1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

Samuel Egerton Brydges, "Sketch of the Life and Character of Dr Joseph Warton, with an Account of Mr. Wooll's Memoirs of him" Censura Literaria 3 (1807) 184-99.



The Rev. John Wooll, a Wykehamist, now master of Midhurst school, in Sussex, has just published, in a quarto volume, the Life, Poems, and Correspondence of Dr. Joseph Warton. I shall venture, as I have done in the case of Dr. Beattie, to make a few extracts and remarks on it.

It appears that Dr. Warton, was born at the house of his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Richardson, at Dunsfold in Surrey, in April 1722. His father, as is well known, was Vicar of Basingtoke, in Hampshire, had been Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and was himself a poet: as is proved by a posthumous volume, published by this, his eldest son, with the following title.

"Poems onseveral occasions. By the Reverend Mr. Thomas Warton, Batchelor of Divinity, late Vicar of Basingstoke in Hampshire, and sometime Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford. 'Nec luisse pudet.' HOR. London. Printed for R. Manby and H. S. Cox, on Ludgate Hill. 1748. 8vo. pp. 228. Dedicated to Fulwar, Lord Graven."

It was published by subscription. The editor had it some time in hand. In a letter to his brother Thomas, dated Oct. 1746, he says, "Since you left Basingstoke, I have found a great many poems of my father's, much better than any we read together. These I am strongly advised to publish by subscription, by Sir Stukely Shuckburgh, Dr. Jackson, and other friends. These are sufficient to make a six shilling octavo volume; and they imagine, as my father's, acquaintance was large, it would be easy to raise two or three hundred pounds; a very solid argument in our present situation. It would more than pay all my father's debts. Let me know your thoughts upon this subject; but do not yet tell Hampton, or Sniythe, who would at first condemn us, without knowing the prudential reasons, which induce us to do it." The author died in the preceding year, 1745.

But Joseph Warton had already published a quarto pamphlet of his own poems, as I shall particularize presently. He was admitted, on the foundation of Winchester college, 1736, and soon distinguished himself for his poetical talents. As early as Oct. 1739, he became a contributor to the poetry of the Gentleman's Magazine, in conjunction with his friend Collins, and another; by some verses entitled "Sappho's Advice," signed Monitorius, and printed at p. 545. In 1740, he was removed from Winchester, and being superannuated, was entered of Oriel College, Oxford.

How he spent his time at Oxford may be guessed from the following interesting and eloquent passages of a letter to his father. "To help me in some parts of my last collections from Longinus, I have read a good part of Dyonisius Halicarnassus: so that I think by this time I ought fully to understand the structure and disposition of words and sentences I shall read Longinus as long as I live: it is impossible not to catch fire and raptures from his glowing style. The noble causes he gives at the conclusion for the decay of the sublime amongst men, to wit, the love of pleasure, riches and idleness, would almost make one look down upon the world with contempt, and rejoice in, and wish for toils, poverty and dangers, to combat with. For me, it only serves to give me a greater distaste, contempt, and hatred of the Profanum Vulgus, and to tread under foot this [Greek characters], as thoroughly below, and unworthy of man. It is the freedom, you give me, of unburdening my soul to you, that has troubled you so long: but so it is that the next Pleasant thing to conversing with you, and hearing from you is writing to you: I promise myself a more exalted degree of pleasure next vacation, by being in some measure better skilled to converse with you than formerly."

In 1744. he took his degree of A.B. was ordained on his father's curacy, and officiated there, till Feb. 1746. In this year he published,

"Odes on various subjects. By Joseph Warton, B.A. of Oriel College, Oxon. [Greek characters] London. Printed for R. Dodsley, at Tully's Head in Pall Mall, and sold by M. Cooper in Paternoster Row, 1746." 4to. pp. 47."

The greater part of these have been republished by Mr. Wooll. There seems no sufficient reason for what he has omitted. The whole have been lately reprinted for Sharpe's edition of the Poets.

