In the eighteenth century, landscape was opened up as a source of emotional stimuli in new ways. The specific effects that scenery could produce in the individual, however, were not clearly defined or understood, and a great cultural project of exploration was conducted over the course of the period. In particular, individual responses to natural scenery were investigated in the realms of landscape architecture, painting, travel, and finally, literature.

In landscape architecture, there was a trend away from the ideal of a geometric, ordered garden, towards a more disordered aesthetic which was nevertheless planned and orchestrated with great care (and laborious effort). "Capability" Brown is the most renowned of a new style of landscape architect, who specialized in manipulating the elements of a property to achieve the effects demanded by this new aesthetic. The principles of landscape architecture developed hand-in-hand with a new mode of treating nature in painting. Landscape painting coalesced as a genre at this time; and the uniform, ordered aesthetic of "the beautiful" quickly exploded into "the picturesque" exemplified in the work of Salvator Rosa, and "the sublime" which in its later development is expressed in Turner. Finally, feeding off of these developments in the visual arts, eighteenth century travel literature began to draw attention to specific scenic prospects as "sights" on an equal footing with man-made attractions.

The literary tradition of sensibility thus confronts natural landscapes as rich sites of vague yet powerful potential. In fact, nature presents many of the same problems and urgencies as does the human body. An affecting view can act as a touchstone for sensibility or insensibility in characters with a certainty equal to that of physiognomic indicators. In addition, there is a wide range of possible reactions to views of landscape that sentimental spectators can experience, including elevation, consolation, and imaginative escape.

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography