The plan, as drawn out by Pope, has been already given; that, which was formed on it by Gray, together with the letter to Warton, which accompanied it, is transcribed below from the Gentleman's Magazine for 1783: it is there said to be communicated by a Gentleman of Oxford; and there seems no reason to doubt of its genuineness, though there may be to question who it was, that had the power or right to communicate it. The letter &c. are as follows.
Our friend, Dr. Hurd, having long ago desired me in your name to communicate any fragments, or sketches, of a design, I once had, to give a History of English Poetry, you may well think me rude or negligent, when you see me hesitating for so many months, before I comply with your request. And yet, believe me, few of your friends have been better pleased than I, to find this subject, surely neither unentertaining nor unuseful, had fallen into hands so likely to do it justice; few have felt a higher esteem for your talents, your taste, and industry. In truth, the only cause of my delay has been a sort of diffidence, that would not let me send you any thing so short, so slight, and so imperfect, as the few materials, I had begun to collect, or the observations, I had made on them. A sketch of the division or arrangement of the subject, however, I venture to transcribe; and would wish to know, whether it corresponds in any thing with your own plan. For I am told your first volume is in the press.
On the Poetry of the Galic, or Celtic, nations as far back as it can be traced. — On that of the Goths, its introduction into these islands by the Saxons and Danes, and its duration. — On the Origin of Rhyme among the Franks, the Saxons, and Provencaux. Some account of the Latin rhyming Poetry, from its early origin down to the fifteenth century.
On the school of Provence, which rose about the year 1100, and was soon followed by the French and Italians. Their heroic Poetry, or Romances in verse, Allegories, Fabliaux, Syrvientes, Comedies, Farces, Canzoni, Sonnets, Balades, Madrigals, Sestines, &c. Of their imitators the French; and of the first Italian school, commonly called the Sicilian, about the year 1200, brought to perfection by Dante, Petrarch, Boccace, and others. — State of Poetry in England from the Conquest, 1066, or rather from Henry the Second's time, 1154, to the reign of Edward the Third, 1327.
On Chaucer, who first introduced the manner of the Provencaux, improved by the Italians, into our country; his character and merits at large: the different kinds in which he excelled. Gower, Occleve, Lydgate, Hawes, Gawen Douglas, Lyndesay, Bellenden, Dunbar, &c.
Second Italian School, of Ariosto, Tasso, &c. an improvement on the first, occasioned by the revival of letters, the end of the fifteenth century. The Lyric Poetry of this and the former age introduced from Italy by Lord Surrey, Sir T. Wyat, Bryan, Lord Vaulx, &c. in the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Spenser, his character: subject of his poem, allegoric and romantic, of Provencal invention; but his manner of tracing it, borrowed from the second Italian School. — Drayton, Fairfax, Phineas Fletcher, Golding, Phaer, &c. This school ends in Milton. — A third Italian school, full of conceit, begun in Queen Elisabeth's reign, continued under James and Charles the First, by Donne, Crashaw, Cleveland, carried to its height by Cowley, and ending perhaps in Sprat.
School of France, introduced after the Restoration — Waller, Dryden, Addison, Prior, and Pope — which has continued to our own times.
You will observe that my idea was in some measure taken from a scribbled paper of Pope, of which I believe you have a copy. You will also see I had excluded Dramatic Poetry entirely; which if you have taken in, it will at least double the bulk and labour of your book. I am, Sir, with great esteem,
Your most humble and obedient servant,
PEMBROKE-HALL, April 15, 1770."
It is natural enough to enquire what occasioned Warton to reject this method in the formation of his work, and to have recourse to a chronological arrangement. He was aware of, and has met, the enquiry. And as an Author can best explain his own motives; and as, if I were to attempt to explain them, I should perhaps at the most be only saying in a worse way what he himself has said in a better, I shall content myself with transcribing the account, which he has given in the preface to his History. "A few years ago," he says, "Mr. Mason, with that liberality, which ever accompanies true genius, gave me an authentic copy of Mr. Pope's scheme of an History of English Poetry, in which our Poets were classed under their supposed respective schools. The late lamented Mr. Gray had also projected a work of this kind, and translated some Runic odes for its illustration, now published: but soon relinquishing the prosecution of a design, which would have detained him from his own noble inventions, he most obligingly condescended to favour me with the substance of his plan, which I found to be that of Mr. Pope, considerably enlarged, extended, and improved.
