Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 59.djvu/441

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to every variety of literary effort. No literary history discloses more comprehensive learning in classical and foreign literature, as well as in that of Great Britain.

Warton never completed his great ‘History,’ and, after the appearance of the third volume in 1781, he dissipated his energies in other laborious, but less useful, literary undertakings. In that year he wrote, for private circulation, a model history of his parish of Kiddington as ‘a specimen of a history of Oxfordshire.’ It was published in 1783, and reissued in 1815. In 1782 he issued a pamphlet on the Chatterton and Rowley controversy, strongly supporting the theory that the poems were modern forgeries. The title ran: ‘An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley, in which the Arguments of the Dean of Exeter [i.e. Jeremiah Milles] and Mr. Bryant are examined’ (London, 1782, 8vo; a second edition, corrected, London, 1782, 8vo).

Warton's literary work secured for him in his later life an honoured place in London literary society, to which Johnson had years before introduced him. The cordiality of his early relations with Johnson was not continuously maintained, and they occasionally caused one another much irritation. The doctor always cherished affection for Warton, but in a frolicsome mood he parodied his friend's poetry with a freedom that Warton found it difficult to excuse. Warton showed his resentment by often treating Johnson with a coolness which once led Johnson to say of him that he was the only man of genius known to him who had no heart. But in 1776 Johnson revisited him at Oxford in Boswell's company, and all went happily. In 1782 Warton was admitted into the Literary Club, and was popular with its chief members. Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's painted window at New College, written and published in the same year, elicited a warm letter of gratitude from the painter. The poem is notable for its enthusiastic praise of Gothic architecture. In 1785 Warton was elected Camden professor of history at Oxford, and his inaugural lecture was printed by his biographer, Mant. Shortly afterwards, on the death of William Whitehead (14 April 1785), he was created poet-laureate. On the publication of Warton's first official ode in honour of the king's birthday, a clever squib appeared, entitled ‘Probationary Odes for the Laureateship.’ The volume adumbrated the ‘Rejected Addresses’ of the brothers Smith. Warton, who was described as ‘a little, thick, squat, red-faced man,’ was handled with especial rigour, and his genuine ‘birthday’ ode was quoted verbatim as signally characteristic of the ludicrous tameness incident to the compositions of laureated poetasters. Similar odes proceeded from Warton's pen until his death, and none of them retrieved his poetic reputation in the sight of discerning critics.

In another path of literature he was yet to win a deserved triumph. In 1785 he published what was intended to be the first of a series of volumes—an edition of Milton's early poems. The title ran: ‘Poems upon several occasions, English, Italian, and Latin, with Translations, by John Milton, viz. Lycidas, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, Odes, Sonnets, Miscellanies, English Psalms, Elegiarum liber, Epigrammatum liber, Sylvarum liber. With Notes, Critical and Explanatory, and other Illustrations,’ London, 1785. This is one of Warton's best works. It is described by Professor Masson as the best critical edition of Milton's minor works ever produced. The second volume was to have contained ‘Paradise Regained’ and ‘Samson Agonistes,’ but Warton died before it was finished. Suffering from an attack of gout he went to Bath early in 1790, and returned to Oxford thinking himself cured; but on 20 May 1790 he was seized in the common-room of his college with a paralytic stroke, and died on the following day. He was buried in the ante-chapel of the college. The chair in which he is said to have been taken ill is preserved in the old library of the college.

Warton's name is a landmark in the history of English literature. His great history exerted a signal influence on its contemporary currents. Together with Percy's ‘Reliques’ it helped to awaken an interest in mediæval and Elizabethan poetry. By familiarising his contemporaries with the imaginative temper and romantic subject-matter of the poetry that was anterior to the eighteenth century, Warton's work helped to divert the stream of English verse from the formal and classical channels to which the prestige of Pope had for many years consigned it. As a poet, too, Warton left his impress on the course of English literature. His verse gained considerable vogue in its day. A collection was first published in 1777, and reached a fourth edition in 1789. At the time of his death he was preparing a new and corrected edition of his poems. The volume appeared as ‘The Poems on various Subjects of Thomas Warton, B.D., late Fellow of Trinity College, Professor of Poetry and Camden Professor of History at Oxford, and Poet-Laureat. Now first col-