powers of a plenipotentiary. Then, after some months of doubt, tension, and anxiety, preceding and following upon Queen Anne's death in 1714, he was recalled, having already been deprived of his commissionership of customs.[5]

As soon as he got back, March 1715, he was impeached by Sir Robert Walpole, ordered into the custody of the sergeant-at-arms, and treated with considerable rigour. He amused himself during his enforced seclusion by composing a long poem in Hudibrastic metre, entitled Alma; or, The progress of the mind, a whimsical and very discursive dialogue on the locality of the soul, supposed to be carried on between himself and his friend and protégé, Richard Shelton.[5]

In 1717 he was exempted from the act of grace, but was nevertheless soon afterwards set at liberty. Fortunately, through all his vicissitudes, his foresight had prompted him to retain his St. John's fellowship, or he would have been practically penniless.[5]

Poems on Several Occasions[]

To increase his means of subsistence, at this juncture Lord Harley and Lord Bathurst, aided by Gay, Arbuthnot, and others, busied themselves in obtaining subscribers for a folio edition of his poems.[5]

Already, in 1709, the publication, 2 years earlier, of an unauthorised issue of his fugitive verse by the notorious Edmund Curll had obliged him to collect from Dryden's Miscellanies and other sources a number of his pieces, to which he had added others not previously printed, prefacing the whole by an elaborately written eulogy of his now deceased patron, Charles, earl of Dorset and Middlesex. This he had addressed to Dorset's son Lionel, afterwards the 1st duke.[5]

To the poems in this collection of 1709 he appended, in the edition of 1718, the above-mentioned Alma, and a long-incubated effort in heroics and three books, entitled Solomon on the Vanity of the World. This volume, which was delivered to its subscribers early in 1719, is said to have brought him in 4,000 guineas.[5]

Last years[]

"Great Mother," he had written in some verses printed in Poems on Several Occasions:

Great Mother, let me once be able
To have a garden, house, and stable;
That I may read, and ride, and plant,
Superior to desire, or want;
And as health fails, and years increase,
Sit down, and think, and die in peace.

His wish, real or feigned, was now to be gratified. To the profits of his great folio Lord Harley added a like sum of 4,000l. for the purchase of Down Hall in Essex, an estate not very far from Harlow, and 3 miles south-west of the church of Hatfield Broad Oak.[6]

In a ballad of "Down Hall," afterwards published separately, Prior describes charmingly his first visit to his new retreat, in company with Harley's agent, John Morley, the notorious land-jobber, of Halstead, and his own Swedish servant, Newman or Oeman.[6]

Unhappily his health was already failing, and, like his friend Swift, he suffered from deafness. At Down Hall, however, he continued, for the most part, to reside, amusing himself in the manner of Pope by nursing his ailments and improving his property until his death, which took place on 18 Sept. 1721, at Lord Harley's seat of Wimpole, where he was on a visit. He was in his 58th year, a circumstance which did not prevent an admirer (Mr. Robert Ingram) from writing:

Horace and He were call'd in haste
From this vile Earth to Heaven;
The cruel year not fully pass'd
Ætatis, fifty-seven.[6]



Apart from the somewhat full-wigged dedication prefixed to his poems of 1709 and 1718, and his contributions in 1710 to the tory Examiner, Prior's known prose works are of slight importance.[6] At Longleat there are, among other things, four Dialogues of the Dead, which, having been greatly praised by Pope, Beattie, Nichols, and others who have seen them.[7]

It is from his original papers that is said to be compiled the dubious History of his Own Time, which, with a second volume of Miscellaneous Works, including several pieces of verse now reckoned among his accepted efforts, was editorially put forth by one J. Bancks in 1740 [1739]. Both volumes purport to be derived from transcripts by Prior's executor, Adrian Drift, who died in 1738. But a letter from Heneage Legge to the Earl of Dartmouth on 6 Nov. 1739 throws considerable doubt on these collections, and it is not easy to decide how far they were "a trick of a bookseller's." It is possible, however, to distrust too much, as they admittedly contain a very great deal that is authentic, and they are certainly not without interest.[7]


Of his poems Prior speaks, either affectedly or with sincerity, as "the product of his leisure hours, who had commonly business enough upon his hands, and was only a poet by accident;" and it seems clear that the collection of his fugitive pieces into a volume was precipitated by Curll's unauthorised issue in 1707 of the Poems on Several Occasions, just as the larger collection of 1718 was prompted by Prior's necessitous circumstances. As it is, some of his now best known pieces — "The Secretary," "The Female Phaeton," "To a Child of Quality" — were not included among his works until after his death.

