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Kiddington, Oxon. on the presentation of George Henry earl of Litchfield, then chancellor of the university, a nobleman whose memory he afterwards honoured by an epitaph.
In 1774 he published the first volume of his “ History of English Poetry," the most important of all his works, and to the completion of which the studies of his whole life appear to have been bent. How much it is to be regretted that he did not live to complete his plan, every student in ancient literature must be deeply sensible. He intended . to have carried the history down to the commencement of the eighteenth century. A second volume accordingly appeared in 1778, and a third in 1781, after which he probably relaxed from his pursuit, as at the period of his death in 1790, a few sheets only of the fourth volume were -printed, and no part left in a state for printing. His original intention was to have comprised the whole in two or three volumes, but it is now evident, and he probably soon became aware, that five would have scarcely been sufficient if he continued to write on the same scale, and to deviate occasionally into notices of manpers, laws, customs, &c. that had either a remote, or an immediate connection with his principal subject. What his reasons were for discontinuing his labours, cannot now be ascertained. It is well known to every writer that a work of great magnitude requires temporary relaxation, or a change of employment, and may admit of both without injury; but he might probably find that it was now less easy to return with spirit to his magnum opus, than in the days of more vigour and activity. It is certain that he wished the public to think that. he was making his usual progress, for in 1785, when he published “ Milton's Juvenile Poems," he announced the speedy publication of the fourth volume of the history, of which, from that time to his death, ten sheets only were finished. His brother, Dr. Joseph, was long supposed to be engaged in completing this fourth volume. In one of his letters lately published by Mr. Wooll, and dated 1792, he says, “At any leisure I get busied in finishing the last volume of Mr. Warton's History of Poetry, which I have engaged to do, for the booksellers are clamorous to have the book finislied (though the ground I am to go over is so beaten) that it may be a complete work." Yet on his death in 1800, it did not appear that he had made any progress *.
* A continuation of this work is in the hands of Mr. Park, and it cannot be in better.
Mr. Warton's biographer has traced the origin of this work to Pope, who, according to Ruffhead, had sketched a plan of a history of poetry, dividing the poets into classes or schools; but Ruffhead's list of poets is grossly erroneous. Gray, however, Mr. Mason informs us, had meditated a history of English poetry, in wbich Mason was to assist him. Their design was to introduce specimens of the Provençal poetry, and of the Scaldic, British, and Saxon, as preliminary to what first deserved to be called English poetry about the time of Chaucer, from whence their history, properly so called, was to commence. Gray, however, was deterred by the magnitude of the undertaking; and being informed that Warton was employed on a similar design, more readily relinquished his own.
Such is Mr. Mant's account, who adds (in p. cxxvi) that Warton “ judiciously preferred the plan on which he has proceeded to that proposed by Pope, Gray, and Mason." It appears, however, that Warton had made considerable progress on his own plan before he knew any thing of Gray's, and that when he heard of the latter, and perhaps at the same time of its being relinquished, be thought proper, which he might then do without indelicacy, to apply to Gray, through the medium of Dr. Hurd, requesting that he would communicate any fragments, or sketches of his design. Mr. Gray, in answer to this application, sent the following letter: • “Sir,
15th April, 1770, Pembroke Hall. « Our friend, Dr. Hurd, having long ago desired me in your name to communicate any fragments, or sketches of a design I once had to give a history of English poetry, you may well think me rude or negligent, when you see me hesitating for so many months before I comply with your request, and yet (believe me) few of your friends have been better pleased than I to find this subject (surely neither unentertaining, nor unuseful) had fallen into hands so likely to do it justice; few have felt a higher esteem for your talents, your taste and industry ; in truth, the only cause of my delay has been a sort of diffidence, that would pot let me send you any thing so short, so slight, and so imperfect as the few materials I had begun to collect, or the observations I had made on them. A sketch of the division and arrangement of the subject, however, I venture to transcribe, and would wish to know whether it corresponds in any thing with your own plan, for I am told your first volume is already in the press.
Fof the · Gora Danes, cianks, the
“ INTRODUCTION.-On the poetry of the Galic (or Celtic) nations, as far back as it can be traced.
“On that of the Goths ; its introduction into these islands by the Saxons and Danes, and its duration. On the origin of rhyme among the Franks, the Saxons and Provençaux ; some account of the Latin rhyming poetry from its early origin down to the fifteenth century. .
" P. I. On the school of Provence, which rose about the year 1 100, and was soon followed by the French and Italians; their heroic poesy, or romances in verse, allegories, fabliaux, Syrvientes, comedies, farces, canzoni, sonnets, balades, madrigals, sestines, &c. Of their imitators, the French, and of the first Italian school (commonly call'd the Sicilian) about the year 1200, brought to perfection by Dante, Petrarch, Boccace, and others.
“ State of poetry in England, from the Conquest (1066) or rather from Henry II's time (1154) to the reign of Edward III. (1327).
P. II.--On Chaucer, who first introduced the manner of the Provençaux, improved by the Italians into our country; his character and merits at large; the different kinds in which he excelled. Gower, Occleve, Lydgate, Hawes, G. Douglas, Lindsay, Bellenden, Dunbar, &c. .