In the following year he was presented by the Duke of Bolton to the small rectory of Wynslade, at the back of Hackwood Park, a pleasing and picturesque retirement, which gave him an opportunity at once of gratifying an ardent attachment by marriage, and pursuing his poetical studies. Two years afterwards he was called to go abroad with his patron; and on this occasion his brother, Thomas, wrote that beautiful "Ode sent to a friend on leaving a favourite village in Hampshire," which alone, in my opinion, would place him in the higher order of poets; and which is one of the most exquisite descriptive pieces in the whole body of English poetry. Every line paints, with the nicest and most discriminative touches, the scenery about Wynslade and Hackwood.

"Ah! mourn, thou lov'd retreat!
No more Shall classic steps thy scenes explore!
&c. &c.
For lo! the Bard, who rapture found
In every rural sight and sound;
Whose genius warm, and judgment chaste
No charm of genuine nature pass'd;
Who felt the Muse's purest fires,
Far from thy favour'd haunt retires:
Who peopled all thy vocal bowers
With shadowy shapes, and airy powers!"

The first of T. Warton's sonnets is also addressed to Wynslade: and the images in several of his other poems are drawn from this neighbourhood.

In about six months, when they had advanced no farther than Montauban, Dr. Warton left his patron, and returned to his family. He now dedicated his whole time to the Translation of Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics: which he soon afterwards published, with Pitt's Translation of the Aeneid, and the original Latin of the whole; accompanied by notes, dissertations, commentaries, and essays. This work was well received; and Oxford conferred the degree of A.M. by diploma on the Editor.

At this time Dr. Johnson, in a letter dated 8 March 1753, applied to him from Hawksworth to assist in the Adventurer. "Being desired," says he, "to look out for another hand, my thoughts necessarily fixed on you, whose fund of literature will enable you to assist them, with very little interruption of your studies," &c. &c. "The province of Criticism they are desirous to assign to the Commentator on Virgil." His first paper, I believe, is No. 49, 24 April, 1753, containing "a Parallel between ancient and modern learning." His communications are undoubtedly the best of the whole work; and are written with an extent of erudition, a force of thought, and a purity, elegance, and vigour of language, which demand very high praise.

He now planned to unite in a volume, and publish "Select Epistles of Angelus Politianus, Desiderius Erasmus, Hugo Grotius, and others," a part of a design for a History of the Revival of Learning, which had also been agitated by his brother, and his friend Collins; but which unfortunately none of them executed.

In 1754 he obtained the living of Tunworth, near Wynslade; and in 1755 was elected second Master of Winchester school.

In 1756 he published the first volume of his "Essay on the genius and writings of Pope." "A book," says the supercilious Johnson, "which teaches how the brow of criticism may be smoothed, and how she may be enabled, with all her severity, to attract and to delight;" but which, as it counteracted the stream of fashion, and opposed long received prejudices, did not meet with unqualified approbation. He did not put his name to it, nor did he communicate the information to many of his literary friends; but it was immediately known to be his. Richardson, I think, calls it an amusing piece of literary gossip. Richardson, though a genius, was not a man of literature; or he never could have called it "gossip." The critical observations are almost always just, original, and happily expressed; and discover a variety of learning, and an activity of mind, which are entitled to admiration. It is true that his method is often abrupt and desultory: but it is dullness, or ignorance, alone, which mistakes formality of arrangement, and the imposition of a philosophic manner, for depth of thought, and novelty of instruction.

The Essay drew forth, in due time, Ruffhead's Life of Pope, a poor jejune performance, written with all the sterility and narrowness of a Special Pleader.

In 1766 Dr. Warton succeeded to the Head-Mastership of Winchester school. In 1772 he lost his first wife. About this time he became a member of the literary club in London. In Dec. 1773, he remarried Miss Nicholas. In 1782, he obtained from Bishop Lowth a prebend of St. Paul's, and the living of Charley, in Hertfordshire; which last he exchanged for that of Wickham, in Hants.

