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|Dr. Johnson is "nice" rather often, I feel
Written by Laraine
(10/4/2006 12:32 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Dr. Johnson's dictionary, penned by Barbara
I knew about Dr. Johnson's thinking that "sensible" as we most often use it today was a "low" usage, but I also think he tended to be a real purist where JA was not. She happily used plural pronouns to refer to singular subjects, for example (Henry has some examples of this at JaneInfo).
I prefer the OED to Johnson in many cases because I think it's rather more objective. It's best to consult both if I can.
The OED lists the first use of sensible as "endowed with good sense" as 1584, and there are six listed before 1600 (Bacon in addition to Shakespeare--the other authors I didn't know). The Shakespeare I was thinking of is from 2 Henry IV ("For the box of the ear that the prince gave you, he gave it like a rude prince, and you took it like a sensible lord.") Granted, that's Falstaff, and he's a "low" character.
After 1600, the OED lists Addison, Horace Walpole, Goldsmith, and Cowper as authors who used the word to mean "having good sense," and we know that those are all authors whom Austen knew and enjoyed.
For me, at least, that makes it fair to say that it was common enough for Austen to be using it to mean "having good sense" without any ironic nods towards the term "sensibility" this time.
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