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date: 22 January 2019

Literature and Taste, 1700–1800

Abstract and Keywords

The popularity and widely recognized novelty of the term taste in eighteenth-century Britain produce its distinctive character and differentiate it from the notion of aesthetics in later times. These traits established its power to move across various genres of writing: British philosophy found itself both called on repeatedly to define taste and lagging behind its protean cultural life in other genres. Taste’s constitutive newness strongly links its cultural meaning to the present: both the permanent present of immediate human consciousness and the historical present of modern Britain. This dual focus involved taste in discourses both of philosophical psychology and of historiography, which complemented and occasionally challenged each other in their accounts of taste. Recognizing the open, productive relationship in the period between taste’s psychological and historical dimensions exposes the shortcomings of scholarship in recent decades that has argued that the former ideologically represses the latter.

Keywords: taste, aesthetics, eighteenth-century, Britain, ideology, modern, historiography, Enlightenment

The word taste suddenly burst into prominence in English discussions of beauty, elegance, and sublimity around the turn of the eighteenth century, as did cognate terms in other European languages.1 Although a truism of intellectual history, this assertion has at least two dimensions whose implications have not been fully recognized. First, the word was extremely popular, used from its inception by both the polite classes in urban centers and those artisans, artists, designers, writers, and performers who catered to them. Second, the use of the word to mean a capacity to relish and discern subtle qualities of fine things was new and recognized as such. As an essay in 1736 in the periodical The Universal Spectator remarks, “the Word Taste is lately grown into universal Use, and the Sense of it as universally laid claim to.”2 A new word that almost anyone could define as she or he wished—these elements infused an insistent but uncertain cultural energy into taste and linked it in the minds of eighteenth-century Britons to what was distinctive, even “modern,” about their own times. The idea became a vehicle both for expressing individual relishes and preferences and for opining about the historical character of modern Britain and that of other nations and periods, too.

The term’s popularity presents perhaps the most important of many points of contrast between taste and another term with which it is frequently conflated, aesthetics. (Intellectual historians customarily refer for convenience’s sake to “eighteenth-century British aesthetics,” but it is always worth keeping distinctions between taste and the aesthetic in mind.) Not entering English until the nineteenth century, the word aesthetics originated in its modern sense as a piece of the technical vocabulary of German philosophers, including Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–62), who first applied it to the sense of beauty), and especially Immanuel Kant, whose Critique of Judgment (1790/1987) would be a paradigm for aesthetics in later times.

Taste conversely had so vivid and protean a life in ordinary talk in the eighteenth century that philosophers and other deliberate reasoners frequently found themselves having to catch up to it. “As this Word arises very often in Conversation,” Addison begins a Spectator essay that set terms for later philosophical discussion,3 “I shall endeavour to give some Account of it” (Spectator, vol. 3, 527). Addison’s influence does less to settle the word’s definition than to establish the theme of taste’s volatility of meaning through its connection to living conversation. Some forty years later, Colman and Thornton’s periodical The Connoisseur finds a similar motive for the philosophical attempt to pin its meaning down:

Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world, and the world of letters…. The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; the poets write with Taste; critics read with Taste; and in short, fidlers, players, singers, dancers, and mechanics themselves, are all the sons and daughters of Taste. Yet in this amazing superabundancy of Taste few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies.4

British philosophers at the highest level of achievement likewise approach the word by way of its commonness: David Hume’s classic essay “Of the Standard of Taste” (1757/1985) takes as its starting point two contradictory “species of common sense” about it.5 Taste’s “superabundancy” in conversation made its significance both familiar and elusive to philosophers and non-philosophers alike.

A basic division in the term’s meaning nonetheless helps order its use in the period. Taste signifies a capacity of intellectual perception, modeled on gustatory taste, to enjoy or discern subtle qualities of practically anything, from a periwig to Paradise Lost. But it also refers to habits of enjoyment, patterns, or predilections—tastes—that govern an individual’s tasteful behavior and that of social groups as well: entire genders (e.g., “masculine taste”), nations (Chinese or French taste), or epochs (modern or Gothic taste). I have argued elsewhere at length that the crucial element of this distinction is temporal.6 Writers in the period commonly insist that taste takes place in a flash, instantaneously, like bitter or sweet on the tongue. But tastes take time. To be what it is, a habit must aggregate an often very large number of particular, momentary experiences.

This distinction is semantic rather than philosophical and is in place before the familiar parade of British theoretical thinkers—Shaftesbury, Addison, Hutcheson, Hume, Burke, Gerard, Kames, Alison, and others—began to argue about the standard of taste, about taste’s relation to reason, about whether it is a faculty of the mind or a product of association, and other common questions. In 1706, before the first component of what would be Shaftesbury’s Characteristics appeared,7 an English translation of The Art of Painting, and the Lives of the Painters by Roger de Piles presents a set of workmanlike distinctions among “three sorts of Taste”: “the Judgment which the Mind makes of an Object at first,”8 which he calls “The Natural Gout” (392); second, the “Habitude caus’d by several Judgments repeated” (392) called “the Artificial Gout,” which is formed, “In a Word, by Education” (393); and third, “the Gout of each Nation” (392). (The term’s uncertain status at this inceptive moment in English is reflected in the translator’s free alternation between “taste,” “Gout,” and “Gusto” throughout the text.) Taste as an instantaneous capacity and tastes as “Habitudes” thus differ but do not contradict each other. Exercise of the former may directly produce the latter by mere repetition, as de Piles says.

Still, the distinction between the two senses makes more things possible in the discourse of taste than scholars have recognized. It allows taste to be used both psychologically and historiographically, to characterize vivid experiences of excited individual sensibilities and generalized, historically developed cultural climates. The latter characterizations produce assertions not just about mass psychology but most especially about things: styles of object and categories of desire. So Thomas Chippendale’s catalog The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754) in typical fashion promises “the most Elegant and Useful Designs of Houshold Furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste.”9 In contemporary theoretical terms, taste is a discourse both of the subject and of the object. In this, too, it differs from aesthetics, which distinguishes itself, as Kant says in the third Critique, by centering on “a judgment whose determining basis cannot be other than subjective10 (whereas judging, say, a building to be in the Gothic taste requires attending only to objective features; e.g., pointed arches). And by explicitly setting psychological experience and cultural and historiographical reflections alongside each other (without conflating them), taste in the eighteenth century functions ideologically in a manner different from what many commentators have supposed. Theorists of aesthetic ideology have followed Pierre Bourdieu in asserting that taste operates “in the area par excellence of the denial [dénégation] of the social.”11 Recognizing taste’s double investment in instantaneous and historical experience, minds and objects, psychological and social power, makes the view that taste ideologically represses social and historical awareness untenable.

