Jennifer Keith

We expect poetry to engage our emotions; but the poetry that most overtly stimulates or, some might say, manipulates the reader's emotions is now among the least read. The poetry of sentiment or sensibility strives to evoke sympathy, prompting the reader to sympathize with the speaker's suffering or emulate the speaker's sympathy for another. Sensibility elevates emotional over intellectual power (Cox 1990: 64) and assumes that certain emotions are "benevolent, with positive moral and political effects for society" (Pinch 1996: 18). With the heightened emotional and sensory receptiveness associated with sensibility, William Cowper writes "My ear is pain'd, / My soul is sick with ev'ry day's report / Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fill'd" (The Task, ii. 5—7). But some readers in the eighteenth century and today have questioned whether the emotions stimulated by sensibility are either positive or socially efficacious. R. F. Brissenden has argued that "the deepest fantasy" of sentimental literature is that a person's "spontaneous moral responses . . . are necessarily reasonable" or benevolent (1974: 54). Some critics argue that such sympathizing may be a narcissistic exercise, enabling the reader who sympathizes to feel morally and aesthetically superior to the sufferer and to anyone incapable of feeling such sympathy. The poetry of sensibility thus brings to the fore debates about the quality of literary experience and its relation to moral and social behavior that concerned eighteenth-century writers and readers. These debates, in a different vocabulary, are still vital ones in the twenty-first century as we continue to explore the social role of literature's affective dimensions and to re-examine poetry's aesthetic qualities.

Part of what has been seen to corrupt the literature of sensibility is the way it directs the reader to gaze upon, and therefore objectify, the sufferer. Robert Markley describes this phenomenon as the "theatrics of virtue," where readers, characters, speakers, or audiences gaze on scenes of another's suffering, participating in a submerged sadism (1987). Many examples of the literature of sensibility, including anti-slavery literature, show this objectification of the oppressed (Rai 2002). The literature of sensibility can doubly incorporate spectacle: we watch the subject who bestows pity on the victim observed. In Thomas Gray's "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747), for example, the speaker feels for the children who must become adults: "Alas, regardless of their doom, / The little victims play!" (ll. 51—2). Often the oppressed person is a woman, such as Kate in Cowper's The Task (1785), a serving maid who "roams / The dreary waste" (i. 546—7), driven to madness and "never-ceasing sighs" (i. 552) since the death of her lover. Sentimental literature often repeats a gendered plot from romance, where an active male character rescues — or at least pities — feminine "Virtue in Distress" (Brissenden 1974).

Although such a plot lends itself to the male poet-subject and male reader, a great number of women read and wrote poems of sensibility in the eighteenth century. Indeed, one of the most important characteristics of eighteenth-century poetry is the increasing participation of writers from this category of "Virtue in Distress," which develops concurrently with the culture of sensibility: men and women, some of them poor, some of them slaves such as Phillis Wheatley, wrote poetry that engaged the values of sensibility. That is, the so-called "victims" themselves wrote. Although numerous poems of sensibility seem to indulge the reader's and writer's exercise of compassion instead of social action, there are many other examples where the poetry of sensibility attempts to expand the reader's consciousness of others' suffering to build an emotional foundation for social reform. Thus, in contrast to some poems that objectify the sufferer, others provide alternatives to the gaze, inviting the reader to engage figuratively and aurally with representations of the oppressed (cf. Keith 2005). Not only do some of the more complex poems of sensibility block the reader's gaze, they also enlist a range of tones that complicate readers' responses. Poetry of sensibility can elicit readers' sympathy to test new notions of Virtue that lie outside social norms.

According to some scholars, the increasing interest in sensibility in the eighteenth century supported social and economic shifts. Markman Ellis, for example, describes how sensibility helped define the "emergent consumer-economy of British society and culture" (1996: 17). Sentiment, argues Paul Langford, expressed the "middle-class need for a code of manners which challenged aristocratic ideals and fashions," part of a general transformation in defining gentility (1989: 461). This era needed sensibility to help define individual action and social reform in the increasingly consumer-centered economy (Langford 1989: 464). Paul Goring has analyzed the rhetoric of sensibility that shapes "how a body should appear and behave in public" (2005: 7). In contrast to approaches that see the culture of sensibility as re-forming the body to suit changes in eighteenth-century society, John Mullan has argued that the effects of sensibility are so ambivalent, including sensibility's associations with privilege and weakness, virtue and madness, that its ideological functions may be difficult to determine: literature of sensibility may have disrupted as much as it served social structures (1988: 236). Privileging the ideal individual as tender-hearted, sensibility bestowed a quality previously seen as "feminine" upon men and established men as the best practitioners of sympathy. Men, it was argued, had greater rational powers to balance and shape these impulses of the heart, and so were better able than women to produce literature of sensibility. G. J. Barker-Benfield has analyzed the culture of sensibility as a "feminizing" influence (1992: xvii—xviii), while other critics have addressed its "masculinizing" influence: Claudia L. Johnson argues that the characteristics of sensibility "are valued not because they are understood as feminine, but precisely and only insofar as they have been recoded as masculine" (1995: 14). According to George E. Haggerty, the culture of sensibility permits the expression of male homosexual desire (1999: 114).

Although some scholars have seen the poetry of sentiment or sensibility as emerging in the middle of the eighteenth century, more recently others have seen a longer continuum, reaching back not only to some of Pope's work but also to that of women and men writing in the seventeenth century. George S. Rousseau maintains that sensibility could not have emerged before the end of the seventeenth century because sensibility's emphasis on "the self-conscious personality" and the body as a conduit of compassion required certain models of the nervous system available only in the last decades of the seventeenth century (2004: 175, 178). The literature of sensibility, observes David Fairer, develops the early modern attention to introspective melancholy in relation to Locke's focus on sensory perception (2003: 112). With roots in seventeenth-century science, philosophy, and the dissenting traditions, the literature of sensibility relied heavily on benevolism as articulated especially by Shaftesbury in the eighteenth century. Sensibility may be traced to pathos and sensation as far back as Euripides, as well as in medieval morality plays, and Elizabethan and Jacobean drama (Todd 1986: 3). Drawing on a long-established discourse of the heart (Van Sant 1993: 4, 11), sensibility develops the ancient connection between knowing and feeling that recurs in "the trope of the 'thinking heart,' an important alternate paradigm to that of the thinking brain from the ancient world through the early modern period" (Erickson 1997: 20). Images of this convergence of feeling and thinking occur in the tradition of devotional poetry. Nicolas Billingsley's "On Contrition" (1667) defines contrition as "The renting, or the pricking of the heart / For sin, a sensibility of smart" (ll. 3— 4). This "heart consciousness" has its variation later in the eighteenth century in Charles Wesley's "For a Tender Conscience." The speaker asks "Almighty God" to give him "A sensibility of sin" (l. 11) so that he may "mourn for the minutest fault / In exquisite distress" (ll. 31—2).

Such wide-ranging origins suggest the complexity of sentiment and sensibility, perhaps corresponding to the unsystematic use of these two terms. According to Van Sant, "sensibility and sentimental are in one respect easy to separate: sensibility is associated with the body, sentiment with the mind. The first is based on physical sensitivity and the processes of sensation; the second refers to a refinement of thought" (1993: 4). Other scholars contend that the terms are so closely allied that eighteenth-century writers often use them interchangeably (Barker-Benfield 1992: xvii). In this essay I use sensibility to include the overlapping category of sentiment as I analyze how writers used poetry in particular to stimulate the reader's senses, feelings, reason, and social consciousness.

Whether using sentiment or sensibility, some writers and readers were vexed by questions about the sincerity of the feelings represented. Eighteenth-century readers' suspicions about the sincerity of the literature of sympathy are echoed in today's negative connotations of sentimental (Todd 1986: 8). Anne Finch's "The Spleen" (1701) addresses this feigning of cultivated emotional sensitivity — especially the sensitivity to one's own suffering. The person with spleen cultivates "whisper'd Griefs" and hears "fancy'd Sorrows" (l. 48). At the end of the century, in The Village (1783), George Crabbe still chastises those of false sensibility "opprest by some fantastic woes" (i. 252). At the center of Finch's poem, however, is the speaker's own authentic "spleen"

— her introspective melancholy and heightened sensibility:

I feel my Verse decay, and my crampt Numbers fail.

Through thy black Jaundies I all Objects see, As dark and terrible as thee; My Lines decry'd, and my Imployment thought An useless Folly, or presumptuous Fault;

While in the Muses Paths I stray. While in their Groves, and by their Springs, My Hand delights to trace unusual things, And deviates from the known and common way.

