1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Ritson

Richard Mant, in Memoir of Thomas Warton; Warton Poetical Works (1802) 1:lxvi-vii.



In the mean time, with respect to many of the charges [by Ritson agains Warton's History of English Poetry], as I am not prepared to prove them to be false, I do not hesitate to suppose, and to allow, them to be true. Nor do I think that hereby much is detracted from the merit of the historian: for, in a work of such a nature as to require the exertions of a mind possessed of the united powers of research, comprehension, selection, combination, and arrangement, warmed by a lively taste, and chastised by a correct judgment, to make it tolerably perfect, a man of common sense will expect to meet with errors, which a man of common ingenuousness will forbear to condemn with harshness. And if, after the deduction of those charges which cannot be substantiated, and a decent qualification of those which can, the remainder shall be neither very numerous nor very material, then may it, on the other hand, be not unfairly argued, that the very adduction of these errors from a work of such magnitude and difficulty, as the one in question, is to a certain extent a testimony in its favour; as it may thence be presumed, that not many others of much importance exist in it, or they would not have escaped the notice of an observer, so diligent in discovering imperfections, and so eager in exposing them. For as to the general charges, contained in the attack, little credit can be due to blind and unsupported accusations; to insinuations of a power to expose, when it is, from the whole tenor of the pamphlet, pretty evident, that, if the power existed, the will would not be wanting. From the unqualified and scurrilous language of abuse, which this anonymous writer employs, I am at little pains to attempt to defend the historian, for they serve to reflect disgrace on him alone, who can employ them; still less have I to do, on this occasion, with his indecent sneers at religion, utterly irrelevant, as they are, to the subject before him: nor should I notice his charges of book-making, of wilful falsehood and misrepresentation, of pilfering, of dishonesty, of swindling, and the like, charges on the moral character of the historian, uttered without restraint, and supported by no foundation, but to mask them with my abhorrence and contempt.