Слике страница


THOMAS WARTON was born at Basingstoke, in the year

1728. His father was Vicar of Basingstoke, Fellow of Magdalen College, and for ten years Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford. He died in 1745. His family consisted of three ;-Joseph, the well known head-master of Winchester School; Thomas, the subject of this sketch; and Jane, who died unmarried. Thomas was remarkable in boyhood for his fondness for study, and the premature development of his powers. At the age of nine, he translated very neatly one of Martial's epigrams, and sent it to his sister. Two years later, during a very cold winter, he used to leave the family fireside, and pursue his studies in his own chamber. His father superintended his education till his sixteenth year, when he was admitted a commoner, and soon after became a scholar, in Trinity College, Oxford. In 1745, while not quite seventeen, he wrote “ The Pleasures of Melancholy"-a fine poem for one so young—and published it, two years afterwards, without his name. In the following year, Mason published his “ Isis,” an elegy, which alluded pointedly to the Jacobite principles and dissipated practices of the Oxonians of that day. This roused our young bard, and he came forth, in 1749, with “ The Triumph of Isis," containing a spirited defence of Oxford, and glowing poetic notices of her illustrious children. It was received with enthusiasm, and the author became at once famous in his university. Shortly after, an


anonymous poem, entitled, “ An Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers," having produced some sensation, Warton attributed it, on internal evidence, to Mason. This produced a letter from the poet of Cam, full of respect and esteem for his rival, but blaming him for spreading a rumour, which he does not, however, venture directly to deny. They became, consequently, acquaintances, but never friends. Warton thought Mason a buckram man, and was afraid, had they become more intimate, of being put by him into a bad ode! Warton became about this time a contributor to a publication entitled “ The Student,” a monthly miscellany, published in Oxford. He was elected, two successive years, poet laureate to the common-room of the college—the duties of which office consisted in writing a copy of verses to a lady, who was likewise annually elected, and called the lady-patroness, and reciting them, crowned with a wreath of laurel, on an appointed day, to the members. The verses were quite worthy, and no more, of the fantastic mummery. In 1750 he became A.M., and in 1751 succeeded to a fellowship, and was made independent and comfortable for life.

In 1753 (after having, in the interim, printed some small pieces, such as “ Newmarket," a satire, “The Oxford Sausage,” &c.), there appeared, in Edinburgh, “ The Union; or, Select Scotch and English Pieces," all of which were selected, and some of them written, by Warton, who assumes for the nonce the alias of " A Gentleman from Aberdeen,” and holds out the prospect of a poem of “ a nobler and more important nature, which he was then preparing.” This appears to have been a mere ruse, as nothing resulted from it. In 1754, he published “ Observations on the Faerie Queen of Spenser," which attracted the notice and warm approval of Dr Johnson, and first led to their correspondence. He had for some time been deeply engrossed with our old authors. One of his friends attributed his taste for the antique to a visit which he paid, when a boy, to Windsor Castle, with his father and brother Joseph. They were both visibly delighted, and expressed their delight by exclamations. Thomas walked through it, silent and as if in a dream, and his father thought he was taking notice of nothing. The whole, however, was quietly daguerreotyping itself upon his mind; and the effects appeared afterwards, both in his poetry and prose. Castles, abbeys, mediæval manners, became the food of his fancy; and the transition from them to Spenser, and Milton's minor poems, was easy and unavoidable. His “Observations” discovered much reading in romantic history and ancient poetry, and first recommended him to the attention of Warburton. He became, about the same time, a diligent student, and a bold speculator, in the science of ecclesiastical architecture. His summers were generally spent in wandering through those mystic mountains of man's handiwork, the cathedrals and abbeys of England. He kept a regular journal of his observations, and began to prepare, and, in part at least, completed, a work on the Gothic architecture. No trace of it, however, was found among his MSS. He seems, indeed, like Collins, to have projected many large literary schemes, which he lacked patience or resolution to accomplish, such as a translation of “ Apollonius Rhodius," farther “ Observations on Spenser," and a translation of Homer. This last might, perhaps, have been good, had he done it in ballad-rhythm. Scott, at least, could have nobly rendered it, in the manner of his “ Marmion;" or Macaulay might render it still better, in the style of his “ Lays of Ancient Rome.” He found an excuse for not carrying out his designs in the labour connected with pupils, whom he now began to keep at college.

In 1757, he was elected Professor of Poetry. He had previously made himself active in procuring for Johnson the degree of A.M., which he wished to prefix to his “ Dictionary.” He now set himself to contribute notes, and find subscribers, for his edition of Shakspeare. As another proof of his regard for Johnson, he gave him three ingenious papersthe 330, 93d, and 96th—for “ The Idler.” The last of these is the well-known and striking story of “ Hacho, King of Lapland.” He contributed, too, at different times, to “ The Connoisseur," “ The World,” and “ The Adventurer.”

His intimacy with Johnson was not destined to be of long endurance. It was followed by a coldness, for which each party blamed the other. Warton heard that Johnson had abused his poetry, and gave up calling on him. Johnson felt this keenly, and was provoked to assert, in his own strong way,

" that Tom Warton was the only man of genius he ever knew who wanted a heart." Their views, too, and tastes, were very different. Johnson adored Pope more than he cared fully to express, and was savage upon Milton's minor poems. Warton joined with his brother in thinking Pope overrated, and was an enthusiastic admirer of " Lycidas,

1 " Comus," and the “ Sonnets." Johnson knew little, and cared less, for old English poetry. Warton knew it better than, with the exception of architecture and Greek, he knew anything else, and loved it with all the heart that he had. Whatever might be the cause, they were separated, and the old “ Cham of Literature”, absolutely shed tears as he spoke of their estrangement—and this, we think, is itself a proof that his charge of heartlessness against Warton was exaggerated; for how can you weep for the loss of a man's friendship, who has wanted the great element of which friendship is composed ?

Warton held the office of Professor of Poetry for the usual period of ten years. The grand object of his lectures—which are said to have been “ remarkable for elegance of diction and justness of observation "-was to recommend the classical poets as models. In order to clench his statements, he was in the habit of reading to his students those translations from the Greek Anthologies which were afterwards printed in his poems. We remember, with much pleasure, as inserted in “ The Adventurer,” his translations of the exquisite fragments of Simonides, particularly that descriptive of Danae and her Child, in their chest at sea, and his graceful Commentary. In 1758 he published a selection of Latin metrical inscriptions; and, eight years later, a similar collection of Greek inscriptions, constituting “ Cephalas' Anthology;" and concluding with the promise, afterwards so amply fulfilled, of a translation of Theocritus.

In 1770 this edition, which he had begun in 1758, appeared, in two splendid quarto volumes. Theocritus had been an early favourite of Warton's. He was determined to his choice of him, besides, by the fact of many valuable

« ПретходнаНастави »