compassion are easily excited in the sensibilious person, typically at the
sight of another's emotional or pecuniary distress (that is, tears and
poverty). In novels of sensibility, we find compassion extended to
extremes, with pity given to grubs crushed during a walk and tears spilt
over the envisioned distress of imaginary prisoners. Although
compassion often indicates a character's capacity for
selflessness, many passages imply that
the emotion provides its own reward by inspiring a gratifying
sense of one's own goodness--the narcissistic underside of
Until the mid-seventeenth century, "compassion" denoted
fellow-feeling, meaning "to suffer
together with," and suggested suffering shared by equals. By the
century, however, that meaning had faded into the contemporary one, "to be
moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to
relieve it," with the compassionate person implicitly a superior to the
It seems vital to consider the change when tracking the meaning
of "compassion" in works of sensibility, noting that when
sensibilious characters feel compassion, the emotion travels one way
in a hierarchical relationship.
a dictionary of sensibility
- Anonymous, "Moral Weeping"
moral import of tears.
- William Collins, "Ode to Pity"
Enthusiasm in pity's shrine.
- Denis Diderot, Eloge de
The right way to read Richardson, and the
effects of doing so.
- Alexander Gerard, An
Essay on Taste
"Sensibility of heart" assists taste in
producing tender passions.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of
Nature torments Werther.
- Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of
Olivia sings of her love affair.
- Matthew Lewis, The
Ambrosio compassionates Matilda.
- Henry Mackenzie, Untitled Article in
The Lounger, No. 20
Attacks the sentimental novel on
- Samuel Richardson,
- Mary Shelley,
Walton talks about his guest.
- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral
The principle of sympathy.
- Laurence Sterne, A
Yorick imaginatively creates a
Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Yorick and the dead ass.
- Laurence Sterne, Tristram
Sterne looks at the mind/body split in the rumpled jerkin.
- Dugald Stewart, Elements of the
Philosophy of the Human Mind
imagination, sensibility, and the senses.