The Whole Internal Universe: Imitation and the New Defense of Poetry in British Criticism, 1660-1830

By John L. Mahoney | Go to book overview

4
Sir Joshua Reynolds:
Freedom and Tradition

It appears to me therefore, that our first thoughts, that is, the effect which any thing produces on our minds on its first appearance, is never to be forgotten; and it demands for that reason, because it is the first, to be laid up with care. If this be not done, the Artist may happen to impose on himself by partial reasoning; by a cold consideration of those animated thoughts which proceed, not perhaps from caprice or rashness, (as he may afterwards conceit,) but from the fullness of his mind, enriched with the copious stores of all the various inventions which he had ever seen, or had ever passed in his mind.These ideas are infused into his design, without any conscious effort; but if he be not on his guard, he may reconsider and correct them, till the whole matter is reduced to a common-place invention.

Discourse XIII

WHILE SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS has never been seriously neglected by students of English neoclassicism or of the European Enlightenment in general, his stature as a man of letters, especially as an important aesthetician and critic, has received attention only relatively recently. Frederick Hilles' pioneering The Literary Career of Sir Joshua Reynolds traces and documents in great detail Reynolds' education, his reading, his association with great literary figures such as Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, Boswell, and Garrick, and the widespread attention occasioned by the publication of his Discourses on Art. 1 Understandably, it does not focus sharply and analytically on particular issues and problems of aesthetic theory. Those who have chosen to study this theory have, interestingly enough, fallen into roughly three categories. Ellis Waterhouse, for

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