9
Thomas Warton

WHITEHEAD'S death was 'sudden and without a groan,' Mason tells us -- adding that he left a Birthday Ode unfinished. The King's Birthday was to be celebrated on June 4th, so once again a new Laureate, whoever he might be, would have to set to work at once to justify his appointment.

There was little delay in making it, and on April 26th the name of Thomas Warton was announced. This formidable man of letters had written a number of verses on royal occasions, and although we do not know much about the secret history of this appointment (we don't, for example, hear of many unsuccessful candidates)1 it is apparent that Warton was thought a safe man. Writing to Bishop Percy a few weeks later, Dr. Michael Lort said, ' T. Warton was made Poet Laureate, as some say, at the King's own motion; others say Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned him to the Lord Chamberlain.'

It would have been reasonable, certainly, for Reynolds to have lent his aid, for he had been mightily pleased with the verses Warton had written in praise of his work at New College; so pleased, indeed, that he asked for the general term 'artist' to be removed and his own name inserted, for -- as he wrote to Warton at the time ( May, 1782 ), 'It is not much to say that your verses are by far the best that ever my name was concerned in. I am sorry therefore my name was not hitched in, in the body of the poem. If the title page should be lost, it will appear to be addressed to Mr. Jervais.' Accordingly Warton took steps

____________________
1
Except the excellent John O'Keeffe, who tells us in his Recollections ( 1826), 'On the demise of Whitehead, I had an interview with Lord Salisbury(then Lord Chamberlain), in Arlington-Street, and asked him to make me poet-laureat. With much complacency he told me, he had not the smallest objection; but that he had previously given his promise to another. This was the learned Dr. Warton. So I put in no more claims for the Daphne wreath. Mr. Pye deservedly succeeded Warton; and my son's school-fellow at Westminster, Robert Southey, is now adorned by, and adorns the laurel.' Lord Salisbury had some reason for complacency, if he reflected on the respective merits of John O'Keeffe and Thomas Warton. O'Keeffe Recollections are full of delightful things, but like Cibber before him and Richard Cumberland in his own time (not to come nearer than that) he writes better autobiography than poetry.

-92-

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