Here the speaker's suffering is inseparable from her poetry: the spleen corrupts her verse and her perception of all around her. While the spleen feeds her insecurities about her writing, under the influence of the spleen her writing becomes "unusual," suggesting the originality that will come to define poetic merit later in the century. Although Finch uses the older term spleen to describe properties that will be modified to describe sensibility, her poem shows the deep relations between the sensitive self and artistic character that will become increasingly explicit in the century.

Writers of sensibility often insist that only a few can truly experience it. Thomas Warton in The Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) announces: "Few know that elegance of soul refin'd, / Whose soft sensation feels a quicker joy / From Melancholy's scenes" (ll. 92-4). To convince the reader of the authenticity of these feelings, writers increasingly articulated the individuality of the poet-speaker. Thus, one of the key examples of Virtue in Distress is the writer (Brissenden 1974: 77). A far cry from satirical attacks on Grub Street "hacks," these portraits focus sympathetically on writers' suffering. Even Pope adopts this position, not only in his more overtly sentimental poems such as "Eloisa to Abelard" and "Elegy to . . . an Unfortunate Lady" but also in his satirical works, as in An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. Thomas Gray's isolated youth of sensibility in Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (1751) invites our sympathy for the sympathy he gives: "He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear" (l. 123). Oliver Goldsmith in The Deserted Village (1770) catalogues a series of suffering persons and things

- widows, wounded soldiers, the village itself, and the land - before he settles on the poet himself as deserving our sympathy. Bidding Poetry adieu, the poet describes her as "source of all my bliss, and all my woe, / That found'st me poor at first, and keep'st me so" (ll. 415—16).

Some portraits of the artist as Virtue in Distress depict women poets. In "Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another" (1686), Anne Killigrew describes her state of heightened sensibility — "What pleasing Raptures fill'd my Ravisht Sense" (l. 17) — followed by her readers denying her credit for writing her poems. This she describes as a kind of rape (see Straub 1987):

What ought t'have brought me Honour, brought me shame!

Like Esops Painted Jay I seem'd to all,

Adorn'd in Plumes, I not my own could call:

Rifl'd like her, each one my Feathers tore,

And, as they thought, unto the Owner bore.

My Laurels thus an Others Brow adorn'd,

My Numbers they Admir'd, but Me they scorn'd.

Frequently the poet-speaker establishes the genuineness of her suffering by begging not to feel. A century after Killigrew's poem, Ann Yearsley's "To Indifference" (1787) commands Indifference to "come! thy torpid juices shed / On my keen sense: plunge deep my wounded heart, / In thickest apathy. . . ." (ll. 1-3). The speaker comes to terms with this unbearable sensibility by appreciating it as an exercise in Virtue:

Virtue never lives, But in the bosom, struggling with its wound: There she supports the conflict, there augments The pang of hopeless Love, the senseless stab Of gaudy Ign'rance, and more deeply drives The poison'd dart, hurl'd by the long-lov'd friend; Then pants, with painful Victory.

Based on the emotional depths of the self, virtue lies in this very consciousness of one's feeling - even if this results in self-pity.

Poems that feature the speaker's own anguish typically rely on personifications to articulate this emotion. Yearsley's "To Indifference" addresses personified Indifference while apparently proceeding to detail the speaker's sensibility. In fact, to make the speaker's emotions social and visible the poem relies on a series of personifications: Virtue, Love, Ignorance, and Victory. Some of the most powerful visual images in the eighteenth century appear in poems of sensibility that, rather than requiring readers to gaze upon the sufferer, invite them to "see" personifications. For most twenty-first-century readers, personifications seem empty capitalized nouns, but to eighteenth-century readers they were considered powerful stimulants to sensory experience (Rothstein 1981: 68). In Elements of Criticism (1762), Henry Home, Lord Kames, describes these intense sensory responses to poetic imagery, especially personification, as "ideal presence"; producing almost a state of hallucination, such language "can make the reader forget that he or she is holding a book, and instead 'conceive every incident as passing in his presence, precisely as if he were an eyewitness' (7th edn, 1788, 1: 91—3)" (Rothstein 1981: 69). This imaginative response to personifications underscored "a certain social kinship" (Rothstein 1981: 100) among readers that countered the focus on individual pain. This social kinship appears in Charlotte Smith's "Sonnet: To Fancy" (1789), where the poet hopes to free herself from both the beautiful and the painful scenes of Fancy. By using personification to describe her grief for lost pleasures — "pale Experience hangs her head / O'er the sad grave of murder'd Happiness" (ll. 7—8) — Smith embodies her emotions in Experience and Happiness, personifications that appeal to imaginative readers as expressing their pain too (see Pinch 1996).

