Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Warton, Joseph
WARTON, JOSEPH (1722–1800), critic, elder son of Thomas Warton the elder [q. v.], was born at Dunsfold, Surrey, in 1722, at the vicarage of his mother's father, Joseph Richardson, being baptised on 22 April. Thomas Warton [q. v.], the historian of English poetry, was his younger brother. He received his earliest instruction at the grammar school of Basingstoke, of which his father was headmaster. Here Gilbert White [q. v.] was a schoolfellow. In 1735 he was elected scholar of Winchester, and formed a lasting friendship with another schoolfellow who afterwards attained distinction, the poet William Collins. Collins, Warton, and a boy named Tomkins wrote verses in rivalry, and a poem by each was published in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ in October 1739. A complimentary notice of these efforts appeared in the next number of the magazine, and was assigned by Wooll, Warton's biographer, to Dr. Johnson. Like Collins, Warton failed to obtain election from Winchester to New College, Oxford, and on 16 Jan. 1739–40 he matriculated from Oriel College, Oxford, going into residence in the following September. He graduated B.A. on 13 March 1743–4. Taking holy orders immediately afterwards, he acted as curate to his father at Basingstoke until his father's death on 10 Sept. 1745. Subsequently he served a curacy at Chelsea, but after an attack of small-pox returned to Basingstoke.
In 1744 Warton published a first volume of verse, entitling it ‘Ode on reading West's Pindar.’ It included, with other poems, a long piece in blank verse called ‘The Enthusiast, or the Lover of Nature.’ Here he avowed an unfashionable love of nature and of natural scenery and sentiment. Gray at once commended the poem as ‘all pure description’ (Gray, Works, ed. Gosse, ii. 121). In December 1746 Warton published a second volume of seventeen ‘Odes on various Subjects,’ most of which he had penned while an undergraduate. In the preface he warned his readers against identifying the true subject-matter of poetry with the moral and didactic themes to which, under Pope's sway, writers of verse at the time confined their efforts. Warton's friend Collins issued his volume of odes simultaneously. Gray wrote on 27 Dec. 1746 of the odd coincidence that two unknown men had published at the same instant collections of odes. ‘Each is the half of a considerable man, and one the counterpart of the other. The first [i.e. Warton] has but little invention, very poetical choice of expression, and a good ear. The second [i.e. Collins] a fine fancy, modelled upon the antique, a bad ear, great variety of words, and images with no choice at all. They both deserve to last some years, but will not’ (ib. ii. 160). Warton's work was fairly successful, but Collins's proved a dismal failure. Posterity has reversed the contemporary judgment.
In 1748 Charles Paulet (or Powlett), third duke of Bolton, conferred on Warton the rectory of Winslade, and in April 1751 he accompanied his patron, the Duke of Bolton, on a short tour in the south of France under peculiar and not very creditable circumstances. The duke's wife was believed to be at the point of death, and the duke required the attendance of a chaplain on his travels so that he might be married without loss of time to his mistress, Lavinia Fenton [q. v.], as soon as the duchess had breathed her last. The duchess lingered on beyond expectation, and Warton returned home in September without presiding over the duke's second nuptials, with the result that he lost the chances of preferment that the duke had destined for the parson who performed the ceremony. On settling again in England he worked hard at a new edition of Virgil's works in both Latin and English (4 vols. 1753, 8vo). He himself translated the ‘Eclogues’ and ‘Georgics,’ and he reprinted Christopher Pitt's rendering of the ‘Æneid.’ Warton employed Dryden's heroic metre, and directly challenged comparison with that robust translator. He proved more accurate, but was less vivacious, and his scholarship was far from perfect. Of higher interest were Warton's appended essays on pastoral, didactic, and epic poetry, his life of Virgil, and his notes. The publication greatly extended Warton's reputation in literary circles. On 8 March 1753 Dr. Johnson wrote to invite him to contribute to the ‘Adventurer,’ with the result that Warton sent in the course of the three following years twenty-four essays to that periodical. They dealt chiefly with literary criticism. Five treat with no little insight of Shakespeare's ‘Tempest’ and ‘Lear’ (Nos. 93, 97, 113, 116, and 122). In 1753 he also wrote on ‘Simplicity of Taste’ in the ‘World’ (No. 26). In 1754 he became rector of Tunworth, but next year, despairing of substantial preferment in the church, he entered on a new career, that of schoolmaster.
