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LIFE OF THOMAS WARTON, B. D.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
MR. WARTON was descended from an ancient and honourable family of Beverley, in Yorkshire. His father was fellow of Magdalene College, Oxford, poetry professor in that university, and afterwards vicar of Basingstoke, Hants, and Chobham, Surrey: He married Elizabeth, daughter of the late Joseph Richardson, rector of Dunsford, Surrey, and had by her three children: Joseph, the late head master of Winchester school; Thomas, the subject of this memoir, and Jane, a daughter, now living. He died in 1746, and is buried under the rails of the altar of his church at Basingstoke, with an inscription on a tablet near it, written by his sons. They afterwards published a volume of his poems, by subscription, chiefly with a view to pay the few debts he left behind, and supply his children with some assistance in the progress of their education. Whether the success of this volume was equal to their hopes, is uncertain, but the poems acquired no reputation.
Thomas was born at Basingstoke, in 1728, and from his earliest years discovered a fondness for reading, and a taste for poetry. In his ninth year, he sent to his sister the following translation from the Latin of Martial.
When bold Leander sought his distant fair,
This curiosity is authenticated by the letter in which he sent it, still in the possession of his sister. It bears date “ from the school, Nov. 7, 1737.” His biographer, Mr. Mant, says, that he continued under the care of his father until his removal to Oxford, but I have been informed that he was placed for some time at Basingstoke school.
In March 1743, in his sixteenth year, he was admitted a commoner of Trinity College, and soon after was elected a scholar. How much he was ever attached to that college, his writings, and a residence of forty-seven years with very few intervals, sufficiently show, In 1745, he published five pastoral eclogues, which are now added to his other poems; they are authenticated by Mr. Isaac Reed's copy, purchased at his late sale. About the same time, he sent one or two articles to
Dodsley's Museum ', to which his brother was likewise a contributor; his next detached publication was The Pleasures of Melancholy, of which the first copy is now in my possession, and differs considerably, particularly in the introductory part, from that published in his collection of poems. On the appearance of Mason's Isis, reflecting on the loyalty of Oxford, which a foolish riot among some students had brought into question, Mr. Warton, encouraged by Dr. Huddesford, the president of Trinity, published in 1749, The Triumph of lsis, in which he retaliated on the sons of Cam in no very courtly strains. The poem, however, discovered beauties of a more unmixed kind, which pointed him out as a youth of great promise. It is remarkable, that although he omitted this piece in an edition of his poems printed in 1777, he restored it in that of 1779: this is said to have been done at Mason's suggestion, who was candid enough to own that it greatly excelled his own elegy, both in poetical imagery and correct flow of versification ; but Mason appears to have forgot that his personal share in the contest was but trifling, and that it contained a libel on the university of Cambridge, which ought not to have been perpetuated.
In 1750, our auther contributed a few small pieces to the Student, or Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany, then published by Newbery. Among these was the Progress of Discontent, which had been written in 1746, and was founded on a copy of Latin verses, a weekly exercise, much applauded by Dr. Huddesford, and at his desire, paraphrased into English verse. In this state Dr. Warton preferred it to any initation of Swift he had ever seen. His talents were now generally acknowledged, and in 1747 and 1748, he held the office of poet laureate, conferred upon him according to an ancient practice in the common room of Trinity College. The duty of this office was to celebrate the lady chosen by the same authority, as the lady patroness, and Warton performed his task, on an appointed day, crowned with a wreath of laurel. The verses, which Mr. Mant says are still to be seen in the common room, are written in an elegant and flowing style, but have not been thought worthy of transcription.
In 1750, he took his master's degree, and in 1751 succeeded to a fellowship. In this last year he published his exce!lent satire, entitled Newmarket; An Ode to Music, performed at the theatre; and Verses on the death of Frederick prince of Wales, which he inserted in the Oxford collection, under the fictitious name of John Whetham, a practice not uncommon. In 1753 appeared at Edinburgh, The Union, or Select Scots and English Poems; Mr. Warton was the editor of this small volume, in which he inserted his Triumph of Isis and other pieces, particularly the Ode on the approach of Summer, and the Pastoral in the manner of Spenser, which is said to be written by a gentleman formerly of the university of Aberdeen. Why he should make use of such a deception, cannot now be discovered.
About the year 1754, he drew up from the Bodleian and Savilian statutes, a body of statutes for the Radcliffe library. In the same year, he published his Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser, in one volume octavo, but afterwards enlarged and published in two volumes, 1762. By this work he not only established his character as an acute critic, but opened to the world at large that new and important field of
1 These were, a song imitated from the Midsummer Night's Dream, and a prose essay on Snugness, written partly by him and partly by Dr. Vansittart. They are authenticated by Dr.Warton's autograph, in his copy of the Museam penes me. C.
criticism and illustration which has since been so ably cultivated by Steevens, Malone, Reed, Todd, and other commentators on our ancient poets.
Soon after the appearance of the Observations, it was attacked in an abusive pamphlet, entitled The Observer Observed, written by Huggins, the author of a very indifferent translation of Aristotle. Huggins had engaged Mr. Warton in this translation, but when he read what Wartou asserted of the inferiority of Aristotle to Spenser, he immediately cancelled his share of the translation, and published this angry pamphlet ?' Mr. Warton, who was now in his thirty-sixth year, had employed fully half that time in an unwearied perusal of the old English poets, and such contemporary writers as could throw light on their obscurities. The Observations on Spenser must have evidently been the result of much industry, and various reading, aided by a happy memory.
Arrosto In 1757, on the resignation of Mr. Hawkins, of Pembroke College, our author was elected professor of poetry, which office, according to the usual practice, he held for ten years. His lectures were elegant and original. The translations from the Greek anthologies, now a part of his collected poems, were first introduced in them, and his Dissertatio de Poesi Bucolica Græcorum, which he afterwards enlarged and prefixed to his edition of Theocritus, was also a part of the same course. During the publication of the Idler, he sent to Dr. Johnson, with whom he had long been intimate, numbers 33, 93, and 96, of that paper. His biographer, however, is mistaken in supposing that he contributed any paper to the Connoisseur. His being invited by Colman and Thornton to engage in a periodical publication, has no relation to the Connoisseur. It was Moore, the editor of the World, who projected a Magazine soon after the conclusion of that paper, and told the two Wartons, that “ he wanted a dull plodding fellow. of one of the universities, who understood Latin and Greek ! 3" Mr. Bedingfield, one of Dodsley's poets, and Gataker, the surgeon, were to be concerned in this Magazine, but Moore's death prevented the execution of the scheme.
In 1760 he published, but without his name, A Description of the City, College, and Cathedral of Winchester, 12mo. From his own copy, in my possession, he appears to have been preparing a new edition about the year 1771, which was perhaps prevented by a History of Winchester published soon after in two volumes, a more showy work, but far more inaccurate. In the same year (1760) he published a piece of exquisite humour, entitled, A Companion to the Guide, and a Guide to the Companion, being a complete Supplement to all the accounts of Oxford hitherto published. This passed through three editions in a very short time, but for some years has been
2 The folloring paragraph from Huggins' pamphlet, will be a sufficient specimen of the whole. “ Sec. II. He (Warton) resumes the poisonous acrimony with which he charges bis weapon, which he takes care shall be judiciously two-edged, lest it fait of slashing friend as well as foe. • Although, (saith our observer) Spencer formed his Faerie Queene, upon the fanciful plan of Ariosto –Poor Spencer! Wretched Ariosto !---Aud oh! most mighty Warton ! -Let this suffice, for reply to all, he here advances, of falshood against Ariosto, which that poem totally confronts ; such falshood, that were it truth, is insipid and immaterial: and let us pass the Chronicles of the Seven Champions, Morte Arthur, sir Tristram, the Blatant Beast, the Questyn Beast, which is afterwards more particularly described, with a bead roll of quotations, no less delectable than erudite, most appositely collected, to give not only a dignity, but also a magnitude to this important tomc; that purchasers may be well supplied, for their disbursement of pence, either in their meditative fumigations, or at the Cloacinian ofertory,” C.
3. Woolle Life of Dr. Joseph Warton. C.