The best books on how the arts were first recognized as crucial elements of human life

Lawrence Lipking Author Of The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England
By Lawrence Lipking

Who am I?

I am a chameleon scholar. Though my first love is poetry, I have written about all the arts, about 18th-century authors (especially Samuel Johnson), about theories of literature and literary vocations, about Sappho and other abandoned women, about ancients and moderns and chess and marginal glosses and the meaning of life and, most recently, the Scientific Revolution. But I am a teacher too, and The Ordering of the Arts grew out of my fascination with those writers who first taught readers what to look for in painting, music and poetrywhat works were best, what works could change their lives. That project has inspired my own life and all my writing.

I wrote...

The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England

By Lawrence Lipking,

Book cover of The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England

What is my book about?

In the 18th century the arts first came into their own. Painting, music, and poetry attracted larger audiences than ever before. Yet there was no great history of any art, no canon of what was best, no model of a standard of taste. The public called on writers to answer that need; and a series of major works would answer the call.

Joshua Reynolds' Discourses on Art, Charles Burney's History of Music, Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry, and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets consider different arts and eras, yet each tells us how to recognize and value great art.  And together, this book argues, they paved the way for the modern appreciation of how much the arts contribute to life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century

Why did I love this book?

This book is a pleasure to read. John Brewer shows us the birth of "high culture" in Britain, the many ways that a national public became aware that music, painting, theater, and poetry could bring people together and make them happy.

Low life and high life, Grub Street and royalty all come into play. And the book never forgets that the arts can be a source of fun, not only for those who create and follow them but for everyone who reads about them.

By John Brewer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pleasures of the Imagination as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Pleasures of the Imagination examines the birth and development of English "high culture" in the eighteenth century. It charts the growth of a literary and artistic world fostered by publishers, theatrical and musical impresarios, picture dealers and auctioneers, and presented to th public in coffee-houses, concert halls, libraries, theatres and pleasure gardens. In 1660, there were few professional authors, musicians and painters, no public concert series, galleries, newspaper critics or reviews. By the dawn of the nineteenth century they were all aprt of the cultural life of the nation.

John Brewer's enthralling book explains how this happened and recreates…

Book cover of The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry 1500-1700

Why did I love this book?

Hollander's wonderful book is a tribute to the power of music, which can transform ideas and myths into rhythms and feelings that immediately touch the heart. 

A fine poet himself, he relishes the quests of poets and musicians to turn mere words and notes into something divine, as if we could hearken to the gods (whether Christian or pagan). The analysis of particular works of art is always scholarly and penetrating; but more than that, it conveys a poet's love of what great artists have done.

By John Hollander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Untuning of the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Book cover of The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray

Why did I love this book?

In the Restoration and the eighteenth century, the mark of a true poet was to see thingsto describe the visible and invisible worlds so vividly that everyone could see them too. 

Most modern readers are blind to this. But Jean Hagstrum teaches us how to see with eighteenth-century eyes. The pictures that poets make, and the paintings that inspire those visions, come alive in thoughtful readings that focus on the workshops of art: the schools where artists learn the craft of making what is imagined into something that seems real.

Book cover of The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition

Why did I love this book?

This classic study introduced me and the whole world of critics and scholars to theoretical perspectives that still resonate among historians of literature and culture. 

It defines a momentous change: the shift from views of art as a mirrora reflection of things as they areto a lampa radiant projection from the hearts and minds of its creators. This revolution in aesthetic principles, formulated by German and British theorists, also resulted in new ways of looking at nature and in new kinds of poetry. 

Abrams charts the depths of Romantic theory; and his work helped spur a revival of interest in the Romanticsnow often cherished as the first modern poets.

By M. H. Abrams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mirror and the Lamp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This highly acclaimed study analyzes the various trends in English criticism during the first four decades of this century.

Book cover of Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

Why did I love this book?

This book about rebels itself rebels against historians such as Abrams, who view Romanticism as a single movement unified by an expressive theory of art. 

Instead, Butler argues, there are many different sorts of Romantics, and they are best understood not through theories of art but through "the fierce personal and artistic politics of an age in the midst of profound change." That Age of Revolution had begun in the 1760s, and the ordering of the arts reflects debates about the social standing of the arts, not any consensus. Butler relishes these conflicts.

She pays attention to the groundswell of "art for the people" as well as "the war of the intellectuals," and she is not afraid to embrace the chaos and complications that thwart any effort to paint all arts and artists with one brush.

By Marilyn Butler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Age of Revolutions and its aftermath is unparalleled in English literature. Its poets include Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats; its novelists, Jane Austen and Scott. But how is it that some of these writers were apparently swept up in Romanticism, and others not? Studies of Romanticism have tended to adopt the Romantic viewpoint. They value creativity, imagination and originality - ideas which nineteenth-century writers themselves used to
promote a new image of their calling. Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries puts the movement in to its historical setting and provides a new insight in Romanticism itself, showing that one…

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