1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 70 (March 1800) 287-88.



At Wickham, Hants, of which he was rector (in the gift of Mr. Rashleigh), and prebendary of Winchester, aged 78, the Rev. Joseph Warton, D.D. F.R.S. elder brother of Thomas W. who died May 21, 1790; and of whom and his family see our vol. LX. P. 480. Joseph was born about 1722; admitted of Oriel college; proceeded M.A by diploma 1759; B. and D.D. 1768; elected head-master of Winchester college, where he had received his education, 17.., which he resigned 1793, and was succeded by Mr. Goddard; and rector of Upham, Hants, 1792, in the gift of the Bishop of Winchester. His earliest publication was An Ode on reading West's Pindar, 1749, followed by other short poems, among which is The Enthusiast, or Lover of Nature. In 1746, when B.A., Odes on several Subjects, 8vo. In 1756, with the Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, Vol. I.; and, in 1752, the second volume, of which the first 200 pages were printed 20 years before publication (XXVI. 143, 149 , 305, LII. 236). In 1753, The Works of Virgil in English Verse; the Eneid translated by the Rev. Mr. Christopher Pitt, the Eclogues and Georgics by Mr. Joseph Warton; with several new Observations by Mr. Holdsworth, Mr. Spence, and others, &c. &c. in vols. 8vo; dedicated to Sir George (afterwards Lord) Lyttelton. With the merit of Mr. Pitt's version of the Eneid the world is well acquainted. Of Dr. Warton's Eclogues and Georgics it may be said that they convey the sense of their originals with greater exactness and perspicuity than any ether translations we have; that their versification is easy and harmonious, and their style correct and pure; yet, if read for themselves, they are inferior, as pleasing poems, to the similar performances of Dryden. Another edition, 1763, 1770, 1778, in 4 vols. 12mo. In 1797 he committed to the publick the labour, as it is said, of 16 years, his edition of the works of Pope, in vols. 8vo. The expectation which this work had excited in the literary world was, in some measure, disappointed on its appearance. It is one of the handsomest books which the modern elegance of typography has produced; but it bears marks of haste unpardonable in such undertaking. The commentary consists of a selection of the best of Warburton's notes, combined with the corresponding parts of the Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope. Notwithstanding, however, various blemishes of style, and instances of the garrulity of age, the notes are useful and entertaining, in point of poetical criticism, illustration, and anecdote, and perhaps the best are those from the Essay. Yet, though not so excellent a work as may be wished for, as might have been expected, it is certainly the best edition of Pope we have. The Doctor was twice married; and by his first wife had one son, who disappointed his hopes, and as found dead in his father's library at Winchester school; and several daughters. Harriet, the youngest, was married, at Wickham, to Robert Newton Lee, esq. of Bath, 1793. The Doctor's vivacity of character, penetrating judgement, informing conversation, and fund of anecdote, will transmit him to the latest posterity with the regret of all his contemporaries.

To this statement a Correspondent adds. — "Dr. Warton was, during a long course of years, successively under and upper master of Winchester college; and, though he mixed with the world as much as his vocations would allow, a very small space will contain all that is known of his useful life and estimable character. His reputation as a scholar added to the celebrity of Winchester school; though I have heard it said that his indulgence to his scholars, particularly those who were distinguished for genius, sometimes frustrated his admirable mode of classical instruction. Even to the close of his life, his former favourite scholars were the frequent subject of his animated discourse; and the present Speaker of the House of Commons, who was one of them, was a theme, nor could he find a better, which appeared to revive all the spirit and energy of his former years. His publications are but few: a small Collection of Poems, without a name, was the first of them, and contained the Ode to Fancy, which has been to much and so deservedly admired. They were all of them afterwards printed in Dodsley's Collection. He was also a considerable contributor to The Adventurer, published by Dr. Hawkesworth; and, I believe, all the papers which contain criticisms on Shakspeare were written by him and his brother, Dr. Thomas Warton, a name dear to the literature of our country. The first volume of his Essay on the Life and Writings of Pope was published, and had passed through several editions, in an interval of near 30 years, before he gave a second volume of that elegant and instructive work to the world. He had not only meditated, but had collected materials for a Literary History of the Age of Leo the Tenth; and proposals were actually in circulation for a work of that kind; but it is probable that the duties of his station did not leave him the necessary leisure for an undertaking which required years of seclusion and independence. His last work, which he undertook for the booksellers at a very advanced age, was an edition of Pope's Works, that has not altogether satisfied the public expectations. He was prevented, by his professional avocations, from cultivating those talents for the pulpit which he so eminently possessed. I once heard him preach in a camp near Winchester; And his sermon, on that occasion, is remembered by me, both as to composition, appropriation, and delivery, as a very superior example of pulpit eloquence. Chearful in his temper, convivial in his disposition, of an elegant taste and lively imagination, with a large portion of scholarship, and a very general knowledge of the belles lettres of Europe, it may be presumed that Dr. Warton possessed, beyond most men, the power of enlivening classical society. He was the intimate friend of Dr. Johnson; was seen at the parties of Mrs. Montague, as well as at the tables of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Wilkes; and was an original member of the Literary Club. But his best praise is yet to come. He possessed a liberal mind, a generous disposition, and a benevolent heart. He was not only admired for his talents and his knowledge, but was beloved for those qualities which are the best gifts of this imperfect state, as they prepare us for the matured perfection of another and a better world.

A WYKEHAMIST."