Romanticism is a movement born in 18th century, the word "romantic" comes from the French "romantique", which derives from “romant” and means "tale". In middle 18th century began to be linked to the feelings and emotions, and state of mind like loneliness. Very important for the birth of romanticism was the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, he said the myth of the noble savage, who is good and happy to live in contact with nature, and child is uncorrupted by civilization and therefore in this way is closer to God
A major source of Romanticism was the Sturm und Drang (the most important exponent was Goethe), a German movement, which emphasizes human freedom. Another important influence was of German Idealism (as Hegel and Fichte), considered the background of Romanticism; these philosophers voiced the aspiration towards the Absolute and Infinite, beyond the limits imposed by reason. In France, however, the romantic movement was linked to neo-classical tradition, while in Italy came later, because the Italian intellectuals were very attached to the recovery of the classic.
The Romantic movement began in Britain in 1798, when Wordsworth and Coleridge published the "Lyrical Ballads", until 1837, when Victoria became queen of England.
The “Lyrical Ballads” are a collection of poems and ballads, written by Wordsworth and Coleridge, which created a profound shift from the precise and accurate reflection of universal truth to an intense projection of individual feelings. Both the subject-matter and the form of poetry changed, and the Preface of 1800 is recognized as the manifesto of Romanticism. The first edition was in 1798 and the second in 1800. The poets thus wrote in a daily language, so that people will understand, and the natural world provided the most important subject-matter.
Romanticism emphasized imagination, the individual and nature, instead of the reason of Augustian age.
The French Revolution was the event that influenced the minds of Romantic poets, as was to liberate man from constraints, arguing the ideals of freedom, brotherhood and equality. Even the impact of the industrial revolution was huge, because of men began moving in large urban areas, in contrast with the new interest in nature. So nature was seen as a spiritual healer, and sometimes took the form of a kind of pantheism, the tendency to perceive God as immanent in the world.
Artists began to look for ways to escape from reality which didn’t satisfy them; they gave a great value to individual and so they exalted the unusual, the strange and the rebel.
Imagination was considered one of the most important faculties, which had cognitive power and could express the awakening of the individual. The Middle Ages were re-evaluated, because of the desire to escape from reality. Historically, the Middle Ages was seen as the roots of culture; people began to appreciate the old stories, ballads and folk tales with their mysterious atmosphere. Linked to this was the taste for the exotic and supernatural, for going towards the Infinite.
The English Romantic poets are divided into two generations: the first includes William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the second George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. Among them was the isolated figure of William Blake, whose vision was too extreme.
The first generation of poets were united in the enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and felt their duty to provide a pure vision of life. There are many features in common between the two generations, as the conception of the role of the poet, the emphasis on the cognitive power of imagination, individualism, the aspiration to the Infinite. The poets of the second generation, however, are distinguished by a more complex language, so it became richer, and an interest in the ancient Greece.
The second-generation poets had an intense life, as Byron and Shelley who travelled Europe following the trend of the “grand tour” (a very long journey in the South of Europe made by rich students); they were also supporters of national rebel movements, following the ideals of freedom and rebellion, as Lord Byron who died in the war of Greek independence, he became a sort of symbol of romantic hero.
In 1789 Europe was shaken by the French revolution; instead in England the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger continued his policy of financial reforms, so he increased the efficiency of the civil service, he taxed luxuries like carriages, servants, and he thought that free trade would be profitable and, following the economist Adam Smith, he tried to abolish import duties. Meanwhile there had been social unrest with riots and protests, because of poverty of poor people about the high food prices and enclosures. In 1793 France declared war to England: British naval power played an essential role and Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar was very important. The strength of British economy saved the country and Napoleon was defeated by Wellington at Waterloo in 1815. The Napoleonic wars increased the power of Britain, and it had an indisputable hegemony on the seas. Then, in the nineteen century some reforms were introduced and Parliament stopped the slave trade, and slaves in the British colonies were set free. Then laws were made to stop children for working more than 12 hours a day or working under the age of nine.
Poetry and prose
Poetry wasn’t so developed in that period, we can mention Wordsworth and Coleridge whose poetry was identified with the name of Lake School, because most of their best poetry was written while they were in the Lake District.
Prose was important in that period, and the most significant novelists were Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
Jane Austen was the master of the domestic novel, called the novel of manners. She delighted in the observation of human nature and relationship with the social environment. In this way she could create a round character with realistic and psychological features.
Walter Scott, whose most famous work is “Ivanhoe”, is considered the father of historical novel. He created realistic and believable characters, he maintained the truthfulness of the historical events but added an imaginative style which made his novels appealing to the common reader.