The rationalistic outlook of the Enlightenment proved unsatisfactory. Reason seemed unable to correct the evils of society such as the misery and desolation brought by industrialisation. The supremacy of reason as the only path of knowledge led to the repression of emotion. There was a growing interest in everyday life as opposed to the lofty characters provided by Classicism, and in the countryside, seen as an ideal place for meditation. Other works have a melancholic tone, associated with meditations on suffering. A new liking for desolate places such as castles and abbeys was opposed to the sad present reality. There was also a revolution of the concept of nature. The classical view stated that Nature was a set of divine laws and principles that man could order and control with the capacity of reason. Now Nature was seen as a living being to be described as it really was.
Another important revolution concerned the aesthetic sense: Hume denied the objectivity of experience stated by Locke: he maintained that Beauty exists in the mind which contemplates objects, so the concept of Beauty changes depending on each subject.
Sublime was neither linked to the creation of beautiful forms, nor to the contemplation of objects, but had its roots in the fear and horror caused by the infinite and the terrifying.
About social criticism
I’ll describe what some important authors thought about the consequences of the revolution.
• BURKE: though he supported the independence of America, he represented a voice of protest, always controversial. He did not approve of revolution as a mean of reform. He maintained that institutions could be reformed only after a process of evolution, always respecting the heritage and the greatness of past sources.
• PAINE: he replied to Burke’s aversion to revolutions. Supporting the French Revolution, he advocated republicanism, the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the women. He was impressed by Newton’s physical laws which he viewed as a harmony. He criticised the monarchical rule.
• GODWIN: he provided a criticism of existing society, which he viewed as a system of social ethics. He shared an optimism rooted in the confidence in the power of human reason.
• Mary WOLLSTONECRAFT, Godwin’s wife, was in contrast with the radical intellectuals of the time. She struggled on the side of women and claimed their freedom, and she wanted women and men to be considered equal.