The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 5. His last years

Swift was but one of the friends of Prior’s earlier days who were devoted to him. His old fellow-diplomatists in Paris, Torcy and abbé Gaultier, assure him of their regard: the duke of Buckingham compliments his Solomon; Bathurst is reluctant to return Alma, with whom he owns himself in love; Chesterfield testifies to admiration for Prior’s Nut-brown Maid; the conversation of Smalridge is a great comfort to him and a compensation for the loss of Atterbury’s, with whom he had a sharp quarrel. Harley’s grand-daughter “little Peggy” or “mistress Margaretta” was a great favourite with Prior, and to her he first addressed his dainty and charming little Letter, afterwards expanded, 29 March, 1720. The “little pretty lady” seems to have reciprocated his fondness, for she said that Prior made himself loved by every living thing in the house—master, child, servant, creature or animal. Prior was not insensible to the charms of Down hall, a typical Essex lath and plaster manorfarm. With the aid of Harley’s factotum and land surveyor, honest John Morley of Harlow, he burlesqued the pride of Louis XIV in the improvements at Marly and Versailles. Yet some letters represent him toping in London taverns, a disappointed man, and Voltaire describes him dying in poverty as an English philosopher must learn to die. In his will, however, of which Harley and Adrian Drift were executors, he devoted £500 to that last of human vanities, a costly monument, to be surmounted by Coysevox’s bust of himself—a gift of the Grand Monarque, with a long inscription from Freind. His death took place, on 18 September, 1721, during a visit to Wimpole, where he had contracted a lingering fever. He was duly buried in Westminster abbey. The best of his books, including Mezeray (but without the inscription), went to St. John’s college.

Prior’s versatility as a writer is greater than is always recognised. In addition to the lyrical verse of various kinds contained in the successive editions of his poems, or left behind him in manuscript, he wrote three longer poems which, though none of them commends itself to modern taste, call for separate mention.