Dugald Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1792), p. 247

What we commonly call sensibility, depends, in a great measure, on the power of imagination. Point out two men, any object of compassion; --a man, for example, reduced by misfortune from easy circumstances to indigence. The one feels merely in proportion to what he perceives by his senses. The other follows, in imagination, the unfortunate man to his dwelling, and partakes with him and his family in their domestic distresses.... As he proceeds in the painting, his sensibility increases, and he weeps, not for what he sees, but for what he imagines. It will be said, that it was his sensibility which originally aroused his imagination; and the observation is undoubtedly true; but it is equally evident, on the other hand, that the warmth of his imagination increases and prolongs his sensibility.

Stewart's man of feeling, whose "imagination increases and prolongs" the painful experience of sympathy with distress is part of the tradition in which melancholy and other such emotions are cultivated.

Sterne's Yorick provides a notable literary example of this tradition, as he contemplates an imaginary prisoner of the Bastille. (See the selection under "imagination.")

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography