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What does "set about" mean in the context below:

It would be no wonder if a student, frightened by these terrors and disgraceful epithets, with which the poor imitators are so often loaded, should let fall his pencil in mere despair, conscious how much he has been indebted to the labours of others, how little, how very little of his art was born with him; and, considering it as hopeless, to set about acquiring by the imitation of any human master what he is taught to suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven.
Some allowance must be made for what is said in the gaiety or ambition of rhetoric.
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Hi Jobb,
Simply put, 'to set about something' means 'to begin something', usually a task of some kind.

My god, where did you find a sentence like this? Is this from a book you are reading, or perhaps some homework you have been given by someone?

I hope you realize that this style of writing is far, far, far from the kind of English writing most of us deal with every day. Also, there are a lot of native English speakers who would have a great deal of trouble understanding a sentence like this.

I look forward to your reply.
Clive
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Thanks for replying.

Yes, it is one of the homeworks that our teacher told us must be finished. I've got a great headache from the homework.

It is a discourse by Joshua Reynolds delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy on the Distribution of the Prizes, December 10, 1774.

The discourse VI could be found here;
http://www.authorama.com/seven-discourses-on-art-8.html

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1) Do you think in "considering it as hopeless", what did 'it" refer to?

2) In "to set about acquiring by the imitation of any human master what he is taught to suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven."
Acquring what?
"To set about/begin aqcquring" is subject?
What he is taught = whom he is taught ?
Hi again,
here are my answers to your questions.
1) Do you think in "considering it as hopeless", what did 'it" refer to?

This is a difficult question you are asking, because the sentence is written in a very fancy, old-fashioned and complicated way.
I would say 'it' refers to 'to set about acquiring ..... what he is taught to suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven'.
I think it means that the student will 'set about' (begin) the task of 'acquiring etc.' although he thinks 'it' (this task) is hopeless.

2) In "to set about acquiring by the imitation of any human master what he is taught to suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven."
Acquring what?
Acquiring 'what he is taught to suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven.'

"To set about/begin acquiring" is subject?
No. I'd say it is the main verb in this part of the sentence.
The main idea in this sentence is

It would be no wonder if a student... should let fall his pencil .... ; and ... set about acquiring ... what he is taught is matter of inspiration from heaven.

The problem is that it is written as 'TO set about'. perhaps this is an older style of English, or maybe the author made a small mistake himself?

What he is taught = whom he is taught ?
No.

Jobb, your teacher is giving you very hard homework. I've got a great headache from it, too.
Do you mind if I ask you how long you have been studying English and what country you live in?

Clive