1. What is Romanticism?
Romanticism is a difficult term to define as it stands for several things together. For instance, it has been associated with the word ‘romance’ of the mediaeval period which had a certain feeling of remoteness and a faraway atmosphere particularly regarding the landscape, fields of tearing and bravery, chivalry; belief in supernatural, chance and magic; women worship etc. Hence, originally the word ‘romantic’ signified the qualities in these semi-historical cycles, such as, “far-fetched and opposed to fact.” In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the term connoted “wild, extravagant and improbable”. The diarists Evelyn and Pepys used it in the sense of Gothic, that is, “irregular, wild and fantastic”.
It is strange that the poets now known as ‘Romantic poets’, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats did not call themselves ‘Romantic’. This term was attached to them later in the 19th century. Wordsworth had considered ‘romantic’ as something “extravagant, excessive, and even undesirable”.
Walter Pater, an essayist and a literary critic, defines romanticism as “addition of strangeness to beauty”. In his view the crucial elements of romanticism are “curiosity and the love of beauty”. Here Peter is referring to the beauty won by strong imagination out of likely or remote things. But his definition is not complete, for all poetry is an addition of strangeness to beauty. To T. S. Eliot, the term ‘romantic’ signified ‘the individual’ and even ‘revolutionary’.
1.1. Various Meanings of the Term ‘Romanticism’
In modern English usage we generally find four distinct meanings of the term ‘romanticism’. That is:
- As opposed to usual: Something imaginative, remote from everyday life and experience, idealized, and expressing vague longings away from the ordinary.
- As opposed to expected: Phenomenal, unrealistic, pertaining to dreamy fairyland.
- Also as opposed to the literal: Symbolic, mystic and unseen.
- Lastly, as opposed to conventional: Striking, passionate, picturesque, unevenly beautiful.
2. Romanticism Definition According to Different Critics & Scholars
According to critics, the Romanticism period officially began from 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge. W. J. Long defines Romanticism poetry in the following words:
“the protest against the bondage of rules, the return to nature and the human heart, the interest in old sagas and mediaeval romances as suggestive of a heroic age, the sympathy with the toilers of the world, the emphasis upon individual genius, and the return to Milton and the Elizabethans, instead of to Pope and Dryden for literary models.”
In the words of Abercrombie, “Romanticism is a withdrawal from outer experience to concentrate on inner experience.” To some others, it is the “Renaissance of Wonder”. Romanticism has also been defined as ‘liberalism in literature’ because it sought freedom from old conventions of poetry. Other scholars, such as Grierson, Irving Babbitt, Herford, Watts-Dunton, C. M. Bowra and Dr. Stendhal, etc. have also written elaborately on Romanticism.
Moreover, various critics and scholars also use different phrases to express the term ‘Romanticism’ These phrases include:
- re-vindication of imagination.
- rehabilitation of emotion.
- re-vindication of senses.
- accentuated predominance of emotional life.
- evoked or directed by the exercise of highly imaginative vision.
According to F. L. Lucas, Romanticism resulted from a dominance of impulses from the Id (the primitive impulse commerce classes am from our impulse), classicism from our impulse of Superego (the impulse which says it is pleasant but wrong), and realism from the impulse of Ego (it looks pleasant but it is a snare and delusion).
3. Characteristics of Romanticism Movement
We generally interpret and analyze ‘Romanticism’ in terms of characteristics it has or in contrast to ‘Classicism’. If Classicism suggests objectivity, outer experience, universal values, feelings of broad experience of the existing order, sense of detachment preference for quiet, poise and conformity; ‘Romanticism’ suggests subjectivity, inner experience, personal values, feelings of inadequacy, excessive egoism (including pessimism), impulse to adventure commerce spirit of revolt, thirst for freedom, etc.
Hence, the twelve (12) major characteristics of ‘Romanticism’ period are:
- Love of Liberty
- Interest in the supernatural and the mysterious
- The revolutionary zeal
- The mediaeval imaginative faculty
- New experiments in verse
- Simplicity of diction
- Love for Nature
- Expression of melancholy
- Themes of Solitude
- Lucid sensory descriptions
3. 1. Romanticism Characteristics in Arts and Major Romanticism Artists
Romanticism in art first appeared in landscape paintings. Nature, with all its wildness, changeability, and potential for disastrous extremes, became an alternative to the organized world of the Enlightenment period. The Romantic artists beautifully conjured up the beautiful, wild, violent and terrifying images of nature. They also led these images to the 18th century’s aesthetic idea of the Sublime. In Romantic art, we see recurring images of shipwrecks, storms, beautiful and wild landscapes, and the representations of man’s struggle against the powerful nature.
The Romantic artists mainly focused on feelings, emotions, spirituality, mystery, imagination, and fervor. Their art varied widely encompassing landscape, revolution, religion, and beauty—both calm and wild. Some great and most famous artists of Romanticism are:
- Theodore Gericault
- Thomas Cole
- Caspar David Friedrich
- Francisco Goya
- William Blake
- John Constable
- J.M.W. Turner
- Eugene Delacroix
- Francesco Hayez
- Ivan Aivazovsky and others.
3.2. Romanticism in Art: Some Masterpieces of Romanticism Artists
3.3. Romanticism Characteristics in Literature
Romanticism stressed that literature must reflect the spontaneous and unaffected in humans as well as in nature. The Romantics gave priority to inner call in order to fully explore the world of the spirit. They attempted to explore the mysteries of life, and thus understand it better. It was this search for the hidden world that gave rise to the Romantics’ inspiration and made poets of them. Their intention was to appeal to the complete self, rather than the logical mind. That is, the whole range of intellectual faculties, senses and emotions became their prime focus.
Here are some major characteristics of Romanticism in literature:
- believe in an ulterior reality.
- imagination as the most important gift that the poet can have.
- passionate love for the visible world, sometimes their approach is highly sensuous.
- exploration of the unknown aspects of mankind.
- naturalism (including love for nature and man in simple surroundings) and supernaturalism.
- mysticism, glory of the past, and mysticism.
4. History of Romanticism in Literature: A Brief History of English Romantic Movement
The history of Romanticism is quite old. The ancient Western philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato were romantic. The famous French writers like Victor Hugo and Rousseau were also romantic. The Mediaeval romances were certainly romantic in nature. Furthermore, Elizabethan literature was also romantic. All the major qualities of Romanticism enumerated in the preceding paragraphs were present in the literature of the Elizabethans.
4.1. The Elizabethans: The First Romantics
It is roughly estimated that the English Romantic Movement began in 1798 when Wordsworth and Coleridge published the Lyrical Ballads. But it is wrong to assign any definite date to it. It was not a sudden outburst, but the result of a long, gradual growth and development.
The poets of the Romantic school—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron etc—were not even the first Romantics of England. Because Elizabethan literature is essentially romantic in spirit. It is replete with the same sense of wonder and mystery, curiosity and restlessness, love of adventure and daring, the was characteristic of the poets of the early 19th century. According to a literary critic Albert BeGuin “The romantic quest is for the remote and distant”, Therefore, in this sense, “the Elizabethans were our first Romantics.”
4.2. The Decline of Elizabethan’s Romanticism
It was during the Augustan Age that Romanticism of Elizabethans suffered a total decline. The Augustan literature was mainly rational and intellectual. It was also deficient in emotion as well as imagination. It particularly dealt with the aristocratic and artificial life of the upper classes in London. Moreover, the form and diction of Augustan literature were as artificial as its theme. It lacked feeling and love for nature as well as for those who resided outside the narrow confines of fashionable London society.
Augustan literature merely confined itself to the heroic couplet and to the utter disregard of the ancient English meters. Wordsworth and Coleridge, the Romantic poets, revolted against this artificiality and dry intellectuality of the Augustan’s pseudo classics. Thus, began the English Romantic Movement (1798-1824), also known as ‘Romanticism’.
4.3. The Romantic Revival of Poetry
Towards the end of the 18th century there was a new dawn. The teachings of Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire along with the French Revolution heralded a new age. Once more, like the Renaissance, a new vista opened out before Imagination that discovered a new territory of human life. ‘Liberty Fraternity and Equality’, the watch-words of the Revolution, ushered in a golden age. Mother Earth was discovered anew. All this revived in literature that same hopefulness, humanism and curiosity that characterized the Elizabethan Age.
