Thomas Warton

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Thomas Warton
Thomas Warton by Reynolds.jpg
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
In office
20 April 1785 – 21 May 1790
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byWilliam Whitehead
Succeeded byHenry James Pye
Personal details
Born(1728-01-09)9 January 1728
Basingstoke, Hampshire, England
Died21 May 1790(1790-05-21) (aged 62)
Oxford, England
Alma materTrinity College, Oxford
OccupationLiterary historian, critic, and poet

Thomas Warton (9 January 1728 – 21 May 1790) was an English literary historian, critic, and poet. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1785, following the death of William Whitehead (poet). He is sometimes called Thomas Warton the younger to distinguish him from his father Thomas Warton the elder. His most famous poem is The Pleasures of Melancholy, a representative work of the Graveyard poets.


Warton was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, the son of poet Thomas Warton, the Elder, and younger brother of Joseph Warton and Jane Warton. As a youngster, Warton demonstrated a strong predilection toward writing poetry, a skill he would continue to develop all of his life.[1] In fact, Warton translated one of Martial's epigrams at nine, and wrote The Pleasures of Melancholy at seventeen.[2]

His early education was given to him by his father at home. In March 1744, at sixteen years of age, he entered Trinity College, Oxford. He graduated from Oxford in 1747, where he subsequently became a Fellow. Warton was selected as Poet Laureate of Oxford in 1747 and again in 1748. His duty in this post was to write a poem about a selected patroness of the university, which would be read to her on a specially appointed day.[1]

Dr. Samuel Johnson, authorJames Boswell, biographerSir Joshua Reynolds, hostDavid Garrick, actorEdmund Burke, statesmanPasqual Paoli, Corsican independentCharles Burney, music historianThomas Warton, poet laureateOliver Goldsmith, writerProbably ''The Infant Academy'' (1782)Puck by Joshua ReynoldsUnknown portraitServant, possibly Dr. Johnson's heirUse button to enlarge or use hyperlinks
A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's.[3] Left to right: James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Pasquale Paoli, Charles Burney, a servant (possibly Francis Barber), Thomas Warton, Oliver Goldsmith. (select a detail of the image for more information)

Warton was appointed Professor of Poetry at the university in 1757, a post that he held for ten years.[4]

In 1771 he was appointed rector of Kiddington in Oxfordshire, a post he held until his death.

In 1785, he was appointed Camden Professor of History, as well as Poet Laureate. He was a friend and rival of Samuel Johnson, and his poetry was greatly influenced by earlier English poets such as Chaucer, Drayton, Fairfax, and Spenser.

Among other important contributions, Warton, along with his brother, was among the first to argue that Sir Thopas, by Geoffrey Chaucer, was a parody. Warton contributed to the general project of the ballad revival. He was a general supporter of the poetry of Thomas Gray—a fact that Johnson satirized in his parody "Hermit hoar, in solemn cell." Among his minor works were an edition of Theocritus, a selection of Latin and Greek inscriptions, the humorous Oxford Companion to the Guide and Guide to the Companion (1762); lives of Sir Thomas Pope and Ralph Bathurst; and an Inquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley (1782).[2]

Warton gave little attention to his clerical duties, and Oxford always remained his home. He was known as a very easy and convivial as well as a very learned don, with a taste for taverns and crowds as well as dim aisles and romances.

Poetry, criticism and historical works[edit]

In a poem written in 1745 he shows the delight in Gothic churches and ruined castles which inspired much of his subsequent work in romantic revival. Most of Warton's poetry was written before the age of twenty-three, when he took his M.A. degree.[2] In 1749, he penned The Triumph of Isis, a poem in praise of Oxford and the many students who had received their education there. Published anonymously, The Triumph of Isis rebutted William Mason's Isis, an Elegy published the previous year, which was anything but flattering to Oxford.[1]

Following the success of The Triumph of Isis, Warton wrote Newmarket, a Satire, which was followed by a collection of verses. His complete poetical works were included in an anthology that has been reissued.[5]

Although he continued to write poetry, Warton's main energies were turned to poetical reading and criticism.[2] His first major academic work was Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser, published in 1754. He is, however, best known for the three-volume The History of English Poetry (1774–81), which covered the poetry of the 11th through the 16th centuries. Although the work was criticized for its many inaccuracies, it is nonetheless considered a highly important and influential historical tome.

In 1782 he wrote The History and Antiquities of Kiddington, an early example of English local history.[6]

As a poet, Warton was more inclined toward light and humorous verse, odes and sonnets. His sonnets helped to revive the form, which had fallen out of fashion. He was interested in primitivism, which was an important stage toward romanticism.

A sonnet by Warton[edit]

To the River Lodon[a]

Ah! what a weary race my feet have run
Since first I trod thy banks with alders crowned,
And thought my way was all thro' fairy ground,
Beneath thy azure sky and golden sun;
Where first my muse to lisp her notes begun!
While pensive Memory traces back the round,
Which fills the varied interval between;
Much pleasure, more of sorrow, marks the scene.
Sweet native stream! those skies and suns so pure
No more return, to cheer my evening road!
Yet still one joy remains, that, not obscure,
Nor useless, all my vacant days have flowed,
From youth's gay dawn to manhood's prime mature;
Nor with the muse's laurel unbestowed.


Various works[edit]

  • The Pleasures of Melancholy.
  • Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser. 1754.
  • The Oxford Sausage. 1764. – an anthology of verse and Oxford wit
  • Inquiry into the Authenticity of the Rowley Poems. 1770.
  • History of English Poetry. 1774–1781.
  • The History and Antiquities of Kiddington. 1782.

Warton Lectures[edit]

In 1910 Frida Mond endowed the British Academy with a fund to establish an annual Shakespeare oration or lecture, as well as an annual lecture on English poetry to be called the Warton Lecture, as a tribute to the memory of Thomas Warton as a historian of English poetry. The inaugural lectures in these series were delivered in 1911 and 1910, respectively.[8][9]


a. ^ The River Lodon referred to by Warton is a stream running through the Parsonage House of his childhood, in Basingstoke.[10] The River Loddon is a tributary of the Thames rising in Basingstoke from a spring at West Ham Farm, and two others north of Bramblys Drive,[11] and in its first mile now flows under the Festival Place shopping centre of the town centre. The river joins the Thames at Wargrave in the county of Berkshire and the Loddon Lily, a bulbous plant favouring swamps and heavy clay soils, is named for it.


  1. ^ a b c Life of Thomas Warton, the Younger Archived 14 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Warton, Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 337.
  3. ^ 'A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, D. George Thompson, published by Owen Bailey, after James William Edmund Doyle, published 1 October 1851
  4. ^ "He was ordained and eventually served as professor of poetry at Oxford from 1757 to 1767." Warton, Thomas, 1728–90, English poet and literary historian at
  5. ^ General Books LLC Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine ISBN 1-154-89122-4, reissue of The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray, Thomas Parnell, William Collins, Matthew Green, and Thomas Warton, Routledge, 1853, London by Robert Aris Willmott.
  6. ^ Warton, T. The History and Antiquities of Kiddington. 3rd edition (1815) in Google Books
  7. ^ Chambers' Book of Days 21 May
  8. ^ "Frida Mond: A good friend to the British Academy". The British Academy.
  9. ^ "Warton Lectures on English Poetry". The British Academy.
  10. ^ Gilfillan, Rev. George (1854). The Poetical Works of Goldsmith, Collins and T. Warton. Edinburgh: James Nichol.
  11. ^ "Ordnance Survey map 1896". National Library of Scotland.

External links[edit]

Court offices
Preceded by British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by