William Warburton (24 December 1698 – 7 June 1779) was an English writer, literary critic and churchman, Bishop of Gloucester from 1759 until his death. He edited editions of the works of his friend Alexander Pope, and of William Shakespeare.
Warburton was born on 24 December 1698 at Newark, Nottinghamshire, where his father, George Warburton was town clerk. He was educated at Oakham and Newark grammar schools, and in 1714 he was articled to Mr Kirke, an attorney, at East Markham. In 1719, after serving his articles he returned to Newark, where he began to practise as a solicitor, but, having studied Latin and Greek, changed his mind and was ordained deacon by the Archbishop of York in 1723. He was ordained as a priest in 1726, and in the same year began to associate with literary circles in London.
Sir Robert Sutton gave Warburton the small living of Greasley, in Nottinghamshire, exchanged next year for that of Brant Broughton in Lincolnshire. He was, in addition, rector of Firsby from 1730 until 1756, although he never lived in the village. In 1728 he was made an honorary M.A. of the University of Cambridge.
At Brant Broughton for 18 years he spent his time in study, the first result of which was his treatise on the Alliance between Church and State (1736). The book brought Warburton into favour at court, and he probably only missed immediate preferment by the death of Queen Caroline.
A series of articles defending the writings of Alexander Pope against charges of religious unorthodoxy, led to a friendship with the poet which contributed greatly to Warburton's social advancement. Pope introduced him to both William Murray, later Lord Mansfield, who obtained for him the preachership of Lincoln's Inn in 1746, and to Ralph Allen, who, in Dr Johnson's words, "gave him his niece and his estate, and, by consequence, a bishopric." Warburton married Gertrude Tucker, in September 1745, and from that time lived at Allen's estate at Prior Park, in Gloucestershire, which he eventually inherited in 1764.
By 1727 Warburton had written the notes he contributed to Lewis Theobald's edition of Shakespeare, published aCritical and Philosophical Enquiry into the Causes of Miracles, and contributed anonymously to a pamphlet on the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery, The Legal Judicature in Chancery stated (1727). This was an answer to another anonymous pamphlet, written by Philip Yorke, later Lord Chancellor.
The Divine Legation
After Alliance between Church and State, his next and best-known work, Divine Legation of Moses demonstrated on the Principles of a Religious Deist (1737–41, in two volumes), preserves his name as the author of the most daring and ingenious of theological paradoxes. The deists had made the absence of any inculcation of the doctrine of a future life an objection to the divine authority of the Mosaic writings. Warburton boldly admitted the fact and turned it against the adversary by maintaining that no merely human legislator would have omitted such a sanction of morality. Warburton's extraordinary power, learning and originality were acknowledged on all sides, though he excited censure and suspicion by his tenderness to the alleged heresies of Conyers Middleton. The book aroused much controversy. In a pamphlet of "Remarks" (1742), he replied to John Tillard, and Remarks on Several Occasional Reflections (1744–45) was an answer to Akenside, Conyers Middleton (who had been his friend), Richard Pococke, Nicholas Mann, Richard Grey, Henry Stebbing and other critics. As he characterised his opponents in general as the "pestilent herd of libertine scribblers with which the island is overrun," it is no surprise that the book made him many bitter enemies.
Defence of Pope
Either in quest of paradox, or unable to recognise the real tendencies of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, he defended it against the Examen of Jean Pierre de Crousaz, in a series of articles contributed to The Works of the Learned in 1738–9. Whether Pope had really understood the tendency of his own work has always been doubtful, but there is no question that he was glad of an apologist, and that Warburton's jeu d'esprit in the long run helped more than all his erudition. It led to a sincere friendship between him and Pope, whom he persuaded to add a fourth book to the Dunciad, and encouraged to substitute Colley Cibber for Theobald as the "hero" of the poem in the edition of 1743 published under the editorship of Warburton. On his death in 1744, Pope left Warburton half of his library, and the copyright of his works, of which Warburton published an edition in 1751.
Edition of Shakespeare
In 1747 his edition of Shakespeare was published, incorporating material from Pope's earlier edition. He had previously entrusted notes and emendations on Shakespeare to Sir Thomas Hanmer, whose unauthorised use of them led to a heated controversy. He also accused Lewis Theobald, with whom he had corresponded with on Shakespearean subjects as early as 1727, of stealing his ideas, and denied his critical ability.
Warburton was further kept busy by replying the attacks on his Divine Legation from all quarters, by a dispute with Bolingbroke respecting Pope's behaviour in the affair of Bolingbroke's Patriot King, and by a vindication in 1750 of the alleged miraculous interruption of the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem undertaken by Julian, in answer to Conyers Middleton. According to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica "Warburton's manner of dealing with opponents was both insolent and rancorous, but it did him no disservice."
He continued to write for as long as the infirmities of age allowed, collecting and publishing his sermons, and attempting to complete the Divine Legation, further fragments of which were published with his posthumous Works. He wrote a defence of revealed religion in his View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy (1754), and Hume's Natural History of Religion called forth some Remarks ... by a gentleman of Cambridge (1757) from Warburton, in which his friend and biographer, Richard Hurd, had a share.
In 1762 he launched a vigorous attack on Methodism under the title of The Doctrine of Grace. He also engaged in a keen controversy with Robert Lowth, later bishop of London, on the book of Job, in which Lowth brought home charges of lack of scholarship and of insolence that admitted of no denial. His last important act was to found in 1768 the Warburtonian lecture at Lincoln's Inn, "to prove the truth of revealed religion ... from the completion of the prophecies of the Old and New Testament which relate to the Christian Church, especially to the apostasy of Papal Rome."
Posthumous publications and biographies
His works were edited in seven volumes (1788) by Richard Hurd with a biographical preface, and the correspondence between the two friends—an important contribution to the literary history of the period—was edited by Samuel Parr in 1808. Warburton's life was also written by John Selby Watson in 1863, and Mark Pattison made him the subject of an essay in 1889.
- Knight, Charles, ed. (1858). "Warburton, William". The English Cyclopaedia. Biography —Volume 6. London: Bradbury and Evans.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
- "Warburton, William (WRBN728W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Barchas, Janine (2012). Matters of fact in Jane Austen history, location, and celebrity. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9781421407319.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Works by William Warburton at Project Gutenberg
- Bibliographic directory from Project Canterbury
- Works by William Warburton at Post-Reformation Digital Library
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