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Title: Essays on Taste
Author: Armstrong, John, 1709-1779, Cooper, John Gilbert
Language: English
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  The Augustan Reprint Society



     John Gilbert Cooper

  _Letters Concerning Taste_

     Third Edition (1757)


       John Armstrong



   With an Introduction by

         Ralph Cohen

Publication Number 30

Los Angeles

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

University of California

  H. RICHARD ARCHER,    _Clark Memorial Library_
  RICHARD C. BOYS.,     _University of Michigan_
  EDWARD NILES HOOKER,  _University of California, Los Angeles_
  JOHN LOFTIS,          _University of California, Los Angeles_

  W. EARL BRITTON,      _University of Michigan_

  EMMETT L. AVERY,      _State College of Washington_
  BENJAMIN BOYCE,       _Duke University_
  LOUIS I. BREDVOLD,    _University of Michigan_
  CLEANTH BROOKS,       _Yale University_
  JAMES L. CLIFFORD,    _Columbia University_
  ARTHUR FRIEDMAN,      _University of Chicago_
  LOUIS A. LANDA,       _Princeton University_
  SAMUEL H. MONK,       _University of Minnesota_
  ERNEST MOSSNER,       _University of Texas_
  JAMES SUTHERLAND,     _Queen Mary College, London_
  H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., _University of California, Los Angeles_


The essays on taste taken from the work of John Gilbert Cooper and
John Armstrong and reprinted in this issue are of interest and value
to the student of the eighteenth century because they typify the
shifting attitudes toward taste held by most mid-century poets and
critics. Cooper, who accepts the Shaftesbury-Hutchesonian thesis of
the internal sense, emphasizes the personal, ecstatic effect of taste.
Armstrong, while accepting the rationalist notions of clarity
and simplicity, attacks methodized rules and urges reliance on

Following Shaftesbury and Hutcheson closely, Cooper treats taste as an
immediate, prerational response of an internal sense to the proportion
and harmony in nature, a response from an internal harmony of the
senses, imagination, and understanding to a similar harmony in
external nature. Cooper defines the effect of good taste as a "Glow
of Pleasure which thrills thro' our whole Frame." This "Glow" is
characterized by high emotional sensibility, and it thus minimizes the
passivity which Hutcheson attributes to the internal sense.

Armstrong's sources are more eclectic than Cooper's. Armstrong shows
similarities to Pope in his rationalism, to Dennis in his treatment
of poetry as an expression of the passions, and to Hutcheson in his
emphasis on benevolence and the psychological basis of perception.
But to these views, he frequently adds personal eccentricities. For
example, _Taste: An Epistle to a Young Critic_ reveals its Popean
descent in its tone and form; however, its gastronomic ending displays
Armstrong's interest, as a physician, in the relation of diet to
literary taste. If Armstrong's boast that "I'm a shrewd observer,
and will guess What books you doat on from your fav'rite mess," is
a personal eccentricity, his attack on false criticism and his
exhortation to judge for oneself are typical harbingers of late
eighteenth-century individualism and confidence in the "natural" man.

    An honest farmer, or shepherd [writes Armstrong in "Of
    Taste"], who is acquainted with no language but what is
    spoken in his own county, may have a much truer relish of the
    _English_ writers than the most dogmatical pedant that ever
    erected himself into a commentator, and from his _Gothic_
    chair, with an ill-bred arrogance, dictated false criticism to
    the gaping multitude.[1]

[Footnote 1: John Armstrong, _Miscellanies_ (London, 1770), II, 137.]

Cooper and Armstrong both hold a historically intermediate position
in their attitudes toward taste, accepting early eighteenth-century
assumptions and balancing them with late eighteenth-century emphases.
Neither of them abandons the moral assumption of art which, as
Armstrong explains it, is a belief in "a standard of right and wrong
in the nature of things, of beauty and deformity, both in the natural
and moral world."[2] Cooper, who defines taste as a thrilling response
to art, falls back upon Hutcheson in minimizing the importance of
art and making it secondary to moral knowledge. Armstrong, while
describing taste as the sensitive discrimination of degrees of beauty
and deformity, bases this discrimination not on artistic, but on moral

[Footnote 2: _Ibid._, II, 134.]

The complete transition from classic to romantic premises of taste is
characterized by the separation of art from morals. This step neither
Cooper nor Armstrong takes. But they do exhibit tendencies which
explain how the shift was made possible. Both writers insist on a felt
response to a work of art. Cooper emphasizes that this response must
be to the whole work. This assumption implies that a work of art is
an entity complete in itself; it makes possible the argument that
art conveys artistic, not moral knowledge. Cooper, by stressing
sensibility as an effect of taste, suggests the Wordsworthian notion
that the poet is more sensitive than other people.

Armstrong, in addition to his hostility to formal criticism and his
confidence in the natural man, reveals three other tendencies which
later eighteenth-century critics elaborated. Like Edward Young in his
_Conjectures on Original Composition_, 1759, Armstrong opposes slavish
imitation of ancient models and declares that the writer should "catch
their graces without affecting it [them]" so that his "own original
characteristical manner will still distinguish itself."[3] Armstrong
emphasizes exquisiteness of perception as the basis for taste: the
more exquisite the mind, the more is it able to discriminate among
the various degrees of the beautiful and the deformed. Although later
critics repudiate Armstrong's moral discrimination, they transform
it into a refined discrimination of aesthetic qualities. Finally, by
suggesting that the man of genius differs from the man of taste by
his ability to handle a medium, Armstrong implies the possibility of
a technical criticism in terms of the writer's craft, apart from moral

[Footnote 3: _Ibid._, II, 168.]

Although the works of Cooper and Armstrong elicited contrasting
popular reactions--_Letters concerning Taste_ running into four
editions from 1755 to 1771 and Armstrong's writings, with the
exception of _The Art of Preserving Health_, never winning much public
favor--neither writer exerted a strong critical influence. Cooper did
not reassess or change significantly the assumptions of Shaftesbury
and Hutcheson. His work was primarily a popularization of their ideas,
and, in its enthusiastic language, its emphasis on sensibility,
and its epistolary form, it seems directed at flattering a female
audience. Armstrong's remarks on taste, written in imitation of
the simplicity and clarity of the rational tradition, are personal
assertions and opinions rather than well-defined or clearly
thought-out critical positions. They are random thoughts rather than a
coherent critical theory.