What he considered to be his most successful efforts are at present, as it often happens, the least valued. His three books of Solomon on the Vanity of the World, of which he himself ruefully admitted in The Conversation,

Indeed, poor Solomon in rhyme
Was much too grave to be sublime,

although they once found admirers in John Wesley and Cowper, find few readers today; and his paraphrase of the fine old ballad of "The Nut-Brown Maid" as "Henry and Emma" shares their fate.[7]

His Alma, which he regarded as a "loose and hasty scribble," is, on the contrary, still a favorite with the admirers of Butler, whose Hudibras is its avowed model — a model which it perhaps excels in facility of rhyme and ease of versification. In Prior's imitations of the Conte of La Fontaine this metrical skill is maintained, and he also shows consummate art in the telling of a story in verse.[7]

Unhappily, in spite of Johnson's extraordinary dictum that "Prior is a lady's book," his themes are not equally commendable. But he is one of the neatest of English epigrammatists, and in occasional pieces and familiar verse has no rival in English. "Prior's," says Thackeray, in an oft-quoted passage "seem to me amongst the easiest, the richest, the most charmingly humourous of English lyrical poems. Horace is always in his mind, and his song, and his philosophy, his good sense, his happy easy turns and melody, his loves, and his Epicureanism, bear a great resemblance to that most delightful and accomplished master."[7]

[The chief collections of Prior's poems published in his lifetime are: Poems on Several Occasions (1) 1707, (2) 1709, (3) 1716, and (4) 1718. Nos. 1 and 3 were unauthorised, the former being repudiated by Prior in the preface to No. 2, the latter by notice in the London Gazette of 24 March 1716, but both probably contain poems by Prior which ‘he thought it prudent to disown’ (Pope, Correspondence iii. 194-195). The Conversation and Down Hall came out in 1720 and 1723 respectively. Other pieces are included in the Miscellaneous Works of 1740.

Of posthumous editions of his poetical works that of Evans (2 volumes 1779) long enjoyed the reputation of being the best. The most complete at present is the revised Aldine edition (also 2 vols.), edited in 1892 by Mr. R. Brimley Johnson. A selection by Austin Dobson, with a lengthy Introduction and notes, containing fresh biographical material,chiefly derived from an unprinted statement by Prior's friend Sir James Montagu, appeared in the Parchment Library in 1889.[7]

Critical introduction[]

by Henry Austin Dobson

‘Dan Prior next, belov’d by every Muse.’

So sings Gay in that welcome to Pope after his labours of the Iliad. And indeed not every Muse, but all the world seem to have looked kindly on the fortunate young Horatian whom the noble Dorset had taken from the Rummer tavern to be successively a Secretary of Embassy, a Secretary of State, a Commissioner of Trade and Plantations, a Member of Parliament, and, to crown all, an Ambassador.

Among the subscribers to that stately folio of 1718, by which its author, happy man! cleared some £4,000, are numbered most of the illustrious names of the age, from Newton to Beau Nash,— to say nothing of lively maids of honour like "the Honble Mrs. Mary Bellenden," and bishops like his Right Reverence of Winchester. Bishops and maids of honour would, we imagine, be somewhat embarrassed now-a-days by much of the ingenuous verse which the tall volume contains. But readers under Anna Augusta were either not squeamish, or they confined themselves to the portentous poem of Solomon on the Vanity of the World which occupies its latter pages.

When one looks to the general character of Prior’s writings it is hard to understand how he could ever have penned this egregious didactic work. Yet he not only wrote it, but he hoped to live by it, and grew petulant when Pope declined to praise it as a masterpiece.

