The beginning of the Romantic Age in English literature is usually taken as 1798, the year in which William Wordsmith and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published a book of their poems called Lyrical Ballads. The Romantic Age traditionally ended in 1832, with the death of Sir Walter Scott. But it is a mistake to assign any definite date to it. It was not a sudden outburst but the result of long and gradual growth and development. There was a natural revolt against the classical spirit of the eighteenth century which had given rise to artificiality in poetry, both in regard to subject matter and style.Order now
This spirit of revolt was accentuated by the French Revolution, with its cry for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. What the Renaissance had done to the release of the human mind from the bondage of church and medieval scholasticism, the French Revolution did in large measure in the social and political spheres. The ideals of French Revolution inspired men’s mind and inflamed their souls. The same unbridled imagination, the same glow of passion that had characterized Elizabethan literature was revived in the literature of the romantic period.
Hence the literary movement as on the one hand a revolt against the classical creed of the eighteenth century, and on the other a revival of the Romantic spirit of the Elizabethan Age. Since the spirit of Elizabethan poetry was akin to that of the Elizabethan age, the Elizabethan literary forms and subjects were revived again- sonnet, lyric, ballad, blank verse, and the Spenserian stanza. The same fullness of imagination, richness of language, vastness of conception, lyricism, picturesquely, suggestiveness and sensuousness, which permeated the great Elizabethan works are found again in the literature, specially poetry in the Romantic Age.
The Historical Background – The American Revolution & French Revolution: These two Revolutions (happened outside England) disturbed the basic values and structures of English society. Philosophically, the French Revolution seemed to signal the victory of ever more radical democratic principles than those enunciated in the American Declaration of Independence. Indeed, it was the most significant event of the romantic period. In English the Crown and the ruling classes feared the effects of the French Revolution from the beginning.
But English liberals and radicals, who homeless had been calling for the demagnification of English society, saw in the early stages of the French Revolution–in the Declaration of the rights of Man and in the storming of the Pastille on July 14, 1789, to release imprisoned political prisoners–a triumph of popular democracy. Among the enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution in its early stages were writers who would play a central role in English Romanticism. Wordsmith visited France during the summer of 1790 and was filled with hope and excitement as the country celebrated the first anniversary of the fall of the Pastille.
William Godwin (1756-1836), a philosopher and novelist who exerted considerable influence on Wordsmith, Shelley, and other Romantic poets, predicted in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) a peaceful version in England of what appeared to be happening in France. In The Spirit of the Age, Haziest Romano 3′ sermon said that the French Revolution seemed at first to announce that “a n been given to man’s minds” (WI). The sense of being present at some event of history was common at this time: hopes were high that man to see the end of the old world and the beginning of a new and Bette
Wordsmith, looking back at this time over ten years later, gave expire must have been a widespread feeling at the outset of the French Rev pleasant exercise of hope and Joy, For great were the auxiliary which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love, Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! (The prelude 1805. X 105-09) But the promise and expectation aroused by the early of the Revolute soon gave way to bitter disappointment as events took an increasingly repressive course.
When revolutionary extremists gained control of t in 1792, they executed hundreds of the imprisoned nobility in what c now as the “September Massacres. ” The reaction in England to the France was predicable. Even the most ardent supports of the Revolute disillusionment and despair. As Wordsmith expressed it in The Prep had changed a war of self-defense For one of conquest, losing sight of all Which they had struggled for: and mounted up, Openly in the view of earth and heaven, The scale of Liberty. (The Prelude 1805.
X 206-11) During the years of violent political revolution and reaction for the spin another revolution was taking place throughout European society for growth. The Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution in England marked the beginning of the MO caused profound economic and social changes with which the existing structures of government were totally undermined. Important cities northern England that had previously been stable and orderly center developed into sprawling, dirty industrial cities.
Working and living c these cities were terrible: women and children as well as men laborer under intolerable conditions, for wages that were barely enough to k Reports were not uncommon of young children being harnessed to c made to crawl on their hands and knees in the mines. Wordsmith’s example, contained a number of figures whose undeserved suffering unfair and uncaring society. Blake pointed out the miseries of the Lo daily observation. In “The Chimney Sweeper,” he describes that the C been sold by his father to be a sweep when he is still so small that he utter the “Sir at the beginning of words. He attempts to cry “Sweep!
S childlike voice turns out to be “Weep! Weep! ” The double meanings of “weep” immediately give us a pathetic impression of the state of his s than ever England was sharply divided into two classes: a wealthy clay owners who held economic and political power, and a poor class of w prided of rights and possessions. In response to the rapidly changed society, Wordsmith shows his angers towards the sheer waste and sadness of life in his “The World is too much with us” The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 1-4) To the writers, the Romantic Age was a time of vast and unguided political and economic changes. Most of the writers of this period were deeply affected by the promise and subsequent disappointment of the French Revolution, and by the storing effects of the Industrial Revolution. In many ways, both direct and indirect, we can see the historical issues reflected in the main literary concerns of Romantic poets.
Much as the French Revolution signaled an attempt to break with the old order and to establish a new and revalidated social system, Romanticism sought to free itself from the rules and standards of eighteen-century literature and to open up new areas of vision and expression. The democratic idealism, which characterized the early stages of the French Revolution, have their parallel in the Romantic writers’ interest in the language and experience of the common people, and in the belief that writers or artists must be free to explore their own imaginative worlds.
The main consequences of the Industrial Revolution–the arbitration of English life and landscape, and the exploitation of the working class– underlie the Romantic writers’ love of the unspoiled natural world or remote settings devoid of urban complexity, and their passionate concern for the downtrodden and the oppressed. POETRY AND REVOLT The Romantic Age was emphatically an age of poetry. The previous century, with its racial outlook on life, was largely one of prose; but now, as in the Elizabethan Age, the young enthusiasts turned as naturally to poetry as a happy man to singing.
The glory of the age is in the poetry of Scott, Wordsmith, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Moore, and Soothes. It is intensely interesting to note how literature at first reflected the political turmoil of the age; and then, when the turmoil was over and England began her mighty work of reform, how literature suddenly developed a new creative spirit, which shows itself in the poetry of Wordsmith, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats a wonderful group of writers, whose patriotic enthusiasm suggests the Elizabethan days, and whose genius has caused their age to be known as the second creative period of period of our literature.
Thus in early days, when the old institutions seemed crumbling with the Pastille, Coleridge and Soothes formed their youthful scheme of a “Panchromatic on the banks of the Susquehanna,” – an ideal commonwealth, in which the principles of Moor’s Utopia should be put in practice. Even Wordsmith, fired with political enthusiasm, could write, Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven. The Romantic Age is the age of Revolution in the history of politics and of what is broadly called the romantic triumph in that of literature.
It is most important for us to understand that the movement in literature was only one aspect of a comprehensive general movement, another aspect of which is to be found in the Revolution. At bottom both the political and the literary movements were inspired by the same impatience of formulas, traditions, conventions, and the tyranny of the dead hand, by the same insistence upon individuality, and by the same craving for freedom and the argue life.
In the doctrines of the new poetry, as in the teachings of the revolutionary theorists, there was indeed much that assumed the shape of challenge and attack. The long-accepted rules of art, in fact prescribed rules of any kind, were treated with open contempt; the reaction against Pope and the Augustan school became aggressive; and the principle of spontaneity was everywhere thrust to the front. The dominant spirit of the age was rather expressed by Keats when he wrote: “The genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a man.
It cannot be matured by law and recent, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. That which is creative must create itself. ” A comparison of this passage with the couplet from Pope which we have already quoted: ” Those rules of old discovered, not devised, Are Nature still, but Nature Methodist’s,” will suffice to show the fundamental difference in principle between Augustan and romantic poetry.
English poetry had an intimate association with the various stages of the French Revolution and with the striking changes in the temper of European society which these produced. The great outburst of 1789 sent a thrill of fresh life wrought the whole civilized world. It came as the prophecy of a new day, and for the moment it seemed as if, leaving behind it all the evils of the past, humanity at large was to pass forward immediately into an era of realized democratic ideals of liberty, brotherhood, and the rights of man.
A wonderful humanitarian enthusiasm and gorgeous dreams of progress and perfection were thus kindled in ardent young souls ; and in England, quite as much as in France itself, men of generous natures were ready to catch fire by contact with the passions which the French cause aroused cause, as our later eighteenth century literature shows, there had been in England a steady growth of many of the principles which the political revolution now promised to translate out of abstractions into living facts.
As Wordsmith afterwards wrote: ” But Europe at that time was thrilled with Joy ; France standing on the top of golden hours, And human nature seeming born again “; and once more : “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven. ” But as the progress of the French movement soon proved, the glorious promises of ’89 were destined to remain unfulfilled.
The excesses of the reign of terror; the national rise of Napoleon ; the establishment of a military despotism ; the long strain of the Napoleonic wars ; the restoration of the Bourbons ; the determined attempt made by the crowned heads of Europe after Waterloo to destroy democracy and popular government all these things were naturally productive of vast disturbances in thought and feeling.
Reaction set in; the principles of the Revolution were discredited; and the failure of the great effort which France had made to initiate a new and better order of things resulted in a general collapse of faith and hope. The age of buoyancy and expectation passed away. The age of unrest and disillusion succeeded. Thus we may expect to find an enormous difference in tone between the poetry of the earlier and that of the later revolutionary period. The close of the French Revolution did not mean the end of the revolutionary movement, even in the field of politics.
The peoples of Europe had been aroused, and were not now to be crushed or pacified. Hence repeated disturbances in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and much dangerous discontent in England. But meanwhile, as we have seen, a strong conservative reaction had set in ; many of the older generation abandoned heir early faith, and for a time the principles of progress and popular government suffered eclipse. The complacency of tourism, however, was impossible to many of the more fiery spirits among the younger men.
