Wit/Humor/Invention

Introduction:

The tradition of eighteenth-century wit is often opposed to the tradition of eighteenth-century sensibility. What could be so "cultivated" as wit, which runs easily into satire? What could be less a poem of sensibility than "The Rape of the Lock"? Movements within sensibility which champion deep feeling as primitive are hostile to wit, which, because of its craftedness, stands at yet another remove from immediate feeling. This is the complaint of Rousseau, who says that truly sensible writing will be "tame, diffuse, prolix, incoherent, and full of repetitions." But there is a train of sensibility which posits a "true wit" as desirable. The right kind of wit goes hand in hand with strong feeling; rather than paving over sensibility, it enables active and powerful expressions of it. "True wit" leads to a kind of natural invention which the Romantics will call "genius," sensibility's final, potent appropriation of craft.

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography