1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

Anonymous, in "Memoir of Dr. Warton" European Magazine 37 (May 1800) 349-50.



Dr. Warton had derived from Nature a strong and vigorous understanding, which he had enriched with a large share of knowledge, extensive, and profound. His parts were brilliant and enlightened; but yet his wit was tempered with humility. Those only who knew him intimately can best describe his brilliant wit; above all, his sincerity, and the ingenuousness of his mind. Noble and elevated in his sentiments, he has left behind him a character unsullied by a single mean or discreditable action. Perhaps no man living possessed more the powers of enlivening conversation than Dr. Warton: chearful as he was in the highest degree, convivial in his disposition, and of a most elegant taste, with the liveliest imagination, and a very general knowledge of the Belles Lettres, his company was sought, and was delightful to all who knew him. He was a most intimate friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds and of Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Montague and of Mr. Seward; and almost every other literary character sought his acquaintance.

To this excellent character, with strictest truth it must be added, that he had nothing of that austerity and reserve — of that importance and superciliousness — of that pride and self-importance, and ostentatious affectation of dignity, which forbid access, and which we so often see in men of literature and talents. It may justly be said, that to an accurate and very extensive knowledge of classic learning he joined a correct judgment, a clear and refined taste. But his private virtues exceeded his learning, wit, and genius: his chearful and sweet disposition was invincible (under many severe trials), and to his excellent temper was also added the utmost politeness of manners. He was (like his much esteemed brother) a pattern of all the social virtues.

One of the chief traits in Dr. Warton's character was his benevolent and charitable disposition; which he exerted to the utmost of his abilities, and of his income, which, though easy, was certainly not equal to his merits: but yet it enabled him to live in that style of hospitality, that he could enjoy the company of his many friends.

His charities were often secret — always unostentatious; some were known — but others only to his Creator, to good angels, and to himself. He knew how to relieve, without offending the delicacy of the distressed; and to render poverty rather sensible of the heart that pitied, than of the hand that bestowed.

His strong and vigorous understanding remained to the last hour of his life: — his mind, to the moment of his departure, was clear and perfect in an uncommon degree; for, although reduced to great bodily weakness, yet his strong mind was still unbroken: and he conversed with all around him with his usual chearfulness, energy, and spirit. His patience was exemplary: he uttered not the least complaint — and, to use Dr. Johnson's words,

When Heaven in pity sign'd the last release,
And bid afflicted worth retire to peace,

not even a sigh escaped him: — so calm was his passage to eternity, that his attendants thought him still in a sweet and profound sleep.