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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
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
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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