1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Warton

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 6:320-21.



THOMAS WARTON, alike distinguished for his genius and his taste, was born in 1728, and might be truly said to belong to a poetical family, as both his father and brother were favourites of the muses.

After receiving an excellent classical education, he became a member of Trinity College, Oxford, where he took the degree of M. A. in 1750, and in due time was elected fellow; but though his pretensions to the presidentship were infinitely superior to those of his successful competitor, he lost that appointment, when a vacancy happened in 1776, probably through the envy which his talents and industry excited.

It appears that Warton early exercised his poetical talents, as may be seen from the dates of his several publications. In 1745 he published Five Pastoral Eclogues, which have not been collected in his works; and other pieces of great merit followed in succession, to the close of his life, with was spent with few intervals of absence, within the bounds of his Alma Mater.

Among his most admired poems may be enumerated the Triumph of Isis, some of his Odes, the Progress of Discontent, and the Approach of Summer. The former, in answer to Mason's Isis, an Elegy, is a manly and dignified defence of the university to which he belonged, and entitled him to the highest favours it could have conferred.

The literary works of Warton, both in prose and verse, are all highly esteemed, and evince his learning as well as his genius. His History of English Poetry, though unfinished, is a most elaborate work; and his edition of Theocritus, printed at the Clarendon press, is justly admired by Greek scholars. In fact, the Wartons as they are called, meaning our author and Dr. Joseph Warton of Winchester, stood deservedly at the Head of classical literature, and hence left a blank behind them which will not easily be supplied.

In 1771 Thomas Warton was presented to the small rectory, of Kiddington near Woodstock, which he held with his fellowship. This was his only ecclesiastical preferment, and he owed it to the patronage of the Litchfield family.

He had been elected professor of poetry for the usual period; and on the death of Whitehead in 1785, became poet laureate, and the same year received the appointment of Camden professor of ancient history; but these honours and emoluments he did not long enjoy. He departed this life in 1790, universally beloved for his goodness of heart, and admired by the public for the greatness of his talents. To his friends he was endeared by his simple, open, and friendly manners; his mind was more fraught with wit, and mirth, than his appearance promised; for his person was unwieldy and ponderous, and his countenance somewhat inert; but the fascination of his converse was wonderful. He was the delight of the jovial Attic board, anniversaries, music meetings, &c. and possessed beyond most men the art of communicating variety to the dull sameness of an Oxford life. With eminent abilities, and scholastic accomplishments, he united those conciliatory talents, that amiable suavity of manners, which could, to the claim of respect for the author, add that of esteem for the man. Such, indeed, was the vigour of his mind, the classical purity of his taste, the extent and variety of his learning, that his memory will be for ever revered as a profound scholar, and a man of true genius. Simplicity and perspicuity, supported by elegance, are the distinguishing marks of his poetry; his fancy, however seductive, led him not to an affectation over-laboured a moment, yet his compositions are as highly finished and original, as perpetual classic imitations and allusions will a allow; his versification is nervous and correct, his reading extensive, and his knowledge of real nature acquired from an actual survey of her works