The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 20. His History of English Poetry
The History of English Poetry (in three volumes, 1774, 1778, 1781) was severely criticised; not only, as by Ritson, for inaccuracy, but, even more severely, for incoherence. Scott is merciless on this head:
This does not make allowance enough, either for the difficulties of Warton’s explorations or for the various purposes of literary history. Warton certainly had no gift for historical construction. But the art of Gibbon is not required for every history, and the history of literature can spare a coherent plan, so long as the historian provides such plenty of samples as Warton always gives. Obviously, in literature, the separate facts may be interesting and intelligible, while the bare facts of political history can but rarely be such. The relation of book to book is not like the relation of one battle to another in the same war, or of one political act to the other events of a king’s reign. In literary history, desultory reading and writing need not be senseless or useless; and Warton’s work has and retains an interest and value which will outlast many ingenious writings of critics more thoroughly disciplined. Further, his biographer Mant has ground for his opinion (contrary to Scott’s) that Warton