The significance of Cooper and Armstrong rests, therefore, on certain
representative attitudes toward taste which exhibit the change
"from classic to romantic." On the one hand, they accept the moral
postulates of art, and, on the other, they emphasize the emotional
basis of taste. Cooper treats art as a secondary form of knowledge,
yet emphasizes the thrill that art gives. Armstrong accepts
the standards of clarity and simplicity, while emphasizing the
individuality of response and the need for discriminating particular,
rather than general, qualities. Though Cooper and Armstrong fail to
revaluate the traditions they accept, they exemplify trends which
led others to perform this revaluation and to transform the moral
assumptions into aesthetic criteria.

Bibliographical Note

The two reprints from the twenty letters of John Gilbert Cooper's
_Letters concerning Taste. To which are added Essays on similar and
other Subjects_ are from the third edition, dated 1757; the first
edition was published in 1755 as _Letters concerning Taste_.
The selections by John Armstrong are taken from the two-volume
_Miscellanies_ published in 1770. "The Taste of the Present Age"
received its first publication in this edition, but the other prose
had previously been published in 1758 under the pseudonym of Launcelot
Temple in the first volume of _Sketches: or Essays on Various
Subjects_. The poem _Taste: An Epistle to a Young Critic_ was first
published in 1753.

  Ralph Cohen




Whence comes it, EUPHEMIUS, that you, who are _feelingly_ alive to
each fine Sensation that Beauty or Harmony gives the Soul, should so
often assert, contrary to what you daily experience, _that_ TASTE _is
governed by Caprice, and that_ BEAUTY _is reducible to no Criterion?_
I am afraid your Generosity in this Instance is greater than your
Sincerity, and that you are willing to compliment the circle of your
Friends, in giving up by this Concession that envied Superiority you
might claim over them, should it be acknowledged that those uncommon
Emotions of Pleasure, which arise in your Breast upon the Observation
of moral or natural Elegance, were caused by a more ready and intimate
Perception of that universal TRUTH, which the all-perfect CREATOR
of this harmonious System ordained to be the VENUS of every Object,
whether in the Material World; in the imitative Arts; or in living
Characters and Manners. How irreconcileable are your Doctrines to the
Example you afford us! However, since you press me to justify your
Practice against your Declarations, by giving a Definition of what is
meant by TASTE, I shall not avoid the invidious Office of pointing out
your superior Excellence to others, by proving that TRUTH and BEAUTY
are coincident, and that the warmest Admirers of these CELESTIAL
TWINS, have consequently Souls more nearly allied to ætherial Spirits
of a higher Order. The effect of a _good_ TASTE is that instantaneous
Glow of Pleasure which thrills thro' our whole Frame, and seizes upon
the Applause of the Heart, before the intellectual Power, Reason, can
descend from the Throne of the Mind to ratify it's Approbation, either
when we receive into the Soul beautiful Images thro' the Organs
of bodily Senses; or the Decorum of an amiable Character thro' the
Faculties of moral Perception; or when we recall, by the imitative
Arts, both of them thro' the intermediate Power of the Imagination.
Nor is this delightful and immediate Sensation to be excited in an
undistempered Soul, but by a Chain of Truths, dependent upon one
another till they terminate in the hand of the Divine COMPOSER of the
whole. Let us cast our Eyes first upon the Objects of the Material
World. A rural Prospect upon the very first Glance yields a grateful
Emotion in the Breast, when in a Variety of Scenes there arises from
the whole ONE Order, whose different Parts will be found, by the
critical Eye of Contemplation, to relate mutually to one another,
and each examined apart, to be productive of the Necessaries, the
Conveniencies, and Emoluments of Life. Suppose you was to behold from
an Eminence, thro' a small range of Mountains covered with Woods,
several little Streams gushing out of Rocks, some gently trickling
over Pebbles, others tumbling from a Precipice, and a few gliding
smoothly in Willow-shaded Rivulets thro green Meadows, till their
tributary Waters are all collected by some River God of a larger Urn,
who at some few Miles distance is lost in the Ocean, which heaves
it's broad Bosom to the Sight, and ends the Prospect with an immense
Expanse of Waters. Tell me, EUPHEMIUS, would not such a Scene
captivate the Heart even before the intellectual Powers discover
Minerals in the Mountains; future Navies in the Woods; Civil and
Military Architecture in the Rocks; healing Qualities in the smaller
Streams; Fertility, that the larger Waters distribute along their
serpentising Banks; Herbage for Cattle in the Meadows; and lastly,
the more easy Opportunities the River affords us to convey to other
Climates the Superfluities of our own, for which the Ocean brings us
back in Exchange what we stand in need of from theirs. Now to heighten
this beautiful Landscape, let us throw in Corn Fields, here and there
a Country Seat, and, at proper Distances, small Hamlets, together with
Spires and Towers, as MILTON describes them,

    "bosom'd high in tufted Trees."

Does not an additional Rapture flow in from this Adjunct, of which
Reason will afterwards discover the latent Cause in the same manner
as before. Your favourite Architecture will not fail to afford less
remarkable Instances, that Truth, Beauty, and Utility are inseparable.
You very well know that every Rule, Canon, and Proportion in building
did not arise from the capricious Invention of Man, but from the
unerring Dictates of Nature, and that even what are now the ornamental
Parts of an Edifice, originally were created by Necessity; and are
still displeasing to the Sight, when they are disobedient, if I may
use that moral Expression, to the Order, which Nature, whose Laws
cannot be repealed, first gave to supply that Necessity. Here I appeal
to your own Breast, and let me continue the Appeal by asking you
concerning another Science analogous to this, which is founded upon as
invariable Principles: I mean the Science of living well, in which
you are as happily learned as in the former. Say then, has not every
amiable Character, with which you have been enamoured, been proved by
a cool Examination to contain a _beautiful_ Proportion, in the Point
it was placed in, relative to Society? And what is it that constitutes
Moral Deformity, or what we call Vice, but the Disproportion which any
Agent occasions, in the Fabric of Civil Community, by a Non-compliance
to the general _Order_ which should prevail in it?