To make ideas into persons, to enlist the reader's capacity to see them in the mind's eye, puts flesh and blood on what could otherwise seem empty abstractions. Thus, personification links images of persons with important concepts circulating in the culture. Rather than gaze upon a single victim of poverty or slavery, for example, the reader sees Poverty or Slavery in a double vision of idea and person that links individual and society. As the trope that extends a realm of private experience to the public, personification is sensibility.

The aesthetic distinctiveness of the most innovative poems of sensibility lies in this use of personification with heightened sound patterns, creating an intimacy between the reader and sufferer. Fairer's description of the text of sensibility as "a kind of performance of intimacy" aptly reminds us of the importance of the reader's sensory experiences in this poetry (2003: 223). In his essay "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility," Northrop Frye characterized the literature of sensibility "as process, being based on an irregular and unpredictable coincidence of sound-patterns" (1956: 148). "There is in souls a sympathy with sounds," Cowper explains:

And as the mind is pitch'd the ear is pleas'd With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave. Some chord in unison with what we hear Is touch'd within us, and the heart replies.

Alert to these sound qualities, we indeed experience the poetry of sensibility as developing aural connections that dissolve the distance of the gaze. Through these aural qualities the reader participates in an unfolding sensory experience. This approach, argues Jerome McGann, does more than heighten poetry's inevitable attention to sound structures: it involves rethinking the "structure and resources of language, in particular poetical language" (1996: 23). On the one hand, McGann argues, such a revolution in poetic language provides the possibility for other kinds of revolution, where the less educated may be seen as having more immediate access to the English tongue, including its dialects: "If one aspires to an effective emotional expression, 'Writing Incorrectly' becomes a poetic sine qua non" (pp. 43, 45). On the other hand, such a linguistic revolution risks abandoning social concerns by privileging the signifier over the signified (p. 23).

Such a fascination with language appears in Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno, where "there is a language of flowers" (Fragment B503) and "every word has its marrow in the English tongue for order and for delight" (Fragment B595). Thomas Chatterton makes English strange and sensuous in his forgeries known as the Rowley poems. In "Bristowe Tragedie or the Dethe of Syr Charles Bawdin" (1772), the brave warrior asks:

"How dydd I knowe thatt ev'ry darte

"Thatt cutte the airie waie "Myghte notte fynde passage toe my harte "And close myne eyes for aie?

Such language of the heart makes Chatterton's forgery a powerful example of genuine sensibility. Experimenting with sound and visual imagery, Christian Carstairs unfolds the process of perceiving and feeling for the Other in her brief poem "Nightingale" (1786):

O! could my sweet plaint lull to rest, Soften one sigh - as thou dreamst, I'd sit the whole night on thy tree, And sing, - - sing, - -

With the thorn at my breast.

With an obliqueness that prefigures Emily Dickinson's, this poem invites us to see the heart pressed by pain, giving us little else in visual imagery or context. Poets and nightingales, Anne Finch reminds us, sing best with their breasts "plac'd against a Thorn" ("To the Nightingale," 1713). In Carstairs's poem, speaker and bird appear together, the image of one eclipsing the other and vice versa. Although the speaker never tells precisely who suffers or from what, she would endure the thorn at her breast to relieve it. We would hardly describe this poem as making a spectacle of suffering. Rather, its restrained visual imagery combines with sound structures to involve the reader in deepest plangency. With plaint, lull, sigh, and sing, the poet underscores this work as music, and her tumultuous meter recreates the speaker's agony in the reader who speaks these words aloud.

By emphasizing profound aural experiences and inviting the reader to see persons in ideas and emotions, clearly some poems of sensibility refute the charge that they make a spectacle of the sufferer. But the related criticism leveled against sensibility is that it cultivates the reader's self-satisfaction rather than social reform. While this accurately characterizes some of the poetry, a number of poems of sensibility exhibit a tonal range that complicates our conclusions about the reader's complacency. What of poems that include elements that may alienate readers? Poems of sensibility can have a wide range of tones and qualities, even the seemingly antithetical strains of sentiment and satire, as Fairer has demonstrated (2003: 75). Samuel Johnson's The Vanity of Human Wishes reminds us of how intimately sensibility and satire intertwine. Sympathizing with the oppressed, readers may also be stirred to anger against the forces of oppression and moved to act.

