Joseph Addison, "Taste" in The Spectator (No. 409), June 19, 1712

Most languages make use of this metaphor to express that faculty of the mind which distinguishes all the most concealed faults and nicest perfections in writing. We may be sure this metaphor would not have been so general in all tongues had there not been a very great conformity between that mental taste which is the subject of this paper and that sensitive taste which gives us a relish of every different flavor that affects the palate. Accordingly we find there are as many degrees of refinement in the intellectual facility as in the sense which is marked out by this common denomination.

Addison goes on to narrate a story about a friend of his who had the uncanny ability not only to identify any sort of tea according to its taste, but to actually analyze combinations of teas, suggesting which two or even three sorts made up the mix. He suggests:

A man of fine taste in writing will discern after the same manner, not only that general beauties and imperfections of an author, but discover the several ways of thinking and expressing himself which diversify him from all other authors, with the several foreign infusions of thought and language and the particular authors from whom they were borrowed.

The ability, then, to discern what makes a writer is located within the body, connected with the skill, at once refined and innate, for breaking an object down into its components. We begin to see the potential development of classed and nationalized notions of taste: genetically superior or inferior capacities of understanding which inform or deform our ability to appreciate writing or tea. It seems interesting that Addison connects "taste" to his friend's enviable, though freakish ability to taste everything. At this point, the line between an acute taste and absolute eccentricity seems blurred.

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