In this last year, 1782, he gave the world the second volume of his "Essay on Pope,'' of which the publication had been retarded by motives of a delicate and laudable nature.

In 1786 he suffered a most severe affliction in the loss of his second son, the Rev. Thomas Warton, Fellow of New College, Oxford, a young man of high talents and acquirements, and four years afterwards he lost his beloved brother, with whom he had always enjoyed a mutuality of affections and studies, of a very uncommon kind.

In 1788 he obtained, through the interest of Lord Shannon, a prebend of Winchester cathedral, lie soon after obtained the Rectory of Easton, which he exchanged for that of Upham.

Being now at the age of 71, he resigned his school on 23 July 1793' and retired to his Rectory of Wickham, "carrying with him the love, admiration, and esteem of the whole Wykehamical society."

"That ardent mind," says Mr. Wooll, "which had so eminently distinguished the exercise of his public duties, did not desert him in the hours of leisure and retirement; for inactivity was foreign to his nature. His parsonage, his farm, his garden, were cultivated and adorned with the eagerness and taste of undiminished youth; whilst the beauties of the surrounding forest scenery, and the interesting grandeur of the neighbouring shore, were enjoyed by him with an enthusiasm innate in his very being. His lively sallies of playful wit, his rich store of literary anecdote, and the polished and habitual ease, with which he imperceptibly entered into the various ideas and pursuits of men in different situations, and endowed with educations totally opposite, rendered him an acquaintance both profitable and amusing; whilste his unaffected piety and unbounded charity, stamped him a pastor adored by his parishioners. Difficult indeed would it be to decide, whether he shone in a degree less in this social character, than in the closet of criticism, or the chair of instruction."

He did not however sink into literary idleness. In 1797 he edited the works of Pope in 9 vols. 8vo. The notes to this edition, which necessarily include the greatest part of his celebrated Essay, are highly entertaining and instructive. But Dr. Warton was severely, and, it may be added, illiberally, attacked for inserting one or two somewhat indecent pieces in this edition, which had hitherto been excluded from his collected works. The most harsh of these attacks came from the author of the Pursuits of Literature: something, no doubt, must be deducted from the violence of one, whose professed object was satire; but the grey hairs and past services of Warton ought to have protected him from excessive rudeness; and these over-nice critics might, with a proper regard to consistency, have demanded the exclusion of several other works of Pope. It must not be concealed, however, that Beattie agreed in some degree with these censurers. "I have just seen," says he, "a new edition by Dr. Joseph Warton, of the works of Pope. It is fuller than Warburton's; but you will not think it better, when I tell your, that all Pope's obscenities, which Warburton was careful to omit, are carefully preserved by Warton, who also seems to have a great favour for infidel writers, particularly Voltaire. The book is well printed, but has no cuts, except a curious caricature of Pope's person, and an elegant profile of his head." [Author's note: Forbes, II. 320.]

Warton was not however deterred by the blame he thus suffered, from entering upon an edition of Dryden, which alas! he did not live to finish; though he left two volumes ready for the press. This however is the less to be regretted as a similar undertaking is now in the hands of Mr. Walter Scott.

He died 23 Feb. 1800, aet. 78, leaving behind him a widow; one son, the Rev. John Warton; and three daughters; of whom only the youngest was by the last wife.

Such are the outlines of Dr. Warton's life; in which I have not confined myself to Mr. Wooll's Memoir, having inserted a few trifling notices from personal knowledge. I cannot here transcribe at length the delineation of his moral and literary character, with which his biographer concludes the present publication: but in the brief observations I shall make with candour, yet with frankness, my opinion both of that, and of the success with which Mr. Wooll has executed his task, will appear.

Let me own then, that the volume now presented to the world, in some respects, does not quite answer my expectations. The life itself, considering it comes from one, who was a native of Winchester, who was brought up under Dr. Warton, and who seems to have had the advantage of all the family papers, is rather too sparing, not merely of incident, which literary men seldom supply, but of remarks, opinions, anecdotes, habits of study, and pictures of mind. In truth a great deal of what it tells, was known before. It is written with much talent, and elegance; and every where exhibits the scholar and the man of virtuous sentiment. But perhaps the important duties of Mr. Wooll's station have not given him time to till his mind with all, which probably may be called the idlenesses of modern literature, but which are yet necessary to give a rich and lively interest to the memoirs of a modern author; more especially of one, whose own mind abounded in that kind of knowledge.

In the next place, the correspondence which Warton himself left for publication, and which therefore, as it was well known how long and how widely he had been connected with persons of genius, excited the strongest curiosity,' is, for the most part, slight and unimportant. It is true, the letters are, every one of them, those of eminent people: but scarce any one written with any effort; or upon interesting subjects. What can have become of the letters of the Wartons themselves? Or did they find no time, or no talent for epistolary exertion? For here are, I think, only sixteen of Dr. Warton; and only two of T. Warton. A few of them have nothing to do with either of the Wartons. Two or three of Dr. Johnson are interesting, as they relate to Collins, the poet.

Dr. Johnson to Dr. Warton, March 8, 1754. ***. "How little can we venture to exult in any intellectual powers, or literary attainments, when we consider the condition of poor Collins! I knew him a few years ago, full of hopes and full of projects, versed in many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention. This busy and forcible mind is now under the government of those who lately would not have been able to comprehend the least and most narrow of its designs. What do you hear of him? Are there hopes of his recovery? Or is he to pass the remainder of his life in misery and degradation? Perhaps with complete consciousness of his calamity!"

Again, Dec. 24, 1754. "Poor dear Collins! Let me know, whether you think it would give him pleasure, if I should write to him. I have often been near his state; and therefore have it in great commiseration."

Again, April 15, 1756. "What becomes of poor dear Collins? I wrote him a letter, which he never answered. I suppose writing is very troublesome to him. That man is no common loss. The moralists all talk of the uncertainty of fortune; and the transitoriness of beauty; but it is yet more dreadful to consider, that the powers of the mind are equally liable to change; that understanding may make its appearance, and depart; that it may blaze and expire!"

Collins died in this very year 1756. It is singular that, after Dr. Johnson had written about him with such ardent and eloquent affection, he could at a long subsequent period, when time generally meliorates the love of departed friends, and memory aggrandizes their images, speak of him with such splenetic and degrading criticism in his "Lives of the Poets." Those lives, especially of his cotemporaries, powerful as they often are, have gone further towards the suppression of rising genius, than any book our language has produced. They flatter the prejudices of dull men, and the envy of those who love not literary pursuits; and on this account, in addition to the wonderful force with which they are composed, have obtained a dangerous popularity, which has given a full effect to their poison.

The next best letter, is one, and indeed the only one, by Mrs. Montagu, whose correspondence always shines

velut inter ignes
Luna minores,

in whatever work it appears.

Mrs. Montagu, to Dr. Warton, 17 Sept. 1782.

