1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Warton

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:769-70.



1790, May 21. Died, THOMAS WARTON, author of the History of English Poetry, three volumes 4to. and Camden professor of modern history, in the university of Oxford; he was born in 1728, and was the younger brother of the celebrated Joseph Warton, author of an ingenious Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope. In 1785, on the death of Whitehead, Thomas Warton was appointed laureate. His odes, however, were found in no respect superior to those of at least his immediate predecessor, and an attempt seems to have been made in his reign to remit a portion of the duty. In a volume of the history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published about this period, Gibbon made the remark that "from Augustus to Louis the muse has been too often venal; yet I doubt much whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who, in every reign and at all events, is bound to furnish, twice a-year, a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence of the sovereign. I speak the more freely," added the historian, "as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue, and the poet a man of genius." Apparently in consequence of these observations, the New Year's Ode was discontinued in 1790. The non-performance of the accustomed folly occasioned much talk, and was adverted to by Peter Pindar in what he called an Ode on no Ode:—

What! not a sprig of annual metre,
Neither from Thomas nor from Peter!
Who has shut up the laureat's shop?
Alas, poor Tom's a-cold, I fear;
For sack poor Tom must drink small beer,
And, lo! of that a scanty drop!
———*———*———*———*———
Loud roar of Helicon the floods,
Parnassus shakes through all his woods,
To think immortal verse should thus be slighted.
Drop suddenly his jaw and lyre—
I hear, I hear the muses scream affrighted.
———*———*———*———*———
Perchance (his powers for future actions hoarding)
George thinks the year boasts nothing worth recording.
Yet what of that! Though nought has been effected,
Tom might have told us what might be expected;
Have said that civil list should sigh no more,
And Charlotte give — a sixpence to the poor!

Warton was succeeded (Cowper being alive) by James Henry Pye, who, as the jest books have it, was much "cut up" for his presumption in aspiring to such an honour, and of whom the least that can be said is, that he has no place in English literature.