Composed in 1740 and published anonymously in 1744, Joseph Warton's blank-verse variation on Il Penseroso set the pattern for many later romantic descriptive rhapsodies, and the program for reactions against neoclassical verse: "What are the Lays of artful Addison, | Coldly correct, to Shakespear's Warblings wild?" The Enthusiast is cleverly constructed, with subtle symmetries and a topical structure based on the sequence of poetic kinds (lyric song, pastoral, epic, georgic, comedy, tragedy, ode). The literary genres are in various ways linked and transvalued in accordance with what would become the romantic program. The topics and scheme of The Enthusiast resembles that in Collins's Odes (1746); it seems possible that the mutual admiration extended to collaboration.
Forgotten today, The Enthusiast was widely disseminated through Dodsley's Collection of Poems (where it was printed in the third volume along with Warton's Ode to Fancy). But Warton's rhapsody was once an object of special attention by philologists pursuing the origins of romanticism in eighteenth-century poetry. The title is taken from Shaftesbury's Characteristicks. Thomas Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) is something of a sister poem.
Hannah More to Mr. Pepys: "Apropos of enthusiasm, do you remember a sweet little poem of Warton's, 'The Enthusiast?' I read it yesterday in one of my rambles, with such an accompaniment of scenery as made it very delightful to me, and just such as the author may be supposed to have written it in" 17 July 1784; in Memoirs of Hannah More (1835) 1:194-95.
Samuel Egerton Brydges: "I must admit that The Enthusiast, or Lover of Nature, written at the age of 18, is a rich and beautiful descriptive poem; and I will indulge no hyper-criticisms upon it" Censura Literaria 3 (1807) 197.
Thomas Campbell: "The school of the Wartons, considering them as poets, was rather too studiously prone to description. The doctor, like his brother, certainly so far realized his own ideas of inspiration, as to burden his verse with few observations on life which oppress the mind by their solidity. To his brother he is obviously inferior in the graphic and romantic style of composition, at which he aimed; but in which, it must nevertheless be owned, that in some parts of his Ode to Fancy he has been pleasingly successful. From the subjoined specimens, the reader will probably be enabled to judge as favourably of his genius, as from the whole of his poems; for most of them are short and occasional, and (if I may venture to differ from the opinion of the amiable Mr. Wooll,) are by no means marked with originality. The only poem of any length, entitled The Enthusiast, was written at far too early a period of his life, to be a fair object of criticism" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 701.
William Lyon Phelps: "From 1740 to 1760 English literature is full of the still music of sentimental melancholy, with a burden of Dead Marches. In 1740, when only eighteen, Joseph Warton wrote The Enthusiast; or the Lover of Nature, a poem in blank verse. It is in the minor key, full of Romantic feeling, and vibrating with Miltonic echoes.... Milton and Thomson were Warton's masters in this poem; it is a remarkable production for a youth of eighteen, not only in its intrinsic merit, but in its prophetic insight of what was coming. The Enthusiast is certainly one of the most important poems in the Romantic movement" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 89-90.
Henry A. Beers: "In 1740 Joseph Warton, then an Oxford undergraduate, wrote his blank-verse poem The Enthusiast, or the Lover of Nature. The work of a boy of eighteen, it had that instinct of the future, of the set of the literary current, not uncommon in youthful artists, of which Chatterton's precocious verses are a remarkable instance. Composed only ten years later than the completed Seasons, and five years before Shenstone began to lay out his miniature wildernesses at the Leasowes, it is more distinctly modern and romantic in its preference of wild nature to cultivated landscape, and of the literature of fancy to the literature of reason" English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century (1899) 151-52.
W. J. Courthope: "The odes are not remarkable, but The Enthusiast is noteworthy, as being perhaps the earliest deliberate expression in England (for it is said to have been written in 1740) of the feeling in which the Romantic movement originated" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:379.
Herbert E. Cory: "Warton's prophetic view [of Pope's stature] is certainly striking in an age of smug self-sufficiency. He seems to me to be an almost thoroughgoing Augustan. But the Augustans produced some great critics. It was perhaps romantic but not remarkably romantic to write: 'Where are the lays of artful Addison, | Coldly correct to Shakspear's warblings wild.' Occasionally he adopted the romantic pose. But when he was true to his best instincts he was solid Augustan" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 163.