***. "By opening to us the original and genuine books of the inspired poets, and distinguishing too what is really divine in them, you lead us back to true taste. Critics that demand an ignorant submission, and implicit faith in their infallibility of judgment, or the councils of learned academies, passing decrees as arbitrary, could never establish a rational devotion to the muses, or mark those boundaries, which are rather guides than restraints. By the candor and impartiality with which you examine and decide on the merits of the ancients and moderns, we are all informed and instructed; and I will confess I feel myself inexpressibly delighted with the praises you give to the instructor of my early youth, Dr. Young, and the friends of my maturer age, Lord Lyttelton and Mr. West. Having ever considered the friendship of these excellent persons as the greatest honour of my life, and endeavouring hourly to set before me their precepts, and their examples, I could not but be highly gratified by seeing you place a guard of laurel round their tombs, which will secure them from any mischievous impressions, envy may attempt to make. I do not love the wolf and the tiger, who assail the living passenger; but most of all beasts I abhor the vampire, who violates the tomb, profanes the sepulchre, and sucks the blood of sleeping men — cowardly, cruel, ungenerous monster! You and your brother are critics of another disposition; too superior to be jealous, too good to be severe, you give encouragement to living authors, protection to the memories of those of former times; and instead of destroying monuments, you bestow them. I have often thought, with delighted gratitude, that many centuries after my little Essay on Shakspeare is lost and forgotten, the mention made of it in the History of English Poetry, the Essay on Pope, and Mr. Harris's Philological Enquiries, will not only preserve it from oblilvion, but will present it to opinion with much greater advantages than it originally appeared with. These reflections afford some of the happiest moments to

Yours, &c. &c.

"ELIZ. MONTAGU."

To the juvenile poetry of Dr. Warton, which is here republished, scarce any thing new is added. Perhaps I may think that Mr. Wooll has rated his powers in this way, if we judge from these remains, a little too high; though there are some striking and appropriate traits in his delineation of them. Yet I must admit that "The Enthusiast, or Lover of Nature," written at the age of 18, is a rich and beautiful descriptive poem; and I will indulge no hyper-criticisms upon it. The Odes it is impossible to avoid comparing with those of his friend and rival, Collins, which were published in the same year, at the same age; and it is equally impossible to be blind to their striking inferiority. The Ode to Fancy has much merit; but it seems to me to want originality; and to he more an effort of memory, than of original and predominant genius. The finest lines, consisting of 28, which begin at verse 59, were inserted subsequent to the first edition, a circumstance not noted by Mr. Wooll. The Ode to Content, (not in the first edition) in the same metre as Collins's Ode to Evening, has great merit: but here again we are unfortunately too strongly reminded, of its exquisite rival. Warton has also an Ode to Evening, in which are some good-stanzas. "The Dying Indian;" and more particularly "The Revenge of America," are very fine; but the latter is too short for such a subject,, and ends too abruptly. On the whole, I cannot honestly subscribe to Mr. Wooll, where he says: "There breathes through his poetry a genuinely spirited invention, a fervor which can alone be produced by an highly-inspired mind; and which, it is to be presumed, fairly ranks him amidst what he himself properly terms, "the makers and inventors;" that is, the "real poets." There seem to be wanting these original and predominant impressions, that peculiarity of character, which always accompany high genius, and which are exhibited in the poetry both of his brother Thomas, and his cotemporary Beattie.

This opinion, if just, will not detract from Dr. Warton's critical talents. The power which feels, and the power which originates poetry, are totally distinct. The former no writer seems to have possessed with more exquisite precision, than Dr. Warton; and I do not mean to deny that he possessed the latter in a considerable degree: I only say that his powers of execution do not seem to have been equal to his taste.

But Dr. Warton's fame does not rest upon his poetry. As a critic in polite literature he stands in the foremost ranks. And Mr. Wooll, who being educated under him had the best opportunity of forming a just opinion, has delineated his character as a teacher with the highest and most discriminate praise. His vivacity, his benevolence, and his amiable temper, and moral excellencies have long been known; and are celebrated by his biographer with a fond admiration. But I must say, that Mr. Wooll, in his dread of "descending to the minutiae of daily habits," has not left us a portrait sufficiently distinct. Nor has he given us any sufficiently bold touches, such as we had a right to expect in the life of one of the Wartons; while; unfortunately, here are scarce any original letters to supply the deficiency. I had hoped to have found materials for an interesting and energetic character; but, what Mr. Wool has omitted, it would be rash for a stranger to attempt.

Mr. Wooll however promises another volume, and though I cannot hope that my suggestions will have any influence with him, yet perhaps some one of more authority may induce him to favour the public with a supplementary account.

July 23, 1806.