Life of Thomas Warton, the Younger(9 January 1728-20 May 1790)
Thomas Warton was born onJanuary 9, 1728, and was baptized sixteen days later. He was the younger son of Thomas Warton, the elder, who was the vicar of Basingstroke. His mother, Elizabeth, was the second daughter of Joseph Richardson. Joseph Richardson was the rector of Dunsfold, Surrey. Joseph Warton, editor and head master atWinchesterSchool, was his older brother. His sister, Jane, was born in 1722.
Warton’s poetic works included odes, sonnets, and light verse. He did much to revive sonnets, which were considered unfashionable at that time. He is remembered for his interest in primitivism, which was an important stage toward romanticism.
At an early age, Thomas showed interest in writing poetry. His father directed his education until he was sixteen years old. He then he attended Trinity College, Oxford. In 1751, Thomas became a fellow of the college. At the tender age of seventeen, Thomas wrote The Pleasures of Melancholy, which was published two years later. While considered little more than a cento of passages from Milton and Spenser, it demonstrated his appreciation of sixteen and seventeenth century poetry, which was his focus.
In 1749 he wrote The Triumph of Isis, which was a poem written in praise of Oxford. It spoke applauding of those educated there. Published anonymously in 1747, it was a rebuttal to William Mason’sIsis, an Elegy published the year before, which made derogatory comments regarding the college. Soon afterward, Warton wroteNewmarket, a Satire, followed by a collection of verses.
Warton remained tied to the college as a tutor. He claimed that it left him little time for his writing. He did not, however, take his tutorial obligations very seriously. He always managed to have a pen in his hand for writing. He spent considerable time investigating archaeological digs particularly old churches and ruined castles. This contributed to his knowledge and fondness for Gothic architecture.
Warton was elected to the post of poet Laureate in 1747 and again in 1748. It was the practice ofTrinity College to elect certain officials annually. These included the poet laureate, whose duty it was to celebrate in English verse the lady patroness selected. On the appointed day, members assembled together while the poet laureate, crowned with a wreath of laurel, recited his verses.
Warton’s greatest and most important work probably wasThe History of English Poetry. This was compiled in three volumes issued in 1774, 1778, and 1781, respectively. While never completed, it was well recognized for the valuable information it contained.
Some of Warton’s other writing includedObservations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser published in 1754. This was a one volume octavo, which he later corrected and elaborated further by publishing two volumes in 1762. He was also well known for being the editor ofThe Oxford Sausage, which was a publication of miscellaneous information. Some of his work was quite amusing and satirical in nature. He was deeply influenced by earlier English poets, such as Chaucer, Drayton, Fairfax, and Spenser.
Warton’s private life included such simple pleasures as rising early and exercising regularly. He enjoyed drinking ale and smoking a pipe. He was known to be a “great punster, gay, and witty in his conversation” (Poets Laureate 200). Unfortunately, Warton’s life came to a sudden halt when death took him from gout, on May 21st, 1790. He was buried in Trinity College Chapel with highest honors. His contributions to literature and his good personal life bestowed upon him that privilege.
Bredvold, Louis I.The Literature of the Restoration and the Eighteenth Century 1660-1798.New York: Collier Books, 1962.
Curley, Dorothy, Kramer, Maurice, Kramer, Elaine, eds.A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature. Vol. 1. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1970. 3 vols.
Drabble, M. ed.TheOxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford, 2000.
Hamilton.The Poets Laureate ofEngland. Detroit: Gale, 1968.
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