“A Sentimental Journey” (1768) shows how the language of sensibility became increasingly interiorized in the eighteenth century. Throughout the work Sterne’s interest in his surroundings and in his fellow beings is subordinate to the interior riches they provide him with: the sentimental journey is first and foremost an inner journey, through which “a large volume of adventures may be grasped” and nothing should he missed that “he can fairly lay his hands on”. If the terms here reflect the discourse of acquisitiveness and self-interest, they more generally reveal the self-reflexivity of his perception.
From Christine Levecq Slavery and Sentiment: The Politics of Feeling in Black Atlantic Antislavery Writing, 1770-1850, p. 74.
The term “sentimental”, meaning “emotion-full”, was popularised by Laurence Sterne (24 November 1713 – 18 March 1768) and can be seen of a development of ethical sentimentalism, where feelings of benevolence or sympathy are the motive force for virtue. For Sterne, feelings almost become a virtue in themselves. The benefit of emotions, then, becomes subjective experience rather than outward action.