“P. III.--Second Italian school of Ariosto, Tasso, &c.) an improvement on the first, occasioned by the revival of letters in the end of the 15th century. The lyric poetry of this and the former age, introduced from Italy by lord Surrey, sir T. Wyat, Bryan, lord Vaux, &c. in the beginning of the 16th century.
“ Spencer ; his character, subject of his poem allegoric. and romantic, of Provençal invention ; but his manner of creating it borrowed from the second Italian school. Drayton, Fairfax, Phin. Fletcher, Golding, Phaer, &c. : this school ends in Milton.
“ A third Italian school, full of conceit, begun in Q. Elizabeth's reign, continued under James, and Charles the first, by Donne, Crashaw, Cleveland; carried to its height by Cowley, and ending perbaps in Sprat.
“ P. IV.--School of France, introduced after the restoration ; Waller, Dryden, Addison, Prior, and Pope, which has continued down to our own times.
“ You will observe, that my idea was in some measure taken from a scribbled paper of Pope, of which (I believe') you have a copy. You will also see that I had excluded
n into, viz. on them or generand details. any of
dramatic poetry entirely, which if you have taken in, it will at least double the bulk and labour of your book *."
Mr. Warton's answer to the above letter, which has never yet appeared, is now transcribed from his own copy.
" Sir, “I am infinitely obliged to you for the favour of your letter.
“ Your plan for the History of English Poetry is admirably constructed; and much improved from an idea of Pope, which Mr. Mason obligingly sent me by application from our friend Dr. Hurd. I regret that a writer of your consummate taste should not have executed it.
" Although I have not followed this plan, yet it is of great service to me, and throws much light on many of my periods by giving connected views and details. I begin with such an introduction, or general dissertation, as you had intended; viz. on the Northern poetry, with its introduction into England 'by the Danes and Saxons, and its duration. I then begin my History at the Conquest, which I write chronologically in sections, and continue, as matter successively offers itself, in a series of regular annals, down to and beyond the restoration. I think with you, that dramatic poetry is detached from the idea of my work, that it requires a separate consideration, and will swell the size of my book beyond all bounds. One of my sections, a very large one, is entirely on Chaucer, and exactly fills your title of Part Second. In the course of my annals I consider collaterally the poetry of different nations as influencing our own. What I have at present finished ends with the section on Chaucer, and will almost make my first volume; for I design two volumes in quarto. This first volume will soon be in the press. I should have said before, that, although I proceed chronologically, yet I often stand still to give some general view, as perhaps of a particular species of poetry, &c. and even anticipate sometimes for this purpose. These views often form one section; yet are interwoven into the tenor of the work without interrupting my bistorical series. In this respect, some of my sections bave the effect of your parts, or divisions — * ,
* This letter concludes with request. ing the favour of some attention to a foreign young gentleman, then entered of one of the colleges. Mr. Mant, who is indebted to the Gentleman's Maga zine for the copy he has given, adds, “There seems no reason to doubt of its genuineness, though there may be to
question who it was that had the power or right to communicate it.” How it came into the Magazine during Mr. Warton's life-time is not known. The original, however, is now in posses. sion of the editor of this Dictionary, along with Warton's answer.
* I cannot take my leave without declaring, that my strongest incitement to prosecute the History of English Poetry is the pleasing hope of being approved by you, whose true genius I so justly venerate, and whose genuine poetry has ever given me such sincere pleasure. " “ Winchester college, April 20, 1770. I am, sir, &c.”
It is almost needless to say that the progress of Warton's History afforded the highest gratification to every learned and elegant mind. Ritson, however, whose learning appears to have been dear to bim only as it administered to his illiberality, attacked our author in a pamphlet entitled “ Observations on the three first volumes of the History of English Poetry, in a familiar letter to the author," 1782. In this, while he pointed out some real inaccuracies, for which he might have received the thanks of the historian, his chief object seems to have been to violate, by low scurrility and personal acrimony, every principle of liberal criticism, and of that decorous interchange of respect which men of learning, not otherwise acquainted, preserve between one another. What could have provoked all this can be known only to those who have dipped into a heart rendered callous by a contempt for every thing sacred and social.
In 1777 Mr. Warton published a collection of his Poems, but omitting some which had appeared before. A second edition followed in 1778, a third in 1779, and a fourth in 1789. The omissions in all these are restored in the edi. tion published in 1810 of the “ English Poets.”
In 1781 he seems to have devoted his mind to a plan as arduous as his History of Poetry. He had been for some time making collections for a parochial history, or, as it is more usually called, a county history of Oxfordshire. As a specimen, he printed a few copies of the History of the parish of Kiddington, which were given to his friends, but in 1782 an edition was offered to the public. Topography had Jong formed one of his favourite studies, and the acuteness with which he had investigated the progress of ancient architecturet, gave him undoubtedly high claims to the honours of an antiquary; but as he stood
* This blank is filled up by a notice of the young foreigner recommended by Gray.
+ In his Observations on Spenser, and since published with other Essays on the same subject, by Mr. Taylor, of Holboru, 1800.'