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Lecture 3: Sense and Sensibility in the 17th-18th Centuries
 

Lecture 3: Sense and Sensibility in the 17th-18th Centuries

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  • Animal spirits work with the nerves and muscles to function as circulatory system <br />
  • Descartes refined Galen, emphasizing mechanics of the system. <br /> Animal spirits conveyed by tubes to the pineal gland <br />
  • The Iconography of Sensibility <br /> JEFFREY A. NIGRO <br /> Jeffrey A. Nigro (email: jeffnigro@mac.com) is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago and currently serves as Regional Coordinator of the Greater Chicago of JASNA. <br /> LIKE ALL OF JANE AUSTEN’S RICHLY TEXTURED NOVELS, Sense and Sensibility can be appreciated on many levels. One of the ways in which the novel could be read is as a kind of compendium of the cherished themes and obsessions of the cult of Sensibility (often, but not always, treated ironically): the moving spectacle of young women in distress, love of music and Cowper’s poetry, the Picturesque, the romance of rustic poverty, motherhood, sentimental accessories like miniature portraits and rings with locks of hair, and more tears than one usually encounters in an Austen novel. <br /> That Austen was influenced by and responding to the novels of Sensibility, from Samuel Richardson on, is without question; but I propose that Austen must have been aware of the imagery of Sensibility as well. In Austen’s day Sensibility was a whole culture that included the visual arts as well as literature, music and theater. In the visual arts, as we shall see, there are certain subjects that were considered especially moving by artists, critics, and audiences. To employ art historical terminology, Sensibility can be approached through iconography, the choice of subject matter that is particularly meaningful to the artist and/or the society in which the artist works, as well as the way in which that subject matter is visualized. In Sense and Sensibility we find (unusually for Austen’s novels) a series of “tableaux” that employ some of the favorite subjects of the visual art of Sensibility: the spectacle of the young woman in distress; the scene of heightened domestic drama; and the deathbed scene. I believe that Austen consciously employed such tableaux, sometimes seeming to present these themes straightforwardly, sometimes subverting them, as part of her attempt to position her novel as both a celebration and a critique of the cult of Sensibility. <br /> A personification of Sensibility <br /> Sensibility itself (or rather, herself) was visualized, although it was not until almost the end of the century that it was given human form by the British artist George Romney. Best known in his lifetime for commissioned portraits of the rich and fashionable, Romney may be even better known today for the large body of images he executed of the low-born but ravishing Emma Hart (née Amy Lyon), later the notorious Lady Hamilton. During the 1780s, Romney portrayed Emma in a variety of mythological and allegorical characters, including as a personification of Sensibility. The story is recounted by William Hayley, Romney’s first biographer, and author of The Triumphs of Temper, one of the most important poetic expressions of the many facets of Sensibility. After describing how Emma’s features, “like the language of Shakespeare, could exhibit all the feelings of nature, and all the gradations of every passion,” Hayley continues: <br /> In 1786 her features gave rise to the picture of Sensibility. . . . During a visit to Romney in November, I happened to find him one morning contemplating . . . a recently coloured head, on a small canvas. I expressed my admiration of his unfinished work in the following terms:—“This is a most happy beginning: you never painted a female head with such exquisite expression: you have only to enlarge your canvas, introduce the shrub mimosa, growing in a vase, with a hand of this figure approaching its leaves, and you may call your picture a personification of Sensibility.”—“I like your suggestion, replied the painter, and will enlarge my canvas immediately.” (Life of George Romney 121) <br /> A mimosa plant having been brought in from a nursery in Hammersmith, the painting was completed, and subsequently engraved (Alexander 281).1 <br /> Richard Earlom, after George Romney, Sensibility (1786) <br /> Romney’s Sensibility is a beautiful young woman with an intense but poignant expression; she has flowers in her hair and is dressed in flowing draperies. She leans forward toward the mimosa plant, one hand on her breast, the other scarcely touching the plant with one graceful finger. Hayley’s iconography derives from his own Triumphs of Temper, a poem known to have been admired by the future Lady Hamilton, who used it as a guide to her own behavior (Kidson 165).2 In Canto V of the poem, Serena and Sophrosyne (co-heroines, like Elinor and Marianne in Austen’s novel) journey through an enchanted allegorical landscape, where they encounter “the queen,” Sensibility herself. The latter is exquisitely beautiful, “of that enchanting age . . . just between the woman and the child,” crowned in snowdrops and briar roses, and dressed in delicate gauze: <br /> Her fair left arm around a vase she flings, <br /> From which the tender plant mimosa springs: <br /> Towards its leaves, o’er which she fondly bends, <br /> The youthful fair her vacant hand extends <br /> With gentle motion, anxious to survey <br /> How far the feeling fibres own her sway: <br /> The leaves, as conscious of their queen’s command, <br /> Successive fall at her approaching hand: <br /> Her tender breast with pity seems to pant, <br /> And shrinks at every shrinking of the plant. (Canto V) <br /> This passage clarifies why the mimosa plant was chosen as an attribute for Sensibility: the leaves and stems of a number of its species, particularly the mimosa sensitiva and mimosa pudica (also known, tellingly, as the “sensitive plant”), bend and fall if a hand is so much as swept over them, making it an ideal symbol of too-responsive sensitivity (Ittershagen 138). <br /> http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol32no1/nigro.html <br />

