Thomas Warton (January 9, 1728 – May 21, 1790) was an English literary historian and critic, as well as a poet. From 1785 through 1790 he was the Poet Laureate of England.
Warton was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England, the son of poet Thomas Warton, the Elder (c. 1688 - 1745), and younger brother of Joseph Warton. As a youngster, Warton demonstrated a strong predilection toward writing poetry, a skill he would continue to develop all of his life. In fact, Warton translated one of Martial's epigrams at nine, and wrote The Pleasures of Melancholy at seventeen
His early education was given him by his father. At sixteen years of age he enrolled at Winchester College, later moving to 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 write a poem about a selected patroness of the University, which would be read to her on a specially appointed day.
Warton was appointed Professor of Poetry at the university in 1757, and held the post for ten years.
In 1785, he was appointed Camden Professor of History, as well as poet laureate. He was a friend as well as a rival of Samuel Johnson, and his poetry was greatly influenced by earlier English poets, like 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).
Poetry, Criticism and Historical Works
In 1749, Warton penned The Triumph of Isis, a poem praising 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.
Following the success of The Triumph of Isis, Warton wrote Newmarket, a Satire, which was followed by a collection of verses.
Warton's 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.
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 is remembered for his interest in primitivism, which was an important stage toward romanticism.