Early Romantics: History , Background and important events of Romantic Age. Age of Wordsworth and important events of this period

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Age of Romanticism

PGT TGT English literature Free Notes on Early Romantic . important points on romanticism . UGC NET PGT TGT English literature Free Notes and PDFs.

Early Romantics

Principles of Early Romantic Poetry

  • Revolted against Industrialization and modernity.
  • Aristocratic and urban values of the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Scientific rationalization of nature
  • Strong and sublime emotion (including terror, horror and awe) as the authentic source of aesthetic experience.
  • Rustic life and folk arts as noble
    Spontaneity of artistic expression.
  • Medievalism and exoticism (concern with the unfamiliar)
  • The power of imagination to envision and to escape.

The Age of Revolution

  • A time of war: American Revolution (1775-83); French Revolution (1789-99) followed by the Napoleonic Wars until 1815. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776) argued that America should free itself from Britain.
  • In the American Revolution, Britain lost all its colonies in the New World
    After the American Revolution, writers like the clergyman Joseph Priestley wrote travelogues describing America as the land of the free.
  • Priestley had fled to America when he was attacked by the mob during the Birmingham riot of 1791.
  • Accounts like those of Priestley inspired Coleridge and Southey to devise the plan of Pantisocracy .

The French Revolution

Early phase of the French Revolution

  • Absolute monarchy in France collapsed.Working classes were liberated after years of oppression.
  • One of their slogans was “Liberté (freedom of the common man), égalité (equality of all men), fraternité (brotherhood)”.
  • The Revolution gave expression to individualism and revolt that had spread across Europe at the end of the 18th century.
  • At the time of the Revolution, in England, landlords had started enclosure farming and common people lost their land and dwellings
  • But the revolutionary spirit was confined to literature.

Responses to the Revolution

  • The Revolution provided a stimulus to writers, who welcomed it with joy, hope .Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Burns, Byron, Shelley Wrote poetry celebrating the Revolution as the beginning of a change in the society
    Wrote about common man rather than about the aristocracy and clergy.
  • Hegel & Schelling (Germany), Victor Hugo (France).However, Edmund Burke condemned it as a mere “war between the old interests of the nobility and the new interests of money”
  • Burke’s response provoked a pamphlet war, with over a hundred responses to it published

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many-they are few.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy:

P.b Shelley Quotes

Revolution Controversy
Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

  • Written in the form of a letter; sentimental denouncement of revolutionary violenceRefused to accept that “natural rights” could be the basis of a society.
  • Defends aristocracy, constitutional monarchy, Church of England
  • Provoked two famous responses from Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Paine’s Reply to Burke

  • Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (1791-92)Paine was an English-American revolutionary and friend of Burke
    Argued that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people and their natural rights.
  • The French revolution is against the despotic interests of the monarchy, not against the king alone.
  • Opposes the idea of hereditary government.
  • Nearly 50,000 copies were circulated, and Paine was sentenced to death by hanging in his absence
  • But Paine lived in France from then on and never returned to America to be hanged.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Reply to Burke

  • A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1791)
  • In the form of a letter to BurkeAttacked aristocracy and hereditary privilege.
  • Defended republicanism.
  • This pamphlet was hugely popular and widely reviewed.
  • The reviews contrasted Wollstonecraft’s “passion” with Burke’s “reason” and spoke condescendingly of the text and its female author.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
  • The revolutionaries had made The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1793, which asserted that the rights of man are universal. Wollstonecraft argued that the Declaration actively excluded women.

Other Revolutions

  • The French Revolution fostered the spirit of nationalism.Independence movements
  • In Corsica (1793)
  • In Ireland (series of failed rebellions against England) and
  • In Greece (begun in 1821, against Turkey)

The Revolution and Wordsworth

  • Visited France in 1791, before the Revolution took a gory turn (before innocents were guillotined by the Jacobins)
  • “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
    But to be young was very Heaven! O times,
    In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
    Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
    The attraction of a country in romance!” (The Prelude).
  • A spirit of revolt and indignation against all social iniquities pervaded Wordsworth, together with a sympathy for the poorer and humbler members of the community.
  • England was at war continuously with the French revolutionary government from 1793 to 1802, which Wordsworth abhorred

The Revolution and Coleridge

  • Attracted, like Wordsworth, by the ideals of the French Revolution.Left Cambridge without a degree, and together with Southey planned to found a utopian community based on the egalitarian ideals of the revolution, which they called Pantisocracy, meaning “equal government by and for all.”
  • Lectured on the French Revolution.
  • After the trip to Germany, returned in 1800, with his views radically changed. He becomes a passionate religious philosopher, a royalist, and even a critic of the French Revolution.

The Revolution and Byron

  • Rebelled against authority .
  • Opposed all forms of tyranny and attempts of rulers to control man
    His characters are often in complete communion with nature.
  • Had faith in nothing – neither democracy nor equality
  • Said “I deny nothing… but I doubt everything”

The Revolution and Shelley

  • Was always against tradition, and questioned religion.Supported the ideals of the Revolution till the end
    Incorporated into poetry ideas inspired by the Revolution.
  • Hatred of kings.
  • Faith in the natural goodness of man.
  • The belief in the corruption of present society.
  • The power of reason.
  • The desire for a revolution.

Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)

  • After the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France.Napoleon returned the country to a dictatorship much like the absolute monarchy which the Revolution had overthrown.
  • In 1804, Napoleon declared himself emperor of France for life, and waged war on neighbouring countries.
  • The series of wars declared against Napoleon’s French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815 were together called the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Napoleon was finally defeated at the Waterloo (in Belgium) in 1815 by the Allied Forces commanded by Wellington .

Free Trade

  • The influence of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), which inaugurated the trend of free-market economicsFree-market or free-trade means that the government does not interfere in import and export
  • This is also called laissez-faire system (French term meaning “allow to do”)


  • Political agitations and riots were common; and all of these popular uprisings were dealt with harshlyFood riots
    Slogans of “Bread or Blood”.
  • Riots for employment and increased wages.
    Luddite Movement (1811 and 12) attacked machines that were intended to replace human labour; crushed by the army.
  • Campaigns for voting rights
    The character Hawkins in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams upholds the voting right.
  • Gordon Riots
    A series of Catholic Relief Bills were passed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries to remove certain restrictions and prohibitions on British and Irish Catholics.
  • The Papists Act 1778 was the first of the Catholic Relief Acts passed during the reign of George III
    Gordon riots were named after Lord George Gordon (not Byron)
    Such measures of toleration towards the Catholics provoked the Gordon riots.
  • The rioters stormed and burnt the Newgate Prison and released the prisoners; and William Blake was among the first wave of attackers
  • Painted on the wall of Newgate Prison was the proclamation that the prisoners had been freed by the authority of “His Majesty, King Mob”

Literature of the Romantic Period
Most fertile period

  • There was fresh inspiration for poetry
  • Fruitful use of the novel.
  • Rejuvenation of the essay.
  • Unprecedented activity of criticism.
  • Great Range of Subject.
  • Classical themes (Keats, Shelley)
    Some turned to the Middle Ages for themes (Scott, Coleridge, Southey)
    Some depicted the modern times (novelists)
  • Almost all the Romantics depicted nature

The Romantics’ Attitude to Nature

Transitional poets

  • Sympathetic observation of natural features.Romantics had a mature and intimate relationship with nature
    Wordsworth and Coleridge, especially in their youth, had a love of nature amplified (glorified) into a religion (pantheism).
  • Byron did not idealize or deify Nature, like Wordsworth. For him, Nature complements human emotion and civilization.
  • For Shelley, nature represents a sublime world of sights, sounds and sensations, linked to ideas of Freedom or Love.
  • Keats’ relationship to Nature was simple; he loves Nature not because of any spiritual significance or divine meaning but chiefly because of her external charm and beauty.

Periodical Writing of Romantic Age

  • New technologies in printing, wider literacy and increased political involvement of people led to more number of periodicals.
  • The Examiner (1808-1886)
    A Sunday newspaper started by Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt.
  • Contributors Byron, Shelley, Keats and Hazlitt
  • Edinburgh Review (1802-1929)
  • Whig newspaper
  • Rival of Quarterly Review
  • Attacked Lake Poets, especially Wordsworth

Quarterly Review (1809-1967)

  • Tory newspaper.
  • Published by the well-known publisher John Murray (who was Byron’s publisher).
  • One of the famous editors was John Gibson Lockhart.
  • Published scathing reviews against Walter Savage Landor, Mary Shelley and PB Shelley.
  • In 1817, John Wilson Croker attacked Keats in a review of Endymion for his association with Leigh Hunt and the “Cockney School” of poetry .
  • “Cockney School” was a term originally used in Blackwood’s Magazine by John Wilson

Blackwood’s Magazine (1817-1980)

  • Tory magazineRival of Edinburgh Review
    Principal writer John Wilson wrote under the pseudonym Christopher North.
  • Despite conservative leanings, published works by radicals like Coleridge and Shelley.
  • Supported Wordsworth
    Parodied the “Byronmania” of Europe.
  • Unjustly attacked Keats, Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt as the “Cockney School
  • London Magazine (1820–1829, etc)
    Founded in 1732, London Magazine was resurrected several times till the present.
  • Published Wordsworth, Shelley, John Clare, Keats, De Quincey, Lamb, etc.
  • Westminster Review (1824-1914)
    Paper of the radical group called “Philosophical Radicals”.
  • Founded by Jeremy Bentham.
  • The utilitarians, James Mill and John Stuart Mill published numerous articles.
  • Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was assistant editor.
  • She and others were “evolutionists”, later associated with “Darwinism”, a term which first appeared in this periodical.

The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal

  • F.L. Lucas, in The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal identifies 11,396 definitions of “romanticism”.
  • Published in 1936, this book provides a critical examination of the potential for excess in Romantic thought.
  • Lucas argues that Romanticism involves a form of excess which denies the reality principle in favour of the unbridled exploration of the imagination

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