Johnson and the Warton Brothers

David Fairer

in Samuel Johnson

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199654345
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745003 | DOI:
Johnson and the Warton Brothers

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The story of Johnson's relations with the ‘learned brothers’, Joseph and Thomas Warton, has been told as one of intimate friendship, followed by growing strains, and final rupture. But rather than trace a biographical narrative, this chapter focuses on elements of mutual stimulus and fruitful provocation, both critical and creative. The Warton brothers never considered themselves part of the Johnsonian ‘circle’, and this uneasy distance makes their interactions revealing. Placing Johnson in Wartonian contexts, and vice versa, helps to highlight contrasting aspects of Johnson and his work. There is friction and resistance, but also geniality and laughter, and Johnson appears less as a figure of entrenched opposition than an alert and playful mind aware of ironies and nuances. As poets and critics of poetry, Johnson and the Wartons struck off each other. The brothers were an amicable critical opposition that Johnson enjoyed baiting, parodying, and shocking, while the Wartons found in Johnson a stubborn figure who helped them articulate their poetic enthusiasms. The men's critical disagreements were creatively stimulating on both sides.

Keywords: Samuel Johnson; Joseph Warton; Thomas Warton; Johnson and biography; poetry; eighteenth-century criticism

Chapter.  6112 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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