English Romanticism

English Romanticism 1798-1832 Historical Background Industrial Revolution 1776 American Revolution 1789 – 1815 Revolutionary and Napoleonic Period in France 1789 storming of the Bastille 1793 King Louis XVI executed Political unrest in Britain, harsh repressive measures against radicals Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution of France 1790 Tom Paine, Rights of Man 1791 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792 1793 Britain at war with France The Regency 1811-20 George, Prince of Wales acts as Regent for George III 1815 Waterloo; first modern industrial depression 819 Peterloo, St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester 1832 First Reform Bill Social and economic changes Industrialisation – the age of the machine Social philosophy of laissez-faire ‘let alone’ urbanisation Literature Lyrical poetry Two generations of poets First generation: WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, S. T. COLERIDGE Second generation: BYRON, SHELLEY, KEATS Keats ‘Great spirits now on earth are sojourning’ William Hazlitt – the new poetry ‘had its origin in the French Revolution. It was a time of promise, of renewal of the world – and of letters. ‘ Wordsworth, The Prelude France standing on the top of golden hours
And human nature seeming born again! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven…. The poet as a ‘bard’ or ‘prophet’ Poetic spontaneity and freedom Poetry – subjective; it expresses the poet’s own feelings (lyric poetry) Rebellion against the Neo-classical ‘rules’ Keats: ‘if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had not come at all’ The importance of ‘the heart’ – instinct, intuition, INDIVIDUALISM, NONCONFORMITY The human mind – IMAGINATION Turning to NATURE THE INTEREST IN THE SUPERNATURAL, and DREAMS 1798 Wordsworth & Coleridge LYRICAL BALLADS 770 born at Cockermouth, The Lake District Educated at Cambridge 1791-2 France – Annette Vallon 1795, reunited with his sister Dorothy meets S. T. Coleridge 1797 moves with his sister Dorothy to Alfoxden to be close to Coleridge, who lives at Nether Stowey (Somerset) The role of friendship with Coleridge 1798/1799 Goslar, Germany 1799 settles with Dorothy in the Lake District, first at Grasmere 1802 marries Mary Hutchinson 1813 appointed stamp distributor for Westmoreland – becomes patriotic, conservative public man, abandoning radical politics and idealism 1843 Poet Laureate Lyrical Ballads 1798
Coleridge on composition of Lyrical Ballads in Ch. XIV of Biographia Literaria During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both.

These are the poetry of nature. The thought suggested itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such, as will be found in every village and its vicinity, where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them, when they present themselves. In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for hese shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.
Wordsworth’s Advertisment to Lyrical Ballads 1798 The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads 1800, 1802
The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.
Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language;[…. ] and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.
The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. … For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. …
I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.
In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind and in whatever degree, from various causes is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will upon the whole be in a state of enjoyment. What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected from him?
He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.
The Man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the Poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science. Emphatically may it be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare hath said of man, ‘that he looks before and after. ‘ He is the rock of defence for human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love.
In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed; the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. …. I should mention one other circumstance which distinguishes these Poems from the popular Poetry of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling. WE ARE SEVEN’ ——–A SIMPLE Child, That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death? I met a little cottage Girl: She was eight years old, she said; Her hair was thick with many a curl That clustered round her head. She had a rustic, woodland air, And she was wildly clad: Her eyes were fair, and very fair; –Her beauty made me glad. “Sisters and brothers, little Maid, How many may you be? ” “How many? Seven in all,” she said And wondering looked at me. “And where are they? I pray you tell. She answered, “Seven are we; And two of us at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea. “Two of us in the church-yard lie, My sister and my brother; And, in the church-yard cottage, I Dwell near them with my mother. ” “You say that two at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea, Yet ye are seven! –I pray you tell, Sweet Maid, how this may be. ” Then did the little Maid reply, “Seven boys and girls are we; Two of us in the church-yard lie, Beneath the church-yard tree. ” “You run about, my little Maid, Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid, Then ye are only five. ” “Their graves are green, they may be seen,” The little Maid replied, “Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door, And they are side by side. “My stockings there I often knit, My kerchief there I hem; And there upon the ground I sit, And sing a song to them. “And often after sunset, Sir, When it is light and fair, I take my little porringer, And eat my supper there. “The first that died was sister Jane; In bed she moaning lay, Till God released her of her pain; And then she went away. So in the church-yard she was laid; And, when the grass was dry, Together round her grave we played, My brother John and I. “And when the ground was white with snow, And I could run and slide, My brother John was forced to go, And he lies by her side. ” “How many are you, then,” said I, “If they two are in heaven? „ Quick was the little Maid’s reply, “O Master! we are seven. ” “But they are dead; those two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven! „ ‘Twas throwing words away; for still The little Maid would have her will, And said, “Nay, we are seven! The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850 Plan to write a greate philosophical poem The Recluse or views of Nature, Man, and Society, encouraged by S. T. C. ‘a poem to Coleridge’ ‘a poem on the growth of [the poet’s] mind’ The main hero THE IMAGINATION … Not Chaos, not The Darkest pit of lowest Erebus, Not aught of blinder vacancy, scooped out By help of dreams – can breed such fear and awe As fall upon us often when we look Into our Minds, into the Mind of Man– My haunt, and the main region of my song Prospectus to The Recluse ll. 35-4

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