As the Arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Poetry are imitative of these,
their Excellence, as ARISTOTLE observes, consists in Faithfulness to
their Original: nor have they any _primary_ Beauty in themselves, but
derive their shadowy Existence in a mimetic Transcript from Objects
in the Material World, or from Passions, Characters, and Manners.
Nevertheless that _internal Sense_ we call TASTE (which is a Herald
for the whole human System, in it's three different Parts, the
refined Faculties of Perception, the gross Organs of Sense, and the
intermediate Powers of Imagination) has as quick a Feeling of this
secondary Excellence of the Arts, as for the primary Graces; and
seizes the Heart with Rapture long before the Senses, and Reason in
Conjunction, can _prove_ this Beauty by collating the Imitations with
their Originals.

If it should be asked _why_ external Objects affect the human Breast
in this Manner, I would answer, that the ALMIGHTY has in this, as well
as in all his other Works, out of his abundant Goodness and Love to
his Creatures, so _attuned_ our Minds to Truth, that all Beauty from
without should make a responsive Harmony vibrate within. But should
any of those more curious Gentlemen, who busy themselves With
Enquiries into Matters, which the Deity, for Reasons known only to
himself, has placed above our limited Capacities, demand _how_ he has
so formed us, I should refer them, with proper Contempt, to their more
aged Brethren, who may justly in Derision be stiled _the Philosophers
of ultimate Causes_. To you, my dear Friend, whose truly philosophical
and religious Taste concludes that whatever GOD ordains is right,
it is sufficient to have proved that _Truth_ is the Cause of all
_Beauty_, and that Truth flows from the Fountain of all Perfection, in
whose unfathomable Depth finite Thought should never venture with
any other Intention than to wonder and adore. But I find I have been
imperceptibly led on from Thought to Thought, not only to trespass
upon the common Stile of a Letter, by these abstruse Reasonings and
religious Conclusions, but upon the ordinary length of one likewise;
therefore shall conclude by complimenting my own Taste in Characters,
when I assure you that I am,

  _Your most affectionate Friend_, &c.


To the SAME.

It gave me no small Pleasure to find, by your Answer to my last
Letter, that you now allow BEAUTY to be the Daughter of TRUTH; and I
in my turn will make a Concession to you, by confessing that BEAUTY
herself may have _acquired_ Charms, but then they are altogether such
as are consistent with her divine Extraction. What you observe is
very true, that the human Form (the most glorious Object, as you are
pleased to call it, in the Creation) let it be made with the most
accurate Symmetry and Proportion, may receive _additional_ Charms from
Education, and steal more subtily upon the Soul of the Beholder from
some adventitious Circumstances of easy Attitudes or Motion, and an
undefineable Sweetness of Countenance, which an habitual Commerce with
the more refined Part of Mankind superadds to the Work of Nature. This
the ancient _Grecian_ Artists would have represented mythologically
in Painting by the GRACES crowning VENUS. We find how much LELY has
availed himself in his shadowy Creations of transcribing from Life
this adventitious Charm into all his Portraits. I mean, when he
_stole_ upon his _animated Canvas_, as POPE poetically expresses it,

  "The sleepy Eye that spoke the melting Soul."

You will ask me, perhaps, how I can prove any Alliance in this
particular Circumstance of a single Feature to Truth; Or rather
triumphantly push the Argument farther, and say, Is not this
additional Charm, as you call it, inconsistent with the Divine
Original of Beauty, since it deadens the fiery Lustre of that
penetrating Organ? I chuse to draw my Answer from the Schools of the
antient ETHOGRAPHI, who by their enchanting Art so happily conveyed,
thro' the Sight, the Lessons of Moral Philosophy. These Sages would
have told you, that our Souls are attuned to one another, like the
Strings of musical Instruments, and that the Chord of one being
struck, the _Unison_ of another, tho' untouched, will vibrate to it.
The Passions therefore of the human Heart, expressed either in the
living Countenance, or the mimetic Strokes of Art, will affect the
Soul of the Beholder with a similar and responsive Disposition. What
wonder then is it that Beauty, borrowing thus the Look of softening
Love, whose Power can lull the most watchful of the Senses,
should cast that sweet _Nepenthe_ upon our Hearts, and enchant our
corresponding Thoughts to rest in the Embraces of Desire? Sure then
I am, that you will always allow Love to be the Source and End of our
Being, and consequently consistent with Truth. It is the Superaddition
of such Charms to Proportion, which is called _Taste_ in Musick,
Painting, Poetry, Sculpture, Gardening and Architecture. By which is
generally meant that happy Assemblage which excites in our Minds, by
Analogy, some pleasurable Image. Thus, for Instance, even the Ruins
of an old Castle properly disposed, or the Simplicity of a rough hewn
Hermitage in a Rock, enliven a Prospect, by recalling the Moral Images
of _Valor_ and _Wisdom_; and I believe no Man will contend, that Valor
exerted in the Defence of one's Country, or Wisdom contemplating in
Retirement for the Welfare of Mankind, are not truly amiable Images,
belonging to the Divine Family of Truth. I think I have now reconciled
our two favorite Opinions, by proving that these _additional_ Charms,
if they must be called so, have their Origin in Nature as much as
Proportion itself.--I am very glad the Prints I sent afforded you so
much Pleasure, not only as I wish every thing which comes from me may
be favorably received by you, but as they are likewise a Confirmation
of my Arguments; for the Man who drew them is no very great Artist,
but being a faithful Disciple of Nature, having delineated every
Object in a _Camera Obscura_, he has not failed of gaining the
uncontested Applause, which the Followers of that unerring Mistress
will ever receive from Mankind. My EUDOCIA calls me to administer
with her Comfort to a little fatherless Family in the District of our
Hamlet, therefore must conclude myself,

_Your sincere Friend_, &c.





     TO A


  Range from Tower-hill all London to the Fleet,
  Thence round the Temple, t'utmost Grosvenor-street:
  Take in your route both Gray's and Lincoln's Inn;
  Miss not, be sure, my Lords and Gentlemen;
  You'll hardly raise, as I with[A] _Petty_ guess,   }  5
  Above twelve thousand men of taste; unless         }
  In desperate times a _Connoisseur_ may pass.       }

    "A Connoisseur! What's that?" 'Tis hard to say:
  But you must oft amidst the fair and gay
  Have seen a wou'd-be rake, a fluttering fool,              10
  Who swears he loves the sex with all his soul.
  Alas, vain youth! dost thou admire sweet Jones?
  Thou be gallant without or blood or bones!
  You'd split to hear th' insipid coxcomb cry
  Ah charming Nanny! 'tis too much! I die!--                 15
  Die and be d--n'd, says one; but let me tell ye
  I'll pay the loss if ever rapture kill ye.

  [Footnote A: Sir William Petty, author of the _Political Arithmetic_.]

    'Tis easy learnt the art to talk by rote:
  At Nando's 'twill but cost you half a groat;
  The Redford school at three-pence is not dear, Sir;
  At White's--_the stars instruct you_ for a tester.    21
  But he, whom nature never meant to share
  One spark of taste, will never catch it there:--
  Nor no where else; howe'er the booby beau
  Grows great with Pope, and Horace, and Boileau.

    Good native Taste, tho' rude, is seldom wrong,
  Be it in music, painting, or in song.
  But this, as well as other faculties,
  Improves with age and ripens by degrees.
  I know, my dear; 'tis needless to deny 't,                 30
  You like Voiture, you think him wondrous bright;
  But seven years hence, your relish more matur'd,
  What now delights will hardly be endur'd.
  The boy may live to taste Racine's fine charms,
  Whom Lee's bald orb or Rowe's dry rapture warms:
  But he, enfranchis'd from his tutor's care,                36
  Who places Butler near Cervantes' chair;
  Or with Erasmus can admit to vie
  Brown of Squab-hall _of merry memory_;
  Will die a Goth: and nod at [A]Woden's feast,              40
  Th' eternal winter long, on [B]Gregory's breast.

    Long may he swill, this patriarch of the dull,
  The drowsy Mum--But touc not Maro's skull!
  His holy barbarous dotage sought to doom,
  Good heaven! th' immortal classics to the tomb!--
  Those sacred lights shall bid new genius rise              45
  When all Rome's saints have rotted from the skies.
  Be these your guides, if at the ivy crown
  You aim; each country's classics, and your own.
  But chiefly with the ancients pass your prime,             50
  And drink Castalia at the fountain's brim.
  The man to genuine Burgundy bred up,
  Soon starts the dam of Methuen in his cup.

  [Footnote A: Alluding to the Gothic heaven, Woden's hall; where the
  happy are for ever employed in drinking beer, mum, and other
  comfortable liquors out of the skulls of those whom they had
  slain in battle.]

  [Footnote B: Pope Gregory the VIth, distinguished by the name of St.
  Gregory; whose pious zeal, in the cause of barbarous ignorance
  and priestly tyranny, exerted itself in demolishing, to the
  utmost of his power, all the remains of heathen genius.]

    Those sovereign masters of the Muses skill
  Are the true patterns of good writing still,               55
  Their ore was rich and seven times purg'd of lead;
  Their art seem'd nature, 'twas so finely hid.
  Tho' born with all the powers of writing well,
  What pains it cost they did not blush to tell.
  Their ease (my Lords!) ne'er lowng'd for want of fire,
  Nor did their rage thro' affectation tire.                 61
  Free from all tawdry and imposing glare
  They trusted to their native grace of air.
  Rapt'rous and wild the trembling soul they seize,  }
  Or sly coy beauties steal it by degrees;           }       65
  The more you view them still the more they please. }

    Yet there are thousands of scholastic merit
  Who worm their sense out but ne'er taste their spirit.
  Witness each pedant under Bentley bred;
  Each commentator that e'er commented.                      70
  (You scarce can seize a spot of classic ground,
  With leagues of Dutch morass so floated round.)
  Witness--but, Sir, I hold a cautious pen,
  Lest I should _wrong_ some _honourable men_.
  They grow enthusiasts too--_'Tis true! 'tis pity!_      75
  But 'tis not every lunatic that's witty.
  Some have run Maro--and some Milton--mad,
  Ashley once turn'd a solid barber's head:
  Hear all that's said or printed if you can,
  Ashley has turn'd more solid heads than one.               80

    Let such admire each great or specious name;
  For right or wrong the joy to them's the same.
  "Right!" Yes a thousand times.--Each fool has heard
  That Homer was a wonder of a bard.
  Despise them civilly with all my heart--                   85
  But to convince them is a desperate part,
  Why should you teize one for what secret cause
  One doats on Horace, or on Hudibras?
  'Tis cruel, Sir, 'tis needless, to endeavour
  To teach a sot of Taste he knows no flavour,               90
  To disunite I neither wish nor hope
  A stubborn blockhead from his fav'rite fop.
  Yes--fop I say, were Maro's self before 'em:
  For Maro's self grows dull as they pore o'er him.

    But hear their raptures o'er some specious rhime
  Dub'd by the musk'd and greasy mob sublime.                96
  For spleen's dear sake hear how a coxcomb prates
  As clam'rous o'er his joys as fifty cats;
  _"Music has charms to sooth a savage breast,
  To soften rocks, and oaks"_--and all the rest:          100
  _"I've heard"_--Bless these long ears!--"Heav'ns what a strain!
  Good God! What thunders burst in this _Campaign_!
  Hark Waller warbles! Ah! how sweetly killing!
  Then that inimitable Splendid Shilling!
  Rowe breathes all Shakespear here!--That ode of Prior      105
  Is Spencer quite! egad his very fire!--
  As like"--Yes faith! as gum-flowers to the rose,
  Or as to Claret flat Minorca's dose;
  As like as (if I am not grosly wrong)
  Erle Robert's Mice to aught e'er Chaucer sung.             110

