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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780


Reading Assignment:

DUE: Weekly Post #14 AND Paper 2

The poems for today's class continue the thematic representation of emotion, but because they come from the late eighteenth century, they offer interesting points of contrast with the work by Cheyne and Finch. For starters, they label this extreme emotional sensitivity "sensibility."

Moreover, the work by More and Yearsley is related in a different way, informed by their different class positions. More seems to find the moral qualities of sensibility an asset, while Yearsley seems more conflicted regarding the overall benefits of sensibility. Their personal differences may help to understand the different ways in which each employs the idea of sensibility.



This excerpt from Hannah More's poem "Sensibility" (1782) represents a considerable shift in perception toward the powers of human emotion and sensitivity. How does More describe sensibility? What are its characteristics? How does this address to an abstraction -- Sensibility -- compare to Finch's ode to the abstraction of Spleen?

What does it mean for sensibility to be "Fair virtue's seed" or "reason's blushing morn" (239, 241)? What is the relationship between sensibility and virtue? Between sensibility and reason? How does this compare with Swiftian notions of virtue and reason in Gulliver's Travels? With Rochester's notion of reason and virtue?

The speaker suggests in lines 247-248 that there are those who understand sensibility and those that won't. What does this suggest about the nature of sensibility? Why is it so difficult to "paint" (247)?

In the following stanzas the speaker describes those who do not express genuine sensibility. What are the marks of false sensibility? What are the marks of true sensibility? Why is it important to be able to distinguish?

What are the implications of the contention that "These lovely symbols [of sensibility] may be counterfeit" (266)?

In terms of literary expression, sensibility seems fraught with difficulty. What are some of the problems that the speaker sees in literary representations of sensibility? What are some of the benefits of literary representations? To what extent is More's poem free of the problems that she identifies?



Ann Yearsley (nee Cromartie) 1752-1806 -- Yearsley was a milkmaid poet first discovered by Hannah More, whose cook knew the poet. She published her first volume of poetry Poems on Several Occasions in June 1785 through the aid of More and Elizabeth Montagu, who managed solicit a good number of subscribers. More did not want to tempt Yearsley beyond her sphere and so invested 350 in June 1785 to produce an annual income of 18 for Yearsley and her family. (More feared that Yearsley's husband might squander a larger sum.) Yearsley rebelled against these financial constraints and attempted to keep her and her children from becoming More's dependents for the rest of her life. She eventually wrote an indignant report of this in her Autobiographical Narrative added to the fourth edition of her Poems in 1786.

She was subsequently reviled by More and others of her set, but Yearsley was defended by Anna Seward and patronized by Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. He gave her 50 to publish the fourth edition of her Poems and she dedicated two of her later works to him. The new collection Poems on Various Subjects 1787, from which "Addressed to Sensibility" is taken, was emphatically advertised as Yearsley's own unaided work, because there was some controversy over More's editorial role in the first volume. Yearsley has been favorably commented on for her poetic boldness and fierce self-respect.

The description of Sensibility in the opening stanza contrasts sharply with More's. How does Yearsley describe sensibility? What is it responsible for?

In the second stanza, the speaker visits Bedlam, an institution for the mentally insane. What is the relationship between sensibility and insanity? How does the speaker respond to the imprisoned people? Why can't she help?

The third stanza reveals the source of the speaker's own pain -- what role does Julius play? What might we infer about their friendship?

How does the poet's phrase "Officious Sensibility" characterize the faculty? In what ways is this similar to More? To Finch?

The speaker apparently changes her attitude toward Sensibility in the following stanza, calling on the "ideal mourner" to inspire her as an artist. What does the faculty of sensibility contribute to the poet?

In the final stanza, the speaker expresses a great deal of ambivalence toward Sensibility. What are its benefits? What are its problems? Why is she concerned about education? Who might she be addressing as "self-confounding sophists"? What is the point of lauding "the Pow'rs of Sensibility untaught"?

Based on the readings by Cheyne, Finch, More and Yearsley, how might you summarize eighteenth-century attitudes toward emotion?

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