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Bramston’s "Man Of Taste"
by [?]

Were you to inquire respectfully of the infallible critic (if such indeed there be!) for the source of the aphorism, “Music has charms to soothe a savage beast,” he would probably “down” you contemptuously in the Johnsonian fashion by replying that you had “just enough of learning to misquote”;–that the last word was notoriously “breast” and not “beast”;–and that the line, as Macaulay’s, and every Board School-boy besides must be abundantly aware, is to be found in Congreve’s tragedy of The Mourning Bride. But he would be wrong; and, in fact, would only be confirming the real author’s contention that “Sure, of all blockheads, Scholars are the worst.” For, whether connected with Congreve or not, the words are correctly given; and they occur in the Rev. James Bramston’s satire, The Man of Taste, 1733, running in a couplet as follows:–

Musick has charms to sooth a savage beast,
And therefore proper at a Sheriff’s feast.

Moreover, according to the handbooks, this is not the only passage from a rather obscure original which has held its own. “Without black-velvet-britches, what is man?”–is another (a speculation which might have commended itself to Don Quixote);[1] while The Art of Politicks, also by Bramston, contains a third:–

What’s not destroy’d by Time’s devouring Hand?
Where’s Troy, and where’s the May-Pole in the Strand ?

Polonius would perhaps object against a “devouring hand.” But the survival of–at least–three fairly current citations from a practically forgotten minor Georgian satirist would certainly seem to warrant a few words upon the writer himself, and his chief performance in verse.

The Rev. James Bramston was born in 1694 or 1695 at Skreens, near Chelmsford, in Essex, his father, Francis Bramston, being the fourth son of Sir Moundeford Bramston, Master in Chancery, whose father again was Sir John Bramston, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, generally known as “the elder.”[2]James Bramston was admitted to Westminster School in 1708. In 1713 he became a scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, proceeding B.A. in 1717, and M.A. in 1720. In 1723 he was made Vicar of Lurgashall, and in 1725 of Harting, both of which Sussex livings he held until his death in March 1744, ten weeks before the death of Pope. His first published verses (1715) were on Dr. Radcliffe. In 1729 he printed The Art of Politicks, one of the many contemporary imitations of the Ars Poetica; and in 1733 The Man of Taste. He also wrote a mediocre variation on the Splendid Shilling of John Philips, entitled The Crooked Sixpence, 1743. Beyond a statement in Dallaway’s Sussex that “he [Bramston] was a man of original humour, the fame and proofs of whose colloquial wit are still remembered”; and the supplementary information that, as incumbent of Lurgashall, he received an annual modus of a fat buck and doe from the neighbouring Park of Petworth, nothing more seems to have been recorded of him.


[1] Whose grand tenue or holiday wear–Cervantes tells us–was “a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match.” (ch. 1).

[2] Sir John Bramston, the younger, was the author of the “watery incoherent Autobiography “–as Carlyle calls it–published by the Camden Society in 1845.]

The Crooked Sixpence is, at best, an imitation of an imitation; and as a Miltonic pastiche does not excel that of Philips, or rival the more serious Lewesdon Hill of Crowe. The Art of Politicks, in its turn, would need a fairly long commentary to make what is only moderately interesting moderately intelligible, while eighteenth-century copies of Horace’s letter to the Pisos are “plentiful as blackberries.” But The Man of Taste, based, as it is, on the presentment of a never extinct type, the connoisseur against nature, is still worthy of passing notice.