Warburton, Bishop William

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Warburton, Bishop William (1698-1779): English Theologian.

William Warburton was an eminent theologian, literary critic, and editor of eighteen-century England. Although considered one of the truly great men of his age during his lifetime, he is today remembered primarily for his association with Pope, Alexander.

Ironically, that association, so important to Warburton, both personally and professionally, began with a seven-year correspondence with the much-abused Shakespearean editor Lewis Theobald, who became the hero Pope’s Dunciad, and with the publication of three anonymous attacks on Pope.

It was during his period as Theobald’s protégé that he began his major work of theology, The Divine Legation of Moses (1738, 1741), which was intended to be a defense of orthodox Christianity against the advances of deism, but which turned out to be a massive, though flawed, tome of theology, moral philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism.

Warburton’s relationship with Pope began following his break with Theobald, when Warburton published a series of “defenses” of Pope’s Essay on Man, which had been attacked for anti-Christian doctrines. Warburton and Pope began to correspond and then met in 1740, and their relationship continued for the remainder of Pope’s life. In addition to a large body of other writings, including sermons and literary criticism, Warburton wrote commentary for a number of Pope’s works, including The New Dunciad (1742), and Warburton became Pope’s literary executor, editing the first posthumous collection of Pope’s works and contributing significantly to Owen Ruffhead’s Life of Pope (1769).

Warburton married the niece of philanthropist Ralph Allen, to whom Pope had introduced him, and Allen’s influence helped Warburton to become the bishop of Gloucester. He died in 1779 and was buried in Gloucester Cathedral.

Further Reading:

Robert M. Ryley, William Warburton, 1984.

Robert Russ

Elon University

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