1778 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

Percival Stockdale, in An Inquiry into the Nature, and Genuine Laws of Poetry (1778) 22-25.



Timidity, and inconsistency are the general concomitants of every kind of guilt. Dr. Warton was intended by nature for a diligent, and a reputable schoolmaster, or for a faithful warden of a College; not for a poet, nor for a liberal, and spirited critick. His moderate abilities have been perverted by promiscuous, and intemperate reading, by an undistinguishing, and servile admiration of the Ancients, and by an ignoble, and inordinate ambition of singularity, and extraordinary penetration. Bewildered in this literary labyrinth, and intoxicated with this unhappy passion, he rashly determines to blight the laurels of Pope, to humble exalted genius; to deaden universal fame; to correct the voice of nature. Yet He maintains the ungenerous contest with the incongruity, and self-contradiction of one who deduces false inferences of false principles, and with the mental reservation, and pusillanimity of one who feels that he is urging a wrong cause, and insulting illustrious merit. The dignity, and irresistible powers of our immortal poet often draw from him involuntary deference, and extorted applause. Will the reformer of our English taste vouchsafe to answer me one question? If Mr. Pope had been living when you blundered on your opinion of his Poetry, would you have dared to treat him with that freedom with which you have arraigned his departed genius? If you deign me an answer, and one that is true, you will answer me in the negative. If you had attacked his fame while it was in his power to inflict a proper punishment on offenders of your class, he would probably have gibbeted you in a couplet executive of poetical justice, where you would have swung, with the rest of your Boetian fraternity, in adamantine chains. If my question brings you to a full sense of your demerit, you will make a recantation of your critical treason, not to me, but to an enlightened publick, who admire, and venerate his memory; and you will never again write, nor speak disrespectfully of one of our first poets, to whom you would have crouched, if he had been alive, and whose acquaintance, at least from your literary vanity, and fear, you would have pronounced your greatest honour.