Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By Francis Jeffrey (17731850)
THE TRUTH is that this extraordinary person was a giant in literature, with many of the vices of the gigantic character. Strong as he was, his excessive pride and overweening vanity were perpetually engaging him in enterprises which he could not accomplish; while such was his intolerable arrogance towards his opponents, and his insolence towards those whom he reckoned as his inferiors, that he made himself very generally and deservedly odious, and ended by doing considerable injury to all the causes which he undertook to support. The novelty and the boldness of his manner, the resentment of his antagonists, and the consternation of his friends, insured him a considerable share of public attention at the beginning. But such was the repulsion of his moral qualities as a writer, and the fundamental unsoundness of most of his speculations, that he no sooner ceased to write, than he ceased to be read or inquired after, and lived to see those erudite volumes fairly laid on the shelf, which he fondly expected to carry down a growing fame to posterity.
The history of Warburton, indeed, is uncommonly curious, and his fate instructive. He was bred an attorney at Newark; and probably derived from his early practice in that capacity that love of controversy and that habit of scurrility for which he was afterwards distinguished. His first literary associates were some of the heroes of The Dunciad, and his first literary adventure the publication of some poems which well entitled him to a place among those worthies. He helped pilfering Tibbalds to some notes upon Shakespeare, and spoke contemptuously of Mr. Popes talents and severely of his morals in his Letters to Concannen. He then hired his pen to prepare a volume on the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery; and, having now entered the Church, made a more successful endeavour to magnify his profession and to attract notice to himself by the publication of his once famous book on The Alliance between Church and State, in which all the presumption and ambition of his nature was first made manifest.
By this time, however, he seems to have passed over from the party of the Dunces to that of Pope; and proclaimed his conversion pretty abruptly, by writing an elaborate defence of the Essay on Man, from some imputations which had been thrown on its theology and morality. Pope received the services of this voluntary champion with great gratitude; and Warburton, having now discovered that he was not only a great poet, but a very honest man, continued to cultivate his friendship with great assiduity, and with very notable success. For Pope introduced him to Mr. Murray, who made him preacher at Lincolns Inn, and to Mr. Allen of Prior Park, who gave him his niece in marriage, obtained a bishopric for him, and left him his whole estate. In the meantime, he published his Divine Legation of Moses,the most learned, most arrogant, and most absurd work which had been produced in England for a century,and his editions of Pope and of Shakespeare, in which he was scarcely less outrageous and fantastical. He replied to some of his answerers in a style full of insolence and brutal scurrility; and not only poured out the most tremendous abuse on the infidelities of Bolingbroke and Hume, but found occasion also to quarrel with Drs. Middleton, Lowth, Jortin, Leland, and indeed almost every name distinguished for piety and learning in England. At the same time he indited the most highflown adulation to Lord Chesterfield, and contrived to keep himself in the good graces of Lord Mansfield and Lord Hardwicke; while in the midst of affluence and honours he was continually exclaiming against the barbarity of the age in rewarding genius so frugally, and in not calling in the civil magistrate to put down fanaticism and infidelity. The public, however, at last grew weary of these blustering novelties. The bishop, as old age stole upon him, began to doze in his mitre; and though Dr. Richard Hurd, with the true spirit of an underling, persisted in keeping up the petty traffic of reciprocal encomiums, yet Warburton was lost to the public long before he sunk into dotage, and lay dead as an author for many years of his natural existence.