1. Genres of Taste

Taste’s usage in eighteenth-century English equips it to distinctively engage a principal question historians of ideas have been asking in recent decades: does the power to drive intellectual change lie with small elites or with cultural institutions, practices, and patterns of behavior involving masses of people? The latter answer, given by historians of the Enlightenment such as Roger Chartier and Robert Darnton, among many others, seems best to address much of the life of taste in the period. Taste saturates culture perhaps more thoroughly than any other big new idea, in periodical essays, pamphlets, and poems both lasting and ephemeral, in publishing and reading practices including fairly large numbers of a more or less sophisticated public, in plays, Italian operas, picture exhibitions, auctions, assemblies, gardens public and private, the list goes on.

On the other hand, the philosophical urge to define taste is inherent in its cultural use. The notion’s novelty and uncertainty invited elites, including university scholars and would-be leaders of public opinion in London and Edinburgh, to theorize about it; and these had more than their usual influence because the term’s meaning was so widely confessed to be up for grabs. In practice, too, taste was seen as influencing both elites and the general public, although also in unequal ways. Charles Rollin remarks in his Taste: An Essay (1732) that although “only a small number of happy genii” fully exercise taste, “even those who, in the most improved ages, were illiterate, and unskill’d in the Sciences, did, however, receive a tincture of the reigning Taste, which mixes itself, without their perceiving it, in their conversation, in their writings, and in their manners.”12 Taste especially strongly motivates something like Jonathan Israel’s quest for “a new, reformed intellectual history presiding over a two-way traffic, or dialectic of ideas and social reality,”13 although taste is routed less through Israel’s preferred medium of such exchange—erupting public controversies14—than through normalized practices of buying, reading, dressing, thinking, and spectating.

The wider cultural presence of taste exerts a pressure on the manner in which philosophy proper in Britain treated it. Taste’s potentially vulgar power to indiscriminately stimulate anyone’s senses immediately upon exposure to any cultural object leads Shaftesbury, for some scholars “the prototype for the eighteenth-century Man of Taste,”15 to treat it with nervous caution. Denouncing “modern Taste,” he remarks that “nothing is more fatal, either to Painting, Architecture, or the other Arts, than this false Relish which is govern’d rather by what immediately strikes the Sense, than by what consequently and by reflection pleases the Mind, and satisfies the Thought and Reason.”16 If we consider Clifford Siskin’s contention that “the genre of ‘system’” is “the formal means to Enlightenment’s end,”17 it becomes striking how often taste is held at a certain remove from systematic philosophical inquiry. The Scottish professor Francis Hutcheson, said to have “systematized and developed” Shaftesbury’s thought,18 does not make taste in his Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725) a leading term. He mentions that “greater Capacity of receiving such pleasant Ideas we commonly call a fine Genius or Taste,”19 but the term’s commonness seems to motivate him to leave it behind and employ the more abstractly defined “Sense of Beauty and Harmony” (12) instead. This departure helps mark his inquiry as philosophical.

Forms other than systems seemed more suitable to treatments of taste. Hume’s major statement about it comes in an essay.20 The idea gets no chapter to itself and is otherwise not woven into his Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), which instead treats “Of Beauty and Deformity.”21 Burke did not integrate taste into the first edition (1757/1968) of his systematic Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and added, outside the work’s internal architecture, an “Introduction. On Taste” to the second (1759/1968). And philosophies of taste often took the form of familiar letters and other sociable genres of writing.22 The point ought not to be pushed too far, particularly not to cover Scottish writing after mid-century. Aberdeen professor Alexander Gerard wrote a treatise in response to the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, and Agriculture’s competition for “a gold medal to the best Essay on Taste.” He edited it down to essay form to win the competition but retained the word essay for his title when he published his whole system in 175923 (and included translations of essays by Montesquieu, Voltaire, and D’Alembert). Also, Kames’s comprehensive and systematic Elements of Criticism (1762) culminates with a chapter on the “Standard of Taste” that disputes the popular idea “that there is no disputing about” it.24

Even when addressed systematically, then, such common understandings presented a motive and often an obstacle to the philosophical clarification and disciplining of public conversation. Even assertions of an elite’s superiority acknowledged the power of the people over taste at a different, deeper level. Hume’s essay on the standard vests authority—objectionably, to some commentators25—in the “few” who are “qualified to give judgment on any work of art” and “establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty” (Essays, 241). But he also suggests that public taste does much to accredit such critics’ views: “though men of delicate taste be rare, they are easily to be distinguished in society” (243) and being so distinguished is just what their authority consists of; they are collectively identified by every “civilized nation”(243). In a similar vein, Hume’s earlier essay “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences” (1742) remarks that “the persons, who cultivate the sciences with such astonishing success, as to attract the admiration of posterity, [are] always few, in all nations and all ages,” but concludes by asserting a more dispersed source of their persuasiveness and authority: “it is impossible but a share of the same spirit and genius must be antecedently diffused throughout the people among whom they arise, in order to produce, form and cultivate, from their earliest infancy, the taste and judgment of those eminent writers” (Essays, 114). Even theorizing the distinctiveness of the elite entails an assertion of the antecedent authority of wider cultural factors.

The periodical essay was the zone of print culture in which such interactions most frequently and visibly occurred. Addison’s famous purpose announced in Spectator no. 10, to bring “Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables, and in Coffee-Houses” (vol. 1, 44), suited taste more than most concepts since it was already active and holding sway when philosophy arrived on these public scenes. The pronouncement on taste was a remarkably consistent staple of periodical writing, from The Spectator in the century’s second decade to William Roberts’s The Looker-On in its last.26 Although ephemeral in one sense, these essays stage an ongoing conversation, as periodicals were printed as books after initial publication and finally amassed in shelf-long productions such as Alexander Chalmers’s compilation The British Essayists (1803), whose index (vol. 45) refers to essays on taste in seven. These essays repeatedly return to the same philosophical problems: “that there is no Account to be given for Taste27 of individuals, as Eliza Haywood begins book XV of The Female Spectator (1745–46, not collected in Chalmers), or that it is frequently uttered “without any idea annexed,”28 as in Edward Moore’s The World (periodical run, 1753–56, which Chalmers includes). This consistency does not prevent taste from being enlisted in topical disputes, as when the Opposition to Walpole’s ministry in the 1730s used journals such as Benjamin Avery’s The Old Whig (periodical run, 1735–38) to promote a Cobhamite taste in landscape gardening contrasted pointedly with “all the elegant effeminacies and unnatural delicacies”29 of corrupt London, or when the essay in The World goes on to mock the ersatz Chinese taste of the English on the rise at mid-century.30 The consistency of the “philosophical” questions considered from the beginning to the end of the century provided a form in which a range of changing topics could be addressed.