In the age of Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats, there was a revival of the passionate-ness and restlessness, the same sense of wonder and mystery that characterized the Elizabethans. The Romantics revived the spirit as well as the forms and subjects of Elizabethan literature—the sonnet, the lyric, the pastoral, the blank verse drama, the Spenserian stanza and the ballad. The great Elizabethans’ richness of language, fullness of imagination, lyricism, picturesqueness, and the vastness of conception became inspiration for Romanticism poetry.
That’s why, the period from 1798 to 1824 is called ‘the Romantic Revival of Poetry’.
4.4. Romanticism: The Poetry of Romantic Revolt
Historically, the ‘Romantic Revival of Poetry’ was a revival of the Elizabethan traditions and a revolt against the new-classical traditions of the eighteenth century. The Classicism of Augustan literature was of a special type:
“It was more Latin than Greek, and more French than Latin. ”
Europe’s literary taste was fashioned by France. Malherbe and Boileau, the French critics, insisted upon cultivating simplicity, clarity, prosperity, decorum, moderation and, above all, good sense. They applied the precepts of Aristotle, as codified by Horace and Longinus, to modern conditions. For over a century, German and English literature remained under the influence of Moliere, Racine and Boileau. British authors like Cowley, Etherege and Waller came under their influence during Charles II’s exile in France.
How did the Romanticism Movement differ from the Enlightenment ( Age of Reason or Augustan age)?
The Enlightenment (18th century) literature was classical in its self-restraint, objectivity and lack of curiosity. It was not primarily a literature of the world. Instead, it was merely a literature of high life, fashionable society, the saloons and clubs, the court and the townsmen, coffee-houses and Ombre parties. ‘The proper study of man is mankind’, said Alexander Pope. But it was mankind in England, and more specifically in London. And in London, too, this literature confined itself to high society and to ‘my lords and ladies gay’. It was pre-eminently a social and urban poetry. Its interest was central to civilization.
The writers of Augustan age (Enlightenment) believed that wit originates in intellect and its true medium is prose. Literature became ‘a polished mirror in which gay world its own grinning face’. Pope instructed that ‘fellow nature’ observes the rules, imitate the ancients:
“Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem
To copy Nature is to copy them.”
So, the primary concern of the classical authors was with morals and manners.
But the Romantics revolted against all these. The poetic diction was the first casualty at the hands of Romantics. Wordsworth exposed the hollowness of the classical manner and made a plea for a return to simple, unaffected and direct speech. He and Coleridge shifted the poetic sphere from social to philosophical reflection.
Also, from moral generalizations the Romanticism poets substituted ‘introspective analysis of the impressions of the individual mind’. Literature became personal instead of being social. Shelley and Byron were great revolutionaries. Literary characters of Romanticism poetry became frequently solitary; hunted like the Ancient Mariner who must tell his tale; self-exiled like Childe Harold; woe-begone like the Knight in La Belle Dame Sans Merci, steering strangely to death like Alastor.
4.5. Romanticism Vs. Classicism
The Classical poets lived in the present. Whereas, the Romanticism poets looked before and after and pined for what was not. Passion and emotion was re-infused into Romantic poetry. The early 19th century poets revolted against the narrow-mindedness and narrow civic sense of the classical school. For classical authors like Alexander Pope, the proper study for mankind was man in London. The Romanticism poets’ love of man embraced the whole human race. ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ was their slogan. They were firm believers in cosmopolitanism both in theory as well as in practice. Byron died for a country to which he had no national attachment; Shelley was more at home in Italy and Keats ‘was of no nation whatsoever’.
Therefore, Romantic poetry is also called the poetry of Romantic Revolt. All the characteristics of Romantic Poetry mentioned above predominate in the works of Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Keats. They were contemporaries for near contemporaries.
5. The Revival of Romanticism: The Pre-Romantics
‘Return to Nature’ played an extremely prominent role in the revival of Romanticism. People were suffocated with the crowded and cramped atmosphere of the city and longed for the freshness of nature. They wanted to embrace the freshness of nature and return to the invigorating world of flowers and leaves.
Even when Alexander Pope was at the height of his poetic genius, there were poets like Thomas Parnell and Lady Winchilsea, who exhibited in their poetry a genuine love for natural beauty and charms of rural life. But, it was in The Seasons (1730) of Thomson that nature came to her own for the first time. This is the first really important poem in which nature, instead of remaining subordinate to man, becomes the central theme.