Let us consider, for example, poems that present women's tribulations while including what today we would call a critique of patriarchy. Finch's "The Unequal Fetters" (c.1702) compassionately depicts the lot of women in marriage. But the speaker defiantly describes the loss of liberty in marriage "by subtle Man's invention" (l. 13). Women should not "Yeild to be in Fetters bound / By one that walks a freer round" (ll. 14-15). The poem concludes with the rueful image of one slave oppressing another more severely restricted:

Marriage does but slightly tye Men

Whil'st close Pris'ners we remain They the larger Slaves of Hymen

Still are begging Love again At the full length of all their chain.

Finch interweaves sympathy with satire, encouraging readers to leaven compassion with judgment. In Sarah Fyge Egerton's "The Liberty" (1703), the speaker flaunts her rejection of restraints upon women, declaring her independence from the suffering that Custom exerts over her sex:

Not chain'd to the nice Order of my Sex, And with restraints my wishing Soul perplex: I'll blush at Sin, and not what some call Shame, Secure my Virtue, slight precarious Fame.

Like Finch's poem, Egerton's relies on images of slavery to attack cultural restraints on women. Rather than cultivate the narcissistic pleasures of sympathy, Egerton may either inflame her readers or enlarge their notions of Virtue. The anger that fuels Egerton's and Finch's social critiques is a feature that Spacks identifies as an important, if overlooked, aspect of sensibility (2001: 250).

In its concerns for the sufferings of the poor and slaves, literature of sensibility clearly enlists Enlightenment notions of equality - but such notions typically have their limits. Consider the differences in tone among three accounts of the lives of laborers. Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (1751) evokes pity for the constrained lives of the poor:

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire, Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd, Or wak'd to extasy the living lyre.

Well before Gray elicited readers' sympathy for these laborers, Stephen Duck in The Thresher's Labour (1730) presented their sufferings. Himself a thresher, Duck opens the poem with praise for his patron's encouragement of Duck's muse, bidding "her 'midst her Poverty rejoice" (l. 6). Duck exposes the brutal experience of the threshers that gives the lie to pastoral poetry:

In briny Streams our Sweat descends apace, Drops from our Locks, or trickles down our Face. No intermission in our Works we know; The noisy Threshall must for ever go.

Can we, like Shepherds, tell a merry Tale? The Voice is lost, drown'd by the noisy Flail.

Although he pays lip-service to the social hierarchy, Duck's exposure of the laborers' work is capable of stirring compassion for them and anger at economic inequities. In a far more combative tone that compares women's labor, mocked by Duck, with men's, Mary Collier further challenges the tonal boundaries of sensibility by replacing condescension with indignation. In The Woman's Labour (1739) the poet figures herself and other women as slaves, citing a distant golden age when women were respected. Addressing Duck, she counters that today "on our abject State you throw your Scorn, / And Women wrong, your Verses to adorn" (ll. 41-2). The graphically depicted suffering that Collier and other washerwomen endure may stir horror, outrage, compassion, or all three:

Not only Sweat, but Blood runs trickling down Our Wrists and Fingers; still our Work demands The constant Action of our lab'ring Hands.

In Gray's poem, virtue lies in the unfulfilled potential of the poor and the youth of great sensibility who pauses to pity them. Duck's poem lauds the virtue of "manly" physical labor while declaring respect for the hierarchy men serve and placing women's labor at the bottom of this hierarchy. Collier's poem boldly asserts the virtue of women's labor - an active virtue that demands an assertive tone.

The complex and varied models of virtue in this poetry may not have immediately effected social reform, but they certainly shaped cultural values, at times solidifying and at other times shifting standards for morality and gender decorum. In Pope's poems most often associated with sensibility, "Eloisa to Abelard" and "Elegy to . . . an Unfortunate Lady," female sexual passion is central to the virtue he explores. Eloisa, Jean Hagstrum has argued, achieves "permanent dignity and identity as a rebellious and passionate woman. . . . the poem represents at once a high point in the development of sensibilité' (1980: 121). In "Elegy to . . . an Unfortunate Lady," Pope begins with the image of the "Lady's" bleeding heart as he asks, "Is it, in heav'n, a crime to love too well?" (l. 6),

To bear too tender, or too firm a heart, To act a Lover's or a Roman's, part? Is there no bright reversion in the sky, For those who greatly think, or bravely die?

