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Nervous Juyces and the Feeling Heart

The Growth of Sensibility in the Novels of Tobias Smollett


Laura Bourgeois

Smollett increasingly used medical and philosophic concepts of sensibility in his development of characters. His concept of sensibility is based on the writings of the leading medical researchers on physiological/nervous sensibility and on the writings of those contemporary philosophers concerned with benevolence and imaginative sympathy--Thomas Willis, Albrecht von Haller, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith. This concept may be defined as altruistic benevolence inspired by imaginative sympathy and practiced only by those of physiological sensitivity. Sensibility has become sufficiently important in Smollett's last two novels, Sir Launcelot Greaves and Humphry Clinker, that it should be regarded as the major element in their critical analysis.
Contents: Smollett's novels show increased use of medical and philosophic concepts of sensibility in his characters. Satire combines with sensibility, but sensibility becomes the major element of the plots.