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

§ 7. Alma and Solomon

Alma, or The Progress of the Mind, treats in the form of a dialogue, extending over three cantos, the practically inexhaustible subject of the vanity of the world and of what it contains, the folly of the human thoughts which busy themselves with its changing phenomena. Apart from the management of the metre (of which immediately), there is little in this poem to enchain the interest of the reader. In its theme as well as in its form, it approaches Hudibras; but its superior urbanity cannot conceal its positive, as well as relative, lack of force. So much pleasure, however, did Prior take in the subject, which had the fludity harmonising with his own mind when in a mood of relaxation, that he returned to it, in more methodical fashion, and in the heroic couplet, in Solomon on the Vanity of the World, a Poem in Three Books. These take the form of a long soliloquy by “the Hero and the Author,”

  • Whose serious Muse inspires him to explain
  • That all we Act, and all we think is Vain.
  • In the first, he treats of knowledge (indulging in a brief digression on the prospects of Britannia, “the great glorious Pow’r,” which, though it cannot escape the universal doom, shall die last); in the second, of pleasure and the love of women; in the last, of power. All, alike, are vanity; but, in the final book, an angel comforts the pessimist philosopher with the promise of the Redeemer who, after “a Series of perpetual Woe,” shall come forth from the royal race. Prior certainly took pains with the poem, and was rather proud of it; but, after being applauded by Cowper, Wesley, Crabbe and Scott, it has gone the way of Alma, or had, perhaps, preceded it into oblivion.