"It is vanity in me to have mentioned these communications. But I am apprehensive my vanity will justly be thought much greater, when it shall appear, that, in giving the History of English Poetry, I have rejected the ideas of men, who are its most distinguished ornaments. To confess the real truth, upon examination and experiment, I soon discovered their mode of treating my subject, plausible as it is and brilliant in theory, to be attended with difficulties and inconveniencies, and productive of embarrassment both to the reader and the writer. Like other ingenious systems, it sacrifices much useful intelligence to the observance of arrangement; and in the place of that satisfaction, which results from a clearness and a fulness of information, seemed only to substitute the merit of disposition, and the praise of contrivance. The constraint, imposed by a mechanical attention to this distribution, appeared to me to destroy that free exertion of research, with which such a History ought to be executed, and not easily reconcilable with that complication, variety, and extent of materials, which it ought to comprehend.
"The method, I have pursued, on one account at least, seems preferable to all others. My performance, in its present form, exhibits without transposition the gradual improvements of our poetry, at the same time that it uniformly represents the progression of our language."
These reasons for the preference, which Warton has given to his own Method, will probably appear conclusive. The practice of reducing the several painters under their respective schools may have inclined Pope, who is well known to have been fond and studious of the art of painting, to introduce a similar method in examining the sister art of poetry; and a like propensity may have influenced Gray and Mason, when they adopted and improved on this method. Probably it is more specious, and more gratifying to the fancy; but the merit of it should be estimated by its practicability, of which experiment is the surest, and, it may be, the only, criterion. Warton assures us he made the experiment, and was thereby deterred from proceeding in it: Pope himself, the original projector, does not appear to have attempted to embody his plan: Gray, as we have already seen, found "that a work of the kind in question, pursued on so very extensive a plan, would become almost endless:" and Mason may be considered as having given a tacit approbation, at least he forbore to object, to the chronological arrangement of Warton.
If it should appear that this account of circumstances, connected with "the History of English Poetry," has been drawn to an unexpected length, I shall shelter myself under a plea not only of the importance of the subject itself, but also of the satisfaction derived from the contemplation of such distinguished men, liberally communicating their thoughts in order to promote the general interests of literature; and free from the feelings of envy and ill-natured rivalry, to which little minds are subject, conspiring to promote, and participating in the satisfaction consequent on, the well-earned reputation of each other.
But the treatment, which Mr. Warton met with in return for his historical labours, was not always of this mild and gentle complexion. The publication of the work raised him up an antagonist in the anonymous writer of "Observations on the three first Volumes of the History of English Poetry, in a familiar Letter to the Author." A writer, of whom it is no harsh judgment to pronounce, that the acuteness of his mind is greater than its elegance; and that, whatever other obligations he may be under to his learning, he certainly is not indebted to it for any peculiar softness of manner. I would not willingly speak of any man otherwise than with temper; but I feel it incumbent on me to mention this tract, and impossible to mention it but with severity. With respect to the specific accusations urged in this anonymous attack, some of the inaccuracies and errors pointed out had been before noticed and corrected by the historian himself; some of the charges have been shown to be groundless [Author's note: See the Gentleman's Magazine for 1782 and 1783, in which are severall letters in vindication of Mr. Warton. Those signed A. S. are from the elegant pen of Mr. Russell, fellow of New College, the author of some Sonnets and very beautiful pieces of miscellaneous poetry, published after his death], and some at least of a questionable nature; and all of them, without an exception, are obtruded on public notice with such asperity of language, with such hardiness of assertion, and in such a spirit of exaggeration and (it should seem) of personal acrimony, as no one who has not read them will readily conceive.
