Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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Matthew Prior (1664-1721)



English poet and diplomat, born at Wimborne, Dorset, and educated at Westminster School and St. John’s College, Cambridge. Prior was appointed secretary to the embassy at The Hague during the negotiations for the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), and played a leading role at the Peace Treaty of Utrecht (1713), popularly known as ‘Matt’s Peace’. During Queen Anne’s reign he joined the Tories, and on the Queen’s death he was politically ruined and imprisoned by the Whigs for two years. Prior is best remembered for his brilliant occasional verses, epigrams, and familiar pieces. His tales in rhyme show an excellent narrative skill, and as an epigrammatist Prior is unrivalled in English. “Henry and Emma” (1709) is a sentimental burlesque of the old ballad “The Nut-Brown Maid”, included in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). “Alma; or the Progress of the Mind” (1718) is a Hudibrastic piece of dialogue, ridiculing the various systems of philosophy. Among his prose works is Four Dialogues of the Dead (1721), imaginary conversations between Oliver Cromwell (1599-1659) and his porter, and others. In 1721 he died from cholera, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, at the feet of Edmund Spenser (1552?-99), whom Prior greatly admired. (M. Y.)

1.Down-Hall
2.Henry and Emma
3.The Thief and the Cordelier -- A Ballad
4.Viceroy