Joseph Warton - Encyclopedia

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JOSEPH WARTON (1722-1800), English critic and poet, eldest son of Thomas Warton (see below), was baptized at Dunsfold, Surrey, on the 22nd of April 1722, and entered Winchester school on the foundation in 1735. William Collins was already there, and the two formed a friendship which was maintained through their Oxford career. They read Milton and Spenser together, and wrote verses, which, published in the Gentleman's Magazine, attracted the attention of Dr Johnson. Warton went to Oriel College, Oxford, in 1740, and took his B.A. degree in 1 744. He took holy orders, and during his father's lifetime acted as his curate at Basingstoke. He then went to Chelsea, London; but eventually returned to Basingstoke. He married, became rector of Winslade (1748), of Tunworth (1754); in 1755 he was appointed a master in Winchester school, and headmaster in 1766. He was not a successful schoolmaster, and when the boys mutinied against him for the third time he wisely resigned his position (1793).

His leisure was devoted to literature. Warton was far from having the genius of Collins, but they were at one in their impatience under the prevailing taste for moral and ethical poetry. Whoever wishes to understand how early the reaction against Pope's style began should read Warton's The Enthusiast, or The Lover of Nature, and remember that it was printed in 1744, the year of Pope's death. "As he is convinced," he wrote in the preface (1746) to his Odes on Several Subjects, " that the fashion of moralizing in verse has been carried too far, and as he looks upon invention and imagination to be the chief faculties of a poet, so he will be happy if the following odes may be looked upon as an attempt to bring back poetry into its right channel." He published an edition (1753) in Latin and English of Virgil. This contained Christopher Pitt's version of the Aeneid, his own rendering of the Eclogues and Georgics in the heroic measure, and essays by Warburton and others. Warton himself appended essays on epic and didactic poetry, a life of Virgil and notes. He made the acquaintance of Dr Johnson, and wrote papers on Shakespeare and Homer in The Adventurer; and in 1757 he published the first part of an Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, an essay regarded at the time as revolutionary, by Johnson at least, because it put Pope in the second rank to Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton, on the ground that moral and ethical poetry, however excellent, is an inferior species. He held his own against Johnson in the Literary Club; and after enduring many jests about the promised second part of the essay and the delay in its appearance, published it at last, retracting nothing, in 1782. Warton's edition of Pope was published in 1797. An edition of Dryden, for which he had collected materials, was completed and published by his son in 1811. Warton was a prebendary of St Paul's and of Winchester Cathedrals, and held the livings of Upham and of Wickham, Hampshire, where he died on the 23rd of February 1800.

See Biographical Memoirs of the Late Rev. Joseph Warton, by John Wooll (vol. i., 1806, no more published).

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