In the mean time, with respect to many of the charges, as I am not prepared to prove them to be false, I do not hesitate to suppose, and to allow, them to be true. Nor do I think that hereby much is detracted from the merit of the historian: for, in a work of such a nature as to require the exertions of a mind possessed of the united powers of research, comprehension, selection, combination, and arrangement, warmed by a lively taste, and chastised by a correct judgment, to make it tolerably perfect, a man of common sense will expect to meet with errors, which a man of common ingenuousness will forbear to condemn with harshness. And if, after the deduction of those charges which cannot be substantiated, and a decent qualification of those which can, the remainder shall be neither very numerous nor very material, then may it, on the other hand, be not unfairly argued, that the very adduction of these errors from a work of such magnitude and difficulty, as the one in question, is to a certain extent a testimony in its favour; as it may thence be presumed, that not many others of much importance exist in it, or they would not have escaped the notice of an observer, so diligent in discovering imperfections, and so eager in exposing them. For as to the general charges, contained in the attack, little credit can be due to blind and unsupported accusations; to insinuations of a power to expose, when it is, from the whole tenor of the pamphlet, pretty evident, that, if the power existed, the will would not be wanting. From the unqualified and scurrilous language of abuse, which this anonymous writer employs, I am at little pains to attempt to defend the historian, for they serve to reflect disgrace on him alone, who can employ them; still less have I to do, on this occasion, with his indecent sneers at religion, utterly irrelevant, as they are, to the subject before him: nor should I notice his charges of book-making, of wilful falsehood and misrepresentation, of pilfering, of dishonesty, of swindling, and the like, charges on the moral character of the historian, uttered without restraint, and supported by no foundation, but to mask them with my abhorrence and contempt.
An intimate friend of Mr. Warton has informed me, that he neither allowed the justness, nor felt, though he might lament, the keenness of the censure: and it should seem that the critic did not long exult in his fancied triumph; for in a subsequent publication, he condescends somewhat to soften the asperity, and temper the virulence, of his invective; where, instead of lavishing on the historian the terms of "childish ignorance," and others of a kindred stamp, in which his vocabulary seems to abound, he ascribes to him the possession of "great and splendid abilities;" and, though he still pronounces the History to be pervaded by "general inaccuracy," seems to consider it superior to his proposed "poetical Annals of the British Nursery;" by styling it "an interesting and important work."
Having said so much of the history of this work, and the circumstances connected with it, I will here only add, on the suggestion of a friend, that it was perhaps modelled on a similar work in Italian, entitled L'Istoria della volgar Poesia, scritta da Gio. Mario Crescimbeni. In Venezia 1731.
In 1777 Mr. Warton published an octavo volume of poems, consisting principally of unpublished pieces, whilst several of those, which he had before published, were omitted. Amongst the latter were the Triumph of Isis, the Pleasures of Melancholy, the Ode on the Approach of Summer, Newmarket, and others. A second edition soon followed; a third in 1779, when the Triumph of Isis was added, as noticed in a former page: and a fourth in 1789, containing, besides the other poems, the Verses to Sir Joshua Reynolds. His reason for omitting the others does not appear; for so far would they have been from disgracing the collection, that the Summer-Ode may be pronounced one of his best productions in point of poetical imagery, as may Newmarket, in point of satirical humour.
Mr. Warton resided for the most part in Oxford during term, and passed his vacations in making excursions over the country, or in visiting his brother, Dr. Joseph Warton, at Winchester; between whom and himself there always subsisted the most cordial affection. "Proofs of this love and mutual respect for each other's abilities," says the Bishop of Gloucester, who had numerous opportunities of witnessing it in their personal intercourse also, "are evident in their several works. Our Author's Ode, which begins 'Ah! mourn thou lov'd retreat,' and the first Sonnet, were written on Dr. Joseph Warton's leaving Winslade, the place in which he translated the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil.
"When Dr. Warton removed from Winslade to Winchester College, it was the custom of Mr. Warton constantly to spend his long vacation at Winchester with his brother. To this circumstance we owe that admirable specimen of firm, clear, and pure Hexameter composition, the Mons Catharinae, and the Sonnet on King Arthur's round table. At Winchester also was written the Ode on the first of April, which, soon after its production, was recited in the School of Winchester College. The beautiful Hendecasyllaba, intitled 'Apud Hortum jucundisimum Wintoniae,' paint the scenery of a garden formed, and in the summer frequented, by his brother. The site of it is between two arms of the river, which runs under the walls of the College; and it looks immediately on that meadow, where once stood a College dedicated to St. Elisabeth. Had our Author lived longer, it is probable he would have printed, what he had prepared for the press, a History of St. Elisabeth's College. This work would have been highly acceptable, and a fit addition to his 'History of Winchester,' which he published at a former period.
"During his residence at Winchester, he wrote the greater part of his History of English Poetry. On examining that laborious and ingenious work, we find our Author deriving considerable advantage from those sources of information, to which, in consequence of his connexion with the College, Church, and City of Winchester, through means of his brother, he could have easy access. Hence it is that, sometimes to illustrate remarks, and sometimes to confirm instances relating to the ancient usages and institutions of our country, he often cites the records preserved in that place, which was once the seat of Royalty and Monastic celebrity.
"In prosecuting his History, our Author, like every other writer of superior abilities, was glad to avail himself of remarks from a critic equally eminent with himself: he therefore submitted the greater part of his papers to the inspection of Dr. Warton, and received from him occasional hints. The concluding page of the first volume was written by Dr. Warton."
Another work of Mr. Warton connected with Winchester is mentioned by Dr. Sturges in his letter to Mr. Milner. "Mr. Thomas Warton," he remarks, "has left an elaborate and very curious work on St. Mary's Chapel in the Cathedral, quite prepared for the press; which I have seen by favour of my friend Dr. Warton." In short, his mind appears to have been always active, and prepared to take advantage of whatever presented itself.
It was during one of these visits to his brother in 1778, that his Majesty honoured the College with his presence, and was received with a Latin speech from Mr. Chamberlayne, son of William Chamberlayne, Esq. Solicitor of the Treasury, the senior scholar on the foundation, and afterwards fellow of New College; and with a copy of English verses by the Earl of Shaftesbury, one of Dr. Warton's commoners. The Latin speech, which is written with great elegance and terseness, was composed by Mr. Warton, and is accordingly here introduced. "Regum antiquorum, Rex augustissime, morem revocas, qui literatorum sodalitiis interesse, oculisque et aspectu doctrinarum studia com probare non indignum putabant amplitudine sua. Et profecto complures regios hospites, Henricos, Edvardos, Carolos, olim excepit vetus hoc inclytumque Musarum, domicilium; nullum, qui bonas literas te, Pater illustrissime, vel magis amaverit, vel auxerit, vel ornaverit. Quin et animum tuum propensamque in literas voluntatem, vel hoc abunde testari possit, quod vicina castra tot tantisque procerum Britannicorum pro patria militantium praesidiis instructissima, bellicis spectaculis te non penitus occupatum tenuere, quo minus et togatam, juventutem respiceres, et ex armorum strepitu remissionem quandam literati hujus otii captares. Ut diu vivas et valeas, in utriusque Minervae perennem, gloriam, tibi fausta et felicia comprecantur omnia voventque Wiccamici tui."
Mr. Price of the Bodleian Library, who lived for many years with Mr. Warton in habits of familiar friendship, has kindly put into my hands a collection of letters received from him at different times of his absence from Oxford. From these he appears to have been an indolent and hasty correspondent, as they seldom contain more than a mention of the business on which they were written. Occasionally however they give scattered notices of his literary engagements, and on that account I am induced to transcribe the following extracts in the order of their dates, as likewise because they will be found to give some idea of his general character, and particularly of the easy and unaffected good humour, by which his friends know him to have been distinguished. At least, if they do not abound in information or interest, they are altogether free from disguise or artifice, and exhibit the writer, as he was. The earliest of them is dated 1774, which is about the time when the first volume of his History was published. It begins as follows.
I suppose you to be in the land of the living; and after your Devonshire peregrinations to be returned to Jesus College, or at least the neighbourhood of North-Leigh. I have the pleasure to tell you that great part of the second volume of my History is ready for press. I see by the papers old Sandford is dead, and I imagine by this time it is known to which library he has left his books and coins. A noble legacy somewhere! You certainly know Mr. North is coming to me at Trinity College. I will tell you all the particulars of that affair when we meet; which I think will be in about a fortnight. I have several things to look at in the B. Library, which I hope I can do, though it is shut for the Visitation, as you are always so good as to admit me behind the scenes. I have a variety of things in the literary way to talk to you about.
I am, dear Price,
Yours most sincerely,
WINTON, Sept. 30, 1774.
P.S. Pray write. My brother sends compliments."
Mr. North, as I mentioned before, and as is intimated in this letter, was now sent to Trinity College, and put under the care of Mr. Warton, who, in compliance with the wish of Lord North, immediately relinquished his other pupils.