Edmund Gosse: "To have perceived the bankruptcy of the didactic poem is Joseph Warton's most remarkable innovation. The lawlessness of the Romantic Movement, or rather its instinct for insisting that genius is a law unto itself, is first foreshadowed in The Enthusiast, and when the history of the school comes to be written there will be a piquancy in tracing an antinomianism down from the blameless Wartons to the hedonist essays of Oscar Wilde and the frenzied anarchism of the Futurists" "Joseph and Thomas Warton" in Some Diversions of a Man of Letters (1920) 73.
Eric Partridge: "Joseph Warton, older than his brother by some six years, published in 1746 a volume of odes, several of which displayed a mind already on the way towards complete Romanticism. Two call for special notice: the Ode to Fancy, which, incorporated many glamorous images; and The Enthusiast, which, written in 1740, published six years later, and, like the Ode to Fancy, republished in Dodsley's Collection of Poems in 1748, possessed great intrinsic merit and still greater extrinsic significance as a landmark on the course of Romantic literature. Of the latter poem, Mr. Gosse, whom few would accuse of exaggeration, has justly said; 'Here, for the first time, we find unwaveringly emphasized ... what was entirely new in literature, the essence of romantic hysteria. The Enthusiast is the earliest expression of complete revolt against the classical attitude'" Eighteenth-Century English Romantic Poetry (1924) 28.
Ye green-rob'd Dryads, oft' at dusky Eve
By wondering Shepherds seen, to Forests brown,
To unfrequented Meads, and pathless Wilds,
Lead me from Gardens deckt with Art's vain Pomps.
Can gilt Alcoves, can Marble-mimic Gods,
Parterres embroider'd, Obelisks, and Urns,
Of high Relief; can the long, spreading Lake,
Or Vista lessening to the Sight; can Stow,
With all her Attic Fanes, such Raptures raise,
As the Thrush-haunted Copse, where lightly leaps
The fearful Fawn the rustling Leaves along,
And the brisk Squirrel sports from Bough to Bough,
While from an hollow Oak the busy Bees
Hum drowsy Lullabies? The Bards of old,
Fair Nature's Friends, sought such Retreats, to charm
Sweet Echo with their Songs; oft' too they met
In Summer Evenings, near sequester'd Bow'rs,
Or Mountain-Nymph, or Muse, and eager learnt
The moral Strains she taught to mend Mankind.
As in a secret Grot Aegeria stole
With Patriot Numa, and in silent Night
Whisper'd him sacred Laws, he list'ning sat
Rapt with her virtuous Voice, old Tyber leant
Attentive on his Urn, and husht his Waves.
Rich in her weeping Country's spoils Versailles
May boast a thousand Fountains, that can cast
The tortur'd Waters to the distant Heav'ns;
Yet let me choose some Pine-topt Precipice
Abrupt and shaggy, whence a foamy Stream,
Like Anio, tumbling roars; or some bleak Heath,
Where straggling stand the mournful Juniper,
Or Yew-tree scath'd; while in clear Prospect round,
From the Grove's Bosom Spires emerge, and Smoak
In bluish Wreaths ascends, ripe Harvests wave,
Herds low, and Straw-rooft Cotts appear, and Streams
Beneath the Sun-beams twinkle. — The shrill Lark,
That wakes the Wood-man to his early Task,
Or love-sick Philomel, whose luscious Lays
Sooth lone Night-wanderers, the moaning Dove
Pitied by list'ning Milkmaid, far excell
The deep-mouth'd Viol, the Soul-lulling Lute,
And Battle-breathing Trumpet. Artful sounds!
That please not like the Choristers of Air,
When first they hail th' Approach of laughing May.
Creative Titian, can thy vivid Strokes,
Or thine, O graceful Raphael, dare to vie
With the rich Tints that paint the breathing Mead?