The seed that Thomson had sowed, later on, grew and flourished in the poetry of Thomas Gray, Burns, Collins, Cowper, and Crabbe. All these poets are called the precursors of the Romantic Movement. In their poetry, they exhibited a genuine feeling for nature and also for humankind living in her lap. But the undesirably persisting influence of the past restricted them from giving a free and frank expression to their feelings. Gray’s famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was characterized by romantic melancholy at the sad fate of humble humanity. Whereas, Crabbe sang of the sorrows and sufferings of the peasants with great feeling and realism.
But all these naturalists treated only the external charms of nature; they did not yet give her a separate life and soul. This was left for Wordsworth to do. Cowper, however, seems very near to Wordsworth when he sees:
“A soul in all things and that soul is God.”
5.1. William Blake’s Mysticism
William Blake was the first English poet to introduce the romantic note of mysticism in poetry. In his poems, we find a complete break from classical school of poetry. His poems exhibit ‘extraordinary compositions full of unearthly visions, charming simplicity and baffling obscurity’.
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are famous for their lyrical quality and mysticism. Some of his most famous poems include ‘Little Lamb who made thee? and ‘Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright’.
5.2. Medievalism and Romanticism
The medievalism movement was a part and parcel of Romanticism. It played a significant role in bringing about the Romantic Revival. The Middle Ages were basically romantic with their colorful pageantry, and emphasis on mystery, magic, love and adventure. All this stirred the imagination of the Romantics who, dissatisfied with the present, looked back to these ages for theme and inspiration. Thus, a very significant phase of English Romanticism was the ‘Medieval Revival’. The Romantics studied ancient masters as well as revived their English meters and ancient poetic forms.
Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) fired the imagination of the early Romantics and stimulated their interest in medieval ballad literature. Besides, it also gained wide popularity and helped in spreading romantic tastes. It was, undoubtedly, an epoch-making work that greatly inspired Coleridge, Walter Scott and, later on, Keats as well.
Equally extensive was the influence of Chatterton’s Rowley Poems on Romantics. Their rapid and wide popularity showed the curiosity of the people regarding everything belonging to the Middle Ages. The publication of James Mcpherson’s Ossian, in 1660, ushered in the Celtic spirit of the North into the English Romantic Movement. The Ossianic poems were in matter and spirit widely romantic. Also, highly supernatural in nature, these poems steeped in that melancholy and sentimentalism which was now invading literature on all sides. They exhibited a striking development in the treatment of nature, and also made a potent appeal to the imagination of men, tired of artificiality and conventionalism and showing a longing for the freshness and simplicity of nature.
In the history of Romanticism, these poems are an important landmark. This is because they help us in understanding the medievalism of Romantics like Coleridge, Scott and Keats.
6. The Rise of Romanticism: English Romantic Movement
The English Romanticism period is mainly a poetic one, producing six major poets who transformed the whole literary climate. The American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) greatly influenced the literary mind, particularly Wordsworth and Coleridge. Both these poets in the poetic realm wanted a revolution too. They wanted a change in poetic language as well as themes contrasted with the earlier Augustan age. Thus, Romantic poetry, in many ways, is the poetry of war. This is because the society was changing tremendously:
- It was becoming industrial rather than agricultural.
- The government encouraged free trade.
- The new middle class was becoming powerful.
- There were moves towards greater democracy and voting reforms.
For Augustans, feelings and imagination were dangerous. Whereas, for Romantics, reason and the intellect were dangerous. Instead of an ordered society, the individual spirit became important for them. However, the government did not support this spirit—many of the writers went abroad because their spirit was too dangerous, and many were not recognized in their lifetimes. Literature, music, visual art, politics and philosophy—all were stimulated by the Romantic spirit of the time.
However, in Europe, Romanticism restricted itself merely to a few poets. But these poets changed the face of English literature forever. The glory of English Romanticism is the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. In fact, poetry became so popular that Southey had to write in verse in order to earn money, what he otherwise would have written in prose.
6.1. Romanticism Poetry—The Lyrical Ballads: Wordsworth and Coleridge
A long step forward in the history of English Romanticism was taken with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and 1800. United now, the Romanticism movement actually had neither unity nor fixed programme and direction. Because it was not a conscious movement. For the first time in history of English literature, two friends—Wordsworth and Coleridge—emerged and emphasized the aims and objectives of the new poetry.
Both these poets held a higher ideal of poetry and fought bravely against the artificial style of the previous age. They introduced the variety of meter, simplicity of language, originality of thought, flight of imagination, love of nature, sympathy with all human beings, and democratic and humanitarian outlook. Coleridge pointed out that in his poetry he would treat supernatural objects and incidents, but in such a way as to make them look real and convincing. Whereas, Wordsworth aimed to deal with ordinary people and rustic life but so as to cast over them the charm of novelty by the magic power of his imagination. The former would make the unfamiliar familiar, and the letter would make the familiar look unfamiliar.
In this way, Wordsworth and Coleridge enunciated the theory and methods of the new poetry. By doing so, they gave a new consciousness and purpose to the movement, and thus, opened a new chapter in the history of English Romanticism. The old pseudo-classic poetry of the eighteenth century became definitely a thing of the past; future lay with the poetry of the new school heralded by the appearance of the Lyrical Ballads.
6.2. Contribution of Wordsworth’s ‘Lyrical Ballads’ to Romanticism
The chief contribution of Lyrical Ballads to the English Romantic Movement may be summed up as:
- The rejection of the Heroic Couplet and the introduction of a number of new metres.
- The introduction of simplicity in subject matter and theme.
- The rejection of 18th century poetic diction.
- The democratization of the subject-matter of poetry.
- Revival of the love of nature, real and wild.
6.3. Romanticism Poets
Romanticism poets exhibited the ability to perceive the world sensuously, emotionally as well as spiritually. However, spiritual does not mean in a sense of any formal religion. Despite sharing these common features, each poet of the period had its own individual style.
We generally classify Romantic poets into three (3) groups:
- The Lake Poets: consisting of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey
- The Scott Group: including Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell and Thomas Moore
- The Younger Group: comprises the young generation of the Romantics i.e. Byron, Shelley and Keats.
6.3.1. The Lake Poets
The Lake Poets are grouped together because they formed a ‘school’ and worked in collaboration. Only Wordsworth was born in the Lake District, but all three had spent their lives in this place. All three poets were friends and shared the common revolutionary spirit in their youth, followed by the common reaction in the mature years. Wordsworth and Coleridge together contributed to the Lyrical Ballads. The ‘Preface’ to this work along with their poems was a declaration of a revolt against the classical ideals. Wordsworth and Coleridge were the poets of original genius. Whereas, Southey did not possess much creative imagination.
A Brief Introduction to Lake Poets
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), the greatest of all Romantic poets, was the founding figure of Romanticism poetry. He defined poetry as ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. Wordsworth refused to observe any poetic conventions and rules and devised his own way in the poetic realm. Also, he prompted the use of ordinary, poetic diction and made the common country folks and rustics his subject matter.
William Wordsworth was a poet of Man, Nature, and of Human Life.
S.T. Coleridge (1772-1834) was the second great Romantic poet. He was a man of gigantic genius, complementary to that of Wordsworth. While Wordsworth dealt with naturalism, Coleridge made the supernatural his special domain. But unfortunately Coleridge’s bad health and slavery to opium prevented him to from accomplishing much in the realm of poetry. Though his poetic output is limited, whatever he has written is of very high quality.
Robert Southey (1774-1843) was the third poet among the group of Lake School. Unlike Coleridge and Wordsworth, he did not possess higher poetic qualities. That’s why his achievement as a poet is not much. He wrote ballads and short poems, among them the most famous were about his love for books.
However, he wrote far better prose than poetry and his admirable Life of Nelson remains a classic.
6.3.2. The Scott Group
The Romantic poets of the Scott group are Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Moore and Campbell. They spanned the years which preceded the second highly creative outburst in the romantic period.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first poet who made Romantic poetry popular among the common masses. His poems Lady of the Lake and Marmion became highly popular. In fact, they gained immense fame as compared to the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge, which were read by very few. Scott’s poems recaptured the atmosphere of the Middle Ages and breathed an air of supernaturalism and superstitions. But his poetry lacks a deeply suggestive and imaginative quality which is the major characteristic of poetic excellence.
