Monday, May 21, 2012

Thomas Warton


English Poet Laureate Thomas Warton died on May 21st, 1790.  The following comment on Thomas Warton, made by Sir Walter Scott, is found on the Spenserians.cath.vt.edu website:

‘Although every thing belonging to the reign of the Virgin Queen carries with it a secret charm to Englishmen, no commentator of the Faery Queen has taken the trouble to go very deep into those annals, for the purpose of illustrating the secret, and, as it were, esoteric allusions of Spenser's poem. Upton is the only one who has pointed out some of these relations and allusions; but he has neither been sufficiently particular, nor is the low vulgar familiarity of his style a fit accompaniment to the lofty verse of Spenser. Church and Hughes both remain in the court of the Gentiles; and the present worthy commentator adds little to their labours, save a few crumbs of verbal criticism. We fear they have verified the saying of Hamlet, that a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear. Those political inuendos which Spenser wrapt up in mystery and allegory, may even remain like unexpounded oracles, for all the light these learned gentlemen can throw upon them. They have not even followed the clue thrown out by Upton. As for the late Laureate, it is well known that he could never follow a clue of any kind. With a head abounding in multifarious lore, and a mind unquestionably imbued with true poetic fire, he wielded that most fatal of all implements to its possessor, a pen so scaturient and unretentive, that we think he himself must have been often astonished, not only at the extent of his lucubrations, but at their total and absolute want of connexion with the subject he had assigned to himself. Thus, instead of a history of poetry, he presented the world with three huge volumes of mingled and indigested quotations and remarks, in which the reader, like the ancient alchemists in their researches, is sure to meet every thing but what he is seeking for. Had Mr. Warton, therefore, sat down to explain the political allusions, of Spenser, he would probably have commenced with an erudite history of Croesus, king of Lydia. So useless are parts and erudition, when not directed soberly and steadily to the illustration of the point in hand. It may be expected that we should produce some examples of the crimes of omission imputable to Mr. Todd and his predecessors.’

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