The thousand-colour'd Tulip, Violet's Bell
Snow-clad and meek, the Vermil-tinctur'd Rose,
And golden Crocus? — Yet with these the Maid,
Phillis or Phoebe, at a Feast or Wake
Her jetty Locks enamels; fairer she,
In Innocence and home-spun Vestments drest,
Than if caerulean Sapphires at her Ears
Shone pendant, or a precious Diamond-Cross
Heav'd gently on her panting Bosom white.
Yon' shepherd idly stretcht on the rude Rock,
Listening to dashing Waves, and Sea-Mews Clang
High-hovering o'er his Head, who views beneath
The Dolphin dancing o'er the level Brine,
Feels more true Bliss than the proud Ammiral,
Amid his Vessels bright with burnish'd Gold
And silken Streamers, tho' his lordly Nod
Ten thousand War-worn Mariners revere.
And great Aeneas gaz'd with more Delight
On the rough Mountain shagg'd with horrid Shades,
(Where Cloud-compelling Jove, as Fancy dream'd,
Descending shook his direful Aegis black)
Than if he enter'd the high Capitol
On golden Columns rear'd, a conquer'd World
Contributing to deck its stately Head:
More pleas'd he slept in poor Evander's Cot
On shaggy Skins, lull'd by sweet Nightingales,
Than if a Nero, in an Age refin'd,
Beneath a gorgeous Canopy had plac'd
His royal Guest, and bade his Minstrels sound
Soft slumb'rous Lydian Airs, to sooth his Rest.
Happy the first of Men, ere yet confin'd
To smoaky Cities; who in sheltering Groves,
Warm Caves, and deep-sunk Vallies liv'd and lov'd,
By Cares unwounded; what the Sun and Showers,
And genial Earth untillag'd, could produce,
They gather'd grateful, or the Acorn brown,
Or blushing Berry; by the liquid Lapse
Of murm'ring Waters call'd to slake their Thirst,
Or with fair Nymphs their Sun-brown Limbs to bathe;
With Nymphs who fondly clasp'd their fav'rite Youths,
Unaw'd by Shame, beneath the Beechen Shade,
Nor Wiles, nor artificial Coyness knew.
Then Doors and Walls were not; the melting Maid
Nor Frowns of Parents fear'd, nor Husband's Threats;
Nor had curs'd Gold their tender Hearts allur'd;
Then Beauty was not venal. Injur'd Love,
O whither, God of Raptures, art thou fled?
While Avarice waves his golden Wand around,
Abhorr'd Magician, and his costly Cup
Prepares with baneful Drugs, t' enchant the Souls
Of each low-thoughted Fair to wed for Gain.
What tho' unknown to those primaeval Sires
The well-arch'd Dome, peopled with breathing Forms
By fair Italia's skilful Hand, unknown
The shapely Column, and the crumbling Busts
Of awful Ancestors in long Descent?
Yet why should Man mistaken deem it nobler
To dwell in Palaces, and high-rooft Halls,
Than in God's Forests, Architect supreme!
Say, is the Persian Carpet, than the Field's
Or Meadow's Mantle gay, more richly wov'n;
Or softer to the Votaries of Ease
Than bladed Grass, perfum'd with dew-dropt Flow'rs?
O Taste corrupt! that Luxury and Pomp
In specious Names of polish'd Manners veil'd,
Should proudly banish Nature's simple Charms.
Tho' the fierce North oft smote with Iron Whip
Their shiv'ring Limbs, tho' oft the bristly Boar
Or hungry Lion 'woke them with their Howls,
And scar'd them from their Moss-grown Caves to rove,
Houseless and cold in dark, tempestuous Nights;
Yet were not Myriads in embattel'd Fields
Swept off at once, nor had the raging Seas
O'erwhelm'd the foundering Bark, and helpless Crew;
In vain the glassy Ocean smil'd to tempt
The jolly Sailor, unsuspecting Harm,
For Commerce was unknown. Then Want and Pine
Sunk to the Grave their fainting Limbs; but Us
Excess and endless Riot doom to die.
They cropt the poisonous Herb unweetingly,
But wiser we spontaneously provide
Rare powerful Roots, to quench Life's chearful Lamp.
