19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 4 (2007)

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From Sentiment to Sentimentality: A Nineteenth-Century Lexicographical Search

Marie Banfield

Abstract


The brief account of the lexicographical history of the word ‘sentiment' in the nineteenth century, and the table of definitions which follows it, grew from my increasing sense of the shifting and ambivalent nature of the term in the literature of the period, despite the resonance and the proverbial solidity of phrases such as ‘Victorian sentiment' and ‘Victorian sentimentality'. The table is self explanatory, representing the findings of a search, among a wide range of nineteenth-century dictionaries over the period, for the changing meanings accrued by the word ‘sentiment' over time, its extensions and its modifications. The nineteenth-century lexicographical history of the word ‘sentiment' has its chief roots in the Eighteenth-century enlightenment, with definitions from Samuel Johnson and quotations from John Locke, chiefly based on intellect and reason. The nineteenth century generated a number of derivatives of the word over a period of time to express altered modes of feeling, thought and moral concern. The history of the word ‘sentiment' offers a psychological as well as a linguistic narrative.

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