Campbell (1774-1844) and Moore (1779-1852) were prominent among a host of minor Romanticism poets. They followed the vogue of Scott and wrote versified romance. Their poems enjoyed great popularity at that time, but do not hold so much interest today. Hence, both these poets are now considered the minor poets of the Romantic Age.
6.3.3. The Younger Group of English Romantics or The Second Flowering Generation of English Romanticism
Keats, Shelley and Byron belong to the younger group of English romantic poets. They are also known as the second Flowering of English Romanticism. These Romantic poets began to compose mainly after 1815, by which date the first generation of English Romanticism had given the best poetic output to the world.
While the poets of the first generation attained respectability and social acceptance in their lifetime, the poets of the second generation remained outcasts till the very end. Their fame grew only after their death. They were rejected by society and this rejection caused them much sorrow and suffering. Moreover, some critics and scholars attribute their early deaths to this fact. Keats’ poetry, for example, was vehemently criticized by the reviewers, and this criticism might very well have hastened the course of the disease which was to cut short brilliant career in its prime.
A Brief Introduction to the Younger Group of English Romantic Poets
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Byron was the only Romantic poet who made an impact mainly due to the force of his personality and glamourous career. However, his poetry does not possess the high excellence that we find in poetry of Shelley and Keats. That’s why he is accorded a lower position in the hierarchy of Romantic poets. Byron is also called the ‘Romantic Paradox’ because he was the only Romantic poet who ridiculed his own contemporaries and showed regard for the 18th century poets. In addition, he was also egoistic and represented revolutionary iconoclasm at its worst. Due to this fact he came into open conflict with the world around him.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Whereas Byron was famous for his revolutionary iconoclasm, Shelley was known for his revolutionary idealism. He was a prophet of hope and faith. Unlike Byron’s destructive genius, Shelley’s was quite constructive. However, Shelley’s brief, restless life, akin to Byron’s, seemed to epitomize the Romantic free spirit, searching for a better world. Shelley is mainly famous for his lyrical poetry. In fact, he is the greatest lyrical poet of English Romanticism. Like his contemporaries, Shelley rejected the social and moral constraints which made him a social outcast. He became a symbol of Romantic discontent and rebellion for successive generations.
John Keats (1795-1721)
Keats is a unique phenomenon in the history of English Romanticism. Of all the romantic poets, he was the most pure one. Thus, he was not only the last but the most perfect of the Romantics. Keats was devoted to poetry and had no other interest. He also represents in his poetry a unique balance of Classicism and Romanticism. He has combined the music and melody of the romantics with the well-chiseled and highly wrought expression of the classics.
Keats’ Love of Beauty
Keats’ poems enclose highly imaginative and emotional matter in the form of perfect beauty. Love of Beauty is his differentia, and he loves Beauty, wherever he finds it—in nature, in medieval legend, in the ancient world of the Hellas and in female anatomy. However, his poems were severely criticized by the contemporary critics, who condemned his radical associations and considered him an escapist. But Keats was not an escapist and, despite so many hardships, he faced life bravely.
Unlike his contemporaries, Keats remained aloof from the stirring events of the day, which leave behind no trace in his works. Moreover, among his contemporaries he was the first to die. But even in his youth and within the short period of four years, he attained such heights that the only poet who merits comparison with him is Shakespeare.
6.4. The French and German Influences on English Romantic Movement
No account of the development of English Romanticism can be considered complete without a mention of the impact on it of the French Revolution and German Idealistic Philosophy of Kant, Hegel and Fichte. The French Revolution, and the writings of its initiators, highly stimulated the imagination of the Romanticism writers, especially the poets. A revival of the love of nature and of the ordinary mankind living in her lap, had been there even before the Revolution. But now it obtained a philosophical basis and gained a fresh stimulus.
The French Revolution highly fostered and nourished ‘Man’s Return to Nature’ and the democratic spirit. It also sustained and strengthened the revolutionary idealism of Romanticism poets like Byron and Shelley. The influence of German Idealistic Philosophy reached the English Romantics largely through Coleridge.
According to this philosophy, God, the Supreme, is immanent through the universe. The Supreme Spirit is one but it assumes myriads of forms. Since the spirit of man, and of the various objects of nature is one and the same, there is essential unity between Man, Nature and God. This Spirit, the Divine, is the only reality; the rest are merely appearances unreal and momentary. It is this philosophy which is at the back of Wordsworth’s mysticism, Shelley’s pantheism, and the idealistic interpretation of nature in the poetry of Coleridge.