  ‘Indeed, poor Solomon in rhyme
Was much too grave to be sublime,’

exclaimed its disappointed author in his last-published piece of The Conversation. Another long poem, the frigid paraphrase of the fine old ballad of The Not-Browne Maid to which he gave the title of Henry and Emma, although it contains the oft-quoted (and mis-quoted) "Fine by degrees, and beautifully less," is almost equally unendurable. Nor are the official performances of Prior,— the Carmen Seculare and the rest, always excepting the clever skit upon Boileau’s pompous Ode sur la prise de Namur, likely to attract the modern reader.

His distinctive and personal note is to be found in one only of his longer pieces, and in his vivacious tales, songs, epigrams and familiar verses. This long poem is Alma, written in 1715 and 1716 while the author lay in prison under suspicion of high treason. It is a whimsical and delightfully vagrant dialogue between Mat (Prior) and Dick (his friend Mr. Shelton) upon the various speculations of philosophers as to the relations of the soul and the body, and full of fine caprices and fitful fresh departures. Plan there is little or none; but the wayward turns of the humour lure the reader from page to page with all the fascination of a Will o’ the Wisp. We suspect, however, that in spite of its many good things, Alma is more quoted than read.

With Prior’s minor pieces the case is different. In these he exhibits all the verbal fitness and artful ease of such Latins as Horace and Martial, with both of whom he has considerable affinity. But his continental residence had also made him familiar with their Gallic imitators, and added a French grace and lightness to his already unencumbered muse. In his treatment of love and women he thoroughly follows his masters. However ardent, his adoration of the other sex is always conventional, while his appreciation of their foibles is keen even to malice. He seldom or never writes of them with real respect and deep feeling. What interests him most, it is clear, is not the tender passion in its more refined conditions, but those pretty episodes and accidents at which, they say, Dame Venus laughs,

Simplices Nymphae, ferus et Cupido
Semper ardentes acuens sagittas
            Cote cruenta.’

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.[8]


Prior was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his monument may be seen in Poets' Corner.[9]

A History of his Own Time was issued by J. Bancks in 1740. The book pretended to be derived from Prior's papers, but it is doubtful how far it should be regarded as authentic.

Seven of his poems ("The Question to Lisetta, " "To a Child of Quality, Five Years Old, 1704. The Author then Forty," "Song," "On My Birthday, July 21," "The Lady who offers her Looking-Glass to Venus," "A Letter," and "For my own Monument") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900.[10]

Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire is said to be where Prior wrote "Henry and Emma", and this is now commemorated by a plaque.

Prior has been commemorated by other poets as well. Everett James Ellis named Prior as a significant influence and source of inspiration.



  • A Satyr on the modern Translators. London: 1685.
  • Satyr on the Poets. In Imitation of the Seventh Satyr of Juvenal. London: 1687.
  • The Hind and the Panther: Transvers'd to the story of the country mouse and the city-mouse (by Prior & Charles Montagu). London: W. Davis, 1687.
  • An Ode in Imitation of the Second Ode of the Third Book of Horace. London: Jacob Tonson, 1692.
  • An Ode: Presented to the King, on his Majesty's arrival in Holland, after the Queen's death, 1695. London: Jacob Tonson, 1695.
  • An English Ballad: In answer to Mr. Despreaux's Pindarique on the taking of Namur by the King of Great Britain, 1695. London: Jacob Tonson, 1695.
  • Carmen Seculare: For the year 1700; to the King. London: Jacob Tonson, 1700.
  • An English Padlock. London: Jacob Tonson, 1705.
  • Pallas and Venus: An epigram [single sheet]. London: John Nutt, 1706.
  • An Ode, Humbly Inscrib'd to the Queen: On the late glorious success of Her Majesty's arms; written in imitation of Spenser's stile. London: Jacob Tonson, 1706.
  • Poems on Several Occasions: Consisting of odes, satyrs and epistles; with some select translations and imitations [unauthorized edition]. London: R. Burrough, J. Baker & E. Curll, 1707.
  • Poems on Several Occasions [authorized edition]. London: Jacob Tonson, 1709 [1708]
    • revised & enlarged, London: Jacob Tonson & John Barber, 1718.
  • Earl Robert's Mice: A poem in imitation of Chaucer, & c. [unauthorized edition]. London: A. Baldwin, 1712.
    • Erle Robert's Mice: A tale, in imitation of Chaucer, & c. [authorized edition]. London: John Morphew, 1712.
  • A Second Collection of Poems on Several Occasions. London: J. Roberts, 1716.
  • The Dove: A poem. London: J. Roberts, 1717.
  • The Conversation: A tale. London: Jacob Tonson, 1720.
  • Colin's Mistakes: Written in imitation of Spenser's style. London: Jacob Tonson, 1721.
  • A Supplement to Mr. Prior's Poems: Consisting Of such pieces as are omitted in the late collection of his works, and others, now first published, from his original manuscripts, in the custody of his friends. London: E. Curll, 1722.
  • The Turtle and the Sparrow: A poem. London: J. Roberts, 1723.
  • Down-Hall: A poem. London: J. Roberts, 1723.
  • A New Collection of Poems on Several Occasions: By Mr. Prior, and Others. London: Tho. Osborne, 1725
    • revised & enlarged as Poems on Several Occasions, ... Volume III. The Second Edition. London: 1727,
    • revised again as Poems on Several Occasions ... Volume the Third, and Last. The Third Edition; To which is prefixed the life of Mr. Prior, by Samuel Humphreys, Esq. London: S. Birt & W. Feales, 1733
    • revised & enlarged again as Poems on Several Occasions ... The Fourth Edition; to which is prefixed, the life of Mr. Prior, by Samuel Humphreys, Esq. London: C. Hitch & J. Hodges, 1742.
  • Selected Poems (edited by Austin Dobson). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1889.
  • Poems on Several Occasions (edited by A.R. Waller). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1905.
  • The Shorter Poems (edited by Francis Bickley). London: Chapman & Dodd, 1923.


  • Lyric Poems: Being twenty four songs (never before printed:) by the Late Matthew Prior Esqr.; set to music by several eminent masters. London: Sam Harding, 1741.
  • Eighteen Canzonets for Two, and three Voices: The words chiefly by Matthew Prior Esqr.; set to musick by John Travers. London:John Simpson for John Travers, [1745?]
  • Songs, Duets, Choruses, &c.: in The Speechless Wife. London: W. Woodfall, 1794.


Collected editions[]

Letters and journals[]

  • Prior's papers, in Calendar of the manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire (volume 3 includes letters). Hereford, UK: Anthony, 1908.
  • The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift (edited by Harold Williams; includes letters by Prior). (5 volumes), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963-1965.

Matthew Prior - A Better Answer (To Cloe Jealous) 1718

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[13]


"An Ode" by Matthew Prior

Poems by Matthew Prior[]

  1. A Reasonable Affliction
  2. On My Birthday, July 21

See also[]


  •  Dobson, Henry Austin (1896) "Prior, Matthew" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 46 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 397-401 . Wikiource, Web, Sep. 29, 2016.



  1. John William Cousin, "Prior, Matthew," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 173. Web, Feb. 21, 2018.
  2. Matthew Prior 1664-1721, Poetry Foundation. Web, Sep. 29, 2016.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Dobson, 398.
  4. Matthew Prior (1664-1721), English Poetry, 1579-1830, Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. Web, Sep. 27, 2016.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Dobson, 399.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Dobson, 400.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Dobson, 401.
  8. from Henry Austin Dobson, "Critical Introduction: Matthew Prior (1664–1721)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 18, 2016.
  9. Matthew Prior, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 12, 2016.
  10. Alphabetical list of authors: Montgomerie, Alexander to Shakespeare, William. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  11. Poetical Works of Matthew Prior: With a Life (1853), Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 12, 2012.
  12. The Poetical Works of Matthew Prior: With a Life (1853), Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 12, 2012.
  13. Matthew Prior 1664-1721, Poetry Foundation. Web, Feb. 19, 2016.

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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Prior, Matttew