[PDF Notes] Get complete information on Romanticism

Definition :

The term ‘Romanticism” has been variously defined by various writers:

(1) Pater, calls it the “addition of strangeness to beauty”

(2) Watts Dunton defines it as, “the renaissance of wonder”.

(3) Goethe, the German poet-critic, contrasts Romanticism with Classicism and says, “Romanticism is disease, Classicism is health.”

(4) Abercrombie, on the other hand, stresses the subjective element of romanticism and writes, “Romanticism is a withdrawal from outer experience to concentrate upon inner experience.” He points out that vagueness, indefiniteness, and a tendency to disregard reality are essential elements of the Romanticism.

(5) Heines, Beers and Phelps define it as, “the re-awakening of the Middle ages.”

(6) Victor Hugo considers the democratic spirit as the most significant aspect of romantic art and describes it as, “Liberalism in Literature.”

(7) Herford calls it extra-ordinary development of imaginative sensibility

(8) Legouis and Cazamian emphasis both the emotional and imaginative aspects of romanticism and call it, “an accentuated predominance of emotional life, provoked and directed by the exercise of imaginative vision.”

All such definitions are, however, unsatisfactory and partial, for they emphasize one or the other element of this type of literature instead of giving a composite view. But in real sense romanticism is characterised by-

(a) An expression of the inner urges of the soul of the artist.

(b) Spontaneous outflow of powerful passions.

(c) Extraordinary expression of the wonder, mystery and beauty of the universe.

(d) A penchant of satisfaction.

(e) Love for nature.

(f) Expression of the inherent dignity and nobility of man.

(g) Simplicity and a revolt against all artificiality.

(h) An interest in the past and experiment with old metres and poetic forms.

The First Romantics:

It is generally supposed that the English Romantic Movement began in 1798, with the publication of The Lyrical Ballads. But it is a mistake to assign any definite date to it was not a sudden outburst but the result of long and gradual growth and development.

The poets of the romantic school- Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, etc. were not even the first romantics of England, for the Elizabethan literature is essentially romantic in spirit.

It is also full of that sense of wonder and mystery that love of daring and adventure, that curiosity and restlessness which we associate with the poets of the early 19th century. “The romantic quest is for the remote and the distant”, says Albert, and in this sense, “the Elizabethans were our first romantics.”

A Gap of Augustan Age :

However it may be, the romantic spirit suffered a total decline and eclipse during the Augustan age. The Augustan literature was mainly intellectual and rational, deficient in emotion and imagination. It dealt exclusively with the artificial life of the upper classes of the city of London, and its form and diction was as artificial as its theme.

It had no feeling for nature and no feeling for those who lived outside the narrow confines of fashionable London society. It confined itself only to the heroic couplet, to the utter disregard of the music and melody of a host of ancient English metres. The Romantic Movement began as a reaction against the dry intellectuality and artificiality of the Pseudo-classics.

The Pre-Romantics: Return to Nature :

Played a very prominent part in the revival of romanticism. Suffocated with the cramped and crowded city atmosphere, people longed for the freshness of Nature. Even when Pope was at the height of his powers, there were poets, like Thomas Parnell and Lady Winchilsea, who showed in their poetry a genuine sense for natural beauty and charms of rural life.

However, it was in The Seasons (1730) of Thomson that nature came into her own for the first time. The seed sown by Thomson grew and flourished in the poetry of such poets as Gray, Collins, Burns, Cowper and Crabbe.

These poets, who have been rightly called the precursors of the Romantic Movement, show a genuine feeling for nature and for the simple humanity living in her lap. But the dead hand of the past restrains them from giving a free and frank expression to their feelings.

Mysticism of Blake :

Blake was the first to introduce the romantic note of mysticism in English poetry. His poems are “extraordinary compositions, full of unearthly visions, charming simplicity and baffling obscurity.” For him all nature is,” a window to God.”

The Medieval Revival :

The poets of the middle Ages stirred the imagination of the romantics who turned back to these ages for theme and inspiration. Bishop Percy’s Relinquish of Ancient English Poetry (1765) fired the imagination of the people and stimulated interest in the medieval balled literature.

It attained wide popularity and proved a great power in spreading romantic tastes. It was an epoch-making work which served to inspire Coleridge and Scott and later on Keats. Equally far-reaching was the influence of Chatterton’s Rowley Poems.

The publication of James Macpherson’s Ossian in 1700 ushered in the Celtic spirit of the North into the English Romantic Movement. The Oceanic poems are in matter and spirit wildly romantic.

They are filled with supernaturalism steeped in that melancholy and sentimentalism which was now invading literature on all sides. They explain the medievalism of romantics like Coleridge, 3c.o:t and Keats.

The “Lyrical Ballads” :

A long step forward in the history of romanticism was taken with taken with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798. It was now for the first time that the two friends- Wordsworth and Coleridge- emphasized the aims and objectives of the new poetry. The enunciate the theory and methods of the new poetry, gave a new consciousness and purpose to the movement, and thus opened a new chapter in the history of English Romanticism.

The second Generation of the Romantics :

Keats, Shelley and Byron belong to the second generation of the romantic poets. They began to compose mainly after 1815, by which date the elder romantics had given the best which they had to give. All the three were rejected by society: this rejection caused them much sorrow and suffering, and there are those who attribute their early deaths to this fact.

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