In 1755 Warton was appointed usher, or second master, at his old school, Winchester College. On 23 June 1759 the university of Oxford conferred on him by diploma the degree of M.A. In 1766 he was promoted to the headmastership of Winchester, and on 15 Jan. 1768 he proceeded at Oxford to the degrees of B.D. and D.D. He remained a schoolmaster for thirty-eight years. As a teacher Warton achieved little success. He was neither an exact scholar nor a disciplinarian. Thrice in his headmastership the boys openly mutinied against him, and inflicted on him ludicrous humiliations. The third insurrection took place in the summer of 1793, and, after ingloriously suppressing it, Warton prudently resigned his post. His easy good nature secured for him the warm affection of many of his pupils, among whom his favourites were William Lisle Bowles [q. v.] and Richard Mant [q. v.] Although the educational fame of the school did not grow during his régime, his social and literary reputation gave his office increased dignity and importance. In 1778 George III visited the college, and Warton's private guests on the occasion included Sir Joshua Reynolds and Garrick (Adams, Wykehamica, pp. 134–153; Kirby, Annals of Winchester, pp. 404 seq.; Winchester College, 1393–1893, by Old Wykehamists, 1893, 8vo).
While at Winchester he found little time for literary pursuits. In 1756 he brought out the first volume—dedicated to Dr. Young—of his notable ‘Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope,’ in which he adversely criticised the classical or ‘correct’ tendencies of contemporary poetry as opposed to the romantic and imaginative tendency of Elizabethan poetry. The volume was favourably noticed by Johnson in the ‘Literary Magazine,’ reached a third edition in 1763, and was translated into German. It had been begun before Warton went to Winchester, and the long interval of twenty-five years elapsed before the second volume of the ‘Essay’ appeared in 1782. Meanwhile Warton had meditated without result a history of the revival of letters in the fifteenth century, based on the correspondence of Politian, Erasmus, Grotius, and others, and in 1784, emulating the example of his brother Thomas, the historian of English poetry, he announced that two quarto volumes of a history of Grecian, Roman, Italian, and French poetry were in the press, but nothing further was heard of that design.
In middle life and old age Warton was a familiar figure in the literary society of the metropolis. For many years he was on terms of more or less intimacy with Dr. Johnson, Burke, Garrick, Reynolds, Lowth, Bishop Percy, and John Nichols. In 1761 he recommended ‘Single-speech’ Hamilton to make Burke his secretary. When Burke and Hamilton parted in 1765, Warton advised Hamilton to let Robert Chambers fill Burke's place. Chambers declined Hamilton's invitation, and Warton seems to have suggested Johnson, who did some literary work for Hamilton in 1765 (Boswell, i. 519). Warton was, according to Madame D'Arblay, a voluble and ecstatic talker on all subjects in general society, often hugging his auditors in the heat of his argument (Diary, ii. 236). His rapturous gesticulations were not to the taste of Dr. Johnson, who ‘would take’ them ‘off’ among his closer friends ‘with the strongest humour’ (D'Arblay, Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 82). There was never complete sympathy between Johnson and Warton. About 1766 a quarrel took place between them at Sir Joshua Reynolds's house. Johnson told Warton that he was not used to contradiction, and Warton retorted that it would be better if he were. But although they caused each other frequent irritation, there was no permanent breach in the relations of the two men. In 1773 Warton was elected a member of the Literary Club. In 1776 he signed the round-robin asking Johnson to rewrite in English his Latin epitaph on Goldsmith (Boswell, iii. 83). Johnson, on seeing Warton's signature, declared his wonder that 'Joe Warton, a scholar by profession, should be such a fool' (ib. p. 84 n.) But by humbler men of letters Warton's opinion was highly valued. Cowper was overwhelmed by his approbation. 'The poet,' he wrote, 'who pleases a man like that has nothing left to wish for.'
Some clerical preferment was conferred on Warton while he was still at Winchester. He was appointed by his friend Bishop Lowth prebendary of London in 1782, and Pitt, the prime minister, conferred on him a prebendal stall at Winchester in 1788. In 1783, too, Lowth presented him to the vicarage of Chorley, Hertfordshire, which he soon exchanged for that of Wickham, Hampshire, and in 1790 he was instituted to the rectory of Easton, which he at once exchanged for that of Upham, also in Hampshire. The livings of Upham and Wickham he held for life. To Wickham he retired on leaving Winchester in 1793. There he devoted himself anew to literature. He thought of completing the 'History of English Poetry' of his brother, whose death in 1790 greatly depressed him, but he occupied himself mainly with an edition of Pope's 'Works,' which appeared in 1797 in nine octavo volumes. Warton's remuneration amounted to 500l. (Nichols, Lit. Illustr. vii. 30). On the ground that he included two compositions of somewhat flagrant indecency—'the fourteenth chapter of Scriblerus' and the 'Second Satire of Horace'—Warton was castigated with unwarranted severity by Mathias in his 'Pursuits of Literature.' Subsequently he began an edition of the 'Works' of Dryden, which he did not live to finish. He died at Wickham on 23 Feb. 1800, and was buried beside his first wife in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. His former pupil, Richard Mant [q.v.], published a pamphlet of verses to his memory.