Poems and other literary forms similarly used general speculation about the nature of taste as a medium for often aggressive interchanges specific to certain cultural moments. Pope’s Epistle to Burlington, supertitled Of Taste in its first, 1731 version,31 provoked a remarkable outpouring of poems, pamphlets, and other productions reflecting a range of personal, literary, and political urgencies. Pope’s heightened status as a lightening rod after the 1728 Dunciad attracted attacks on him after Burlington in the person of “Mr. Taste” in a play and a pamphlet-poem.32 Burlington also inspired affiliated poems of social satire, such as James Bramston’s The Man of Taste, Occasion’d by An Epistle of Mr. Pope’s on that Subject (1733), which itself “Occasioned” Thomas Newcomb’s two-epistle poem The Woman of Taste (1733). More overtly political efforts enlisted the cultural stature of Pope, as when Lord Cobham’s nephew Gilbert West addresses his poem Stowe, the Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Lord Viscount Cobham (1732) to him. West goes on to patriotically comment on the garden’s features, exhorting an installation of statues of “Saxon Gods, in hallow’d Shades”33: “Nor e’er indignant may you blush to see,/The Shame of your corrupted Progeny!” (25). Discussions linking taste, bad and good, to the state of Walpole’s Britain and its opposition multiplied through the decade. The Modern Englishman (Anon. 1738), a poem spuriously ascribed in one 1739 edition to “A. P.,” begins by decrying England’s “Luxury and Lust,”34 its party politics (3), electoral corruption (4–5), and so on. Then the author promises he will “The reigning Foible of the Times explode,/This thing call’d Taste, this new fam’d Alamode!” (p. 6) Definitions of and recommendations about taste become in the decade inextricable from year-by-year partisan contests.

Historiography, finally, was a genre of writing in which these changes and their meaning could be most fully explored. An aspect of taste’s usage in everyday talk pulled it into historiographical contexts: as James Usher remarks, “a vulgar sense” of the word refers to “no more than the image of the times upon the mind, which varies in nations and ages.”35 Any time a periodical essayist or poet remarked on taste’s tendency to shift wildly from year to year or on its peculiarly modern dimensions, she was making a claim about its historicity. Works devoted to taste’s historical changes sometimes singled out a certain area, as when an anonymous poet produced The Rise and Progress of the Present Taste in Planting Parks, Pleasure Grounds, Gardens, &c. from Henry the Eighth to King George the Third (1767), a topic treated later in Horace Walpole’s more famous History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1771).36 Other discussions incorporated taste into larger historical accounts of changing times, particularly in the works inspired by Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (first English translation 1750), which traced the power of geography, climate, and other factors to shape national cultures. Taste as an evolving “sociological” phenomenon found its way into the historiography of the Scottish Enlightenment,37 in essays such as Hume’s “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences” (1742) and the appendices of The History of England (6 vols., 1754–62), whose first-published volumes on the Stuarts inaugurate his commentary on the historical conditions of taste as part of the large social complex of “government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning.”38 Likewise Kames’s Sketches of the History of Man (1774) charts the “Progress of Taste and the Fine Arts.”39 Far from merely “vulgar,” the consideration of taste’s historical dimensions came to occupy some of the age’s most ambitious thinkers. The meaning of taste did not radiate outward from a single generic center, such as “philosophical aesthetics” (which did not, strictly speaking, yet exist). Instead, the crossing of generic boundaries and a vital mix of lasting and ephemeral impulses fed taste’s definitions from the beginning of the century to the end.

2. The Now and the New

These restless cultural exchanges drew special energy from taste’s double conceptual association with the present. An act of taste was said to take place right now, in an instant, immediately upon the mind’s exposure to some fine thing. And, because the word itself was widely recognized as new, it came to stand for newness itself: so The Gentleman’s Magazine heads a 1736 essay “Of Modern Taste and Novelty.”40 Discussions of taste imposed two forms of contemporaneity—the present of an individual mind’s experience and the impersonal, historical present, distinguished from what preceded it—upon each other. The two were obviously related but drew on different kinds of thinking. One came from the period’s discussions of human nature and their characterizations of the mind as a theater of present impressions. The other derived from increasingly elaborate distinctions between what was called the “modern” era and Europe’s Gothic and classical past. In one way, the two naturally complement each other. The immediate excitement of stepping into the Vauxhall Gardens Rotunda could seem inextricable from its being a modern attraction in modern London, and such thrills appear mere metonyms of the historical present. But the mind’s instantaneous pleasure need not be taken only in “modern” things, and its capacity to form immediate judgments was often seen as one of its transhistorical features (although not always, as we shall see). Taste’s dual investment, in the permanent present of human consciousness and in the sequence of historically distinct nows coming one after another, builds a temporal doubleness into the period’s understanding and experience of culture.

Landmarks of British psychology consistently start with the present moment in their portrayals of the mental, and this insistence powerfully affected the age’s treatments of taste. Locke’s incomparably influential Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (4th ed. 1700), takes as its primary focus the “Idea,” defined as “whatsoever the Mind perceives in it self, or is the immediate object of Perception, Thought, or Understanding.”41 Hume’s refinement of Lockean psychology in the (decidedly less influential) Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40/2007) distinguishes between impressions and ideas, the former being those things that enter our minds “with most force and violence” (7; the present experience of present objects), unlike ideas, which are “faint images of [impressions] in thinking and reasoning” (7). Essayists treating taste, from those who portray it as a unique mental faculty to those who consider it a product of association,42 insist on its immediate force in similar terms. “A good Taste,” John Gilbert Cooper declares in his Letters Concerning Taste (1754), “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.”43 The associationist Gerard says in his Essay (1759) that “the operations of taste are quick, and almost instantaneous” (191); and Hannah More some twenty years later will remark in 1777 that “taste is an instantaneous decision of the mind, a sudden relish of what is beautiful, or disgust at what is defective, in an object.”44 Judgments of taste achieve authority by enlisting and elaborating on the immediacy and force said by philosophers to be characteristic of all mental experience of what is present.

Whereas philosophical writers described the immediacy of experience and of taste in particular as general, constitutive features of “Humane Understanding,” the historical present of the age—its cultural, social, and economic meaning—also seemed especially attuned to what happens in the now. J. G. A. Pocock has characterized this general attitude as “presentist”: it “saw nothing but the moment and its strategies as providing the context in which the effort to moralize and regulate must be made”; and Pocock finds “a fairly clear ideological association between the use of this argument and the tendency to see the economy as consisting in exchange rather than inheritance.”45 Scholars have long seen a close link between taste and the exchange economy,46 one epitomized by the restless pursuit of fashionable commodities of the socially aspiring, newly rich middling orders who, as Georg Simmel says memorably in a classic essay, “find in fashion something that keeps pace with their own soul movements.”47 But aristocratic caprice was also seen to dictate the hectic pace of fashion, as Adam Smith observes in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759): an item worn by those high in rank, be it ever so “indifferent,” seems “genteel and magnificent” and “as soon as they drop it, it loses all the grace, which it had appeared to possess before.”48 Fielding’s Covent-Garden Journal (1752) amusedly describes the feverish measures by which people of fashion “deceive and dodge their Imitators”49 among the vulgar. But as chaotic and capricious as this ever-shifting, socioeconomically riven present of taste, fashion, and exchange seemed, writers typically made sense of it by inscribing it into larger narratives50 of contemporary culture’s “rise and progress” or its corruption.

