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Lecce Scores Against Rome!

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‘George Berkeley, a Philosophical Life’ by Tom Jones has been published in 2021 by Princeton University Press. It will be reviewed here when your humble servant finishes reading its 622 pages. Till then be content with Jones’s comment and quotes from Berkeley’s letters and journals of 1717 and 1724.    

 

“Though he most often remarked upon the great public and imperial feats of design and architecture, Berkeley was also interested in the general taste expressed in ordinary housing. It was not in Rome, however, but in Lecce that he found the highest expression in domestic architecture. He remarks on the ‘gusto in the meanest houses, no where so common ornamented doors & windows, balconies, pillars, balustrades all of stone / the stone easily wrought.’ The pliability of the stone facilitates this general expression of taste in domestic as well as church and civic architecture. Writing to Percival, Berkeley makes the contrast with Rome explicit: ‘You know that in most cities of Italy the palaces indeed are fine, but the ordinary houses of indifferent gusto. ’Tis so even in Rome, whereas in Lecce there is a general good gout, which  descends down to the poorest houses.’ Through domestic architecture the people in general, and not just an elite, ‘shew some remains of the spirit & elegant genius of the Greeks formerly inhabited these parts’, he notes in his journals. The arts, both those that are more fine or the object of dedicated aesthetic attention and those that are useful, constructing spaces or facilitating activities, have their place in an understanding of the total cultural history of a people. They can indicate the transmission of values, or manners of being, from the venerated classical cultures. They make passions and emotions comprehensible and communicable, and they help to delineate an environment into zones associated with specific social and civic functions. In these ways, the practice of the arts is an indicator of social health that remained in Berkeley’s mind as he continued to think about the causes of good and ill social health and the remedies that a philosopher could offer for the latter.”

 

Peter Byrne