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Brook Taylor’s First Preface

The first edition of Brook Taylor’s Linear Perspective was a short work and contained an equally brief preface, called here, ‘To the Reader’ and spanning only two paragraphs. Here is the preface in its entirety.

In this Treatise I have endeavour’d to render the Art of Perspective more general, and more easy, than has yet been done. In order to this, I find it necessary to lay aside the common Terms of Art, which have hitherto been used, such as Horizontal Line, Points of Distance, &c, and to use new ones of my own; such as seem to be more significant of the Things they express, and more agreeable to the general Notion I have formed to my self of this Subject.

Thus much I thought necessary to say by way of Preface; because it always needs an Apology to change Terms of Art, or any way to go out of the common Road. But I shall add no more, because the shortness of the Treatise it self makes it needless to trouble the Reader with a more particular Account of it.

The first edition of Linear Perspective presents the material in the way that Taylor thought best. The second edition, by contrast, represents his attempts to meet the common reader part way, having found that his purist conception of the topic was largely indigestible to the wider public. Here, in his preface, Taylor admits that he needs to give fair warning to his prospective readers, that he has completely changed the terminology of perspective, the `Terms of Art’, but does not give any reason other than the fact that he personally found his own terminology `more significant’ by which he means that they better signify the concepts to which they refer, and `more agreeable to the general Notion I have formed my self of the Subject’. Thus, the reader is warned to expect an idiosyncratic terminology, but not given much of an explanation as to why.

Mathematicians are well-used to the introduction of new definitions and terminology when treating of new topics, or of old topics in a new manner. Other discourses are less freighted with the new. Taylor thus situates himself within a mathematical audience, rather than an artistic one. I want to explore this issue of discourse, presentation and style in further posts.

See Also:

Brook Taylor’s Linear Perspective

More on Brook Taylor’s Linear Perspective