In accordance with the spirit of his ‘Triumph of Isis,’ Warton encouraged at Oxford—largely by his genial example—all manner of literary effort among resident members of the university. He was for two successive years poet-laureate to the common-room of his college. He contributed poetry to ‘The Student,’ an Oxford monthly miscellany of literature, of which nineteen numbers appeared between 31 Jan. 1750 and 3 July 1751. For the ‘Encænia’ of July 1751 he wrote and published an ode which Dr. William Hayes [q. v.] set to music. The Oxford collections of poems of 1751, 1761, and 1762 contain verse by him. In 1760 he brought out anonymously a good-humoured satire on the conventional guide-books to Oxford in ‘A Companion to the Guide, and a Guide to the Companion, being a Complete Supplement to all the Accounts of Oxford hitherto published. … The whole interspersed with Original Anecdotes and Interesting Discoveries, occasionally resulting from the subject, and embellished with perspective Views and Elevations neatly engraved’ (2nd ed. corrected and enlarged, London, n.d. [1762?], 8vo; another ed. 1806). But Warton's most amusing contribution to academic literature was his anthology of Oxford wit, which he edited anonymously under the ugly title of ‘The Oxford Sausage; or Select Poetical Pieces written by the most celebrated Wits of the University of Oxford’ (London, 1764, 8vo; 1772, 8vo; 1814, 8vo; 1815, 12mo; and 1822, 12mo); some pieces by Cambridge men were included. In a more serious spirit he devoted himself to the history of his own college, and published learned biographies of two distinguished members of the foundation. ‘The Life and Literary Remains of Ralph Bathurst … President of Trinity College in Oxford,’ was published in London in 1761, 8vo, and an article originally contributed to the ‘Biographia Britannica’ in 1760 reappeared subsequently as a substantial volume called ‘The Life of Sir Thomas Pope, founder of Trinity College, Oxford, chiefly compiled from Original Evidences, with an Appendix of Papers never before printed’ (1st edit. London, 1772, 8vo; 2nd edit., corrected and enlarged, London, 1780, 8vo). This exhaustive biography of Sir Thomas Pope ‘resuscitated,’ in the opinion of Horace Walpole, ‘more nothings and more nobodies than Birch's “Life of Tillotson.”’ It comprised numerous extracts from valuable historical manuscripts at the British Museum and the Bodleian Libraries, several of which were forwarded to Warton by Francis Wise [q. v.], but there is unhappily reason to believe that some of the documents alleged to date from the sixteenth century were forgeries of recent years. Although a strong case has been made against Warton in the matter, his general character renders it improbable that he was himself the author of the fabrications. He was more probably the dupe of a less principled antiquary (cf. Engl. Hist. Review, xi. pp. 282 et seq., art. ‘Thomas Warton and Machyn's Diary,’ by the Rev. H. E. D. Blakiston).
Meanwhile Warton pursued his study of early English literature, and in 1754 he published ‘Observations on the Faery Queen of Spenser,’ which established his reputation as a critic of exceptional learning. A second edition in two volumes, corrected and enlarged, appeared in 1762. The work abounded in illustrative parallels from other poets, and embodied the results of much reading in mediæval romance and archæological research. The book won immediately the warm approval of Dr. Johnson. ‘You have shown,’ Johnson wrote to Warton on 16 July 1754, ‘to all who shall hereafter attempt the study of our ancient authors the way to success by directing them to the perusal of the books those authors had read.’ The correspondence thus opened led to a long friendship, which, although interrupted by dissimilarity of literary taste, was only finally dissolved by death. Warton entertained Johnson on his visit to Oxford in the summer of 1754, and obtained for him the degree of M.A. in February 1755. Warburton was as enthusiastic an admirer as Johnson of Warton's ‘Observations,’ but Warton's work was acutely, if savagely, criticised by William Huggins in ‘The Observer Observed.’ With characteristic versatility Warton then turned from English literature to the classics, and set about a translation of Apollonius Rhodius. Johnson encouraged him to persevere in this and other literary labours, and not to fritter away his time on college tuition, saunters in the parks, and long sittings in hall and the coffee-houses. But the Apollonius Rhodius was never completed. He amiably abandoned it to devote his leisure to finding subscribers for Johnson's ‘Shakespeare,’ to which he contributed a few notes, and he wrote at Johnson's request numbers 33, 93, and 96 of Johnson's ‘Idler’ (1758–9). He is also said to have sent occasional papers to ‘The Connoisseur’ ‘The World,’ and ‘The Adventurer,’ but these have not been identified (Drake, Essays, ii. 194).
In 1757 Warton was elected professor of poetry at Oxford. He held the post for two successive terms of five years each. His lectures, which were delivered in Latin, were