Warton married twice. In 1748 he married his first wife, Mary Daman of Winslade, who died on 5 Oct. 1772. Next year, in December, he married his second wife, Charlotte, second daughter of William Nicholas, who survived him and died in 1809. Warton had three sons and three daughters by his first wife. He had an only daughter, Harriot Elizabeth, by his second marriage (Bodleian Library MS. Wharton 13, ff. 15–19; Nichols, Lit. Illustr. i. 228–9). His sons—Joseph (b. 1750), Thomas (1754–1787), and John (b. 1756)—took holy orders.
A portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds is in the University Gallery in the Taylorian building at Oxford; a replica is at Winchester College. An engraving by R. Cardon was prepared for Wooll's 'Memoirs' (1806). A monument to Warton's memory by Flaxman was erected, at the expense of Old Wykehamists, in the south aisle of Winchester Cathedral.
Warton deserves remembrance as a learned and sagacious critic. He was a literary, not a philological, scholar. His verse, although it indicates a true appreciation of natural scenery, is artificial and constrained in expression. He was well equipped for the role of literary historian, but his great designs in that field never passed far beyond the stage of preliminary meditation. It was as a leader of the revolution which overtook literary criticism in England in the eighteenth century that his chief work was done. In the preface to his volume of odes of 1746 he made a firm stand against the prevailing tendency of English poetry. He was convinced, he wrote, 'that the fashion of moralising in verse had been carried too far.' The true 'faculties of the poet' were 'invention and imagination.' Warton's 'Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope' was doubtless suggested by resentment of Warburton's ponderous and polemical notes on Pope's philosophical views. Warton was more sensible than Warburton of the felicities of Pope's style, but his main object was to prove that 'correctness,' which had long been held to be the only test of poetry, was no test at all. The genuine spirit of poetry was to be found not in the moral essays of Pope and his didactic disciples, but in the less finished and less regular productions of writers of the temper of the Elizabethans and the Jacobeans. Spenser was, in his opinion, Pope's superior. From want of force of character, Warton never gained a first place among his contemporaries, but he claims the regard of students of literature for the new direction which he impressed on English poetical criticism (Pattison). Warton's edition of Pope, produced at the close of his life in 1797, supplies many notes that are superfluous, and almost all of them are needlessly verbose, but the book abounds in personal reminiscence and anecdote as well as in cultured and varied learning. Warton's edition has been superseded by that of Messrs. Elwin and Courthope, but in literary flavour it has not, in the opinion of so good a judge as Mark Pattison, been excelled. After his death some of his notes appeared in an edition of Dryden's poetical works, undertaken by his younger son, John (1811, 4 vols. 8vo). John Warton proposed to follow this by selections from the correspondence of his father and uncle Thomas; but these were never issued. A first volume of selections from Warton's poetry and correspondence appeared in 1806 under the editorship of an old Winchester pupil, John Wooll, who supplied a long biographical preface, abounding in stilted eulogy. Wooll's promise of a second volume was not fulfilled.
[Biographical Memoirs of the late Rev. Joseph Warton, D.D., to which are added a selection from his works, and a Literary Correspondence … by the Rev. John Wooll, vol. i. (all published), 1806, 4to; Mant's Verses to the memory of Joseph Warton, D.D., Oxford, 1800, 4to; E. R. Wharton's manuscript history of Warton and Wharton families in Bodleian Library; Gent. Mag. 1800 i. 287, 1845 iii. 460; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vi. 168–74 et passim; Drake's Essays, 1810, ii. 112–51, 315; Brydges's Censura Literaria, ed. 1807, iii. 18 et seq.; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill; John Dennis's Studies in English Literature, 1876, pp. 192–226 (essay on ‘The Wartons’); Mark Pattison's Essays, ed. Nettleship, ii. 368–73.]