“Like ‘sensibility’ itself, ‘delicacy’ has two interwoven frames of reference that complicate and enrich its significance. There is ‘delicacy of constitution’ and ‘delicacy of mind,’ ‘heart,’ or ‘soul;’ and each of these facets of meaning informs the other. Thus, delicacy can describe a physical sensitivity, on the one hand–an exceptional susceptiblity to stimuli from the senses–or it can indicate a sensitivity (often gendered female) to social or ethical punctilios.
The refinement inherent in ‘delicacy’ leads it sometimes to be opposed to ‘vulgarity.’ In this way the term takes on moral and socioeconomic associations as well.
‘Modesty’ seems less complex, and often appears as an epiphenomenon of delicacy.
- George Cheyne, An Essay on Health and Long Life
Cheyne comments on three types of sensibility.
- J. Donaldson, Reflections on the Harmony of Sensibility and Reason
Draws connections between sensibility, vitality, and moral nature.
- David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste”
Defines delicacy in the course of his search for universal standards of judgment.
- Henry Mackenzie, Untitled Article in The Lounger, No. 20
Attacks the sentimental novel on moral grounds.
- Hannah More, “On the Danger of Sentimental or Romantic Connexions”
Criticizes the “sentimental girl,” but praises “true” sentiment in women.
- Samuel Richardson,Clarissa
Clarissa on Lovelace’s proposal. . .”