These accounts of how the present of Britain came to be, in all its uniqueness in the eighteenth century, almost invariably described it as modern and adduced the modern taste to characterize its refinements and excesses. In the early part of the century, the phrase “modern taste” was most often derogatory (as in Shaftesbury’s denunciation quoted earlier) and, through the 1730s, correlated with taste’s corrupting influence, as when West’s poem Stowe (1732) wryly observes a gilt statue of Venus “yielding to the now-prevailing Taste,/In Gold, for modern Adoration, drest” (14). By 1738, The Modern Englishman proclaims with vehement irony that “Nothing’s so Dangerous, nothing so Uncouth,/To that Fine taste, as Virtue, Sense, and Truth” (7).

But especially after mid-century, writers in England and Scotland had developed conceptual frameworks to celebrate the refinements offered by modern European civilization and present modern taste as both the cause and flower of cultural progress, as when Hume remarks in his essay on taste that “the want of humanity and of decency, so conspicuous in the characters drawn by several of the ancient poets … gives modern authors an advantage over them” (Essays, 246). Particular arts had advocates who argued for their dramatic advancements in modern times. Charles Burney, in the concluding chapter of his four-volume General History of Music (1776–89) celebrates the “General State of Music in England during the Present Century,”51 praising (e.g.) Thomas Arne for having “furnished Vauxhall and the whole kingdom with such songs as had improved and polished our national taste” (vol. 4, 673). Horace Walpole’s advocacy of the modern taste in gardening, in which others joined, rested on a nationalistic sense of its connection to modern Britain’s political and economic accomplishments. The modern taste could signify all the success that Britain had attained in the century.

As the concept and historiography of the civilization of the passions developed after mid-century, it came to seem that civilized eras alone could produce minds sensitively quick enough to experience taste. Modern Britain, and more broadly the system of modern European nation-states in cultural dialogue after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), were not only new developments. Their subjects, polished by commerce, lived more intensely in the now than did their forebears. So, in the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88), Gibbon remarks, “in a civilized state, every faculty of man is expanded and exercised.”52 In contrast, the “savage” Gothic Germans were sunk in “supine indolence” (237), consumed only by “the animal gratifications of sleep and food” (237). Gibbon here suggests not just that Goths had their own preferences. Rather, some states of society create minds incapable of having anything as psychologically vital as taste at all.

Many non-Europeans of the eighteenth century, also called “savages” or “barbarians,” were not only (obviously) not “modern,” having failed to advance through the four stages of historical development (hunter-gatherer, pastoral, agricultural, commercial) posited by Scottish “philosophical” historians such as Smith, William Robertson, and Adam Ferguson. They also were said to be incapable of the quick immediacy, the now of feeling on which taste depended. Thus, the section “Of the Influence of Custom” of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments discusses the “insensibility” of “savages and barbarians” (Theory, 205) in contrast to “the virtues which are founded upon humanity” that hold sway “among civilized nations” (204). “The savages in North America, we are told” (205), are able to bear injuries and insults “with the appearance of the greatest insensibility” (206), and a crowd of savages can look upon scenes of torture with “the same insensibility” (206). Smith’s “savages and barbarians” manage to be alienated from the present twice over in their failures to enter powerfully affecting moments and to have progressed along history’s ordained path.

An opposite configuration of taste’s two temporalities characterizes the position of women in British culture by mid-century. On one hand, a warm immediacy and sensitivity to the moment are declared to be permanent features of feminine psychology. Gerard affirms in his Essay on Taste that “great sensibility of taste is generally accompanied with lively passions. Women have always been considered as possessing both in a more eminent degree than men.”53 Later, Hannah More in her Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies (1777) will likewise treat the notion as a commonplace: “it is readily allowed, that the sex have lively imaginations, and those exquisite perceptions of the beautiful and defective, which come under the denomination of Taste” (6). On the other, women’s increased participation in social life—especially the new prominence of their sensitivity—marked Britain as modern. Hume asserts that “the superiority of politeness should be allowed to modern times” because of his age’s “gallantry”; “no one,” he continues, “denies this invention to be modern,”54 and it especially depends on the “deference and complaisance” of men to women’s “inclinations and opinions” (133). Again, More corroborates the view: “the rough angles and asperities of male manners are imperceptibly filed, and gradually worn smooth, by the polishing of female conversation, and the refining of female taste” (13). Although feminine taste could signify excessive refinement—as when Hume remarks in 1742 that French theater “has become somewhat effeminate” compared to “the more masculine taste of some neighboring nations”(Essays, 122)—the immediacy of women’s taste directly genders and shapes the now of eighteenth-century Britain.55

The temporal richness of taste encouraged differing accounts of its role in history beyond simply teleological ones about modernity. Part of this flexibility stems again from simple semantics, which allowed virtually any age or nation, wherever located in space or time, to be said to have its own taste. In his Sketches of the History of Man (1774), Kames praises Quintilian’s “classical taste”56 for staving off corruptions of Roman literature in the era of Vespasian. Kames’s broad account of the “Progress of taste and the fine arts” (vol. 1, 106–167) can compliment Chinese taste for ripening well before that of Europe (“but good writing has made a more rapid progress with us,” vol. 1, 108). Even eras defined by their stark opposition to modern refinement could find a place in taste, despite what some said about the insensibility of barbarians. So William Hogarth at mid-century praises the “good gothic taste”57 of Westminster Abbey, when just a few decades before to call anything Gothic was to reject it as tasteless.

As such labels get worked into the now of fashions, taste’s temporal slipperiness increases. The World’s 1753 essay on taste remarks that “a few years ago every thing was Gothic; our houses, our beds, our book-cases, and our couches were all copied from some parts or other of our old cathedrals.” But “according to the present prevailing whim every thing is Chinese, or in the Chinese taste; or as it is sometimes more modestly expressed, partly after the Chinese manner. Chairs, tables, chimney-pieces, frames for looking-glasses, and even our most vulgar utensils are all reduced to this new-fangled standard.”58 So taste introduces the familiar irony of stylistic revival, whereby the very latest thing can be one we have seen before. Beyond that, as here, taste allows the now of culture sometimes to be some other time (Gothic), sometimes some other place (China): “the present prevailing whim” encourages a hectic practice of labeling in which past eras and foreign nations function interchangeably. Concentration on the now, far from limiting taste to what lay immediately before it, encouraged a variety of competing stories to be told about the present: how it came to be, where it was tending, and who—Britons, French, Chinese, men, women, the middling ranks, the rich and the great—could inhabit it most vitally.