7. American Romanticism
American Romanticism was a literary movement that began in the United States around 1820 and continued till the end of the Civil War and the rise of Realism. This movement was actually started by a group of literary figures who wrote and published around 1820 to 1860. It was the time when America was still finding its feet as a new nation and shaping its identity in the field of literature.
In the history of American literature, American Romanticism holds unique importance because it was the first full-fledged American literary movement. The literary figures of the time were deeply influenced by the English Romantic movement that had widely flourished in Europe. Like English Romanticism, the works of American Romanticism also emphasized freedom, emotion, imagination, simplicity and a love of nature. American Romanticism began as a reaction against the Neoclassicism of the preceding period and its formal orthodoxy.
7.1. Major Characteristics of American Romanticism
The major characteristics of American Romanticism are:
- celebration of the common man
- freedom from the authority, forms, and conventions in literature
- emphasis on emotion, individualism, and personality over rationalism and the constraints of religion.
- emphasis on power of imagination and simplicity of diction over artificiality and sophistication of Neoclassical literature.
- focuses feelings and intuition over reason
- celebration of American identity and beauty.
- focus on the power of the universe, exploring how it works in mysterious and somewhat incomprehensible ways.
- Focus on qualities such as youth and innocence, purity, forces of nature, intuitiveness, understanding of higher truths.
Above all, the most important aspect of American Romanticism was that, apart from its European counterpart, it had its own individualistic elements. It was a movement that belonged entirely to America and the American writer’s identity.
7.2. Famous American Romantic Writers
The most famous American Romantic writers were:
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Walt Whitman
- Herman Melville
- Margaret Fuller
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Henry David Thoreau
Some of these American Romantic writers were influenced by European Romantics and philosophers. However, others were inspired by a nationalistic concern to develop a distinct American literature.
8. What is Dark Romanticism?
Dark Romanticism, often conflated with Gothic fiction, was a peculiar literary subgenre of Romanticism. It basically stemmed out of the 19th century’s Transcendental Movement. It is argued that Dark Romanticism actually began in Germany, with the writings of such authors as E. T. A. Hoffmann, Christian Heinrich Spiess, and Ludwig Tieck. Later on, it emerged in Europe and America as well. British authors such as S. T. Coleridge, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and John W. Polidori are known as Dark Romantics. However, the precursors of Dark Romanticism in America were Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Later on, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson also embraced the genre.
Dark Romantics in their writings were preoccupied with the themes of sin, evil and darkness. They had opposing views from that of the transcendentalist thinking and gradually leaned towards a gothic style. Dark Romantics wrote about faulty human nature and of secret sin, that all humans usually hide.
9. The Five I’s of Romanticism
The five major principles and I’s of Romanticism are:
These major principles or elements were the values and the essence of the time period, both in America and Britain. They became the lifestyle of the Romantics. Romanticism—Romantic art, music, and literature—was inspired by these concepts. Moreover, these Romanticism principles or elements are still influencing today’s modern world.
10. Romanticism Today: The Modern Romanticism
Even though Romanticism emerged in the late 17th and 18th centuries, it is still carried out in today’s society and portrayed through various means. We still find Romanticism’s idea of individualism and the sentimental love of nature in today’s writings and other mediums of expressions. In its focus on humanism, external forces of nature, individuality or the glory of the past, contemporary society is ripe with Romanticism. Let’s see how!
Since the 19th century, Romanticism has had a great impact on our thinking. Today’s cultural focus on freedom, individualism, intuition, desire to protect nature as well as fantasizing about historical periods. Where has all this come from? Of course from centuries old Romanticism!.
Hence, Romanticism has an incredible influence on the modern world in many ways. We can see examples of modern day Romanticism anywhere in films, television, literature, music, and many other media forms. It is visible in today’s conservatism and traditional attitudes of certain people towards progressivism, multiculturalism and globalization. Thus, Romanticism’s vision is still relevant in today’s society and culture.
Bowra, C.M.: The Romantic Imagination, 1950
Ferber, Michael: Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction, 2010
Habib, M. A. R.: A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present, 2005
Pater, Walther H.: Appreciations, 1889