Слике страница

with that complication, variety, and extent of materials, which it ought to comprehend.

“ The method I have pursued, on one account at least, seems preferable to all others. My performance, in its present form, exhibits without transposition the gradual improvements of our poetry, at the same time that it uniformly represents the progression of our language."*

To expect, in a work so multifarious and so full of research as is the History of English Poetry, that no errors should be discoverable, would be to require more than human ability can effect. The mistakes which were, and are still capable of being, detected in this laborious production, will, by every candid mind, be referred to its true cause, the necessary imperfection of intellect, however acute, With all its faults, indeed, I hesitate not to declare it, the most curious, valuable, and interesting Literary History which this country possesses. With the diligence, judgment, and sagacity of the antiquary, the critic, and the historian, are very frequently mingled the fire and fancy of the poet; and through the whole are every where profusely scattered the most indubitable traces of genuine taste and genius.

For the illustration of ancient manners and

History of English Poetry, vol. 1.9d edition--Preface, p.

customs, which forms so striking a feature in the History of English Poetry, Mr. Warton was, in no trifling degree, indebted to his frequent residence at Winchester. Here, during his long vacations, he spent his time with his brother, and here it was that he composed the greater part of his History, acquiring much information, with regard to antique usages and institutions, from the records preserved in the College, Church, and City of Winchester. It was in the shades of Winton also that he completed three works for the press which still remain in manuscript. The first, a History of St. Elizabeth's College, which formerly stood in a meadow near Winchester; the second, relates Dr. Sturges, “ an elaborate and very curious work on St. Mary's Chapel in the Cathedral, quite prepared for the press; which I have seen by favour of my friend Dr. Warton;" and the third is thus mentioned in two letters of our author to Mr. Price.

“ Winton, Sept. 22, 1778. “ I have borrowed from the muniment house of this college a most curious roll of W. Wykeham's house-keeping expences for the year 1394. It is 100 feet long and 12 broad, and really the most venerable and valuable record I have eyer seen of this kind. I am making an abstract of it, which I believe I shall publish."

Winton, Sept. 18, 1784. “ I will bring with me Wykeham's Rotulus Hospicii, which you will like to see, and where some of the abbreviations are too tough for me. I am ready for publication, when they are got over. But else I shall leave them as I find them. It will be more than a merely curious work."*

In the year 1782, an additional piece of preferment, the donative of Hill Farrance, in Somersetshire, was given to Mr. Warton by his College; and he was, likewise, this


elected a member of the Literary Club, with many of the individuals of which he was intimately acquainted. His pen was also at this period actively employed; in May, 1782, he published his Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's Painted Window; shortly afterwards,

An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley ;” and towards the close of the same year, History of Kiddington," intended as a specimen of a parochial History of Oxfordshire.

Further honours awaited him in 1785;-the Camden Professorship of History in the University of Oxford, on the resignation of Dr. Scott, and the Poet Laureateship, on the death of Mr. William Whitehead, were, during this period, conferred



* Mant's Memoirs, p. 76, 77. VOL. Y.



Never had the office of Poet-Laurcate, since the death of Dryden, been filled with equal ability. With the exception of his first official ode, his annual tributes are such as will survive as long as any lyric compositions in the language; in expression, imagery, and poetic fervour, they are not inferior to any thing that he has voluntarily written; and they have the rare merit of celebrating the virtues of the sovereign without compliment or hyperbole, with the noble independent spirit, indeed, of the true patriot and poet.

He was destined, however, like his predecessors of the laurel, to endure the shafts of ridicule and satire; for, soon after the production of his first Birth-day ode, appeared a publication under the title of “ Probationary Odes for the Laureateship;" in which the editor, after assigning a fictitious ode to each of the supposed candidates, has allotted to the Laureate his own composition, as, in his opinion, sufficiently ludicrous for the nature of the work.

It must, in justice, be allowed, that the “ Probationary Odes” possess a large fund of wit and humour, and, though abounding in personal raillery, are but little tinged with malignity. Mr. Warton himself, with the good humour incident to his character, entered heartily into the spirit of the joke. “ The Laureates of our country,” remarks Dr. Warton,

" have ever been, as Falstaff says,

the occasion of wit in other men ;' but never of more wit than was thrown away on Mr. Thomas Warton, who, of all men, felt the least, and least deserved to feel, the force of the Probationary Odes, written on his appointment to his office, and who always heartily joined in the laugh, and applauded the exquisite wit and humour that appeared in many of those original Satires. But I beg to add, that not one of those ingenious Laughers could have produced such pieces of true poetry as the Crusade, the Grave of King Arthur, the Suicide, and Ode on the Approach of Summer, by this very Laureate." *

The product of the Professorship of History was, we are sorry to say, merely an Inaugural Lecture;" this, which has been published by Mr. Mant, exhibits so much masterly criticism, in a style of great elegance, on the genius of the Greek and Latin historians, as to excite considerable regret that he did not prosecute the


In the year 1785, and just previous to these promotions, he produced his edition of " Milton's Juvenile Poems," the last work of any bulk which he lived to publish.

The great excellence of this edition depends

* Warton's Pope, vol. 6. p. 328.

« ПретходнаНастави »