1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 6:168-75.



The Lives of these learned and benevolent Brothers (whom with honest pride I call my Friends) have so lately been given to the publick by Mr. Mant and Mr. Wooll; and still more recently, and not less ably, by Mr. Alexander Chalmers, in the Biographical Prefaces to his valuable Collection of the English Poets, 1810; that I shall content myself by a mere epitome of dates.

Their father, the Rev. Thomas Warton, B.D. descended from an antient and honourable family at Beverley in Yorkshire, was fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Poetry Professor there, and vicar of Basingstoke; where he died in 1746; and where his tomb is thus inscribed by his sons:

D.O.M.
THOMAE WARTON, S.T.B.
hujus parochiae vicario,
viro erudito,
probo, pio;
qui vixit annos LVI.
ob. MDCCXLVI. filii moerentes
F.

JOSEPH, the eldest son, was born at Dunsford in Surrey, at the house of his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Richardson, in 1722; and, except being a small time at New College school, was principally instructed by his father, till at the age of 14 he was admitted on the foundation at Winchester, under Dr. Sandby, the present venerable Chancellor of Norwich; and at this noble seminary he commenced a poetical correspondence with Mr. Urban.

In September 1740, being superannuated at Winchester, he was entered at Oriel College, Oxon; where he sedulously cultivated his poetical talents; and, taking the degree of B.A. in 1744, was ordained to his father's curacy at Basingstoke; which, in February 1746, he exchanged for Chelsea; whence, to complete his recovery from the small-pox, he went to Chobham; and, after accepting for a few months the duty of Chawton and Droxford, returned to the curacy of Basingstoke.

In 1746 he published a small volume of "Odes;" and in 1747-8 was presented by the Duke of Bolton to the rectory of Winslade; soon after which, he happily united himself in marriage to Miss Daman.

In 1748, in conjunction with his brother, he published by subscription, and inscribed to Lord Craven, an octavo volume of his Father's Poems; and in 1751 accompanied the Duke of Bolton to Paris.

In 1753 he was an assistant in "The Adventurer;" and published his poetical version of the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, which was begun in 1748-9.

In 1754 he was presented, by the Jervoise family, to the rectory of Turnworth; and in 1755 was elected second master of Winchester school.

The first volume of his "Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope" was published anonymously in 1756; and in the same year, Sir George Lyttelton having obtained a peerage, Mr. Warton was honoured, by the noble Baron with a chaplain's scarf.

In May 1766 he was advanced to the head mastership of Winchester school; and, visiting Oxford, proceeded to the degree of B. and D.D.

In 1772, he lost an affectionate wife, by whom he had six children; but, in the following year, was induced again to enter into the marriage state, with Miss Nicholas, daughter of Robert Nicholas, esq.; and, in the intervals of attendance on the school, passed such leisure as he could obtain amongst his intimates in London. It was at this period I had the satisfaction of becoming personally acquainted with Dr. Warton; and experienced from him abundant proofs of that inclination to forward the literary labours of others, for which he was peculiarly famed. I had, then recently, published four volumes of a small Collection of "Miscellaneous Poems;" in the selecting of which I had the assistance of many first-rate literary characters; and in four subsequent volumes was particularly indebted to Bishops Lowth and Percy, Dr. Warton, and Mr. Kynaston.

In 1782 his friend Bp. Lowth gave him a prebend in St. Paul's, and the rectory of Thorley, Herts; which, after some arrangements, he exchanged for Wickham, Hants. And in this year he published the second volume of his "Essay on Pope."

In 1784 he began to print a small volume of some curiosity, not completed till 1787; which, though little noticed at the time, is now become exceedingly rare. I make no apology, therefore, for transcribing his short Advertisement.

"The Public has paid, of late, so much attention to our old Poets, that it has been imagined a perusal of some of our old Critics also may be found equally agreeable. Two pieces of criticism, accordingly, are here selected, of no common merit; and, indeed, the two earliest in our language, that deserve much attention; but which are not sufficiently known and read, by the situation in which they happen to stand; the one at the end of so tedious and unnatural a Romance as the Arcadia; and the other at the end of Ben Jonson's Works; which, being very voluminous, and not all of equal value, fall not into many hands.

"The characters of the two authors are too well known to require to be here displayed. Suffice it to say, that there are few rules and few excellencies of Poetry, especially epic and dramatic, but what Sir Philip Sydney, who had diligently read the best Latin and Italian commentaries on Aristotle's Poetics, has here pointed out and illustrated with true taste and judgment; and that the observations of Ben Jonson have all that closeness and precision of style, weight of sentiment, and accuracy of classical learning, for which he is so justly celebrated. For the few antiquated expressions, in both pieces, no apology can be required."

In 1788, he obtained a prebend at Winchester; and the rectory of Easton, which in the same year he was permitted to exchange for that of Upham.

He resigned the mastership of Winchester school in July 1795; and retired to his rectory at Wickham; where, in 1797, he completed his edition of "Pope's Works" in nine octavo volumes. He afterwards undertook an edition of Dryden; of which, in 1799, he had completed two volumes, with notes; which are now in the possession of his son, the Rev. John Warton; who has undertaken to give them to the world. At this time he was afflicted by an incurable disorder in his kidneys, which terminated his useful and honourable life, Feb. 23, 1800, in his 78th year. He left a widow, who died in 1806; a son, and three daughters; the youngest by his second wife. He was buried in the same grave with his first wife, on the North side of Winchester cathedral; and the grateful Wiccamites have evinced their respect for his memory by placing an elegant monument, designed by Mr. Flaxman, against a pillar next to the entrance of the choir, with the following very handsome inscription:

H.S.E.
JOSEPHUS WARTON, S.T.P.
hujus Ecclesiae
Praebendarius;
Scholae Wintoniensis
per annos fere triginta
Informator:
Poeta fervidus, facilis, et politus:
Criticus eruditus, perspicax, elegans:
Obiit xxiii° Feb. MDCCC,
aetat. LXXVIII.
Hoc qualecunque
Praeceptori optimo,
desideratissimo,
Wiccamici sui
P. C.