Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, and the Replication of Taste


Location: Decio Faculty Hall, Room 235 (Multipurpose Room) (View on map )

Shards of a pot with a perfectly circular shard centered featuring a cloaked and capped man

The Seminar and 18th-& 19th-century Studies, Department of English, invites you to a presentation by Stefan Uhlig, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at UC Davis. Stefan provides this abstract:


Josiah Wedgwood has been rightly praised as a commercial genius. He reserved a large part of his business for the reinvention or—as an authority like Joshua Reynolds put it—copying of ancient vases dug up around Naples. One contention of this talk will be that Wedgwood mobilized a complex understanding of aesthetic value to help sell his luxury goods. In fact, I tend towards the claim that Wedgwood crafted and, less competently, sold his most expensive work in large part to explore and, as my title has it, replicate the exercise and the experience of taste for customers. The second aspect of my talk involves Erasmus Darwin’s textual extension of the Wedgwood project. Darwin taught his readers that reflective judgement could not only, pace Kant, involve commercial interests but could, equally, sustain the old ambition of a certain kind of verse to teach and educate its readers.


Stefan Uhlig received his PhD from the University of Cambridge. He is the co-editor of collections on Wordsworth’s poetic theory, the dialogue between aesthetics and the work of art, Goethe’s ideas about world literature and, with Yasmin Solomonescu, the persistence of persuasion past the formal teaching of the art of rhetoric. His Rhetoric, Poetics, and Literary Historiography: The Formation of a Discipline at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2024.