1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Warton

Leigh Hunt, in Selections from English Authors, Works (1854) 3:204.



It is curious that Warton, who was by no means a great poet, should have written some of the most favorite sonnets in the language. The reason is, that they were upon subjects he understood, and that the writer was in earnest. Upon most, indeed upon any occasions, Warton's mind was not sufficiently active or excitable to be moved into much eloquence of expression. The Fellow of Trinity College Oxford, was a luxurious Protestant monk, who found something to minister to his satisfaction in everything around him, Gothic architecture, books, country walks, &c., not omitting the club-room and the pipe; but he was content, in general, to admire them through the medium of the thoughts of others, and so let the companions of his mind speak for him. He was susceptible, however, of strong general impressions; and as these, in the instances before us, were made by his favorite subjects, they are given with corresponding truth. Almost all his sonnets (they are only nine), but especially these two ["Dugdale's Monasticon, "Seeing Wilton House"], notwithstanding conventional phrases, have elegance, simplicity, and a touching fervor. Nobody had written on the particular topics before him, at least not poetically; so that his modesty was not tempted into imitation. It makes us regret that he did not oftener take up new subjects, especially when we see the original eye for nature which is discernible even in his half centos from the poets he admired. It must be allowed, nevertheless, that the good comfortable collegian was made rather to feel sentiment in others, than to express it in his own sturdy person.