3. “A Very Visible Connection”

Scholars have long considered taste and aesthetics in general as ideological, in the sense of fostering experiences and thoughts purportedly remote from politics that nonetheless covertly enforce politically effective beliefs and behavior. Several aspects of taste as it was in the eighteenth century could seem to make it ideological in this way. Philosophers of the period stressed that taste was grounded in universal human nature. This could seem to deny the influence of social factors on it and suppress awareness of how the present state of the culture of taste came to be. Bourdieu refers to “the ideology of natural taste” that “only recognizes as legitimate the relation to culture (or language) which least bears the visible marks of its genesis”59 in cultural education. Ideological criticism has sought to reveal how supposedly natural, spontaneous responses actually have their origins in specific historical, socioeconomic conditions. So Althusser famously describes how ideological thoughts and feelings exercise their claim on subjects by their “primary ‘obviousness,’”60 something subjected individuals “cannot fail to recognize and before which we have the inevitable and natural reaction of crying out (aloud or in the ‘still, small voice of conscience’): ‘That’s obvious! That’s right! That’s true!’” (172). Taste’s hyper-immediacy in eighteenth-century discourse, its power to carry conviction (in Hannah More’s words) “without waiting for the slower confirmation of the judgment” (Essays, 180), could seem to obliterate social and historical awareness in this manner.

But taste’s double temporal register makes viewing it as ideological in this way difficult to sustain. Taste carried with it both a supercharging of immediate sensation and a recognition, often a celebration, of its immersion in historical processes. So Horace Walpole exclaims,

the reason why Taste in Gardening was never discovered before the beginning of the present Century, is, that It was the result of all the happy combinations of an Empire of Freemen, an Empire formed by Trade, not by a military & conquering Spirit, maintained by the valour of independent Property, enjoying long tranquility after virtuous struggles, & employing its opulence and good Sense on the refinements of rational Pleasure.61

This is patently an ideology of taste in the basic sense of proclaiming a link between “rational Pleasure” and a political viewpoint, But it is difficult to imagine a celebration of taste less “ideological,” in the sense of eliciting a feeling that hides its historical and cultural genesis in the “the present Century,” than this. Such avowed linkages, serving various aggressive political and historical agendas, were commonplace. So The World’s essay, in a less celebratory mood than Walpole, remarks of the Gothic taste, “there is something, they say, in it congenial to our old Gothic constitution; I should rather think to our modern idea of liberty, which allows every one the privilege of playing the fool, and of making himself ridiculous in whatever way he pleases” (vol. 1, 69). Preferences, politics, and historical claims together made the discourse of taste what it was.

Scholars’ reluctance to recognize this fact perhaps derives from the centrality they accord to one genre of writing—“Enlightenment” philosophy—to the exclusion of others in which the meaning of taste developed. This genre purportedly treated “man” in the abstract, as an individual in possession of mental faculties generalizable to all other individuals. So John Brewer says that “one of the most conspicuous absences in almost all eighteenth-century discussions of aesthetic appreciation is that of a social milieu: the man of taste exists in individual isolation.”62 In an essay called “Of the Scandal of Taste,” Richard Shusterman declares that for Hume (as well as for Kant), “taste is not in any significant sense socially and historically conditioned,” and taste’s discriminations “are thus accorded the status of natural and necessary facts rather than seen as the contingent and alterable product of social dynamics and history.”63 He does not consider Hume’s remarks, late in his essay on the standard, about serious obstacles to universalizing taste presented by “the particular manners and opinions of our age and country” (Essays, 242). Such thinking could seem perfunctory and not “significant” only if we are unaware of the mass of writing by Hume explicitly interested in cultural history, including “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences,” the appendices of The History of England, and other works.64 Likewise Kames’s declaration that his Elements of Criticism “attempts to form a standard of taste by unfolding those principles that ought to govern the taste of every individual”65 has seemed more emblematic of the period’s thought than his Sketches of the History of Man (2 vols., 1774), which offers page upon page of remarks on tastes of different ages. But even in the Elements of Criticism, immediately after invoking the standard, Kames emphasizes (like Hume, Burke, and many others) “how early in life taste is susceptible to culture” (i.e., cultivation; vol. 1, iv). Eighteenth-century philosophy in itself is more interested in taste’s social and historical conditions than many scholars notice, and philosophers produced other kinds of work in which these conditions take center stage. Of course, those attending to taste’s social and historical dimensions in the period only rarely assert that the tastes of different peoples and nations are all equally excellent or “merely relative”; rather, refined nations have refined tastes, corrupt nations corrupt ones, and “savage” nations are said to have no taste at all.

The habit of viewing taste in the eighteenth century as something like a synonym for aesthetics—again, a word from later times—also sometimes diminishes scholars’ sense of its social investments. As I have contended here and elsewhere,66 taste (in the eighteenth century and even now) embraces social and historical concerns more openly than aesthetics is often said to do. Of course, aesthetics grew out of eighteenth-century British writing about taste and criticism (among other sources)—it did not come out of nowhere—and tracing the history of this emergence is vitally important. But sometimes such teleological accounts must put aside elements of their topics that are not pertinent to the outcomes they anticipate. For instance, in his excellent and illuminating history The British Aesthetic Tradition from Shaftesbury to Wittgenstein (2013), Timothy M. Costelloe surveys Hume’s “aesthetic” writings and remarks parenthetically “(Hume also has an important essay on the rise of the arts and sciences, but this falls properly under the sociology of art rather than aesthetic theory proper).”67 In a history of the origins of aesthetics—with its necessary focus on new modes of individuals’ sensitive, subjective response—the exclusion of those aspects of taste that seem less or other than aesthetic makes perfect sense. But an effort to grasp all of what Hume thought about taste will take into account his “sociological” views, too, especially since these shed light even on parts of his works more properly seen as belonging to his aesthetic corpus, such as the essay on the standard. If seeing taste in the eighteenth century as an aesthetic term leads us to neglect its part in the period’s sociology of the arts and historiography of cultures, then taste will seem less attentive to social and historical issues than it really was.

Critics of the period’s “aesthetic ideology” who see its discussions of taste as editing out social and historical conditions often have particular absences in mind. So Shusterman rightly says that Hume does not very fully consider “how [critical taste] is constrained by socioeconomic inequalities and repressive privileging structures of discourse” (110). But the culture of taste and its philosophy in Britain were not elaborated in the spirit of what Jonathan Israel has called the “Radical Enlightenment” and tended to normalize rather than challenge existing social relations. Hume and most others took privilege and socioeconomic inequality for granted68 and assumed that poor, illiterate, uneducated classes, by definition, could not have a refined taste in literature and the fine arts. Socioeconomic inequalities must have seemed less worth mentioning than other factors determinative of a culture’s taste (again, “government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning,” as the list runs in Hume’s History). We may think a belief in human nature ought to promote a “project of a foundational naturalistic, class-free aesthetics” (Shusterman, 99), but the insistence on education and “culture” as essential to taste accounts for divergences among those with differing opportunities, human though they all are. So that great fund of common sentiment, Gray’s Elegy (1751), both levels the natural endowments of the poor with those of the rich and observes that “Chill Penury” drastically constrains not only the opportunities afforded the poor but also their abilities, by freezing “the genial Current of the Soul”69—and pointedly declines to translate equality of human potential into a program for social equality because we all must die anyway.70

