1902 Encyclopedia > Warton Family (Thomas sr, Joseph and Thomas jr)

Warton Family
English authors
(fl. 18th century AD)




WARTON. Three authors of this name, a father and two sons, were leaders of reaction against the didactic poetry of Pope's school, and did much to help forward the descriptive and romantic revival.
THOMAS WARTON (1688-1745), satirized in Terrse Filius (February 18, 1721) as "squinting Tom of Maudlin," was vicar of Basingstoke in Hampshire, and professor of poetry at Oxford. He published nothing during his lifetime, but after his death his son Joseph published some of his poetry under the title Poems on Several Occasions, 1748.
JOSEPH WARTON (1722-1800), eldest son of the preced-ing, was born at Dunsford, in Surrey, in 1722, and sent to Winchester school in 1736. Collins was already there, and the school seems to have been at the time quite a nest of singing birds, quickened into unusual ambition by a visit from Pope. Collins and Warton became close friends, read Milton and Spenser together, and wrote verses which they sent to the Gentleman's Magazine, verses of such promise that Johnson formally criticized them. The two friends

went to Oxford together, and took the degree of B.A. in the same year (1743). Warton was far from having the genius of Collins, but he had abundance of poetical enthu-siasm, and they were at one in their impatience under the prevailing taste for moral and ethical poetry. Whoever wishes to understand how early the discontent under Pope's ascendency began should read Warton's The En-thusiast, or The Love of Nature, and remember that it was written by an undergraduate in 1740, while Pope was still alive. Warton sounded a bold note in 1746, in the preface to his Odes on Several Subjects. " As he is convinced," he wrote, " that the fashion of moralizing in verses has been carried too far, and as he looks upon invention and imagination to be the chief faculties of a poet, so he will be happy if the following odes may be looked upon as an attempt to bring back poetry into its right channel." Warton thereafter married, became a country clergyman, a master in Winchester school, eventually for thirty years (1766-96) a much respected headmaster, but all his leisure was given to literature, and ho remained constant to his conception of the " right channel" in poetry, though he soon abandoned the idea of setting the world right by his own example. He became an active and prominent man of letters, produced an edition of Virgil, in 1753, with distinguished coadjutors, and a translation of the Eclogues and the Georgics, and a preparatory essay by him-self ; made the acquaintance of Johnson, and wrote papers on Shakespeare and Homer in The Adventurer; published the first part of an essay on Pope in 1756, an essay re-garded at the time as revolutionary, by Dictator Johnson at least, because it put Pope in the second rank to Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton, on the ground that moral and ethical poetry, however excellent, is an inferior species ; held his own against Johnson in the Literary Club ; and, after enduring many jests about the promised second part and the delay in its appearance, published it at last, retracting nothing, in 1782. Of this essay Campbell justly says that " it abounds with criticism of more research than Addison's, of more amenity than Kurd's or Warburton's, and of more insinuating tact than Johnson's." Warton's edition of Pope was the work of his old age ; when pub-lished in 1797, it found a larger number of sympathizers with his criticism of the poetic idol of the 18th century than had welcomed his first essay forty years before in the same vein. The last three years of the critic's life were spent in preparing an edition of Dryden, which was completed and published by his son in 1811. He died in London in February 1800, at the age of seventy-eight.
THOMAS WARTON (1728-1790), the younger brother of Joseph, at least as active and influential as he in enlarg-ing the poetic ideas of the 18th century, was born at Basingstoke in 1728. He was still more precocious as a poet than his brother—translated one of Martial's epigrams at nine, and wrote The Pleasures of Melancholy at seventeen —and he showed exactly the same bent, Milton and Spenser being his favourite poets, though he " did not fail to cultivate his mind with the soft thrillings of the tragic muse " of Shakespeare. He wrote as follows in 1745 :—
Through Pope's soft song though all the Graces breathe,
And happiest art adorn his Attic page,
Yet does my mind with sweeter transport glow
As, at the root of mossy trunk reclined,
In magic Spenser's wildly warbled song
I see deserted Una, kc.
In the same poem he shows the delight in Gothic churches and ruined castles which inspired so much of his subsequent work in romantic revival. Most of Warton's poetry, humorous and serious,—and the humorous mock heroic was better within his powers than serious verse,—was written before the age of twenty-three, when he took his M.A. degree and became a fellow of his college (Trinity,
Oxford). He did not altogether abandon verse; hissonnets,
especially, which are the best of his poems, were written
later, and during the last six years of his life he was poet-
laureate, and one of the happiest in the execution of the
delicate duties that have ever held the office. But his
main energies were given to omnivorous poetical reading
and criticism. He was the first to turn to literary account
the mediaeval treasures of the Bodleian Library. It was
through him, in fact, that the mediaeval spirit which always
lingered in Oxford first began to stir after its long inaction,
and to claim an influence in the modern world. Warton, like
his brother, entered the church, and held, one after another,
various livings, but he did not marry. He gave little atten-
tion to his clerical duties, and Oxford always remained his
home. He was a very easy and convivial as well as a very
learned don, with a taste for pothouses and crowds as
well as dim aisles and romances in manuscript and black
letter. The first proof that he gave of his extraordinarily
wide scholarship was in his Observations on the Poetry of
Spenser, published in 1754, when the author was twenty-
six. Three years later he was appointed professor of poetry
and held the office for ten years, sending round, according
to the story, at the beginning of term to inquire whether
anybody wished him to lecture. The first volume of his
monumental work, The History of English Poetry, appeared
twenty years later, in 1774, the second volume in 1778, and
the third in 1781. A work of such enormous labour and
research could proceed but slowly, and it was no wonder
that Warton flagged in the execution of it, and stopped
to refresh himself with annotating the minor poems of
Milton, pouring out in this delightful work the accumu-
lated suggestions of forty years. Specialists may here and
there detect errors and imperfections in Warton's History,
but its miscellaneous and curious lore must make it
always an interesting book, while its breadth and exactness
of scholarship must always command wonder and respect.
Through this work Warton became the veritable literary
father of Sir Walter Scott; if he could have lived to read
the Lay and Marmion he would have found realized there
what he vaguely desiderated in modern poetry. Among
Warton's minor works were a selection of Boman metrical
inscriptions (1758); the humorous Oxford Companion to
the Guide and Guide to the Companion (1762); The Oxford
Sausage (1764); an edition of Theocritus (1770) ; lives of
Thomas Pope and Bathurst, college benefactors; a History
of the Antiquities of Kiddington Parish, of which he held
the living (1781); and an Inquiry into the Authenticity
of the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley (1782). His
busy and convivial life was ended by a paralytic stroke in
May 1790. (w. M.)







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