This accomplished critic and poet was born in 1722. He was son to the Vicar of Basingstoke, and brother to Thomas Warton. (See a former volume for his life.) Joseph was educated at Winchester College, and became intimate there with William Collins. He wrote when quite young some poetry in the Gentleman's Magazine. He was in due time removed to Oriel College, where he composed two poems, entitled The Enthusiast, and The Dying Indian. In 1744, he took the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Oxford, and was ordained to his father's curacy at Basingstoke. He went thence to Chelsea, but did not remain there long, owing to some disagreement with his parishioners, and returned to Basingstoke. In 1746, he published a volume of Odes, and in the preface expressed his hope that it might be successful as an attempt to bring poetry back from the didactic and satirical taste of the age, to the truer channels of fancy and description. The motive of this attempt was, however, more praiseworthy than its success was conspicuous.
In 1748, Warton was presented by the Duke of Bolton to the rectory of Winslade, and he straightway married a Miss Daman, to whom he had for some time been attached. In the same year he began, and in 1753 he finished and printed, an edition of Virgil in English and Latin. Of this large, elaborate work, Warton himself supplied only the life of Virgil, with three essays on pastoral, didactic, and epic poetry, and a poetical version of the Eclogues and the Georgics, more correct but less spirited than Dryden's. He adopted Pitt's version of the Aeneid, and his friends furnished some of the dissertations, notes, &c. Shortly after, he contributed twenty-four excellent papers, including some striking allegories, and some good criticisms on Shakspeare, to the Adventurer. In 1754, he was appointed to the living of Tunworth, and the next year was elected second master of Winchester School. Soon after this he published anonymously An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, which, whether because he failed in convincing the public that his estimate of Pope was the correct one, or because he stood in awe of Warburton, he did not complete or reprint for twenty-six years. It is a somewhat gossiping book, but full of information and interest
In May 1766, he was made head-master of Winchester. In 1768, he lost his wife, and next year married a Miss Nicholas of Winchester. In 1782, he was promoted, through Bishop Lowth, to a prebend's post in St. Paul's, and to the living of Thorley, which he exchanged for that of Wickham. Other livings dropped in upon him, and in 1793 he resigned the mastership of Winchester, and went to reside at Wickham. Here he employed himself in preparing an edition of Pope, which he published in 1797. In 1800 he died.
Warton, like his brother, did good service in resisting the literary despotism of Pope, and in directing the attention of the public to the forgotten treasures of old English poetry. He was a man of extensive learning, a very fair and candid, as well as acute critic, and his Ode to Fancy proves him to have possessed no ordinary genius.