Boswell on "taste"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/13/2012 - 05:15

Greetings all,
I just found this site and have already placed it in my zotero collection. As the Ahnold says, I'll be back. I've long been a Boswell fan, ever since I read about the discovery of his Journals in Richard Altick's The Scholar Adventurers.
But more to the point, I recall reading, in graduate school many years back, an essay by Boswell where he lays out anb argument for one being able to account for taste, for good and bad. I don't recall if this was a stand alone essay, a passage from his Journals perhaps, or from Johnson. If anyone knows and can point me in the right direction, I'd be grateful.

I suspect you may be thinking about a passage from the Life of Johnson. Boswell and General Paoli paid Johnson a visit on Easter Sunday, 1772 and Boswell related their discussion about taste as follows:

Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he [Johnson] said, that difference of taste was, in truth, difference in skill. BOSWELL. "But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking; for instance, we find people differ much as to what is the best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing." JOHNSON. "Sir, yuou must first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you have mentioned, don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour. In like manner, one loves a plain coat, another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind."

Boswell may have touched upon the subject in one of his Hypocondriack essays as well, but I seem to have misplaced my copy of Bailey's edition of the complete essays, so I can't check it just now. 


Best wishes,

Thomas, webmaster at