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In her chapter for this volume, ‘Theories of Change in the History of Emotions’, Barbara Rosenwein contrasts two sorts of historical narratives: those that focus on periods when a culture's defining emotions remain stable, versus those that seek to account for change in emotional values and practices. My chapter falls somewhere between those categories. Focusing specifically on the context of eighteenth-century France, it explores some of the principles that lent stability to sensibility, the feeling-based concept of human nature that shaped the period's social codes, fostered the rise of sentimentalist art and literature, and gave the body a prominent role in moral and mental functions. At the same time, it emphasizes the persistence of another, earlier set of affective values: the emotions deemed peculiar to gens de lettres (the period's generic term for intellectuals), especially those who pursued study with the greatest intensity. By examining sources that focus specifically on those emotions and their underlying mechanisms, this chapter draws attention to a side of the culture of sensibility that tends to be omitted in accounts that emphasize its better-known, more socially oriented forms of expression. Yet it also considers how sentimentalism and sociability inflected the older trope of a- or anti-social intellectual ardour – a process that contributed to the redefinition of what it meant to be capable of ‘finer’ feelings, and who, exactly, embodied that capacity.