Taste and Criticism in the Eighteenth Century: A Selection of Texts Illustrating the Evolution of Taste and the Development of Critical Theory

Taste and Criticism in the Eighteenth Century: A Selection of Texts Illustrating the Evolution of Taste and the Development of Critical Theory

Taste and Criticism in the Eighteenth Century: A Selection of Texts Illustrating the Evolution of Taste and the Development of Critical Theory

Taste and Criticism in the Eighteenth Century: A Selection of Texts Illustrating the Evolution of Taste and the Development of Critical Theory

Excerpt

Twentieth-Century disillusionment may sometimes be heard comforting itself with the ironical remark that "after all, European civilization came to an end with the French Revolution!" Perhaps few of those who speak thus would have cared to live in eighteenth-century England, with its highwaymen and press-gangs, its lack of sanitation and frequent epidemics, its gin-shops, public executions, and transportations; yet, in spite of the grossness and brutality of some aspects of the life of that time, there is a sense in which this facetious statement about European civilization is true. There existed among the upper classes of Western Europe in the mid- eighteenth century a more stable and homogeneous culture than has been found at any time since the Industrial Revolution.

In the early nineteenth century a fashion grew up of ridiculing the preceding age: thus Carlyle spoke of it as "the age of prose, of lying, of sham; the fraudulent, bankrupt century; the reign of Beelzebub; the peculiar era of Cant." More recently, literary historians have often labelled the period the 'age of reason' in contrast to the Romantic period, which is seen as the age of poetry and imagination. But neither of these views is justified. The eighteenth century was not lacking in sentiment and in poetry, nor can it be denied that, with its widespread interest in art, letters, and philosophy, it achieved a . . .

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