William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

266.

Thomas Warton, Shakespeare and the golden age of English poetry

1781

From The History of English Poetry, III (1781).

Thomas Warton (1728-90), younger brother of Joseph Warton, poet and critic, was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and spent his life as a tutor there. He wrote much poetry at and about Oxford, and published learned biographies of two distinguished members of his college, Ralph Bathurst (1761) and Sir Thomas Pope (1772, 1780). As a literary historian Warton made his name with Observations on the Faery Queen of Spenser (1754; enlarged edition, 2 vols, 1762). He was a lifelong friend of Johnson, for whom he obtained an Oxford M. A. in 1755. He helped to find subscribers for Johnson’s Shakespeare edition, and he wrote numbers 33, 93, and 96 of the Idler for him. The first volume of his history appeared in 1774, the second in 1778; a fragment of the fourth has been published by R.M. Baine (Los Angeles, 1953). The deficiencies of Warton’s knowledge of Old English were exposed by Joseph Ritson in Observations on the three first Volumes of the History of English Poetry (1782), an over-violent but justly critical work (Lawrence Lipking judges that it inaugurated ‘a new era of literary scholarship’), while Walpole, Mason, and Scott commented on its lack of organization. However, Warton collected much historical information, helped to revive an interest in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature, and performed a valuable function as a bibliographer and as an exponent of historical interpretation. See D.N. Smith, ‘Warton’s History of English Poetry’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 15 (1929), and L. Lipking, The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England (Princeton, N.J., 1970).

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