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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages

§ 19. Thomas Warton the Younger and his Poems

The advertisement to Warton’s Poems (1791) remarks that the author was “of the school of Spenser and Milton, rather than that of Pope.” The old English poetry which he studied and described in his history had not much direct influence on his own compositions; the effect of his medieval researches was not to make him an imitator of the Middle Ages, but to give him a wider range in modern poetry. Study of the Middle Ages implied freedom from many common literary prejudices, and, with Warton, as with Gray and Chatterton and others, the freedom of poetry and of poetical study was the chief thing; metrical romances, Chaucer and Gower, Lydgate and Gawain Douglas, led, usually, not to a revival of medieval forms, but to a quickening of interest in Spenser and Milton. Nor was the school of Pope renounced or dishonoured in consequence of Warton’s “Gothic” taste; he uses the regular couplet to describe his medieval studies:

  • Long have I loved to catch the simple chime
  • Of minstrel-harps, and spell the fabling rime;
  • To view the festive rites, the knightly play,
  • That deck’d heroic Albion’s elder day;
  • To mark the mouldering halls of barons bold,
  • And the rough castle, cast in giant mould;
  • With Gothic manners Gothic arts explore
  • And muse on the magnificence of yore.
  • Thomas Warton’s freedom of admiration does not make him disrespectful to the ordinary canons of literary taste; he does not go so far as his brother Joseph. He is a believer in the dignity of general terms, which was disparaged by his brother; this is a fair of conservative literary opinion in the eighteenth century.