Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
Thomas Warton (17281790)
[Thomas Warton was born in 1728 at Basingstoke, of which town his father (Thomas Warton, Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1718 to 1728) was vicar. He was educated at first by his father, and in 1743 became a member of Trinity College, Oxford, of which society he became a Fellow in 1751. He was Professor of Poetry from 1757 to 1767, and became Poet-Laureate on the death of Whitehead in 1785. He died in 1790. His poems, published separately from time to time, were collected in 1777, and again, in two vols. 8vo., in 1802.]
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 brothers 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 LAllegro. Again, the influence of Gray makes itself far too strongly felt in Wartons 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 Percys Reliques, turned the course of our letters into a fresh channel; but what is more noticeable here is that his own poetryor much of it, for he is not always free from the taint of pseudo-classicalisminstinctively 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 Whiteheads sense. He has two passions, well expressed in the two sonnets here giventhe 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.