Why bade ye else, ye Pow'rs! her soul aspire Above the vulgar flight of low desire?

Contemplating the woman's high desires that end in suicide, the poet compares them with his own yearnings above the "vulgar":

Poets themselves must fall, like those they sung; Deaf the prais'd ear, and mute the tuneful tongue. Ev'n he, whose soul now melts in mournful lays, Shall shortly want the gen'rous tear he pays; Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part, And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart. . . .

In this model of sensibility, feminine Virtue in distress ends its agony by suicide. But in other examples of feminine Virtue, female desire lives on and suffers. The constraints on women's romantic and sexual passions (whether enforced by fathers, brothers, or future husbands) should be understood as one of the kinds of social oppression that some poets of sensibility hoped to make their readers understand. Significantly, at the end of the elegy and of "Eloisa to Abelard," Pope takes pains to show his sympathy for and similarity with these women. Whether satirical or sentimental, his poems typically close with a return to the poet's position: modest, moral, and experienced in suffering.

Sexual desire frequently emerges in the charged atmosphere of sensibility, as Hagstrum and Barker-Benfield have observed. In "Clifton Hill" (1785), Anne Yearsley includes an extended passage on the historical person Louisa whose character reminds us of Pope's Eloisa. After recalling her own relation to Clifton Hill, the speaker turns to the story of Louisa, described thus in a footnote by the poet:

The beautiful unfortunate Louisa, fugitive Foreigner, lived three years in a state of distraction under this hay-stack, without going into a house. She once confessed, in a lucid interval, that she had escaped from a Convent, in which she had been confined by her father, on refusing a marriage of his proposing, her affections being engaged to another man.

Fairer and Gerrard add that "Louisa (d. 1800) was a German fugitive, for whom Hannah More raised and administered a subscription, having her removed to a private asylum" (2004: 488n.). Yearsley attends to Louisa (and by extension her predecessor Eloisa) as a woman who suffers at the hands of her parents because of her desire for a man. Such parental control Yearsley calls those "human laws [that] are harshly given, / When they extend beyond the will of Heaven" (ll. 228-9). Louisa was confined in a convent for her "guiltless joys" (l. 232). Such "Monastic glooms . . . active virtue cramp" (l. 234), bringing her to a state of living death: "Slowly and faint the languid pulses beat, / And the chill'd heart forgets its genial heat" (ll. 236-7). Yearsley's reference to "active virtue" briefly suggests an alternative to Louisa's suffering and her ensuing madness. Louisa escapes to England, only to be overcome (like Eloisa) by her feelings of guilt and longing for the man she loves:

Too late to these mild shores the mourner came, For now the guilt of flight o'erwhelms her frame: Her broken vows in wild disorder roll, And stick like serpents in her trembling soul.

Louisa's sensibility brings her to madness, which Yearsley conveys most remarkably by addressing a personification:

Thought, what art thou? of thee she boasts no more, O'erwhelm'd, thou dy'st amid the wilder roar Of lawless anarchy, which sweeps the soul, Whilst her drown'd faculties like pebbles roll, Unloos'd, uptorn, by whirlwinds of despair, Each well-taught moral now dissolves in air; Dishevel'd, lo! her beauteous tresses fly, And the wild glance now fills the staring eye.

Long before the madwoman in the nineteenth-century attic, the madwoman of eighteenth-century sensibility appears. Yearsley's description is powerful: addressing personified Thought from the perspective of madness - "what art thou?" - the poet turns to the disordered psyche of Louisa. Amorphous images of Louisa's turmoil prevent the reader from objectifying her: Louisa's "faculties like pebbles roll, / Unloos'd, uptorn, by whirlwinds of despair." Through such imagery Yearsley represents Louisa's transgression of sexual chastity as achieving a magnitude of suffering associated with heroic virtue.

