Warton was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England, and was the younger brother of Joseph Warton. He was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford, where he subsequently became a Fellow. He was appointed Professor of Poetry at the university in 1757, and held the post for ten years. In 1785, he was appointed Camden Professor of History, as well as poet laureate. He was a friend as well as a rival of Samuel Johnson.