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The Man of Taste   By: (1694?-1744)

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Transcriber's Note: Superscript characters are preceded by a caret (^).





Introduction by F. P. LOCK





William E. Conway, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library George Robert Guffey, University of California, Los Angeles Maximillian E. Novak, University of California, Los Angeles David S. Rodes, University of California, Los Angeles


Richard C. Boys, University of Michigan James L. Clifford, Columbia University Ralph Cohen, University of Virginia Vinton A. Dearing, University of California, Los Angeles Arthur Friedman, University of Chicago Louis A. Landa, Princeton University Earl Miner, Princeton University Samuel H. Monk, University of Minnesota Everett T. Moore, University of California, Los Angeles Lawrence Clark Powell, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library James Sutherland, University College, London H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles Robert Vosper, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library


Beverly J. Onley, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library


For what has Virro painted, built, and planted? Only to show, how many Tastes he wanted. What brought Sir Visto's ill got wealth to waste? Some Daemon whisper'd, "Visto! have a Taste."

(Pope, Epistle to Burlington)

The idea of "taste" and the ideal of the "man of taste" have fallen considerably in critical esteem since the eighteenth century. When F. R. Leavis calls Andrew Lang "a scholar and a man of taste, with a feeling for language and a desire to write poetry,"[1] it is clear that for Leavis these attributes disqualify Lang from being taken seriously as a poet. But for the age of Pope, "taste" was a key term in its aesthetic thinking; the meaning and application of the term was a lively issue which engaged most of the ablest minds of the period.

Addison prefaced his series of Spectator papers on the "Pleasures of the Imagination" with a ground clearing essay on "taste" (No. 409). In this classic account of the term, Addison defines "taste" as "that Faculty of the Soul, which discerns the Beauties of an Author with Pleasure, and the Imperfections with Dislike." Addison's "taste" is an innate proclivity towards certain kinds of aesthetic experience that has been consciously cultivated in the approved direction. It is not enough to value and enjoy the right authors; they must be valued and enjoyed for the right reasons. When he holds up to ridicule the man who assured him that "the greatest Pleasure he took in reading Virgil, was in examining Aeneas his Voyage by the Map," Addison clearly expects his readers to agree that such a singular taste was in fact no taste at all. His account implies not only a standard of "taste," but also general agreement, at least among "men of taste," about what the standard was. It is this circularity that makes it essential to assume some innate faculty of "taste."

But Addison's prescription for the cultivation of taste was a laborious one, involving prolonged reading and study. The wealthy, and especially the newly wealthy, were tempted to confuse the correct appreciation of the objects of taste with the mere possession of them; so that, as with Pope's Timon in the Epistle to Burlington (1731), owning a library became a substitute for reading books. This false taste for ostentation especially in buildings is a frequent target of contemporary satire.

The social importance of "taste" as an index of wealth was reinforced by current philosophical thinking that gave "taste" a moral dimension too. In his Characteristicks (1711), Shaftesbury postulated an innate moral sense, just as Addison did an innate aesthetic sense. Shaftesbury draws this analogy between the moral and the aesthetic:

The Case is the same here [in the mental or moral Subjects], as in the ordinary Bodys, or common Subjects of Sense... Continue reading book >>

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