I have long wished to hear from you, though I hope to see you so soon as the 15th of next month. Then for sheep's heart or griskin as soon as you please at Ensham. I give you much joy that your friend Sheffield is appointed Provost of Worcester. I think he will make a very good one. Who is to be Head of Brasenose? I hope for Cleaver, but I hear he is not qualified to start on account of his foundation. * * * I see a ballad on Lord Ab—n's republican pamphlet, which I am sure is written by Dr. Cooper of Queen's. I have a correspondence on foot with Pennant about some old Plays acted at Chester, and I think I have amply atoned for keeping the thin folio manuscript so long. My second volume goes on swimmingly. I have already written almost the whole; but I intend a third volume, of which more when we meet. I am going to dine and drink Champagne to-day with Hans Stanley, which I fear will throw me out a little. Observe my many sporting phrases, though I have not been at one race this vacation. What beautiful weather for Wilcott! Pray write soon. I think this letter will find you at Oxford: therefore if I do not hear from you soon, I shall conclude you are rambling in search of plants and epitaphs.
Very sincerely yours,
WINTON. Sept. 16, 1777."
The following contains an account of one of his antiquarian researches, which has never yet been publicly noticed; it is dated from Winton. Sept. 22, 1778. "* * * My travels since I left you have been on so large a scale, that I must not attempt a detail of them in the narrow compass of the present half sheet. I fear it will be all in vain to invite you to see the camp, where the South-Gloucester, headed by Lord Berkley, is one of the most famous regiments in the line. I have often dined with his Lordship, and like him so well that I wish for a coalition of parties. Here is nothing but explosion and smoke; you would think we lived in a land of volcanoes. I hope the gout will permit me to have a few gallops with the Duke of Beaufort's dogs at my return to Oxford. I don't mean that I have any presentiments of it. I have borrowed from the muniment house of this college a most curious roll of W. Wykeham's house-keeping expences for the year 1394. It is 100 feet long and 12 broad, and really the most venerable and valuable record I have ever seen of the kind. I am making an abstract of it, which I believe I shall publish. But you shall see what I have done. * * *"
William of Wykeham's roll is again noticed in a letter from Winchester, dated Sept. 18, 1784. "I write to you, I think according to annual custom in long vacations,, to ask how you go on, and whether old Oxford is still in being. * * * I think I shall see you in about five weeks; but I should not wish to return till we have a bit of a common room. This place is dull enough without drumming and fifing, but I am little at it. * * * I will bring with me Wykeham's Rotulus Hospicii, which you will like to see, and where some of the abbreviations are too tough for me. I am ready for publication, when they are got over. But else I shall leave them as I find them. It will be more than a 'merely curious' work."
From Winchester, August 18, 1780, he begins a letter, "After a long camping tour, I am sitting down again to my book in good earnest;" and desires Mr. Price to send him some transcripts "of passages relating to our old English poets, satirists chiefly;" which should seem to look to the fourth volume of his History, in which, as before noticed, he commences with Hall, the first English satirist. This letter gives a proof of his fondness for military spectacles, in the enumeration and arrangement of the regiments that formed the camps he had just visited at Portsmouth and Plymouth. Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, June 25, 1781. * * * "At Hurst Castle yesterday I almost dropt a tear in the gloomy chamber in which K. Charles the first was confined."
Oct. 13, 1781. (Probably just after the third volume of the History came out, for it was published in the same year.) "I have lately been working hard; have made some progress in my fourth volume, and have written a History of Kiddington, which I intend as a specimen of a parochial History of Oxfordshire. You will be surprised to see my account of so small a village take up three large quarto paper books." Twenty copies of this History were soon after printed for the use of his friends, but not then published: but in the following year, 1782, Aug. 13, he writes again; "Pray send me the legend and dimensions of Thomas de Wilcot's seal, and any other particulars about it necessary to be known. How near Freeman's lodge, and with what bearing was the pavement found at Ditchley? You will see Kiddington quite a new thing; which I mean to reprint and to publish. Tell me any thing else you think of use." He accordingly published his History of Kiddington at the latter end of the same year, or the beginning of the next. In the preface, which contains some very sensible remarks on the general and national utility of county histories, he gives some account of the occasion of this publication; which it is needless to enter upon here.
