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“In Prose and Business lies extinct and lost”: Matthew Prior and the Poetry of Diplomacy



1. Such a reading has long been contested. In 1972, Otis Fellows, in an article entitled “Prior’s ‘Pritty Spanish Conceit,’” argued that Don Quixote (or rather Sancho Panza) was a significant influence on “Alma,” noting Panza’s insistence that the belly governs the heart rather than vice versa. Fellows uses this hint to undermine the entire system of “Alma”:

The present writer is still as convinced as he was a few years ago when he wrote that in the debate between Mat and Richard, it is the latter who says that the mind’s seat of empire is the belly, and that it is significant that Richard should have the last thirty lines, which are in praise of happiness, or at least contentment. It remains his considered judgement that, in the end, “the pragmatic Richard is closer to Prior’s position than Mat, and Prior’s poem succeeds only as Mat’s system fails, as all systems must fail that employ only the modest agent of human reason for metaphysical speculation. Thus, Mat’s system – the reconciling product of intellectual pyrotechnics that are not only magnificent but absurd – collapses before the awesome prospect of Richard’s discontented belly. (11)

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2. The sexualization of William of Orange’s relationship with his favorites is discountenanced by David Onnekink in his article “Mynheer Benting Now Rules over Us”: The 1st Earl of Portland and the Re-Emergence of the English Favourite, 1689−99.” Of course, from the point of view of compensatory propaganda, it is the prevalence rather than the accuracy of homophobic identifications which is significant.
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3. In “The Pre-Requisites for Decisiveness in Early Modern Warfare,” Jamel Ostwald writes, “even Marlborough’s most ardent supporters acknowledge it was a Pyrrhic victory. The heavily entrenched French army suffered nine thousand casualties and the Allies twenty-four thousand, losses so high that the well-organized French withdrawal from the field was not even contested” (665).
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