What are the Lays of artful Addison,
Coldly correct, to Shakespear's Warblings wild?
Whom on the winding Avon's willow'd Banks
Fair Fancy found, and bore the smiling Babe
To a close Cavern: (still the Shepherds shew
The sacred Place, whence with religious Awe
They hear, returning from the Field at Eve,
Strange Whisperings of sweet Music thro' the Air)
Here, as with Honey gather'd from the Rock,
She fed the little Prattler, and with Songs
Oft' sooth'd his wondering Ears, with deep Delight
On her soft Lap he sat, and caught the Sounds.
Oft' near some crowded City would I walk,
Listening the far-off Noises, rattling Carrs,
Loud Shouts of Joy, sad Shrieks of Sorrow, Knells
Full slowly tolling, Instruments of Trade,
Striking mine Ears with one deep-swelling Hum.
Or wandering near the Sea, attend the Sounds
Of hollow Winds, and ever-beating Waves.
Ev'n when wild Tempests swallow up the Plains,
And Boreas' Blasts, big Hail, and Rains combine
To shake the Groves and Mountains, would I sit,
Pensively musing on th' outrageous Crimes
That wake Heav'n's Vengeance: at such solemn Hours,
Daemons and Goblins through the dark Air shriek,
While Hecat with her black-brow'd Sisters nine,
Rides o'er the Earth, and scatters Woes and Deaths.
Then too, they say, in drear Aegyptian Wilds
The Lion and the Tiger prowl for Prey
With Roarings loud! the list'ning Traveller
Starts Fear-struck, while the hollow-echoing Vaults
Of Pyramids encrease the deathful Sounds.
But let me never fail in cloudless Nights,
When silent Cynthia in her silver Car
Thro' the blue Concave slides, when shine the Hills,
Twinkle the Streams, and Woods look tipt with Gold,
To seek some level Mead, and there invoke
Old Midnight's Sister Contemplation sage,
(Queen of the rugged Brow and stern-fixt Eye)
To lift my Soul above this little Earth,
This Folly-fetter'd World; to purge my Ears,
That I may hear the rolling Planets Song,
And tuneful turning Spheres: If this debarr'd,
The little Fayes that dance in neighbouring Dales,
Sipping the Night-dew, while they laugh and love,
Shall charm me with aerial Notes. — As thus
I wander musing, lo, what awful Forms
Yonder appear! sharp-ey'd Philosophy
Clad in dun Robes, an Eagle on his Wrist,
First meets my Eye; next, Virgin Solitude
Serene, who blushes at each Gazer's Sight;
Then Wisdom's hoary Head, with Crutch in Hand,
Trembling, and bent with Age; last Virtue's self
Smiling, in White arrayed, who with her leads
Fair Innocence, that prattles by her Side,
A naked Boy! — Harass'd with fear I stop,
I gaze, when Virtue thus — "Whoe'er thou art,
Mortal, by whom I deign to be beheld
In these my Midnight-Walks; depart, and say
That henceforth I and my immortal Train
Forsake Britannia's Isle; who fondly stoops
To Vice, her favourite Paramour." — She spoke,
And as she turn'd, her round and rosy Neck,
Her flowing Train, and long, ambrosial Hair,
Breathing rich Odours, I enamour'd view.
O who will bear me then to Western Climes,
(Since Virtue leaves our wretched Land) to Shades
Yet unpolluted with Iberian Swords;
With simple Indian Swains, that I may hunt
The Boar and Tiger thro' Savannah's wild?
Through fragrant deserts, and through citron groves?
There fed on Dates and Herbs, would I despise
The far-fetch'd Cates of Luxury, and Hoards
Of narrow-hearted Avarice; nor heed
The distant Din of the tumultuous World.
So when rude Whirlwinds rouze the roaring Main,
Beneath fair Thetis sits, in coral Caves,
Serenely gay, nor sinking Sailors Cries
Disturb her sportive Nymphs, who round her form
The light fantastic Dance, or for her Hair
Weave rosy Crowns, or with according Lutes
Grace the soft Warbles of her honied Voice.