« ZurückWeiter »
in preparing his History of English Poetry, of which the first vol. appeared in 1774, his 47th year. The second volume was published in 1778, and the third in 1781.
In 1777, as if to procure an interval of relief from his severer labours, he amused himself by printing a selection of his poems, of which very few had hitherto been made public. Many, which had for years been scattered about in various collections, though known to be his, he for some reason refrained from introducing in this little volume.
The world, I believe, received this publication rather coldly. The Spenserian or Miltonic cast of language or rhythm, the crowded imagery, the descriptive or al. legorical turn, of most of the poems, were what Dr. Johnson (then possessed, without a rival, of the chair of criticism,) set all the energy of his invective, and the powers of his coarse ridicule, to decry. And the public, always glad to find an authority for their want of taste or of fancy, eagerly followed his example.
It is said that Dr. Johnson in the latter part of his life expressed his chagrin at some appearance of alie. nation in his friends the Wartons. But how unreasonable he must have been to expect otherwise! Who can bear ridicule on a favourite pursuit? And still less, unjust ridicule? No taste could have been more dissimilar, than that of Johnson and the Wartons ! No minds formed in more opposite moulds! The Wartons were classical scholars of the highest order, embued with all the enthusiasm, and all the prejudices if you will, of Greece and Rome, heightened by the romantic effusions of the ages of chivalry, by the sublimities of Dante and Milton, the wildness of Ariosto and Spen
ser, the beauties of Tasso and Petrareh. Johnson was a severe moralist, who, thinking merely from the sources of his own mind, endeavoured to banish all which he deemed the useless and unsubstantial eccentricities of the mind. He loved the “Truth severe," but he could not bear to see it
.“ in fairy fiction drest." How could such discordant tempers agree? Whenever they met, they must have parted with disgust. At least this must have been the case with the Wartons, whose quiet and unobtrusive manners rendered them unfit to cope with the vociferation and domineering spirit of Johnson, who often mistook the silence produced by rudeness for a proof of victory. To be overe powered by effrontery and noise, when we are confident that the force of argument is with us, is a provocation which few can bear!
Warton, who, even amid the seducing indolence of a college, constantly indulged the activity of his excursive intellect in some new subject of research, found time to relieve the toils of his history by drawing up a specimen of parochial topography, in an account of Kiddington in Oxfordshire, 1781, of which he was vicar. It is an admirable model for works of this nature, and discovers all that curious research in a new department of antiquities, for which he had already shewn such talents in a more flowery and inviting branch,
He also engaged in the Rowleian controversy, in a manner, which totally put an end to ihe question in the opinion of all rational and unprejudiced inquirers.
In 1785 he gave a new edition of the Juvenile Poems of Milton, 8vo. This was a grateful present to the public: another editor equally qualified for this task could not have been found in the literary world. The critic's favourite course of reading from his earliest years, his innate propensities, the structure of his mind, and the habitual course of his thoughts, all contributed to make him a congenial commentator on these beautiful poems. There are many who have blamed what they denonimate the excess of his illustrations. They conceive that the imitations and allusions which he has traced are sometimes fanciful, and sometimes too trivial for notice. But there is nothing, to which the ingenuity of envy and detraction cannot find plausible objections.
In this year he was, on the death of Whitehead, appointed Poet Laureat; and for the five succeeding years, (at the end of which, on May 21, 1790, he terminated his useful life, he produced his two annual Odes; compositions, which, written as a task on trite and constantly recurring subjects, must not be examined with too much severity, but which, much more often than could be expected, display the richness of his poetical vein.
In these constant and various employments passed the life of Thomas Warton. And surely as far as a life of calmness and equability, unmingled with those do"mestic endearments, which, if they involve the most bitter sufferings, add the highest zest to human pleasures, can be happy, it must have been happy! All "the luxuries of mental entertainment were at his command: libraries richly stored, and the silence of academic bowers, were ready to feed the curiosity of his
mind, constantly awake to literary research. Freed from those anxious cares for the provision of the day, which have embittered the existence of too many men of genius, he could ruminate undisturbed upon the visions of his fancy, or pursue, without the compunctious visitings of prudence, the airy and unrecompensed investigations of a romantic spirit. With him if
“ No children ran to lisp their sire's return,
he had none to reproach him for his neglect of worldly ambition, and his sacrifice to the unprofitable worship of the Muse.
Warton must be considered as one, who much employed himself in investigating the curiosities of literature. His pursuits therefore and his productions were of a less popular kind than those, which consisted of less research. Those minute facts, those pictures of manners, sentiments, and language, which he loved to discover and communicate, require minds of more than common cultivation to appreciate them. While there. fore the simple productions of Goldsmith made instantly their way among all ranks of people, and the unadorned energy of his sentiments and imagery found an echo in every bosom, the more laboured and highly wrought compositions of Warton, illuminated by a richly cultivated fancy, and polished by all the artifices of style, were little relished by the generality of readers.
The manners of Warton are said to have been in an eminent degree unaffected. They discovered without disguise the habits and propensities of his character. Independent in his pursuits, quiet, inobtrusive, and
ungoaded by vanity, and little accustomed to the collision of promiscuous society, he is said to have been silent and reserved in mixed companies; but, where he was familiar, to have opened all the powers of his mind, his vast fund of erudition, his brilliant fancy, and the chearful attractions of irresistible humour.
He has been blamed by those, who think wisdom consists in stateliness of manner and pomposity of dress, for a neglect of the little forms of life, and of those punctilious ceremonies by which they consider the dignity of station to be preserved. He is also said to have been fond of low company, a fault, which certainly did not become a man of his high qualities; but which perhaps had some affinity with his excellencies. It is probable, that disgusted with those formalities which depressed the freedom of his thoughts, and the ebullitions of his humour, he might seek companions in those, among whom the superiority of his station enabled him to indulge without restraint the ease and eccentricities of his mind. He might also hope to find more simplicity, energy, and originality of character in the lower classes. It is reported that he was often seen amongst the watermen of the Isis (or the Cherwell) enjoying the luxurious movement of the boat, and the freshness of the river breezes, or perhaps smoking his pipe, in solemn abstraction, or quaffing the favourite beverage, on which he has written a, panegyric with such happy humour !
(To be continued.]