Sentimental literature was characterised by an interest in feelings and emotional states. Much of this literature is devoted to stories of woe and moments of distress, and the quintessential sentimental moment is when one or more of the characters begin to weep. At these moments, it is often made clear that the reader is supposed to weep too, and sentimental authors put a great deal of effort into bringing this about. The strategies they used are here called sentimental rhetoric, or the rhetoric of sensibility, and it is the purpose of this book to show how that rhetoric worked in the debate over the slave trade. These are loose terms, however, and include a great number of rhetorical procedures that were familiar from antiquity, as well as some that seemed more in tune with the eighteenth century. Yet the theory of rhetoric, as well as its day-to-day practice by writers and orators, was being reappraised in the eighteenth century, to the extent that modern critics have come to recognise a group of approaches to rhetoric that can usefully be considered under the umbrella of the ‘new rhetorics’. I argue that the rhetoric of sensibility is located within this group, and this chapter examines in outline the scope and the philosophical underpinnings of this rhetoric, before concluding by identifying its main characteristics, and introducing terms for several of its proofs and tropes.


Eighteenth Century False Sensibility Slave Trade Moral Sentiment Late Eighteenth Century 
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