The view, then, that taste ideologically denies the social does not result from the refusal of writers in the period to acknowledge that taste has various social and historical motives. Instead, it arises from a sense that these acknowledgments are not as socially enlightened as we might wish them to be. When Pope titles his Epistle to Burlington in subsequent editions “Of Taste” (1731), “Of False Taste” (1731/2), and finally “Of the Use of Riches” (1744), he suggests a connection (if not equivalency) between taste the “sense” and taste the instrument of socioeconomic improvement. The “Imperial Works … worthy [of] Kings” (204) celebrated at the poem’s conclusion are ones that taste designs. Readers today would probably believe that the nation’s resources in the 1730s would have been better spent on other projects, but Pope’s neglect of those will not justify a claim that his account of taste neglects social, political, and economic conditions tout court. The contention that taste in such works functions ideologically by denying the social devolves into a less dramatic observation that the social beliefs (about empire, royal power, social hierarchy) and teleologies of progress underwritten by taste in the period differ from ours. Again, this is not to deny that many eighteenth-century philosophers believed there was a single, “natural,” best taste to which all human beings could aspire. It is merely to notice that philosophers also argued that the achievement of such taste typically depends on education or “culture,” which is inseparable from the historical conditions in which people actually live. Some tastes are better and more “natural” than others. But then, some states of society, political systems, nations, and historical periods also are better than others, most writers assumed. Thoughts about optimizing taste regularly took both kinds of “better”—the psychological and the historical—into account.

Nonetheless, the notion that eighteenth-century taste enacts what Bourdieu calls an “immense repression” (Distinction, 485) of social and historical conditions has endured through the decades. In his moving study Slavery and the Culture of Taste (2011), Simon Gikandi focuses “on what was excluded from the discourse of taste and the series of omissions, repressions, and conceptual failures that were its condition of possibility”71—the principal exclusion for Gikandi being, of course, slavery itself. Ironically, however, the very richness of his documentation of links between taste and slavery—attending to numerous visual representations of masters with their slaves and a range of other cultural expressions—shows how productively Europeans, especially the planter class in America, wove slavery into their self-presentation as tasteful. (Discussing the slave-owner and man of taste Christopher Codrington, Gikandi admits that “on the surface, Codrington’s intimate connection to the complex of sugar and slavery was not repressed” 120.) The Enlightenment historiography and anthropology of “national characters” emphasized the insusceptibility to progress of peoples supposed to be “naturally inferior to the whites” (so runs Hume’s notoriously racist footnote in his essay “Of National Characters,” Essays, 208). The slave-owner’s delicate enjoyment of a fine table, estate, or artwork arguably cannot simultaneously include any vivid awareness of the cruelty and pain that makes it possible. But histories of domination and success, no matter how aggressive, openly added taste to the list of European accomplishments rather than placed it in a sanitized cultural zone of its own.

Another repression said to be enacted by the eighteenth-century discourse of taste is that of the body itself. The privileged and refined assert social dominance ideologically through what Bourdieu calls their “distance from necessity” (Distinction, 53–56)—most fundamentally, from pressing bodily imperatives. Something like this view motivates Denise Gigante’s contention that “all the major Enlightenment philosophers of taste were involved in the civilizing process of sublimating the tasteful essence of selfhood from its own matter and motions, appetites and aversions, passions and physical sensibilities.”72 Gigante goes on to demonstrate, however, how closely in touch much of the period’s philosophy of taste remained with the physical and appetitive—in her discussions not just of Mandeville (49–54) and Burke (60–63), but also of taste’s unbreakable metaphorical bond to the gustatory (16–18). And taste’s temporality of immediacy, the way it “thrills thro’ our whole Frame” (Cooper), ties it especially overtly to the body. So Voltaire in his “Essay on Taste” (appended to Gerard’s Essay) emphasizes its momentary sensuousness: “taste then, in general, is a quick discernment, a sudden perception, which, like the sensation of the palate, anticipates reflexion; like the palate, it relishes what is good with an exquisite and voluptuous sensibility, and rejects the contrary with loathing and disgust.”73 The comparison to the palate does not preclude the formation of habits that produce the social stratifications and exclusions, the sorting of people into polite and vulgar, tasteful and tasteless, that Bourdieu and his heirs have always insisted on. Voltaire continues, “like the palate also, it is often doubtful, and, as it were, bewildered, not knowing whether is should relish or reject certain objects, and frequently requires the influence of habit to give it a fixed and uniform determination” (214). The body doubles as a site of both “voluptuous sensibility” and discipline, as Terry Eagleton aptly contends: taste “signifies a creative turn to the sensuous body, as well as an inscribing of that body with a subtly oppressive law.”74 However regarded, the body in such transactions tends to be foregrounded instead of ideologically repressed.

The sometimes sharply divided temporal register of taste can nonetheless produce something like an ideological effect inasmuch as its immediacy at least temporarily renders historical and other contextual reflection impossible. The man savoring a well-prepared steak must perhaps repress, or at least not dwell too much on, what he knows happened in the slaughterhouse a little while before. Accounts such as Hutcheson’s, which suggests our sense of beauty need not include any knowledge or reflection, have been seen to perform ideological work:

But in all these Instances of Beauty let it be observ’d, That the Pleasure is communicated to those who never reflected on this general Foundation; and that all here is alledg’d is this, That the pleasant Sensation arises only from Objects, in which there is Uniformity amidst Variety: We may have the Sensation without knowing what is the Occasion of it; as a Man’s Taste may suggest Ideas of Sweets, Acids, Bitters, tho he be ignorant of the Forms of the small Bodys, or their Motions, which excite these Perceptions in him.75

As Howard Caygill has commented on this passage and similar ones in Shaftesbury, Kames, and Burke, “Individuals behave affectively, according to sentiment, but providence ensures that the sum of their actions realizes the common good”76—so the ideal of “Uniformity amidst Variety” becomes an emblem in Caygill’s account for a society without class conflict, one whose social dimensions are covered over by a je ne sais quoi. Even though most people of taste in the period embraced hierarchy and subordination (enforced violently if necessary) as essential to what they viewed as a harmonious “general Foundation”—Caygill himself cites Hutcheson’s avowal of this77—the very power of the moment of tasteful delight as it happens could seem to exclude reflections on social power.

But alertness to taste’s double temporality encourages analysis of interactions between momentary pleasures and longer justificatory narratives instead of merely repeating that the former repress the latter. As Hutcheson says, we need not reflect on the source of our pleasures to have them, but he also implies that we may. And for those who do, in what ways are such feelings and reflections distinguished and joined? In such cases, the questions become phenomenological rather than ideological. It may be that a subject’s avowed belief in British progress, in the ancient constitution, or in the delicacy of ideal womanhood prepares the ground for instantaneous pleasure and that such pleasure bears a trace of those antecedently instilled beliefs. It may be that pleasure inscribes a subject in a narrative of social power that she recognizes only after feeling it or seems to start in one social narrative and end in another. Because the culture of taste explicitly and often aggressively pitted various social stations, nations, and visions of British history against each other, pleasure is always to be fitted into some narrative—if not by the subject of experience, then by moralizers of it like Hutcheson. Each momentary pleasure can be configured with narrative imperatives in its own way.

