Prior, James (DNB00)

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PRIOR, Sir JAMES (1790?–1869), miscellaneous writer, son of Matthew Prior, was born at Lisburn about 1790. He entered the navy as a surgeon, and sailed from Plymouth in the Nisus frigate on 22 June 1810. His ship proceeded to Simon's Town, Cape of Good Hope; was stationed at Mauritius from November 1810 to April 1811, when he had charge of the wounded; and, after visiting the Seychelles Islands, Madras, Mauritius, Java (at the reduction of which by the British in September 1811 he was present), and Batavia, gradually returned to the Cape. This journey Prior described in a ‘Voyage in the Indian Seas in the Nisus frigate during 1810 and 1811,’ published by Sir Richard Phillips in 1820, and included in the first volume of a collection of ‘New Voyages and Travels.’ His next expedition, in the same frigate, was to Table Bay (February 1812), St. Helena (January 1813), Rio de Janeiro (October 1813), and Pernambuco (December 1813). This tour he also described in a ‘Voyage along the Eastern Coast of Africa, &c.’ (1819), and it was included in the second volume of Phillips's ‘Voyages.’

Prior was present at the surrender of Heligoland, which was confirmed to England by the treaty of Kiel on 14 Jan. 1814. In the same year he was ordered to accompany the first regiment of imperial Russian guards from Cherbourg to St. Petersburg, and in 1815 he was on the coast of La Vendée, and was present at the surrender of Napoleon on 15 July. He then became staff surgeon to the Chatham division of the royal marines, and to three of the royal yachts. While at Chatham he forwarded to Canning, on 27 May 1826, a copy of his enlarged edition of the ‘Life of Burke’ (Official Correspondence of Canning, 1887, ii. 195–6). His next appointment was that of assistant to the director-general of the medical department of the navy, and on 1 Aug. 1843 he was created deputy-inspector of hospitals. He was knighted at St. James's Palace on 11 June 1858, was elected member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1830, and F.S.A. on 25 Nov. 1830. For many years before his death he resided at Norfolk Crescent, Hyde Park. He died at Brighton on 14 Nov. 1869.

A portrait of Prior, by E. U. Eddis, was lithographed by Mr. Dawson Turner. A second impression, lithographed by W. D., i.e. William Drummond, was published in London in 1835 as one of a set of portraits of prominent members at the Athenæum Club, to which Prior was elected in 1830. He married, in 1817, Dorothea, relict of Mr. E. James. She died at Oxford Terrace, Hyde Park, on 28 Nov. 1841. In 1847 he married Carolina, relict of Mr. Charles H. Watson. She died on 14 Dec. 1881, aged 85.

Prior's chief works were biographies of his compatriots, Burke and Goldsmith. The ‘Memoir of the Life and Character of Edmund Burke’ appeared in 1824, and was reissued, enlarged to two volumes, in 1826. The third edition came out in 1839, the fourth in 1846, and, after it had been revised by the author, the memoir was included in 1854 in ‘Bohn's British Classics.’ It showed industry and good sense, and is still considered the best summary of Burke's career. His ‘Life of Oliver Goldsmith, from a variety of original sources,’ was published in 1837 in two volumes; and in the same year he edited in four volumes the ‘Miscellaneous Works of Goldsmith, including a variety of pieces now first collected.’ Both works reflected credit on his industry. When John Forster (1812–1876) [q. v.] brought out in 1848 his popular volume on ‘The Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith,’ he was accused by Prior of wholesale plagiarism. The charge and defence are set out in the ‘Literary Gazette,’ 3 June, 17 June, and 29 July 1848, and the ‘Athenæum,’ 10 June 1848; and the accusation was further rebutted by Forster in 1854 in the second edition of his work. Washington Irving, in his ‘Life of Goldsmith’ (1849), admitted his obligations to ‘the indefatigable Prior.’ Nevertheless, Prior's tract of eight pages, entitled ‘Goldsmith's Statue,’ which details his own industry, denounces Washington Irving for having stolen his materials. His other works were:

  1. ‘The Remonstrance of a Tory to Sir Robert Peel,’ 1827, in which he condemned that statesman's position on the Roman catholic question.
  2. ‘The Country House and other Poems,’ 1846.
  3. ‘Invitation to Malvern, a poem with introductory poetical epistle to Charles Phillips,’ 1851.
  4. ‘Lines on reading Verses of Admiral Smyth,’ 1857.
  5. ‘Llangothlen,’ a sketch (without place or date); a copy given by Prior to Dyce is in the latter's library at South Kensington.
  6. ‘Life of Edmond Malone, with Selections from his Manuscript Anecdotes,’ 1860; the second portion is of little value (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 324, 368).

[Men of the Time, 1868 ed.; Allibone's Dict. of Literature; Journ. Brit. Archæol. Assoc. 1870, p. 268; Proceedings Soc. of Antiquaries, 2nd ser. iv. 474; Reg. and Mag. of Biography, ii. 304; Gent. Mag. 1842, pt. i. p. 112.]

W. P. C.