The year 1782, appears to have been a busy year with Mr. Warton. Besides his employments, which have been just mentioned, he was occasionally engaged in two or three other works. It was naturally to be expected that the controversy concerning Rowley and Chatterton, turning upon subjects, with which he was more than ordinarily acquainted, would not pass unnoticed by him. He had accordingly in the second volume of his History, which treats of the times when Rowley is supposed to have written, discussed the question, and declared himself of opinion that the poems were modern compositions. In the present year he published an 8vo. pamphlet, entitled "An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley," confining his arguments to the internal evidence. of the poems.
He now also published his Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's painted window at New College, 4to. which occasioned the following letter from Sir Joshua.
"LONDON, MAY 13, 1782.
This is the first minute I have had to thank you for the verses which I had the honour and pleasure of receiving a week ago. It is a bijoux, it is a beautiful little thing; and I think I should have equally admired it, if I had not been so much interested in it as I certainly am. I owe you great obligations for the sacrifice which you have made, or pretend to have made, to modern art: I say pretend; for though it is allowed that you have, like a true poet, feigned marvellously well, and have opposed the two different styles with the skill of a Connoisseur, yet I may be allowed to entertain some doubts of the sincerity of your conversion. I have no great confidence in the recantation of such an old offender.
It is short, but it is a complete composition; it is a whole. The struggle is, I think, eminently beautiful —
From bliss long felt unwillingly we part,
Ah! spare the weakness of a lover's heart.
It is not much to say that your verses are by far the best that ever my name was concerned in. I am sorry therefore my name was not hitched in, in the body of the Poem. If the title page should be lost, it will appear to be addressed to Mr. Jervais.
I am, dear Sir,
With the greatest respect,
Your most humble
And obedient servant,
In compliance with this suggestion of very pardonable vanity in Sir Joshua, in a second edition of the poem, the word "Artist" which begins the last paragraph, was altered into "Reynolds." It may be remarked, that in those of Mr. Warton's Letters which have fallen into my hands, he does not once mention this or any other of his poems; though the selection of them, which he published, was made during the time of the correspondence which I possess.
In this year he was presented by his College to the donative of Hill Farrance in Somersetshire; and about the same time, as I conjecture, was elected a member of the Literary Club. I do not suppose that he was a regular, or even frequent, attendant at its meetings: which indeed will hardly appear strange, when we consider how little time he passed in Town. He was however individually acquainted with several of its members; with Mr. Langton, who had been his pupil at Trinity College; with Dr. Johnson; Dr. Percy, Lord Bishop of Dromore; and Mr. Stevens, to whom he contributed notes in 1786 for the variorum edition of Shakspere. Mr. Boswell, in the advertisement prefixed to his Life of Johnson, particularly laments that he was deprived by death of Mr. Warton's approbation to his work, and acknowledges the high estimation in which he held his contributions: and a gentleman, well acquainted with Warton, once casually remarked to me, that his submitting to have his portrait taken, was a proof of the regard which he had for Sir Joshua Reynolds. With Dr. Farmer, another member of the club, he first became acquainted from an accidental visit to Cambridge. Dr. Farmer, hearing that he was there, introduced and attached himself to Mr. Warton, and did not quit him during his stay in the University.
I will here cursorily mention also, that, besides those who have been, or may be, more particularly noticed, Mr. Warton had communications or personal acquaintance with several of the most celebrated literary characters of the age; amongst others, with Collins and Glover, the poets; the late Earl of Orford; Mr. Astle, the Author of the Dissertation on Writing; Mr. Gough, the Antiquarian; Mr. Tyrwhitt, the learned Editor of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, of Rowley, and of Aristotle's Poetic.
In the year 1785, it appears that the merit of Mr. Warton was duly estimated both within and without the precincts of his own sphere, by his election to a second office in the University, that of Camden Professor of History, on the resignation of Dr. Scott; and by his appointment to the Laurel in May, on the death of William Whitehead.
The Camden Professorship of History had been founded by the celebrated Antiquarian and Annalist of that name in the year 1621; and such was the low state of learning in Oxford at the time of its foundation, that the Professor is required to lecture the Bachelors of Arts and the Students in Civil Law twice a week in Lucius Florus, or some other of the more ancient and distinguished historians. It will readily be supposed that in the present state of academical acquirements the new Professor would be neither required, nor wished, to comply with the primitive injunction. In his Inaugural Lecture, which was most fully and respectably attended, from a comparative view of learning at the different times, he shewed the absurdity of any such expectation; and having perspicuously traced the characteristic distinctions of the several historians of Greece and Rome, declared his intention of coming forward, as occasion might serve, with more particular remarks on their respective merits. The readers of the Lecture may think it matter of regret, that he suffered the "rostrum to grow cold" whilst it was in his possession.
