‘My attitude in writing it was that of an honest man erecting the ignoring of “tact” into a point of honour.’ Thus, with the word ‘tact’ in ironic quotes, William Empson looks back on Seven Types of Ambiguity in the 1947 ‘Preface’ to the second edition. There is a remarkable self-awareness in this sentence, which concedes that there may have been an element of pose, perhaps of defensiveness - of tact, in short - in the author's cultivation of expository insouciance. Just where he was most slapdash and most offensive to scholarly method, just there, he says, he imagined himself to have been most honourable. Thus he confirms what we knew instinctively, that his unbuttoned rhetoric embodied the tactless tact of the gentleman's fireside conversation, ‘using tact about the assertion of class’ (1951, p. 205). But decidedly the conversation of a Dissenting Gentleman: the person Arthur Mizener in 1938 called ‘the revolutionary critic in the guise of a correspondent of the T.L.S.’ (1938, p. 58). In Empson's style as in his chosen subject, the bluff squire, with his keen English nose for nonsense, almost completely obscures another character who is deeply sympathetic with Romantic attitudes. (It is as though Percy Shelley were to disguise himself as the father who had threatened to disown him.) The tension between these personae is what I wish to emphasize in this essay.