This introductory chapter suggests the recent rehabilitation of an eighteenth-century culture of sensibility has productively complicated traditional literary history's dismissal of sentimentalism as a cultural embarrassment, and significantly enhanced our understanding of non-canonical fiction between Richardson and Austen. Nonetheless, new historicist recuperations of sentimentalism have also often reinforced earlier arguments that sentimentalism was grounded in dubious claims about an essentially good human nature and innately good feelings. The chapter poses a challenges to such readings by bringing into focus the considerable scepticism regarding feelings in such key works of the sentimental tradition as David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), and Henry Mackenzie's Julia de Roubigné. By highlighting the ways in which the sentiments must themselves be reflectively endorsed in a process of judgment that is not reducible to sentiment as such, Hume and Mackenzie complicate the perception that sentimentalism was an unselfconscious outlier vis-à-vis the mainstream Enlightenment.
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