    Read boldly, and unprejudic'd peruse
  Each fav'rite modern, ev'n each ancient muse.
  With all the comic salt and tragic rage
  The great stupendous genius of our stage,
  Boast of our island, pride of human-kind,                  115
  Had faults to which the boxes are not blind.
  His frailties are to ev'ry gossip known:
  Yet Milton's pedantries not shock the town.
  Ne'er be the dupe of Names, however high;
  For some outlive good parts, some misapply.                120
  Each elegant Spectator you admire;
  But must you therefore swear by Cato's fire?
  Masques for the court, and oft a clumsey jest,
  Disgrac'd the muse that wrought the Alchemist.
  "But to the ancients."--Faith! I am not clear,             125
  For all the smooth round type of Elzevir,
  That every work which lasts in prose or song,
  Two thousand years, deserves to last so long.
  For not to mention some eternal blades
  Known only now in th' academic shades,                     130
  (Those sacred groves where raptur'd spirits stray,
  And in word-hunting waste the live-long day)
  Ancients whom none but curious critics scan,
  Do, read[A] Messala's praises if you can.
  Ah! who but feels the sweet contagious smart               135
  While soft Tibullus pours his tender heart?
  With him the Loves and Muses melt in tears;
  But not a word of some hexameters.
  "You grow so squeamish and so dev'lish dry,
  You'll call Lucretius vapid next." Not I.                  140
  Some find him tedious, others think him lame:
  But if he lags his subject is to blame.
  Rough weary roads thro' barren wilds he tried,
  Yet still he marches with true Roman pride:
  Sometimes a meteor, gorgeous, rapid, bright,               145
  He streams athwart the philosophic night.
  Find you in Horace no insipid Odes?--
  He dar'd to tell us Homer sometimes nods;
  And but for such a aide's hardy skill
  Homer might slumber unsuspected still.                     150

  [Footnote A: A poem of Tibullus's in hexameter verse; as yawning and
  insipid as his elegies are tender and natural.]

    Tasteless, implicit, indolent and tame,
  At second-hand we chiefly praise or blame.
  Hence 'tis, for else one knows not why nor how,
  Some authors flourish for a year or two:
  For many some, more wond'rous still to tell;               155
  Farquhar yet lingers on the brink of hell.
  Of solid merit others pine unknown;             }
  At first, tho'[A] Carlos swimmingly went down,  }
  Poor Belvidera fail'd to melt the town.         }
  Sunk in dead night the giant Milton lay                    160
  'Till Sommer's hand produc'd him to the day.
  But, thanks to heav'n and Addison's good grace
  Now ev'ry fop is charm'd with Chevy Chace.

  [Footnote A: Don Carlos, a tragedy of Otway's, now long and justly
  forgotten, went off with great applause; while his Orphan, a
  somewhat better performance, and what is yet more strange, his
  Venice Preserved, according to the theatrical anecdotes of those
  times, met with a very cold reception.]

    Specious and sage, the sovereign of the flock
  Led to the downs, or from the wave-worn rock               165
  Reluctant hurl'd, the tame implicit train
  Or crop the downs, or headlong seek the main.
  As blindly we our solemn leaders follow,
  And good, and bad, and execrable swallow.

    Pray, on the first throng'd evening of a play            170
  That wears the[A] _facies hippocratica_,
  Strong lines of death, signs dire of reprobation;
  Have you not seen the angel of salvation
  Appear sublime; with wise and solemn rap
  To teach the doubtful rabble where to clap?--              175
  The rabble knows not where our dramas shine;
  But where the cane goes pat--_by G-- that's fine_!

  [Footnote A: The appearance of the face in the last stage
  of a consumption, as it is described by Hippocrates.]

    Judge for yourself; nor wait with timid phlegm
  Till some illustrious pedant hum or hem.                   179
  The lords who starv'd old Ben were learn'dly fond
  Of Chaucer, whom with bungling toil they conn'd,
  Their sons, whose ears bold Milton could not seize,    }
  Would laugh o'er Ben like mad, and snuff and sneeze,   }
  And swear, and seem as tickled as you please.          }
  Their spawn, the pride of this sublimer age,               185
  Feel to the toes and horns grave Milton's rage.
  Tho' liv'd he now he might appeal with scorn
  To Lords, Knights, 'Squires and Doctors, yet unborn;
  Or justly mad to Moloch's burning fane
  Devote the choicest children of his brain.                 190
  Judge for yourself; and as you find report.
  Of wit as freely as of beef or port.
  Zounds! shall a pert or bluff important wight,
  Whose brain is fanciless, whose blood is white;
  A mumbling ape of taste; prescribe us laws                 195
  To try the poets, for no better cause
  Than that he boasts _per ann._ ten thousand clear,
  Yelps in the House, or barely sits a Peer?
  For shame! for shame! the liberal British soul
  To stoop to any stale dictator's rule!                     200

    I may be wrong, and often am no doubt,
  But right or wrong with friends with foes 'twill out.
  Thus 'tis perhaps my fault if I complain
  Of trite invention and a flimsy vein,
  Tame characters, uninteresting, jejune,                    205
  And passions drily copied from [A]Le Brun.
  For I would rather never judge than wrong
  That friend of all men, generous Fenelon.
  But in the name of goodness, must I be                     210
  The dupe of charms I never yet could see?
  And then to flatter where there's no reward--
  Better be any patron-hunting bard,
  Who half our Lords with filthy praise besmears,
  And sing an Anthem to ALL MINISTERS:
  Taste th' Attic salt in ev'ry Peer's poor rebus,           215
  And crown each Gothic idol for a Phoebus.

[Footnote A: First painter to Lewis XIV. who, to speak in fashionable
French English, _called himself_ LEWIS THE GREAT. Our sovereign lords
the passions, Love, Rage, Despair, &c. were graciously pleased to
sit to him in their turns for their portraits: which he was generous
enough to communicate to the public; to the great improvement, no
doubt, of history-painting. It was he who they say poison'd Le Sueur;
who, without half his advantages in many other respects, was so
unreasonable and provoking as to display a genius with which his own
could stand no comparison. It was he and his Gothic disciples, who,
with sly scratches, defac'd the most masterly of this Le Sueur's
performances, as often as their barbarous envy could snugly reach
them. Yet after all these atchievements he died in his bed! A
catastrophe which could not have happened to him in a country
like this, where the _fine arts_ are as zealously and judiciously
patronised as they are well understood.]

    Alas! so far from free, so far from brave,
  We dare not shew the little Taste we have.
  With us you'll see ev'n vanity controul
  The most refin'd sensations of the soul.                   220
  Sad Otway's scenes, great Shakespear's we defy:
  "Lord, Madam! 'tis so unpolite to cry!--
  For shame, my dear! d'ye credit all this stuff?--
  I vow--well, this is innocent enough?"
  At Athens long ago, the Ladies--(married)                  225
  Dreamt not they misbehav'd tho' they miscarried,
  When a wild poet with licentious rage
  Turn'd fifty furies loose upon the stage.