The office of Poet-Laureate acquires more credit from being filled by a respectable character, than it confers on the person who fills it. Gray, on its being offered to him at the death of Cibber, refused it; and Warton himself a few years after, whilst he paid a handsome compliment to Whitehead, who then held it, had expressed a wish that "the more than annual return of a composition on a trite subject would be no longer required." I know not whether it may appear strange or inconsistent that he should accept the appointment after this declaration; but sure I am that he has executed the office with surprising ability; that he has given variety to a hackneyed argument by the happiest selection and adaptation of collateral topics; and has shewn how a poet may celebrate his Sovereign, not with the fulsome adulation of an Augustan Courtier, or the base prostration of an Oriental Slave, but with the genuine spirit and erect front of an Englishman.
"The Laureates of our own country have ever been," as Falstaff says, "the occasion of wit in other men." Mr. Warton however was peculiarly distinguished, shortly after his appointment, by the publication of "Probationary Odes for the Laureatship;" a work, of which it is but justice to say, that it not only possesses a very considerable portion of wit, but is also distinguished from attacks made on him upon other occasions, by a more innocent spirit of raillery. But in saying this, I would be cautious of being understood to express any approbation of such compositions. Personal satire must at all times expose its author to a suspicion of malignity; and for myself I must profess, that the circumstance of its being anonymous would have no trifling influence towards converting suspicion into conviction.
A copy of the Odes was sent to Mr. Warton by the Editor, with the following letter, which my readers may perhaps understand.
I hold Ingratitude to be one of the basest crimes that can stain the human character. I have deemed it therefore my indispensable duty to transmit the inclosed to you, as a testimony of my grateful recollection for the peculiar service you have rendered me in setting the first example of a Joke, by the continuance of which I have already profited so much, and hope to do still more so by the succession of future editions, with which the accompanying effusions will be indispensably honoured in future. Had it not been for the inimitable effort of luxuriant humour which proceeded from you on the occasion I allude to, the world would have been deprived of the most astonishing exhibition of genuine joke that ever graced the annals of literature, and I should have been still more unhappy to have lost the opportunity of a competent independency. I entreat you therefore, good Sir, to accept my warmest gratitude, and believe me to be ever yours,
of the PROBATIONARY ODES."
It should be remembered, that whilst the other Odes in this humorous publication were fabricated by the Editor for the persons whose names they bear; the one assigned to the Laureate was his own composition, written for the Birth-day in the year of his appointment. In truth, the Ode was not happy either in the matter or execution; and it will not perhaps be pronouncing too harsh a judgment, to say, that it possesses less merit than any other poem which he wrote either before or after it. It was however attended with this incidental recommendation, that it served to display the character of its Author in its usual amiable colours. For we are told by one who had the best opportunity of judging, I mean his brother, Dr. Warton, that "the Laureat of all men felt the least, and least deserved to feel, the force of the Probationary Odes, written on his appointment to the office; and that he always heartily joined in the laugh, and applauded the exquisite wit and humour, that appeared in many of those original Satires." [Author's note: Pope's Works, vol. vi. p. 328. "But I beg to add," continues the Doctor, "that not one of these ingenious Laughers could have produced such pieces of true poetry as the Crusade, the Grave of King Arthur, the Suicide, and Ode on the Approach of Summer, by this very Laureat."]
The last work of any importance in which our Author engaged was an edition of the juvenile Poems of Milton, with notes critical and explanatory, and other illustrations. The chief purpose of this work was, as he himself declares in the exquisite preface to it, "to explain his Author's allusions, to illustrate or to vindicate his beauties, to point out his imitations both of others and of himself, to elucidate his obsolete diction, and by the adduction and juxtaposition of parallels universally gleaned both from his poetry and prose, to ascertain his favourite words, and to show the peculiarities of his phraseology." How far he was judicious in the formation of his plan, and happy in the execution of it, may be more properly considered, when we come to discuss his literary character. It may here however be cursorily remarked, that he sometimes suffered his politics to interfere with his criticisms, and amidst his observations on the poetry, now and then let slip a censure of too much severity on the principles, of Milton.