Growing into manhood Just in time to realism the full meaning of what seemed to be the failure of the democratic cause, they found themselves in a world which had emerged from the long strain of revolutionary excitement, exhausted but not satisfied. The old enthusiasms and hope had gone, and their collapse was followed here by apathy and indifference, there by he cynicism which often results from exploded idealism, and there again by the mood of bitter disappointment and aimless unrest.
Such were the conditions which naturally weighed heavily upon the English poets who were born into the later revolutionary age. Yet every man will respond to the influences of his time in accordance with the peculiarities of his own genius and character; and, though the three chief poets of our younger revolutionary group, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, breathed the same atmosphere, and saw the same forces at work about them, nothing could well be more striking than the contrast between each and each in the laity and temper of their poetry.
CONCLUSION The word Romantic has been used for so many purposes that it is impossible to confine it to any single meaning, still less to attempt a new definition of it. The Romantic Age in English Literature began in 1789 with Flake’s’ Songs of Innocence or with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and ended with the death of Keats and Shelley. In the Romantic Age we have five major poets- Wordsmith, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron and Keats.
The essence of Romanticism was that literature must reflect all that is spontaneous and unaffected in nature and in man, and be free to allow its own fancy in its own way. This characteristic can be found in the work of Elizabethans who followed their own genius in opposition to all the laws of critics. In Coleridge we see this independence expressed in “Kabul Khan” and “The Ancient Mariner”, two dream pictures, one of the populous Orient, the other of the lonely sea. In Wordsmith this literary independence led him inward to the heart of common things.
The Romantics won their triumph by confining their art to certain field of experience and excluding much less which has often belonged to poetry but did not really concern them. Such a process seem inevitable to the progress of poetry. The poet must do something new, but he cannot do it without casting aside what he thinks outworn. More than this, he must find the right means to say what concerns him most deeply, and since he is after all a limited human being, he rightly works in a field where he is at home and able to act freely.
This is true of the Romantics, who began as revolutionaries in poetry, and were determined not to write like their predecessors of the eighteenth century. The result was their art, despite its range and variety, is confined within certain limits. In poetry they discovered many unknown tracts. The rural scene which appealed to Wordsmith, Coleridge moonlit mystery between sleep and walking, Shelley ecstatic contemplation of ideas, and Keats’ attempt to find the bliss of pure creation were subjects which few, if any, poets had attempted before.
The romantics rejected or neglected many subjects in which other men might find wonderful magic, and it is significant that Byron, who did not share their beliefs, was able to compose a more varied poetry. The modern revolt against the romantics has been partly due to a conviction that they, with their cult of altitude and strangeness, did not write a realistic poetry of the world which they knew. They revived poetry by looking into themselves and isolating unusual experiences in their inner biographies.
This turning inward was their answer to the previous age, with its insistence on the externalities of things and its lack of belief in the self. But we cannot complain that, by their devotion to mysteries of life the romantics failed to appreciate life itself. It would be hard to think of another man who combined, as Blake did, an extraordinary power of vision with the tenderness compassion for the outcast and oppression. Even so devoted a lover of physical nature as Keats came to see that a poet must not detach himself from mankind, but live in compassionate understanding of it.
And this understanding has a new tenderness which is far removed from the aristocratic dignity of Augustan and the princely splendorous of the Elizabethans. In their attempts to understand man in the depths of his being, the Romantics were moved by convictions which gave a special humanity to their poetry. The essence of Romantic Poetry is that in catching the fleeting moment of Joy it opens the door to an eternal world. This characteristic differentiates Romantic Poets from those of classical antiquity and all who have followed their example.
Romantic Poetry associated single sensible experiences with some undefined superior order of things and thereby enriched our appreciation of the familiar world and awakened a new awe and wonder at it. Such poetry is of course only one kind among many, and it rises from an outlook not shared by all men. If a society has ever existed which is completely content with what it has and asks for nothing else, it would not need such comfort as the romantics have to offer.
But to all who are dissatisfied with a current order or a conventional scheme of this, this spirit brings not an anodyne but an inspiration. From discontent it moves to a vision of sublime state in which the temporal, without loosing its individuality, is related to the timeless, and the many defects of the given world are seen to irrelevant and insignificant in comparison with the mysterious which enclose it. The Romantic poets appeals to us because he does something which we cannot but respect. He believes that in exercising his imagination he creates life and adds to the IM of living experience.
He wishes not to be a passive observer but an active agent in a world which exists by perpetual process of creation. He takes his part in this process by making men aware of the reality which sustains the changing visible scene and is the cause and explanation of everything that matters in it. We may not accept all his assumptions and conclusions, but we must admire the spirit in which he approaches his task, and admit that the problems which he seeks to solve must not be shrieked by anyone who wishes to understand the Universe in which they live.