1880 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Warton

Thomas Humphry Ward, in The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:382-83.



Thomas Warton is in his poetry chiefly imitative, as was natural in so laborious a student of our early poetical literature. The edition of his poems which was published by his admirer and his brother's devoted pupil, Richard Mant, offers a curious example of a poet "killed with kindness"; for the apparatus of parallel passages from Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and others, is enough to ruin any little claim to originality which might have been put forward for him. The Pleasures of Melancholy is a cento of Il Penseroso, Comus, and The Faerie Queene; the Ode on the Approach of Summer is a mere echo of L'Allegro. Again, the influence of Gray makes itself far too strongly felt in Warton's elegiac poems and odes. But there are reasons why his genial figure should not be altogether excluded from a representative English anthology. It has often been said that his History of English Poetry, with Percy's Reliques, turned the course of our letters into a fresh channel; but what is more noticeable here is that his own poetry — or much of it, for he is not always free from the taint of pseudo-classicalism — instinctively deals with materials like those on which the older writers had drawn. In reaction against the didactic and critical temper of the earlier half of his century, he is a student of nature; he is even an "enthusiast," in Whitehead's sense. He has two passions, well expressed in the two sonnets here given — the passion for "antiquity" and the passion for nature; for the Bodleian Library and for

The field, the forest, green and gay,
The dappled slope, the tedded hay;

and, we may add, for Oxford, his home for forty-seven years, at whose service he was always ready to place his invention, his humour, and his gift of satire. The real Warton is to be looked for in the writings in which these passions find their vent; in the History, in the Sonnets (a form of composition which he revived among us), and in the Humorous Pieces; not in the "quit-rent odes" which were wrung from him by the unhappy necessities of his laureateship.