JOSEPH WARTON, D.D., born in 1722, was the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Warton, poetry-professor at Oxford, and Vicar of Basingstoke. He received his early education under his father, and at the age of fourteen was admitted on the foundation at Winchester school. He was afterwards entered of Oriel college, Oxford, where he assiduously cultivated his literary taste, and composed some pieces of poetry, which were afterwards printed. Having taken the degree of B.D. he became curate to his father at Basingstoke; and in 1746 removed to a similar employment at Chelsea. In 1748 he was presented by the Duke of Bolton to the rectory of Winslade, soon after which he married. He accompanied his patron in 1751 on a tour to the south of France; and after his return he completed an edition of Virgil, in Latin and English; of which the Eclogues and Georgics were his own composition, the Eneid was the version of Pitt. Warton also contributed notes on the whole, and added three preliminary essays, on pastoral, didactic, and epic poetry. When the Adventurer was undertaken by Dr. Hawksworth, Warton, through the medium of Dr. Johnson, was invited to become a contributor, and his compliance with this request produced twenty-four papers, of which the greater part were essays on critical topics.
In 1755 he was elected second master of Winchester school, with the accompanying advantage of a boarding-house. In the following year there appeared, but without his name, the first volume, 8vo., of his Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope. Scarcely any work of the kind has afforded more entertainment, from the vivacity of its remarks, the taste displayed in its criticisms, and the various anecdotes of which it became the vehicle; though some of the last were of a freer cast than perfectly became his character. This reason, perhaps, caused the second volume to be kept back till twenty-six years after. In 1766 he was advanced to the post of bead-master of Winchester school, on which occasion be visited Oxford, and took the degrees of bachelor and doctor of divinity.
The remainder of his life was chiefly occupied by schemes of publications, and by new preferments, of the last of which he obtained a good share, though of moderate rank. In 1793 he closed his long labours at Winchester by a resignation of the mastership, upon which he retired to his rectory of Wickham. Still fond of literary employment, he accepted a proposal of the booksellers to superintend an edition of Pope's works, which was completed, in 1797, in nine vols. 8vo. Other engagements still pursued him, till his death, in his 78th year, February, 1800. The Wiccamists attested their regard to his memory, by erecting an elegant monument over his tomb in Winchester cathedral.
The poems of Dr. Warton consist of miscellaneous and occasional pieces, displaying a cultivated taste, and an exercised imagination, but without any claim to originality. His Ode to Fancy, first published in Dodsley's collection, is perhaps that which has been the most admired.