The British Romantic Period “The divine arts of imagination: imagination, the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a shadow.” William Blake
How and When Did it Start? • Spring, 1798 • Two English poets, aged 27 and 25, sold some poems to pay for a trip to Germany. • Soon after, Lyrical Ballads, with a few other poems, was published. • The poets were Wordsworth and Coleridge and the work contains poems considered among the most important of the era.
Perhaps another explanation… • The French Revolution – 1789 • End with the Parliamentary Reforms of 1832 which laid the foundation for Modern Britain • A turbulent time which saw England change from an agricultural nation to an industrial one. • Large and restless working class
Time Line of Important Events • Storming of the Bastille 1789 • King Louis XVI beheaded 1793 • France declares war on England 1793 • Thomas Jefferson becomes President 1800 • Napoleon conquers Italy 1800 • Act of Union creates United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1801 • Workday of pauper children limited to 12 hrs. 1802 • Louisiana Purchase made by US 1803 • Napoleon becomes emperor 1804 • United States bans import of slaves 1808 • English artisans riot to stop industrialization 1811 • Napoleon invades Russia 1812 • United States declares war on Great Britain 1812 • Mexico declares its independency from Spain
British forces burn Washington, DC 1814 • Napoleon defeated at Waterloo 1815 • First in a series of ineffective Factory Acts prohibits employment of children under the age of 9. 1819 • Antarctica sighted by Russian, British, and American sailing ships 1820 • George III, mentally ill since 1810, dies 1820 • In the US, Monroe closes the Americas to further European colonization 1823 • First labor unions permitted in Great Britain 1824 • Catholic Emancipation Act allows British Roman Catholics to hold public office 1829 • Charles Darwin serves as a naturalist on HMS Beagle during expedition along coast of South America 1831 • Reform Act extends voting rights of British upper-middle class men 1832 • Slavery abolished in the British empire 1833
So, What is a Poet in Romantic Poetry? • According to Wordsworth, “He is a man speaking to men.” • The speaker is an ordinary man, a democratic concept. • The speaking in lyrical poetry is a passionate speaking from the heart. • It seems to be more of an “overhearing” – as if we are privy to a private conversation or someone speaking to himself. • A language of the heart • According to Keats, “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be the truth whether it existed before or not.”
The Lure of the Gothics • Literature of the Romantic period is filled with examples of the eerie and the supernatural. • This taste for terror grew from a sensibility called “gothic” that set stories in gloomy medieval castles. • It’s intention? To make the readers’ blood run cold. • The turn from rational enlightenment to Gothic sensationalism indicated more than just a fad for terrifying tales and quirky architecture. • It was a way the people of the age expressed a sense of helplessness about forces beyond their control.
So, What Does This Mean? • Idealists and liberals (which often writers are) felt exhilarated by the events in France. • Even made trips to France to watch “the new regime” • However, the Reign of Terror did instill some fear about how far things were going and when Napoleon took over it was evident that this new dictator was no less of a tyrant than what the French had seen before. • They felt betrayed. • Became a little more conservative realizing that political stability was non-existent. They also felt the repercussions of Britain’s war with France.
Laissez- Faire • Hand-made changed to factory-made • Communal land is no more • Homeless migrated to cities and many went of the dole • Economics NOT controlled by government • Children paid biggest price • Resulted in poets rejecting formal, public verse and turning to private, spontaneous lyrically poetry. Imagination became the answer to the problems.
Characteristics of Romanticism • Romanticism turned away from 18 century emphasis on reason and artifice. Embraced imagination and naturalness. • Rejected the public, formal, and witty works of previous century. Preferred poetry that spoke of personal experiences and emotions, often in simple, unadorned language. • Used the lyric as the form best suited to expressions of feeling, self-revelation, and the imagination. • Wordsworth urged poets to adopt a democratic attitude towards their audience. • Many turned to a past or an inner dream world that they saw as picturesque. • Most believed in individual liberty and sympathized with those who had rebelled against tyranny. • Thought of nature as transformative; fascinated by the ways nature and the human mind “mirrored” one another.
This Nature Business • Yes, much of the literature of this time embraced nature • However, the Romantics prized experiences of beauty and majesty that could be found in nature. • According to Wordsworth, he “considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally a mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature.”
And Imagination? • Most of the Romantic poems present imaginative experiences as very powerful and moving. • They suggest that as well as being a special faculty of the mind, the imagination is also a kind of desire, a motive that drives the mind to learn and to know things it cannot learn by rational and logical thinking. • The mind moves in mysterious ways to imitate the powers of the Maker. • The purpose of this imitation is to create new realities in the mind.