Similar images of the woman destroyed by desire appear in Anna Seward's sonnet "To the Poppy" (probably written 1789; published 1799). The speaker, characterizing herself as "Misfortune's victim" (l. 3), addresses "Thee, scarlet Poppy of the pathless field" (l. 4). Personified, the flower is already a woman, and the woman, in turn, is already the flower:

Gaudy, yet wild and lone; no leaf to shield

Thy flaccid vest, that, as the gale blows high, Flaps, and alternate folds around thy head. -So stands in the long grass a love-craz'd maid, Smiling aghast; while stream to every wind

Her garish ribbons, smear'd with dust and rain; But brain-sick visions cheat her tortured mind, And bring false peace. Thus, lulling grief and pain,

Kind dreams oblivious from thy juice proceed, Thou flimsy, showy, melancholy Weed.

Seward's flower-woman stands in a neglected field, but the reader "sees" her suffering through intimate figurative vision, where petals suggest female genitalia and in turn the woman either damaged by her own sexual desire or raped. This figurative picture of the woman-flower in distress combines a range of tones often ignored by detractors of sensibility. The speaker's tone of compassionate horror turns in the final line to contempt. In this figurative vision that fluctuates between flower and woman, Seward conveys the female character's vertiginous moral position and the speaker's shifting tone toward the intoxicating flower and the woman's violation of moral norms. Thus, the poet eerily reproduces the cultural restrictions on women's sexuality and access to sensibility. Women, Seward's contemporaries argued, were vulnerable to overstimulation, driving them to pursue sexual desires or leaving them in a state of madness - that is, driving them to anything but the production of great art (Barker-Benfield 1992: xvii-xviii).

Readers', speakers', and writers' attitudes in such poems can be far from certain, despite the conventional assumptions by critics that these poems enlist sympathy and attempt to promote social reform. Joseph Warton's "The Dying Indian" (1755) offers an example of a complex relation between reader and sufferer. The poem would seem to participate in the era's fascination with the "noble savage," seeking to inspire the reader's sympathy and admiration for the dying man. But, if so, the poem also asks the reader to overlook or accept radically different cultural values (even though Warton's orientalism distorts that culture). Wounded by a poisoned arrow, the dying Indian envisions arriving in a paradise that combines orientalized pastoral with violence, where anana's bloom Thrice in each moon; where rivers smoothly glide, Nor thundering torrents whirl the light canoe

Down to the sea; where my forefathers feast Daily on hearts of Spaniards!

While clearly the poem attacks Spanish conquerors and Catholicism, the speaker uses the more general term "christian" rather than "Catholic" to condemn his enemy. The Indian instructs his son to kill his mother when disease Preys on her languid limbs, then kindly stab her With thine own hands, nor suffer her to linger, Like christian cowards, in a life of pain.

Despite his orientalizing of the "Indian," Warton strives to preserve the speaker's difference in conveying such anti-Christian elements. In its structure, this poem, "judged to be the earliest dramatic monologue" (Fairer and Gerrard 2004: 391), clearly contributes to reproducing the views of the other while challenging contemporary British values.

The complexity of representing the Other appears in William Collins's "Ode to Evening" (1747), where the speaker must change to address the Other. Collins's speaker strives to become the condition of Evening/Eve without violating "her":

Now teach me, Maid compos'd, To breathe some soften'd strain, Whose numbers stealing thro' thy darkning vale, May not unseemly with its stillness suit. . . .

Dealing with neither social ills nor an oppressed person, Collins uses incantatory sounds and personification to explore how the self might come to know and even be that which it is not. To understand and represent Evening requires that the speaker surrender to this other mode of being; but Collins's composed and chaste feminine Evening emphasizes idealized notions of female virtue in contrast to Seward's anguished and sexualized feminine Poppy. In spite of its conservative idealization of the feminine, "Ode to Evening" explores an apparently asocial relationship where the practice of radical sympathy could have powerful effects if applied to victims of social injustice.

To imagine another's experience, especially suffering, is nothing less than to change the nation's fate in Mary Barber's poem "On seeing an Officer's Widow distracted, who had been driven to Despair, by a long and fruitless Solicitation for the Arrears of her Pension" (1734). In apocalyptic language, Barber warns Britain that if it does not respond to the suffering of soldiers' widows and orphans the land will be punished by pestilence or famine. Such a poem assumes the centrifugal movement of sensibility described by Fairer, where consciousness and social conscience spread from individual persons to the nation (2003: 235). The poetry of sensibility assumes that feelings impel social and political action. Sensibility's most aesthetically and ideologically challenging poets yoke form and content so that readers can begin to sense what was previously outside their care.

