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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and



Frances Reynolds


With an Introduction by James L. Clifford

The Augustan Reprint Society

Frances Reynolds

_An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, etc._ (1785)

With an Introduction by James L. Clifford

Publication 27

Los Angeles William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California 1951


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_ 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_


Since the early nineteenth century it has been known that Frances Reynolds, the sister of Sir Joshua, was the author of an essay on taste, which she had printed but did not publish. Yet persistent search failed to turn up a single copy. It remained one of those lost pieces which every research scholar hoped someday to discover.

In 1935 it appeared that the search was over. Among some manuscripts of Mrs. Thrale-Piozzi, long hidden in Wales, was found a printed copy of an anonymous _Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty_, which seemed to be the lost essay. The date was correct; the _Enquiry_ was dedicated to Mrs. Montagu; it contained a quotation from Dr. Johnson; and, best of all, there was attached to the pamphlet a copy (in an unidentified handwriting) of Johnson's well-known letter to Miss Reynolds concerning her essay.

Only one thing stood squarely in the way of the identification. James Northcote in his _Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds_, published in 1818 (II, 116-19), after describing Johnson's connection with the manuscript, gives two pages of short excerpts. Most of the quotations are general statements such as "Dress is the strong indication of the moral character" or "The fine arts comprehend all that is excellent in the moral system, and, at the same time, open every path that tends to the corruption of moral excellence." Unfortunately none of these excerpts appears directly in the _Enquiry_. Although some of the ideas are similar, the wording and specific details are different. By no stretch of the imagination could they be considered to come from the same piece. Thus Northcote blocked the solution of the mystery for nearly fifteen years.

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