Thomas Warton was born at Basingstoke, Hampshire, the son of Thomas Warton who was Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1718-1726), then vicar of Basingstoke, and the brother of the poet and critic Joseph Warton. He showed an early interest in literature and is reputed to have translated an epigram of Martial at the age of nine. What is known for certain though is that he wrote the blank verse work, Pleasures of Melancholy, at the age of seventeen which was published anonymously in 1747. He was then at Trinity College, Oxford, having previously been home-schooled by his father and having spent one year at Winchester College. After graduating in 1747, he became a Fellow of the College in 1751and Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1757 until 1767. After being ordained, he became rector of Kiddington, Oxfordshire in 1771, a post he held until his death and in 1785 he succeeded William Whitehead as poet laureate.
Thomas Warton wrote most of his best poetry in his younger days in the form of odes, sonnets and light, humorous verse as well as a number of poems in praise of Oxford, including The Triumph of Isis (1749). He also edited The Oxford Sausage, an anthology of Oxford wit. He later turned his attention more to serious prose works of biography and literary history and criticism. His biographies included Sir Thomas Pope, the founder of Trinity College, and Ralph Bathurst, a celebrated theologian and physician. He wrote Observations of the Fairie Queene of Spenser in 1754 and The History and Antiquities of Kiddington in 1782.
He is probably now best remembered for his Pleasures of Melancholy and his History of English Poetry From the Close of The Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century, a pioneering work that he did not get to complete, reaching only up to the beginning of the Seventeenth. It contained some inaccuracies but is nevertheless a valuable reference work. Thomas Warton was clearly a man of great erudition and scholarship. He died after a stroke, aged 62, ironically not long after penning the laureate’s traditional Birthday Ode about the blessings of good health.