John Brewster's landmark book shows us how British artists, amateurs, entrepeneurs, and audiences created a culture that is still celebrated for its wit and brilliance.
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...a well-written aesthetic and social history of wide-ranging satisfactions. -- The New Yorker
The Pleasures of the Imagination, John Brewer's delightful and weighty study, seeks to demonstrate how English "high culture" reinvented itself during this fascinating period.... Brewer is concerned with the production and reception of culture at many levels: the artist, writer and performer; the agencies that disseminated and made available the printed word, the picture and the print; the critics, connoisseurs and pundits; and the institutionalization of concepts and cultural practices in debating society and the drawing room. The Pleasures of the Imagination is not an exhaustive study (with a subject ranging over so many areas, how could it be so?), but it is immensely rich and vividly and eloquently conveyed. -- Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Olwen Hufton
In The Pleasures of the Imagination John Brewer takes us on a grand tour of the exciting, fluid, often raucous world of the 18th-century arts. It is a long journey. Brewer cannot resist a racy anecdote, and obscure figures receive as much attention as do the stars of English culture. But perseverance is rewarded, for Brewer gives us a brilliantly illustrated social history of the many people who produced plays and paintings, music and books for a marketplace in which only a few experienced celebrity. He focuses not so much on the careers of the outstanding geniuses of the age as on the complex, frequently irascible cultural negotiations that actually defined a public culture. -- The New York Times Book Review, T.H. Breen
It is a teeming world that he describes, but he keeps a good organizational grip on his material. He chooses his examples well; he moves easily over an expanse that is too often divided up among specialists. And he has a commendable taste for the pungent and the picturesque.... Mr. Brewer strikes me as essentially an old-fashioned historian, with solid old-fashioned virtues. He has a story to tell, and he lets his conclusions emerge as he goes along. -- The Wall Street Journal, John Gross
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. (240 b&w illustrations, 8 pages color illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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