The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 21. Hurd
Joseph Warton did not care for the Middle Ages as his brother did, but he saw more clearly than Thomas how great a poet Dante was; “perhaps the Inferno of Dante is the next composition to the Iliad, in point of originality and sublimity.” The footnote here (“Milton was particularly fond of this writer” etc.) shows, by its phrasing, how little known Dante was at that time to the English reading public. Though Joseph Warton was not a medievalist like Thomas, he had that appreciation of Spenser and Milton which was the chief sign and accompaniment of medieval studies in England. His judgment of Pope and of modern poetry agrees with the opinion expressed by Hurd in his Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762: six years after the first part of Joseph Warton’s Essay, eight years after Thomas Warton on The Faerie Queene).What we have gotten by this revolution, you will say, is a great deal of good sense. What we have lost, is a world of fine fabling; the illusion of which is so grateful to the Charmed Spirit that in spite of philosophy and fashion Faery Spenser still ranks highest among the Poets; I mean with all those who are either come of that house, or have any kindness for it.Hurd’s Letters are the best explanation of the critical view which saw the value of romance—“the Gothic fables of chivalry”—without any particular knowledge of old French or much curiosity about any poetry older than Ariosto. Not medieval poetry, but medieval customs and sentiments, were interesting; and so Hurd and many others who were tired of the poetry of good sense looked on Ariosto, Tasso and Spenser as the true poets of the medieval heroic age. It should be observed that the age of “good sense” was not slow to appreciate “the fairy way of writing”—the phrase is Dryden’s, and Addison made it a text for one of his essays on Imagination.