On Poetry and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature (Titled ‘Artificial Taste’ in Monthly Magazine, April 1797, and reprinted under the present title in her Posthumous Works, ed. William Godwin, 1798)


by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797)

A year before Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’, Wollstonecraft defines the Romantic Poet. Beginning like a periodical piece, laughing at how city people go to the country but don’t actually bother to go outdoors, it then tackles the curse of the inauthentic response in a ‘more advanced state of civilisation’.

She takes issue with Johnson’s definition of ‘genius’, suggests more originality is needed to read nature than a poem, and concludes that the intellect must now return us to feeling. A surprise ending adds that the men who appreciate nature are probably also those who mistakenly prefer sensual romance to ‘affectionate friendship’.

Related recommendation: Johnson’s ‘Rambler No.135 [On the folly of annual retreats to the country]’ (July 1751)

Origin: Britain

Themes: Nature or Architecture/ Material Environment, Manners and Conversation

Genres: Critical, Periodical

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