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date: 26 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

British Romantic writers were preoccupied with the senses and sensation to an unusually high degree. This chapter reconstructs some of the sources and consequences of this preoccupation. The notion that imagination depends on the senses derived both from a long-standing tradition of empiricist philosophy and from the contemporary physiology of the nerves. These intellectual contexts gave scientific validity and new impetus to conceptions of imaginative literature as, in William Wordsworth’s phrase, a ‘science of feelings’. Romantic writers routinely emphasize sensate as opposed to purely cogitative ways of knowing, and develop innovative accounts of embodied aesthetic response. Transmitting sensation from one person to another, the literature of sensation could facilitate more widespread social or political transformations. Less dramatically but no less significantly, the Romantics also pioneered some new and still relevant ways of understanding the most common, ordinary acts of sensation and perception.

Keywords: aesthetics, consciousness, empiricism, feeling, nerves, perception, physiology, science, sensation, sentiment

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