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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Consequences of “Taste”

By Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744–1775)

[“Journal of a Voyage,” etc. From Memoir of the Life of Josiah Quincy, Jun. 1825.]

WENT again over Bath in order to review the buildings. Spent the afternoon with Mrs. Macaulay, and went in the evening to a ball at the new rooms, which was full and very splendid. The rooms are very elegant, and the paintings which cover the windows, taken from the draughts of the figures found at the ruins of Herculaneum, have a fine effect. This evening I had two hours’ conversation with Colonel Barré, and from him I learned that he was once the friend of Mr. Hutchinson in opposition to Governor Pownall, but that he had for a long time, and especially since his last arrival in England, wholly deserted him. Colonel Barré, while we were reviewing the pictures taken from ruins found at Herculaneum, said, “I hope you have not the books containing the draughts of those ruins with you.” I replied, there was one set, I believed, in the public library at our college. “Keep them there,” said he, “and they may be of some service as a matter of curiosity for the speculative, but let them get abroad, and you are ruined. They will infuse a taste for buildings and sculpture, and, when a people get a taste for the fine arts, they are ruined. ’Tis taste that ruins whole kingdoms;—’tis taste that depopulates whole nations. I could not help weeping when I surveyed the ruins of Rome. All the remains of Roman grandeur are of works, which were finished when Rome and the spirit of Romans were no more,—unless I except the ruins of the Emilian baths. Mr. Quincy, let your countrymen beware of taste in their buildings, equipage, and dress, as a deadly poison.”

Colonel Barré, also added in the course of conversation, “About fifteen years ago, I was through a considerable part of your country;—for in the expedition against Canada my business called me to pass by land through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Albany. When I returned again to this country, I was often speaking of America, and could not help speaking well of its climate, soil, and inhabitants; for you must know, sir, America was always a favorite with me; but will you believe it, sir (yet I assure you it is true), more than two-thirds of this island at that time thought the Americans were all negroes!”

I replied I did not in the least doubt it, for that if I was to judge by the late acts of Parliament, I should suppose that a majority of the people of Great Britain still thought so;—for I found that their representatives still treated them as such. He smiled, and the discourse dropped. Colonel Barré was among those who voted for the Boston Port Bill.