From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England

From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England

From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England

From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England

Excerpt

The chapters of this book were presented as the Lowell Lectures, in Boston, in the spring of 1945. They treat a few aspects of a very large subject, the crucial transition which took place during the eighteenth century in European conceptions of the character, justification, and aim of art.

No similar transition has been more fundamental and pervasive. Many of the assumptions which had underlain ideas of art in classical antiquity and in the Renaissance were gradually supplanted at this time by more individualistic and psychological conceptions of art and taste; and these conceptions, under various names, have largely dominated our thinking about art to the present day. Perhaps more than any other single country, England introduced and encouraged this alteration of ideas, although England also ended by modifying and reabsorbing many of its effects into the main direction of English thought as a whole. The two series of conceptions immediately involved in this change have usually been put under the arbitrary headings of "classicism" and "romanticism." Both words are loose and inadequate, especially the term "romanticism." But continued use has given them such a number of connotations that they not only prove more convenient than others but even defy replacement.

The purpose of these lectures is to sketch some of the more significant outlines of this evolution or interchange of ideas: to describe the primary premises which underlay conceptions of taste or aesthetic judgment in English classicism and romanticism, and to connect the supplanting of the one by the other with the broader shift in European thought which it reflects. The general form of a lecture hardly lends itself, of course, to minute analysis . . .

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