Sensibility in English Prose Fiction, 1760-1814: A Reinterpretation

By Walter Wright Francis | Go to book overview

PART IV
SENSIBILITY IN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY

CHAPTER XI
NATIVE AND FOREIGN INFLUENCES

Characteristics, 1707.
Discourse on Inequality, 1761 (tr.).
Emile, 1752 (tr.).
The Social Contract, 1762 (tr.).
Confessions, 1783 (tr. of 1st part).
Paul and Virginia, 1787 (tr.).

NOT ONLY were Mrs. Brooke, Sophia Lee, Mrs. Radcliffe, Lewis, Maturin, and other non-didactic novelists controlled by sensibility; even the didactic promulgators of social and educational theories were sometimes impelled by their feelings.

Too often Bage, Holcroft, Godwin, and their associates have been thought of as pure intellectuals who would establish a Utopian political order ruled entirely by the dictates of reason.1 It is not the purpose of this reinterpretation to slight the part which theorizing performed in their writing. It is its purpose, however, to show how the development of their theories was connected with the general emotional movement of the period.

The rational schemes of Godwin and others were often only the pattern by which the authors sought to interpret beliefs originally apprehended emotionally. Underlying the most radical assertions in Political Justice is the assumption that man is endowed mainly with good impulses and emotions. The anarchistic community Godwin wanted could exist only if its members were inspired by virtuous impulses. In assuming that man's emotions and sentiments are primarily good, Godwin was accepting what had first been asserted by Shaftesbury at the beginning of the eighteenth century.2

____________________
1
Especially Allene Gregory, The French Revolution and the English Novel. New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 1915.
2
Especially valuable as an analysis of certain prevailing ideas having political and social implications is Dr. Lois Whitney Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English PopularLiterature of the Eighteenth Century

-127-

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