    They were so tender and so easy mov'd,
  Heav'ns! how the Grecian ladies must have lov'd!
  For all the fine sensations still have dwelt,              231
  Perhaps, where one was exquisitely felt.
  Thus he who heavenly Maro truly feels
  Stands fix'd on Raphael, and at Handel thrills.
  The grosser senses too, the taste, the smell,    }         235
  Are likely truest where the fine prevail:        }
  Who doubts that Horace must have cater'd well?   }
  Friend, I'm a shrewd observer, and will guess
  What books you doat on from your fav'rite mess,
  Brown and L'Estrange will surely charm whome'er
  The frothy pertness strikes of weak small-beer.
  Who steeps the calf's fat loin in greasy sauce
  Will hardly loathe the praise that bastes an ass.
  Who riots on Scotcht Collops scorns not any
  Insipid, fulsome, trashy miscellany;                       245
  And who devours whate'er the cook can dish up,
  Will for a classic consecrate each[A] bishop.

  [Footnote A: See Felton's Classics.]

    But I am sick of pen and ink; and you
  Will find this letter long enough. Adieu!


There is a standard of right and wrong in the nature of things, of
beauty and deformity, both in the natural and moral world. And as
different minds happen to be more or less exquisite, the more or less
sensibly do they perceive the various degrees, of good and bad, and
are the more or less susceptible of being charmed with what is right
or beautiful, and disgusted with what is wrong or deformed. It is
chiefly this sensibility that constitutes genius; to which a sound
head and a good heart are as effectual as a lively imagination. And a
man of true genius must necessarily have as exquisite a feeling of the
moral beauties, as of whatever is great or beautiful in the works
of nature; or masterly in the arts which imitate nature, in poetry,
painting, statuary, and music.

On the other side, where the heart is very bad, the genius and taste,
if there happen to be any pretensions to them, will be found shocking
and unnatural. NERO would be nothing less than a poet; but his
verses were what one may call most _villainously_ bad. His taste
of magnificence and luxury was horribly glaring, extravagant and
unnatural to the last degree.

CALIGULA's taste was so outragiously wrong, that he detested the works
of the sweet MANTUAN poet more passionately than ever MOECENAS admired
them; and if VIRGIL had unfortunately lived down to those times in
which that monster appeared, he would probably have been tortured
to death for no other crime but that he wrote naturally, and like an
honest man.

True genius may be said to consist of a perfect polish of soul, which
receives and reflects the images that fall upon it, without warping
or distortion. And this fine polish of soul is, I believe, constantly
attended with what philosophers call the moral truth.

There are minds which receive objects truly, and feel the impressions
they ought naturally to make, in a very lively manner, but want the
faculty of reflecting them; as there are people who, I suppose, feel
all the charms of poetry without being poets themselves.


Our notion of taste may be easily understood by what has been said
upon the subject of genius; for mere good taste is nothing else but
genius without the power of execution.

It must be born; and is to be improved chiefly by being accustomed,
and the earlier the better, to the most exquisite objects of taste in
its various kinds. For the taste in writing and painting, and in every
thing else, is insensibly formed upon what we are accustomed to; as
well as taste in eating and drinking. One who from his youth has been
used to drink nothing but heavy dismal port, will not immediately
acquire a relish for claret or burgundy.

In the most stupid ages there is more good taste than one would at
first sight imagine. Even the present, abuse it with what contemptuous
epithets you please, cannot be totally void of it. As long as there
are noble humane and generous dispositions amongst mankind, there must
be good taste. For in general, I do not say always, the taste will be
in proportion to those moral qualities and that sensibility of mind
from which they take their rise. And while many, amongst the great and
the learned, are allowed to have taste for no better reason than that
it is their own opinion, it is often possessed by those who are not
conscious of it, and dream as little of pretending to it as to a star
and garter. An honest farmer, or shepherd, who is acquainted with no
language but what is spoken in his own county, may have a much truer
relish of the _English_ writers than the most dogmatical pedant that
ever erected himself into a commentator, and from his _Gothic_ chair,
with an ill-bred arrogance, dictated false criticism to the gaping

But even those who are endued with good natural taste, often judge
implicitly and by rote, without ever consulting their own taste.
Instances of this passive indolence, or rather this unconsciousness of
one's own faculties, appear every day; not only in the fine arts, but
in cases where the mere _taste_, according to the original meaning
of the word, is alone concerned. For I am positive there are many
thousands who, if they were to bring their own palate to a severe
examination, would discover that they really find a more delicious
flavour in mutton than in venison, in flounder than in turbut, and yet
prefer middling or bad venison to the best mutton; that is, what is
scarcest and dearest, and consequently what is, from the folly of
mankind, the most in vogue, to what is really the most agreeable to
their own private taste.

In matter of taste, the public, for the most part, suffers itself to
be led by a few who perhaps are really no judges; but who, under the
favour of some advantages of title, place, or fortune, set up for
judges, and are implicitly followed even by those who have taste.
These washy dictators have learnt at school to admire such authors as
have for ages been possessed of an indisputed renown: but they would
never have been the first to have discovered strokes of true genius in
a co-temporary writer, though they had lived at the court of AUGUSTUS

So undistinguishing is our taste, that if the most torpid dunce this
fruitful age can boast of, could by some artful imposture prepossess
the public, that the most insipid of all his own bread-sauce
compositions, to be published next winter, was a piece MILTON's, or
any other celebrated author, recovered from dust and obscurity, it
would be received with universal applause; and perhaps be translated
into _French_ before the town had doated six weeks upon it. One might
venture to say too, that if a work of true spirit and genius was to
be introduced into the world, under the name of some writer of low
reputation, it would be rejected even by the greatest part of those
who pretend to lead the taste. And no wonder, while an eminent vintner
has mistaken his own old hock at nine shillings the bottle for that at


Whatever some have pretended, one may reasonably enough doubt whether
ever an author wrote much below himself from any cause but the
necessity of writing too fast. When this happens to a writer who,
with the advantages of leisure and easy circumstances, is capable of
producing such works as might charm succeeding ages, it is a disgrace
to the nation and the times wherein such a genius had the misfortune
to appear.

It belongs to true genius to indulge its own humour; to give a loose
to its own sallies; and to be curbed, restrained and directed by that
sound judgment alone which necessarily attends it. It belongs to it
to improve and correct the public taste; not to humour or meanly
prostitute itself to the gross or low taste which it finds. And
you may depend upon it, that whatever author labours to accommodate
himself to the taste of his age--suppose it, if you please, this
present age--the sickly wane, the impotent decline of the eighteenth
century: which from a hopeful boy became a most insignificant man;
and for any thing that appears at present will die a very fat drowsy
block-head, and be damned to eternal infamy and contempt: every such
author I say, though he may thrive as far as an author can in the
present age, will by degrees languish into obscurity in the next.
For though naked and bare-faced vanity; though an active exertion of
little arts, and the most unremitting perseverance in them; though
party, cabal, and intrigue; though accidental advantages, and even
whimsical circumstances; may conspire to make a very moderate genius
the idol of the implicit multitude: works that lean upon such fickle
props, that stand upon such a false foundation, will not be long able
to support themselves against the injuries of time. Such buildings
begin to totter almost as soon as their scaffolding is struck.

But if you find it necessary to comply with the humour of your age;
the writing best calculated to please a false taste is what has
something of the air of good writing, without being really so. For
to the vulgar eye the specious is more striking than the genuine. The
best writing is apt to be too plain, too simple, too unaffected, and
too delicate to stir the callous organs of the generality of critics,
who see nothing but the tawdry glare of tinsel; and are deaf to every
thing but what is shockingly noisy to a true ear. They are struck
with the fierce glaring colours of old _Frank_; with attitudes and
expressions violent, distorted, and unnatural: while the true, just
and easy, the graceful, the moving, the sublime representations of
_Raphael_ have not the least power to attract them. The bullying,
noisy march in _Judas Macchabeus_ has perhaps more sincere admirers
than that most pathetic one in _Saul_: and in conversation pertness
and mere vivacity is more felt by the general run of company than easy
unaffected wit; as flashy, bouncing, flatulent cyder boasts of more
spirit than the still vigour of reserved _Madeira_.

But the easiest, as well as the most effectual way of writing to the
bad taste of your age, is to set out while your genius is yet upon a
level with it. Accordingly, if you have a son who begins to display
a hopeful bloom of imagination, be sure to publish, with all the
advantages that can be procured, the very first essays of his genius.
They will hardly be too good to please; and besides, they have a
chance to be received with particular favour and admiration as the
productions of a young muse. When he has thus taken possession of the
public ear, he may venture, as his genius ripens, to do his best; he
may write as well as he can, perhaps without much danger of sinking in
reputation. The renown of his first crude essays will be sufficient
to prejudice the mobility, great and small, in favour of the most
exquisite pieces he can produce afterwards. But if he must live by his
wit, the best thing you can do for him is to transplant him, as
early as possible, to PARIS; where in the worst of days, in the most
_Gothic_ muse-detesting age, there is still some shelter afforded to
the most delicate as well as the most uncommon flower that blossoms
in the human mind. In that gay serene and genial climate the muses
are still more or less cultivated, though not with the same ardour and
passion in every age; as appears from the following passage translated
from a[A] _French_ author, who wrote about the beginning of the
present century. "Almost all the arts have in their turns experienced
that disgust and love of change which is natural to mankind. But I
don't know that any one of them has felt it more than Poetry; which
in some ages has been exalted to a triumphal heighth, in others
neglected, discouraged and despised. About sixty years ago, under
the administration of one of the greatest geniuses that ever _France_
produced, poetry found itself amongst us at its highest pitch of
glory. Those who cultivated the muses were regarded with particular
favour: this art was the road to fortune and dignified stations. But
in these days this ardour seems to be considerably abated. We do not
appear to be extremely sensible to poetical merit, &c."

[Footnote A: Defense de la Poesie; par M. l'Abbé _Messieu. Memoíres de
Literature, Tome_ 2de.]


Amongst many other distinguishing marks of a stupid age, a bad crop of
men, I have been told that the taste in writing was never so false
as at present. If it is really so, it may perhaps be owing to a
prodigious swarm of insipid trashy writers: amongst whom there are
some who pretend to dictate to the public as critics, though they
hardly ever fail to be mistaken. But their dogmatic impudence, and
something like a scientific air of talking the most palpable
nonsense, imposes upon great numbers of people, who really possess a
considerable share of natural Taste; of which at the same time they
are so little conscious as to suffer themselves passively to be misled
by those blundering guides.

A Taste worth cultivating is to be improved and preserved by reading
_only_ the best writers. But whoever, after perusing a satire of
Horace, even in the dullest English translation, can relish the
stupid abuse of a blackguard rhymster, may as well indulge the natural
depravity of his Taste, and riot for life upon distiller's grains.

But the Taste in writing is not, cannot be worse, than it is in music,
as well as in all theatrical entertainments. In architecture indeed
there are some elegant and magnificent works arising, at a very proper
time to restore the nation to some credit with its neighbours in this
article; after its having been exposed to such repeated disgraces by
a triumvirate of awkward clumsey piles, that are not ashamed to shew
their stupid heads in the neighbourhood of Whitehall: and one more,
that ought to be demolished; if it was for no other reason but to
restore the view of an elegant church, which has now for many years
been buried alive behind the Mansion-house.

It is indeed some comfort, that while Taste and Genius happen to be
very false and impotent in most of the fine arts, they are not so in
all. The arts of Gardening particularly, and the elegant plan of
a farm, have of late years displayed themselves in a few spots to
greater advantage in England, than perhaps ever before in any part
of Europe. This is indeed very far from being universal; and some
gardens, admired and celebrated still, are so smoothly regular, so
over-planted, and so crowded with affected, impertinent, ridiculous
ornaments of temples, ruins, pyramids, obelisks, statues, and a
thousand other contemptible whims, that a continuation of the same
ground in its rude natural state, is infinitely more delightful. You
must often have seen fine situations ruined with costly pretences to
_improvement_. The most noble and romantic situation of any gardens
I have seen, is near Chepstow; and the gentleman who possesses
that delightful spot, has shewn great judgment and a true taste, in
meddling so little with Nature where she wanted so little help.

This is one happy instance of an admirable situation, where Nature
is modestly and judiciously improved, not hurt, by art. An opposite
instance of what art, skill, and taste may produce, without any
particular advantages of ground or situation, is most agreeably
displayed in the royal gardens at Kew. There you find an extent of
flat ground, so easily, agreeably, and unaffectedly broken, that
you would think it impossible to alter it but to the worse. To
pass without any notice the agreeable and the elegant pieces of
architecture, which without crowding adorn those delightful gardens;
perhaps there is not a physick garden in Europe where any botanist can
be more agreeably entertained, as to the variety of curious plants.
But there is something new as far as I know, and particularly
ingenious here in the disposition and management of them. Those that
naturally delight in the rocks, and the dry hungry soil, are here
planted upon ridges of artificial rock-work; where they shew all
the luxuriance of vegetation that they could amongst the Alps, the
Pyrenees or the Andes. While a very different tribe, the Aquatics,
display themselves in a large cistern, where they are constantly
supplied with their best and most natural nourishment the rain water,
conveyed to them from the eves of the richest greenhouse I have ever

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library: University of California


_General Editors_

    William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

    University of Michigan

    University of California, Los Angeles

    University of California, Los Angeles

The society exists to make available inexpensive reprints (usually
facsimile reproductions) of rare seventeenth and eighteenth century

The editorial policy of the Society continues unchanged. As in the
past, the editors welcome suggestions concerning publications.

All correspondence concerning subscriptions in the United States
and Canada should be addressed to the William Andrews Clark
Memorial Library, 2205 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 18, California.
Correspondence concerning editorial matters may be addressed to any of
the general editors. Membership fee continues $2.50 per year. British
and European subscribers should address B.H. Blackwell, Broad Street,
Oxford, England.

Publications for the fifth year [1950-1951]

(_At least six items, most of them from the following list, will be

FRANCES REYNOLDS (?): _An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste,
and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, &c._ (1785). Introduction by
James L. Clifford.

THOMAS BAKER: _The Fine lady's Airs_ (1709). Introduction by John
Harrington Smith.

DANIEL DEFOE: _Vindication of the Press_ (1718). Introduction by Otho
Clinton Williams.

JOHN EVELYN: _An Apologie for the Royal Party_ (1659); _A Panegyric to
Charles the Second_ (1661). Introduction by Geoffrey Keynes.

CHARLES MACKLIN: _Man of the World_ (1781). Introduction by Dougald

_Prefaces to Fiction_. Selected and with an Introduction by Benjamin


SIR WILLIAM PETTY: _The Advice of W.P. to Mr. Samuel Hartlib for the
Advancement of some particular Parts of Learning_ (1648).

THOMAS GRAY: _An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard_ (1751).
(Facsimile of first edition and of portions of Gray's manuscripts of
the poem).

       *       *       *       *       *

  To the Augustan Reprint Society     _Subscriber's Name and Address:_
  _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
  2205 West Adams Boulevard
  Los Angeles 18, California_

  _As_ MEMBERSHIP FEE _I enclose for the years marked:_
  The current year                         $ 2.50
  The current & the 4th year                 5.00
  The current, 3rd, & 4th year               7.50
  The current, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th year         10.00
  The current, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th year    11.50
    (_Publications no. 3 & 4 are out of print_)

Make check or money order payable to THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY

NOTE: _All income of the Society is devoted to defraying cost of
printing and mailing_.


First Year (1946-1947)

1. Richard Blackmore's _Essay upon Wit_ (1716), and Addison's
_Freeholder_ No. 45 (1716).

2. Samuel Cobb's _Of Poetry_ and _Discourse on Criticism_ (1707).

3. _Letter to A.H. Esq.; concerning the Stage_ (1698), and Richard
Willis' _Occasional Paper No. IX_ (1698). (OUT OF PRINT)

4. _Essay on Wit_ (1748), together with Characters by Flecknoe, and
Joseph Warton's _Adventurer_ Nos. 127 and 133. (OUT OF PRINT)

5. Samuel Wesley's _Epistle to a Friend Concerning Poetry_ (1700) and
_Essay on Heroic Poetry_ (1693).

6. _Representation of the Impiety and Immorality of the Stage_(1704)
and _Some Thoughts Concerning the Stage_ (1704).

Second Year (1947-1948)

7. John Gay's _The Present State of Wit_ (1711); and a section on Wit
from _The English Theophrastus_ (1702).

8. Rapin's _De Carmine Pastorali_, translated by Creech (1684).

9. T. Hanmer's (?) _Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet_ (1736).

10. Corbyn Morris _Essay towards Fixing the True Standards of Wit,
etc_. (1744).

11. Thomas Purney's _Discourse on the Pastoral_ (1717).

12. Essays on the Stage, selected, with an Introduction by Joseph Wood

Third Year (1948-1949)

13. Sir John Falstaff (pseud.), _The Theatre_ (1720).

14. Edward Moore's _The Gamester_ (1753).

15. John Oldmixon's _Reflections on Dr. Swift's Letter to Harley_
(1712); and Arthur Mainwaring's _The British Academy_ (1712).

16. Nevil Payne's _Fatal Jealousy_ (1673).

17. Nicholas Rowe's _Some Account of the Life of Mr. William
Shakespear_ (1709).

18. Aaron Hill's Preface to _The Creation_; and Thomas Brereton's
Preface to _Esther_.

Fourth Year (1949-1950)

19. Susanna Centlivre's _The Busie Body_ (1709).

20. Lewis Theobald's _Preface to The Works of Shakespeare_ (1734).

21. _Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Gradison, Clarissa, and Pamela_

22. Samuel Johnson's _The Vanity of Human Wishes_ (1749) and Two
_Rambler_ papers (1750).

23. John Dryden's _His Majesties Declaration Defended_ (1681).

24. Pierre Nicole's _An Essay on True and Apparent Beauty in Which
from Settled Principles is Rendered the Grounds for Choosing and
Rejecting Epigrams_, translated by J.V. Cunningham.

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