William Cowper, "The Snail" (1731)

To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall,
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all

Within that house secure he hides,
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
Of weather.

Give but his horns the slightest touch,
His self-collecting power is such
He shrinks into his house with much

Where'er he dwells, he dwells alone,
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
Whole treasure.

Thus hermit-like, his life he leads,
Nor partner of his banquet needs,
And if he meets one only feeds
The faster.

Who seeks him must be worse than blind,
(He and his house are so combined,)
If, finding it, he fails to find
Its master.

No doubt the snail is a creature of anti-sensibility, but in the most romanticized sense. That is, the snail is not one of the scuttling crowd who, fearful of vis-a-vis contact with others, make their way conventionally through life, lonely but in good company. Instead, the snail is a prince of sorts. He is not homeless; he has his house, which not only secures him, but stands as a frightful dominion of power. The snail is not un-social, he is energetically anti-social. In the snail, sensibility doubles back on itself. The self-collecting power which facilitates a full retreat at the mere touch of the horns must be read as over-sensibility, not insensibility. In fact, the snail much resembles the poet of sensibility, "Well satisfied to be his own/ Whole treasure"; this could even be Clarissa Harlowe. Cowper represents how easily a sensible withdrawal from society can turn into a feeding frenzy. Sensibility can speak for or against integration into the social--in a sense it builds its own crises as fast as it finds solutions--this is the case for the snail.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography