PRIOR, Matthew, an English poet and diplomatist, was born at Wimborne, Dorsetshire, on the 21st July, 1664. By the death of his father, who, according to some accounts, was a citizen of London, Matthew was left early an orphan dependent on the bounty of an uncle, a vintner in London, by whom he was placed under the care of Dr. Busby at Westminster school. He had already distinguished himself by his proficiency in classical studies, when his uncle required him to serve in the tavern. He fortunately kept up his reputation for Latin scholarship, and was one day called in to resolve a dispute between the earl of Dorset and other gentlemen concerning a line of Horace. His demeanour on this occasion gained the goodwill of the earl, who drew him from his obscure position and sent him to St. John's college, Cambridge, where he took a B.A. degree in 1686, and became a fellow in 1688. The intimacy he formed at college with the accomplished Charles Montague, afterwards earl of Halifax, helped him to an excellent introduction into the world of letters and politics. The best answer which appeared to Dryden's Hind and Panther was the work of Prior and Montague, and was published in 1687 under the title of the "Hind and Panther transversed to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse." The course of the two young men afterwards diverged widely. Halifax became a leader of the whigs; Prior a confidential diplomatic agent of the tories; nor were they united again until laid beneath the gravestones of Westminster abbey. By the interest of Lord Dorset, Prior, after the Revolution, entered the public service, being made secretary to the earl of Berkeley, plenipotentiary at the Hague. King William was much pleased with him, and made him one of the gentlemen of the royal bedchamber. At the negotiation of the treaty of Ryswick in 1697 he was secretary to the ambassadors, Earls Pembroke and Jersey and Sir Joseph Williamson. He filled a similar office in 1698 at the court of France, whither he accompanied the earl of Portland. An anecdote is told of this period of his life, which illustrates his tact, his levity, and the character of his poetry. Lord Portland believing all the wits of the town to be atheists, expressed his surprise at hearing Prior allude to scripture with some reverence, saying, "I was afraid that you were an atheist as I knew that you were a poet." "My lord," replied the wit, "you do us poets the greatest injustice. Of all people we are the farthest from atheism. Atheists do not even worship the true God, while we are always invoking and hymning false gods whom every body else has renounced." This allusion to Mars, Venus, Minerva, &c., indicates the most tiresome feature of Prior's poetry. After his return from a private conference with King William at Loo in 1699, Prior was made undersecretary of state in Lord Jersey's office. He afterwards took part in the negotiation of the partition treaty at Paris; and in 1700 succeeded Locke as one of the lord-commissioners of trade. He was also elected a member of parliament as the representative of East Grinstead. In the reign of Queen Anne, though he celebrated Marlborough's victories in verse, he attached himself to Lord Oxford and the tories. Bolingbroke thought highly of him. The peace of Utrecht was negotiated by Prior at the court of France, which he quitted on the accession of George I., and returned home only to find himself impeached in the house of commons for Jacobite intrigues. He was committed to custody in June, 1715, and not released until the close of 1717. During his imprisonment he wrote his poem, "Alma, or the Progress of the Soul." For a time he was straitened in his circumstances, but through the assistance of Lord Harley he was enabled to live with comfort at his seat, Downhall, in Essex. He died September 18, 1721, at Lord Oxford's seat, Whimpole, near Cambridge. With all his elegance, politeness, and scholarship, he is charged with being coarse and sensual in his private life, a characteristic which is reflected by many indecent passages in his poetry. The best edition of his poetical works is that published in 2 vols., 1779, with a memoir.—R. H.
PRIOR, Thomas, one of the founders and the first secretary of the Royal Dublin Society for the promotion of husbandry and other useful arts in Ireland, was born at Rathdowry, Queen's county, in 1679. He was educated at Trinity college, Dublin, and wrote various tracts referring to the condition and the wants of Ireland. In 1729 he drew up and published a list of absentees, whom he regarded as the chief cause of the poverty and distress in their native country. For many years he continued to be the secretary of the Dublin Society, which was founded in 1731, and which he lived to sec invested with the special protection of the crown, by royal charter in 1750. He died on the 21st October, 1751, and was buried in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, where a monument was erected to his memory, bearing an elegant Latin inscription composed by his friend Bishop Berkeley. Prior is said to have invented the linen scarfs used at funerals, as a means of encouraging the linen manufactures in Ireland.—R. H.
PRISCIAN, a celebrated Latin grammarian, born at Cæsarea, and thence called Cæsariensis. As he was contemporary with Cassiodorus, he belonged to the last half of the fifth century and the first of the sixth. Under Justinian he taught grammar at Constantinople, and was recognized as a public teacher in the imperial court, with a government salary. All particulars of his life are unknown. That he was a christian is only conjectural. Under the title "Institutiones grammaticæ," or "Commentarii grammatici," he composed a work on the Latin tongue both fundamental and comprehensive. It is in eighteen books, the first sixteen treating of the single parts of speech; the last two of syntax with the separate title "De Constructione." The two older grammarians to whom he was most indebted were Apollonius Dyscolus and Herodian. Numerous quotations from Greek as well as Latin writers, are given by the author. The work is a very valuable one; and its merit has continued to be recognized by all philologians. In addition to it we have from his pen six other smaller grammatical treatises, and two hexameter poems, "De laude imperatoris, Anastasii," consisting of three hundred and twelve lines with twenty-two iambics by way of preface; and a free translation of the Periegesis of Dionysius Periegetes in one thousand four hundred and twenty-seven lines. The best edition of the "Institutiones Grammaticæ" is that of Krehl in 2 vols., 1819-20. The minor grammatical works were published by Lindemann, 1818; and a good edition of the poem "De Laude Anastasii," by Endlicher, 1828.—S. D.
PRISCILLIANUS, an ecclesiastic and sectary of the fourth century, of whom little is known except a few particulars. He was a rich, eloquent, accomplished, and ingenious man, who from his youth up had despised all bodily and sensual pleasures, devoting himself to study with great strictness, and prying into the knowledge of secret arts with searching curiosity after truth. In this way he came to adopt pantheistic interpretations of the classic philosophers and poets, and imbibed mystic or magical superstitions. It was unfortunate for him that he fell into the hands of the Manicheans. The sect of which he was the head took its rise in 379. It was a gnostic sect formed under Manichean influence, whose object was to release the spirit from its natural life by unusual self-denial and ascetic effort. Bishop Itacius of Emerida, in 380, procured the condemnation of Priscillian and his followers. In consequence of the ignorant fanaticism of Itacius, Priscillian was made bishop of Avila; but his enemies got a decree of banishment from Gratian, in consequence of which he went to Italy through Gaul, and applied to Damasus of Rome. Gratian revoked his decree, but was murdered by Maximus, who listened to Itacius. Priscillian was summoned before Maximus at Treves, and there put to death by the sword in 385. This was the first time in which a heretic was put to death for his opinions by the forms of law. It excited great commotion in the church, and was disapproved by Marlin of Tours and Ambrose of Milan.—S. D.
PROBUS, Marcus Aurelius Valerius, Emperor of Rome from 276 to 282, was a native of Pannonia, and had fulfilled an honourable career in arms before his investiture with the imperial dignity. His talents were first noticed by Valerian, under whom he rose rapidly to the command of the third legion; he conquered Egypt for Aurelian in the war against Zenobia, and in the following reign he was appointed generalissimo in the East. When the sceptre dropped from the aged hand of Tacitus, the army under Probus hailed him as the successor. A rival, however, appeared in the person of Florianus, a brother of the deceased emperor, and a formidable army under his command speedily threatened the frontiers of Syria. But Probus prudently declined an engagement till the climate spread disease among their ranks and gave him an easy victory. He then wrote to the senate, respectfully inviting its decision, and was unanimously confirmed in the imperial dignity. Nor did he forfeit by subsequent inactivity or excesses the influence then accorded to his moderation and prowess. Wisely leaving the civil administration to the senate, he devoted himself to military enterprises for the maintenance of security and order throughout the realm. Disturbances were suppressed in Gaul, in Illyricum, and in the East;