Lecture 3: Sense and Sensibility in the 17th-18th Centuries Lecture 3: Sense and Sensibility in the 17th-18th Centuries Presentation Transcript

  • Sense and Sensibility in the Long 18th Century History of Science & Technology since 1750 Jason M. Kelly
  • Aristotle and the Brain • the heart is the center of intelligence and emotion • the heart processes sensation • the brain helps regulate the temperature of the heart Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BCE. The alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo Altaemps, Rome. Inv. 8575
  • Aristotle and the Soul’s Relation to the Body “. . . the soul does not exist without a body and yet is not itself a kind of body. For it is not a body, but something which belongs to a body, and for this reason exists in a body, and in a body of such-and-such a kind.” in other words, the soul is inseparable from the body Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BCE. The alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo Altaemps, Rome. Inv. 8575
  • Aristotle and the Soul’s Relation to the Body There are three degrees of soul: • Nutritive soul (plants) • Sensitive soul (all animals) • Rational soul (human beings) Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BCE. The alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo Altaemps, Rome. Inv. 8575
  • Aristotelianism and the Brain • Often saw brain and heart as physiologically intertwined • Blood was key to transmitting sensation and ideas Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BCE. The alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo Altaemps, Rome. Inv. 8575
  • Galenic Physiology
  • Galenic Physiology “Natural spirit generated in the liver is carried by venous blood through the interventricular septum of the heart to the left ventricle where, under the influence of air carried to the left ventricle of the heart by the arteria venalis, it is transformed into vital spirit. Carried to the brain via the carotids, vital spirit is transformed by the rete mirabili at the base of the brain (shown hatched) into animal spirits.” Charles Singer, The Evolution of Anatomy (1925), Figure 30.
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650) • Mechanism • Automaton • Mind, body, and soul • Pineal Gland After Frans Hals. René Descartes. ca. 1649-1700. oil on canvas. 77.5 x 68.5 cm. Louvre, Paris, France. Inv. 1317.
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650) "Although the soul is united to the whole body, its principal functions are, nevertheless, performed in the brain; it is here that it not only understands and imagines, but also feels; and this is effected by the intermediation of the nerves, which extend in the form of delicate threads from the brain to all parts of the body, to which they are attached in such a manner, that we can hardly touch any part of the body without setting the extremity of some nerve in motion. This motion passes along the nerve to that part of the brain which is the common sensorium, as I have sufficiently explained in my 'Treatise on Dioptrics;' and the movements which thus travel along the nerves, as far as that part of the brain with which the soul is closely joined and united, cause it, by reason of their diverse characters, to have different thoughts. And it is these different thoughts of the soul, which arise immediately from the movements that are excited by the nerves in the brain, which we properly term our feelings, or the perceptions of our senses.” —Descartes, Principes de la Philosophie (1644), §169
  • Descartes, Traité de l' homme (written before 1637 and published in 1662 and 1664) “These men will be composed, as we are, of a soul and a body. First I must describe the body on its own; then the soul, again on its own; and fìnally I must show how these two natures would have to be joined and united in order to constitute men who resemble us. I suppose the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth, which God forms with the explicit intention of making it as much is possible like us. Thus God not only gives it externally the colours and shapes of all the parts of our bodies, but also places inside it all the parts required to make it walk, eat, breathe, and indeed to imitate all those of our functions which can be imagined to proceed from matter and to depend solely on the disposition of our organs. We see clocks, artificial fountains, mills, and other such machines which, although only man-made, have the power to move of their own accord in many different ways. But I am supposing this machine to be made by the hands of God, and so I think you may reasonably think it capable of a greater variety of movements than I could possibly imagine in it, and of exhibiting more artistry than I could possibly ascribe to it.”
  • LEFT: Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams (BBC, 2013), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rVevX-YXqo | RIGHT: Complimentarius. 16th century. FockeMuseum, Bremen. The automaton, clad in armor was a mechanical greeting-automaton that was installed from the early 17th to the early 19th century in the Schütting (the merchant guild headquarters) in Bremen.
  • “I desire you to consider, I say, that these functions imitate those of a real man as perfectly as possible and that they follow naturally in this machine entirely from the disposition of the organs-no more nor less than do the movements of a clock or other automaton, from the arrangement of its counterweights and wheels.” L’homme de René Descartes, et la formation du foetus (Paris: Compagnie des Libraires, 1729)
  • Gender and Sensibility Her fair left arm around a vase she flings, From which the tender plant mimosa springs: Towards its leaves, o’er which she fondly bends, The youthful fair her vacant hand extends With gentle motion, anxious to survey How far the feeling fibres own her sway: The leaves, as conscious of their queen’s command, Successive fall at her approaching hand: Her tender breast with pity seems to pant, And shrinks at every shrinking of the plant. William Hayley, The Triumphs of Temper (1781), Canto V