In encyclopedic detail and with Johnsonian style and gusto, Brewer expatiates on the cultural development of a...


THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century

In encyclopedic detail and with Johnsonian style and gusto, Brewer expatiates on the cultural development of a Public--reading, listening, and viewing--and the rise of Taste. Historian Brewer follows his work on the politics and government of the same period in Britain, The Sinews of Power (1989), with a reassessment of British culture as it moved out of the aristocratic Renaissance and rakish Restoration, and evolved into a culture driven in part by an extraordinarily mercantile middle class. Brewer demonstrates how London emerged as the center of a boom in literature, music, and art--admittedly from mercenary forces. Grub Street produced Pope and Johnson; the urban landscape inspired Hogarth and Rowlandson; Handel and Haydn found financial independence in oratorios and public concerts; and David Garrick combined the roles of actor-manager and neoclassical interpreter of Shakespeare. Brewer is equally interested in the consumers of this expanding culture. His glosses of the bookselling trade, the mercurial London theater, and art auctions and exhibitions are supported by firsthand accounts, such as those of Anna Larpent, an intellectual lady of leisure and taste, and Ozias Humphry, a miniaturist who never quite succeeded in the art business. With this refinement of taste, though, a cultural divide emerged between connoisseurs and dilettantes, amateurs and professionals, London and the provinces. Brewer, however, shows how the provinces not only absorbed culture from London but distributed it more evenly as well. Outside the home counties, he unearths lesser-known but interesting figures: Thomas Bewick, a successful Newcastle engraver; Anna Seward, the Lichfield bluestocking and contentious associate of Johnson; and John Marsh, a Chichester gentleman with a passion for amateur music. Only a book as rich, diverse, and allusive as Brewer's could do justice to the phenomenal cultural expansion of 18th-century England.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997


Page Count: 688

Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

Close Quickview