See also chs. 4, "Poetry and Religion"; 11, "Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock and 'Eloisa to Abelard' "; 14, "James Thomson, The Seasons"; 20, "Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard"; 22, "Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, and George Crabbe, The Village"; 31, "The Constructions of Femininity."

References and Further Reading

Barber, Mary (1992). The Poetry of Mary Barber, ed. B. Tucker. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

Barker-Benfield, G. J. (1992). The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Billingsley, Nicolas (1667). A Treasury of Divine Raptures. London.

Brissenden, R. F. (1974). Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sade. New York: Harper & Row.

Carstairs, Christian (1786). Original Poems. By a Lady . . .. Edinburgh.

Chatterton, Thomas (1971). The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton: A Bicentenary Edition, 2 vols., ed. Donald S. Taylor in association with Benjamin B. Hoover. Oxford: Clarendon.

Cowper, William (1994). The Task and Selected Other Poems, ed. James Sambrook. London and New York: Longman.

Cox, Stephen (1990). "Sensibility as Argument." In Syndy M. Conger (ed.), Sensibility in Transformation: Creative Resistance to Sentiment from the Augustans to the Romantics. Essays in Honor of Jean H. Hagstrum, 63—82. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Ellis, Markman (1996). The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ellison, Julie (1999). Cato's Tears and the Making of Anglo-American Emotion. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Erickson, Robert A. (1997). The Language of the Heart, 1600-1750. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Fairer, David (2003). English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789. London: Longman.

Fairer, David, and Gerrard, Christine, eds. (2004). Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Finch, Anne (1903). The Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea, ed. Myra Reynolds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Frye, Northrop (1956). "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility". ELH 23: 2, 144-52.

Goring, Paul (2005). The Rhetoric of Sensibility in Eighteenth-Century Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Haggerty, George E. (1999). Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hagstrum, Jean H. (1980). Sex and Sensibility: Ideal and Erotic Love from Milton to Mozart. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Johnson, Claudia L. (1995). Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s. Woll-stonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Keith, Jennifer (2005). "The Formal Challenges of Antislavery Poetry." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 34: 97-124.

Killigrew, Anne (1967). Poems (1686) by Mrs Anne Killigrew: A Facsimile Reproduction, intr. Richard Morton. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints.

Langford, Paul (1989). A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727—1783. Oxford: Clarendon.

McGann, Jerome (1996). The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style. Oxford: Clarendon.

Markley, Robert (1987). "Sentimentality as Performance: Shaftesbury, Sterne, and the Theatrics of Virtue." In Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (eds.), The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, 210—30. New York and London: Methuen.

Mullan, John (1988). Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon.

Pinch, Adela (1996). Strange Fits of Passion: Epis-temologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Pope, Alexander (1940). The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems, ed. Geoffrey Tillotson. London: Methuen.

Rai, Amit S. (2002). Rule of Sympathy: Sentiment, Race, and Power 1750—1850. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.

Rothstein, Eric (1981). Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 1660—1780. Vol. 3 of The Routledge History of English Poetry, gen. ed. R. A. Foakes. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Rousseau, George S. (2004). Nervous Acts: Essays on Literature, Culture and Sensibility. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Seward, Anna (1999). Bluestocking Feminism: Writings of the Bluestocking Circle, 1738—1785, vol. 4, ed. Jennifer Kelly. London: Pickering & Chatto.

Smart, Christopher (1990). Selected Poems, ed. Karina Williamson and Marcus Walsh. Har-mondsworth: Penguin.

Smith, Charlotte (1993). The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. Stuart Curran. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer (2001). "The Poetry of Sensibility." In J. Sitter (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 249—69. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Straub, Kristina (1987). "Indecent Liberties with a Poet: Audience and the Metaphor of Rape in Killigrew's 'Upon the saying that my Verses' and Pope's Arbuthnot." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 6, 27—45.

Todd, Janet (1986). Sensibility: An Introduction. London and New York: Methuen.

Van Sant, Ann Jessie (1993). Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Senses in Social Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wesley, John, and Wesley, Charles (1868-72). The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Centre.

Yearsley, Ann (1994). Poems on Various Subjects 1787. Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books.

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