Such phenomenological richness appears, for instance, in reactions to Stowe Landscape Garden from the 1730s onward. In William Gilpin’s Dialogue upon the Gardens … at Stow in Buckinghamshire (1748), the dialogists Callophilus and Polypthon remark upon the “Variety of beautiful Views”78 that engage their taste, as Gilpin vividly evokes the moment-by-moment, somatic sequencing of pleasures the tour provides. But the dialogists also confront Stowe’s buildings and inscriptions that convey historical and political lessons. They stop, they read—and make speeches like this, at the Temple of British Worthies: “Inspired by every generous Sentiment, these gallant Spirits founded Constitutions, stemmed the Torrent of Corruption, battled for the State, ventured their Lives in the Defence of their Country, and gloriously bled in the Cause of Liberty” (30). These two kinds of experience together help Callophilus assert “a very visible Connection between an improved Taste for Pleasure, and a Taste for Virtue” (49). Although the sense of their “Connection” indicates that they are not identical, these tastes, in their interchanges at Stowe and throughout the literature of the period, reinforce and inspire each other and belie the assumption of contemporary students of ideology that taste’s pleasures must tend entirely to crowd out awareness of its social functions.

Scholars of later eras may continue to find in aesthetics a repression of those functions, although most people even today use the word tastes to notice changes from season to season and variations from class to class, culture to culture. (Ask any contemporary high school student what her taste in music and clothes says about her place in a social world.) In British writing of the eighteenth century, however, before the Kantian insistence that “The Liking That Determines a Judgment of Taste Is Devoid of All Interest” (Critique of Judgment, 45) gains prestige in the nineteenth century, the case is clearer. Certain conceptual habits of scholarship—taking some ideal of “Enlightenment philosophy” as univocally laying down the law of taste for the rest of culture, treating taste’s immediacy as more definitive of it than its historicity, and viewing taste as ideologically repressive rather than ideologically productive—have left out much of the period’s theory and practice of taste. The aim here is not to replace a focus on elite philosophy with one on a demotic culture of taste, which cannot be done. Taste’s peculiar status as a novel, modern, and uncertain term made “culture” as susceptible to elite influence as the other way around. Taste served as an arena of conflict, dominated to varying degrees by social if not intellectual elites, between social stations, understandings of gender, nationalisms, and visions of British, European, and world history. Finally, taste both stimulated and historicized consciousness and produced new ways in which feeling and history could constitute each other.


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(1) The Spanish intellectual Baltasar Gracían was widely credited, by Addison among others, as a wellspring of the vogue of the word: so Spectator no. 409 begins, “Gratian very often recommends the fine Taste, as the utmost Perfection of an accomplished Man” (The Spectator, edited by Donald F. Bond, 5 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), vol. 3, 527.

(2) The essay appeared in The Universal Spectator, May 15, no. 389, 1736. See Henry Baker (Henry Stonecastle), The Universal Spectator 4 vols. (London, 1747), vol. 3, 47.

(3) As Peter Kivy remarks, “the work which really inaugurated the new way of ideas in aesthetics [was] Addison’s Pleasures of the Imagination. Addison was one of the first Enlightenment authors to write of taste as an autonomous faculty” (The Seventh Sense: Francis Hutcheson and Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 29.

(4) George Colman, The Connoisseur, 2 vols. (London, 1755–56), vol. 2, 721 (May 13, 1756).

(5) See David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, edited by Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985): “But even though this axiom [that it is fruitless to dispute about tastes], by passing into a proverb, seems to have attained the sanction of common sense; there is certainly a species of common sense which opposes it [that some objects of taste are truly better than others], at least serves to modify and restrain it” (230).

(7) Shaftesbury’s Inquiry Concerning Virtue, in two Discourses (London, 1699), was an early version, published without his permission, of an essay that would be revised for the Characteristics.

(8) Roger de Piles, The Art of Painting, and the Lives of the Painters: Containing, a Compleat Treatise of Painting, Designing, and the Use of Prints … (London, 1706), 392.

(9) Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (London, 1754), title page.

(10) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, translated by Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 44.

(11) Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 11.

(12) Charles Rollin, Taste: An Essay (London, 1732), 9–10.

(13) Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670–1752 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 23.

(15) Denise Gigante, Taste: a Literary History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 6.

(16) Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules (London, 1713), 46.

(17) Clifford Siskin, “Mediated Enlightenment: The System of the World,” in This Is Enlightenment, edited by Clifford Siskin and William Warner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010): 164–165; Siskin’s essay argues that “system” provides a hidden basis of continuity between the Enlightenment and the Romantic Age.

(18) Frederick Copleston, British Philosophy: Hobbes to Hume (London: Continuum, 2003), 178.

(19) Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue; In Two Treatises (London, 1725), 8.

(20) It is true that “Of the Standard of Taste” is first presented to the public as a “dissertation” among three others—on the passions, tragedy, and religion (see Four Dissertations, London, 1757)—but he numbered it among his essays, not his “treatises”: it is “Essay XXVI” in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (London, 1758), his recurrent title for his essay collections.

(21) David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, edited David Fate Norton and Mary Norton, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), vol. 1, 195–198.

(22) See, for instance, John Gilbert Cooper’s Letters Concerning Taste (London, 1755), “originally written to a small circle of Friends” (i), and Clio: or, a Discourse on Taste. Addressed to a Young Lady (2nd ed. London, 1769), by James Usher (sometimes Ussher), inspired by “a very lively and pleasing conversation” (1) arising while the author and the lady were drinking tea.

(23) So runs Gerard’s own account in his “Advertisement” of the first edition of An Essay on Taste (London, 1759): the competition “determined the author to enter on the following enquiry of Taste; the general principles of which only he presented to the Society, suspecting that the whole might exceed the limits which they had fixed, by requiring an essay” (i).

(24) So begins Kames’s chapter on the standard, in Elements of Criticism, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1762), vol. 3, 351.

(25) See, e.g., Jonathan Brody Kramnick who, referring to Hume’s identification of the “few” talented critics, remarks that “given the program he has outlined for the acquisition of taste, this statement would seem to designate emphatically the aesthetic object as cultural capital and taste as a marker for entitlement and prestige” (Making the English Canon: Print-Capitalism and the Cultural Past, 1700–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 73; see also Richard Shusterman, “Of the Scandal of Taste,” discussed later.

(26) William Roberts (“the Rev. Sir Simon Olive-Branch”), The Looker-On, 3 vols. (1792–1794), vol. 3, no. 75, 174–194.

(27) Eliza Haywood, The Female Spectator, 4 vols. (London, 1745–1746), vol. 3, 127.

(28) Edward Moore (“Adam Fitz-Adam”), The World, 6 vols. (London, 1755–1757), vol. 1, 67–68.

(30) See The World, vol. 1, 69–72. Several books have taken up the topic of evolving British attitudes toward “Chinese taste,” notably David Porter, Chinese Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins, A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(31) The front page of the London 1731 version of the poem reads “Of Taste, An Epistle to the Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington, By Mr. POPE.”

(32) See Mr. Taste, the Poetical Fop: or, the Modes of the Court, A Comedy (London, 1732?), by “the author of Vanelia,” and Mr. Taste’s Tour from the Island of Politeness, to that of Dulness and Scandal (London, 1733), whose introduction alludes to Pope’s supposed ingratitude to Lord Chandos, who was supposed to be mocked in Burlington’s portrayal of Timon and his villa.

(33) Gilbert West, Stowe, the Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Lord Viscount Cobham. Address’d to Mr. Pope (London, 1732), 24.

(36) Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England; with Some Account of the Principal Artists; and Incidental Notes on Other Arts, 4 vols. (Twickenham, 1765–1771), vol. 4, 117–151. Although called “On Modern Gardening” in this first published version, the title page of the 1771 edition gives the familiar title, The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening.

(37) See Andrew Hemingway, “The ‘Sociology’ of Taste in the Scottish Enlightenment,” Oxford Art Journal 12:2 (1989), 3–35.

(38) David Hume, The History of England, 6 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983), vol. 5, 124.

(39) Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1774), vol. 1, 106–167.

(40) This heading appears in The Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1736, vol. VI, 260, above its digest of The Universal Spectator’s essay on taste (see footnote 2).

(41) John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 134.

(42) So Kivy observes in The Seventh Sense: “the associationists … did not believe immediacy and association to be incompatible doctrines, either in ethics or aesthetics. Quite to the contrary, the association of ideas was an attractive hypothesis just because it could preserve immediacy without recourse to innate senses” (202).

(43) John Gilbert Cooper, Letters Concerning Taste (London, 1754), 3.

(44) Hannah More, “Miscellaneous Observations on Genius, Taste, Good Sense, &c.,” in Essays on Various Subjects Principally Designed For Young Ladies (London, 1777), 180.

(45) J. G. A. Pocock, in the essay “Modes of Political and Historical Time in Early Eighteenth-Century England,” in Virtue, Commerce, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 96. Pocock’s discussion traces the shifts in the political-party associations of this attitude and opposes it to what he calls “a process of classicization” in which the individual looked for social structures “located in the past as a source of legitimacy” (97).

(46) See, e.g., Erin Mackie, Market à la Mode: Fashion, Commodity, and Gender in The Tatler and The Spectator (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), especially “Fashioning Taste on the Culture Market,” 203–262.

(47) See Georg Simmel, “Fashion” (1904), The American Journal of Sociology 62:6 (May 1957), 541–558, at 556. Another influential essay, by Neil McKendrick, “The Commercialization of Fashion,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, edited by Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 34–99, explores the role of social and economic mobility in shaping the fashion market in the period.

(48) Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, edited by D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982), 195.

(49) Henry Fielding, The Covent-Garden Journal and A Plan of the Universal Register-Office, edited by Bertrand A. Goldgar (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1988), 220.

(51) Charles Burney, A General History of Music, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, 4 vols. (London, 1776–1789), vol. 4, 631.

(52) Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edited by David Womersley, 3 vols. (London: Penguin, 1994), vol. 1, 237.

(53) Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (Edinburgh, 1759), 200.

(54) See Essays, 131. He continues, “among the ancients, the character of the fair-sex was considered as altogether domestic; nor were they regarded as part of the polite world or of good company” (134).

(55) See Robert W. Jones, Gender and the Formation of Taste in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), which argues that mid-century discourse “represents an articulation of both gender and class roles which is productive of a new form of sociability, which, though it originates in the plenitudes of polite conversation, takes as its primary symbol the spectacle of the virtuous woman” (115).

(56) Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1774), vol. 1, 153.

(57) William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, Written with a View of Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas of Taste (London, 1753), 48.

(58) The World, vol. 1, 68–69.

(60) Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, translated by Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 171.

(62) John Brewer, “‘The Most Polite Age and the Most Vicious’: Attitudes Towards Culture as a Commodity, 1660–1800,” in The Consumption of Culture 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text, edited by Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (London; Routledge, 1995), 341–61, at 351. In The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1997), Brewer changes tack, remarking that taste is “one of the attributes of a new sort of person—the ‘sociable man’ … who was literate, could talk about art, literature and music and showed off his refinement through agreeable conversation in company” (xviii).

(63) Richard Shusterman, “Of the Scandal of Taste: Social Privilege as Nature in the Aesthetic Theories of Hume and Kant,” in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics and the Reconstruction of Art, edited by Paul Mattick, Jr. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 96–119, at 98.

(64) For a discussion of Hume’s thinking on taste and historical refinement, see my “‘Almost Inseparable’: Taste and History in Hume,” in The Temporality of Taste, 96–123.

(66) See The Temporality of Taste, 17–18, 204–211.

(67) Timothy M. Costelloe, The British Aesthetic Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 50. Costelloe refers, of course, to “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences.”

(68) Hume had a complex view of how interrelations among social ranks arose and changed historically but certainly opposed any direct promotion of socioeconomic egalitarianism. As he remarks in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, “historians, and even common sense, may inform us, that, however specious these ideas of perfect equality may seem, they are really, at bottom, impracticable; and were they not so, would be extremely pernicious to human society. Render possessions ever so equal, men’s different degrees of art, care, and industry will immediately break that equality. Or if you check these virtues, you reduce society to the most extreme indigence; and instead of preventing want and beggary in a few, render it unavoidable to the whole community…. Perfect equality of possessions, destroying all subordination, weakens extremely the authority of magistracy, and must reduce all power nearly to a level, as well as property” (An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, edited by Tom L. Beauchamp, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 20–21.

(69) See Thomas Gray, An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard (London, 1751), 7.

(70) For a locus classicus of this type of reading of the Elegy, see William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (1935, London: Penguin, 1995), 11–13; also John Guillory, Cultural Capital: the Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 91–95.

(71) Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 25. Oddly, Bourdieu’s Distinction does not appear in Gikandi’s bibliography, although he cites the concept of “habitus” as developed in The Logic of Practice, translated by Richard Nice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).

(72) Denise Gigante, Taste: A Literary History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 3.

(74) Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 9.

(75) Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (London, 1725), 26. It should be noted that Hutcheson does not call our faculty for “pleasant Sensation” taste but rather uses gustatory taste to illustrate what happens with our sense of beauty.

(76) Howard Caygill, Art of Judgement (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 43.

(77) See Caygill, 60–61, which cites Hutcheson’s comments in A System of Moral Philosophy (1755) about disciplining “idle vagrants” with “perpetual slavery.”

(78) William Gilpin, A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham, at Stow in Buckinghamshire (London, 1748), 11.