1610s, "a reaction to external stimulation of the sense organs," from French sensation (14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin sensationem (nominative sensatio), from Late Latin sensatus "endowed with sense, sensible," from Latin sensus "feeling" (see sense (n.)). Meaning "state of shock, surprise, in a community" first recorded 1779.
The great object of life is sensation — to feel that we exist, even though in pain. It is this 'craving void' which drives us to gaming — to battle, to travel — to intemperate, but keenly felt, pursuits of any description, whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment. [Lord Byron, letter, Sept. 6, 1813]