With this term we sum up the period of the eighteenth century that we can divide in two contexts: historical and literary.
Regarding to historical context we can resume this in four keywords:
• French revolution
• Colonies and in general territorial conquests
• Social unrest
• Political parties.
Regarding to the French revolution we can say that it was in 1789 in France, and during this period in England, but in all Europe, were diffused models such as liberty, equality, fraternity; in fact in England there was a mood of enthusiasm between poets and intellectuals, even there wasn’t censure. But, at the same time, poor people were angry about enclosures, low wages and high prices for corn and bread. The government was repressive about radical organizations and even it suspended the HBA, Habeas Corpus Act, and now people can be kept in prison without trial. Regarding to colonies and territorial conquests, during this time it was important the war with France, directed by admiral Horatio Nelson, where French army, directed by Napoleon, was defeated by English army. So England acquired territories such as Cape of Good Hope, Malta and Mauritius. This war ended with the peace of Vienna and for another century England was in a state of neutrality. Regarding to the third keyword, social unrest, it was characterized by resurgence of popular radicalism and industrial disturbances; moreover, in 1815 with the Corn Law, corn and bread, essential foods, became very expensive. So riots and disturbances continued but in 1819 the government repressed these with the Peterloo massacre, where 60000 people demanded reform were charged by mounted soldiers in St Pieter’s fields in Manchester. So eleven people were killed and 400 wounded. This carnage was called Peterloo, as a mocking of the battle of Waterloo. Finally there were three important political parties: whigs, tories and radicals. The first party was oriented on a moderate change; the second was conservative, and it wanted no change in Parliament. The third advocated social and electoral reforms. In 1832 was approved the Reform bill, so was enlarged the right of vote, abolished rotten boroughs, were elected MPs for industrial cities like Manchester, so the working class disappointed the Act because the right of vote was based on property, so this disappointment led to the rise of the great Chartist movement. Parliament in this period stopped slave trade and free slaves; were controlled factories regarding to juvenile explotation. In 1834 was approved poor law, forcing poor people to live in workhouses, where men, women and children were separated, thus destroying families. In 1837 became Queen Victoria, daughter of William’s late brother.
Regarding to literary context we know that the term derives from a French word, romant that means tale. It was born in Germany with the movement of Sturm und Drang, constituted by Goethe, Herder and Schiller and the most important elements of this movement were:
• nature which is sacred and escape from reality. Regarding to the concept of Nature is important the first sentence of the social contract, written by Rousseau, in which he expressed that the men was born free but he’s in chains, that were the result of the artificial civilization, so the men had to return in a primary state in harmony with the nature.
In England this movement was extended thanks to Coleridge and Wordsworth who wrote Lyrical Ballads. Obviously there were influences of the American and French revolution with the diffusion of the main keywords of the revolution. We know that there was the return to nature, with a pantheistic point of view, in fact romanticism represented the vehicle for the God; they contemplated it and this contemplation provided the hint for universal considerations about human condition and the very meaning of existence.
The role of the poet is more important because, considering that imagination was eternal and it was the truth, he clarified imagination of the readers, as Keats and Blake. Another mean theme of the movement is solitary, in fact authors gave value to individual consciousness; they exalted unusual and strange things, they were alone and fascinated by wanderer. Finally there was the escape from reality, originated by the condition of solitary of the poets. For they, reality was rational and materialistic, they re-valuated the past with a natural and simpler way of life. The main differences between Augustans and romantics are these: Augustan were influenced by superstition and barbarism; romantics by faith, adventure, for example exotic places, and idealism.