His first edition of these poems, somewhat indeed anterior to his appointment to the offices just noticed, was published in 1785; but the idea itself, on which it is founded, as hinted in a preceding page, seems to have struck him nearly or quite forty years before; though it does not appear that he designed such an edition any long time before the date we are now arrived at. The work was principally supported by his own individual exertions, with occasional contributions by Mr. Bowle, the learned and ingenious publisher of Don Quixote; and by his brother, Dr. Jos. Warton. "And I am convinced," says he in acknowledging this communication, "that my readers will concur with me in wishing, that his indispensable engagements would have permitted him to communicate many more."
A second edition appeared in 1791, a short time after his death, with very considerable alterations and additions, having been entirely completed and prepared for the press by himself. In a letter to Mr. Price from Winchester, Oct. 12, 1789, he says, "I return with my new edition of Milton ready for press at the Clarendon." And a short time after his death, Dr. Warton writes to the same gentleman, "Mr. Cross the printer has in his hands the whole of the first volume of the Milton, and it is printed as far as page 330 or thereabouts; and I have told him to go on, and send me the sheets by the Southampton Frigate to correct. This unavoidably takes up time; but I know not what else to do."
In explanation of this expression, "the first volume of the Milton," it should be remarked, that Mr. Warton had extended his plan, and designed to publish, not I apprehend the whole of Milton's poetical works, but a second volume, containing the Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. And I have been told by a gentleman, who without doubt spoke from good authority, that Warton thought of enlarging his scheme at the suggestion of his Majesty; though Mr. Price, whom I have questioned on the subject, and who was in the habit of familiar and almost daily communication with Mr. Warton, was not aware of such a suggestion.
The volume however was printed with notices of its being the first volume, and the Editor had collected materials for the second, which after his death his brother had possibly some thoughts of continuing. But on application to him by Mr. Dunster in 1795, for contributions towards an edition of Paradise Regained, it was discovered that, in the removal of his books and papers from Winchester, the interleaved Milton, which contained the remarks of both the brothers, had been unfortunately lost or mislaid.
This intention of Mr. Warton accounts for several omissions, in the second edition, of notes contained in the first; and for references, which sometimes occur, to notes on Paradise Regained, or Samson Agonistes. It should not escape us, that in this second edition are remarks on the Greek verses of Milton by the learned Dr. C. Burney; and some observations on the other poems by Bps. Warburton and Hurd, kindly communicated by the latter.
He was at this time also engaged in preparing a new and more complete edition, than had yet been published, of his own poems, which made its appearance in 1791. A considerable part of the impression was already finished, when he was taken off by a sudden and unexpected death.
"Until he reached his sixty-second year he continued to enjoy vigorous and uninterrupted health. On being seized with the gout, he went to Bath; and flattered himself, on his return to college, that he was in a fair way of recovery. But the change that had taken place in his constitution was visible to his friends. On Thursday, May 20, 1790, he passed the evening in the common room, and was for some time more cheerful than usual. Between ten and eleven o'clock" [Author's note: Biographical Dictionary] there being then only two fellows of the college, in the common room with him, he was suddenly seized with a paralytic stroke. At the moment he uttered some sound, which appeared like the name of his friend Mr. Price; but never afterwards spoke, though he once seemed sensible, and desirous to express his gratitude to his friends, who attended him during the night.
I was at Winchester-college at the time, and remember, that on the afternoon of the following day an express arrived to inform his brother, who immediately set out for Oxford, but came too late to see him alive. He had died on that day at two o'clock; before his brother could receive notice of his illness.
On the twenty-seventh, in the afternoon, his remains were interred in the college-chapel with the highest academical honours; the ceremony being attended, not only by the members of his own college, but by the Vice-Chancellor, Heads of Houses, and Proctors at their own particular request; an honour indeed of a distinguished and uncommon nature; but not undeserved by the man, who had testified his regard to the University by a residence of more than 47 years, and had raised her reputation by many valuable publications during that interval; and who signally united in himself the power of commanding admiration by the variety and extent of his talents, and of conciliating affection by the amiable qualities of his heart. He lies buried in the ante-chapel of his college, under a plain marble slab, not far distant from that over the grave of the President Bathurst. The inscription contains an enumeration of his preferments, his age, and the date of his death.