Anticipations to the Romantic Age (1798-1830)

The Romantic Age is quite a long period: it lasts 22-24 years.
- Goethe, a great personality of this period, even if he was not a true romantic, died in 1832, therefore this year is considered the end of this age.
- The starting year is 1798. This has a specific reason…


Revision of contents previous to Romantic Age

The Romantic Age, which is a very revolutionary age from the point of view of the approach to nature and human feelings, doesn't start because of specific events, but it's the point of maturation of a long process; in fact the seeds (Italiano: n as the age of enlightment or age of reason –, when rationalistic trends (founded on the aspects of reason) developed the fundamental aspects of philosophical thought.
- This was in fact an age of great scientific discoveries, and the very first age when these were made visible to the majority of people.

- The concrete application of these discoveries was visible in the Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions: an abstract truth was made into a very concrete one.
- These discoveries were applied to fields of human activities and for the first time in history scientific discoveries had been visible to everyone. Therefore, celebrating reason was worth-doing: this application of reason made up in fact the so-called progress, which was a realistic element of the age.
This Age of reason and progress brought to concentration on human mind’s possibilities to act upon reality aimed at its improvement, therefore any progress (economic, …) was to be founded in reason.
General attitude: human mind and its ability of reason were celebrated and supported in every field of human activity.  Consequence: reason reached an overpowering dimension to any other human aspect, being the fundament of progress.

In literature


This idea took the form of the novel, which is child to this attention to reason: the rise of the novel in the 17th century would reflect the reality – main aspect of this age –, becoming the mirror, the picture of the age, on those advancements it was producing.
1.In the novel some elements are reflected: reality and its improvements, progress and its protagonists – the middle class –.
2.Individual contribution to reality improvement: the hero is a maker of his destiny and of an improvement everybody can contribute to.
3.Celebration of a new positive hero as an active builder of a positive society (ex.: Crusoe): this celebration is in his rebuilding the same social hierarchy – hierarchy of MASTER and SLAVE –, a positive model and the only known.
4.Recognition that this progress can be for the most, but only inside and not outside clear and precise respect for social rules: this process is not for everybody.
5.In the novel man is considered a social animal in relationship to his social environment and to social institutions: anatomies on behaviour are made to analyse his relationships with his social group.
He can’t live alone!
6.An important element emerges here: NATURE. In this century nature is considered man's dominion and symbolic field of assertion of his individual abilities, therefore it is considered and presented in a sort of utilitarian aim.
The natural environment is very frequently hostile, therefore this is not only a place he can modify in order to make it liveable, but also where he can affirm his own ability: this is the reason why it has a utilitarian role.  It is a real dimension, something real, realistic, presented in realistic dimension.
When the Industrial Revolution started – when it found applications – it destroyed nature in thirty years.
7.The strict Puritan ethics, which ennoble the work, obviously become a fundamental feature of the novel.
This rigid outlook weakened towards the late 1700 when new historical events, ideological positions and new cultural sensibilities developed or emerged, most frequently in opposition to the concept of unchanging historical and political conditions and the too restrictive literary approach of realism in general.

Late 18th century: the Romantic Age is prepared by the so-called Age of Revolutions (1776-1830):
1.Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution (1760-1830) was a consequence of individualism and trigger of great social changes: it reshaped the social, political background in Great Britain while colonies were becoming independent.
2.American Revolution
The American Revolution (1776) had the political and economic background of French Revolution.

3.French Revolution
The ideals of American Revolution fed the ideals of French Revolution (1789), which was characterized not only by political and historical events, but also by new ideological positions: these new ideals of freedom which began to spread were coupled with ideals of political deliverance from tyranny and social equality throughout Europe.  They went in the direction of a process of democratization.
They affected cultural and literary aspects of life and promoted the development of new tastes and sensibilities, leading to a new dimension of the human, who now developed the concept of belonging to a brotherhood of men.
Therefore, on the bases of this ideological revolution of French ideals, Romanticism, as a spirit, developed all through Europe.
4.Romanticism
This was a revolution in tastes and attitudes which brought about a reaction to the overpowering concept of reason that might rule any aspect of man’s life in favour of discovery of new supremacy of emotions and feelings: those ideals were so strong and penetrating that they could not be disregarded anymore.  This found its expression in the fourth revolution – Romanticism –, which led to a new dimension of the soul, opposite to the dimension of reason during the Enlightenment.
These attitudes would bring about a real worth-pursuing fight against reason.
This impulse was given by Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa and by Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield: feelings were not to be detached from the social sphere of behaviour.


Aspects and ideas that anticipated and supported the Romantic spirit in the 2nd half of 1700: trends starting emerging until they expressed themselves totally in the Romantic Age

- Rousseau
In Rousseau the idea of nature as a utilitarian place for man has already changed, in fact it is a place where human nature can develop freely because unrestrained: nature is the opposite place of civilization – which is net of restrains –, where man can develop his own abilities and natural inclination.

Natural condition is good because unrestrained.
Nature is the only possible environment for man’s complete development far from civilization’s restrictions.
Return to nature with the noble savage: he develops in nature and, because he lives in nature, he develops positive qualities.
Nature becomes the place of projection of human feelings and individual state of mind: it is seen through heart, not through the reason.
It is not only a landscape, a place outside us, but the reflection of interior landscape.
It has no objective dimension anymore, given in the Age of Reason: all natural elements are absolutely individual and subjective in the Romantic Age.  Subjectivism is opposed to objectivism.
Therefore, because it gets to reflect the observer’s projections and feelings, in nature we can find grief, melancholy, introspection and nostalgia.
The protagonist of Romantic Age is a subjective nature.

- Nature
Nature becomes a sort of protagonist in the life of individual: it is the most suitable environment for the living being, also from a spiritual and moral point of view.
As a consequence, nature gradually acquires a really different meaning, getting back to the origin: it becomes expression of divinity (permeated of divinity).  It is God’s dominion, not man’s dominion –.  It is in nature we can find the healing (ITA: guarigione) to our grief.
In nature we are morally uplifted and it is a spiritual healer.
It becomes a living force, as a living being, and very frequently it is a new ideal addressee for poets in their work: by the end of the 18th century emotions start emerging more than reality.

Nature is invested with a personality: human moods and values are seen as reflected from it.
Tendence to see nature through the lenses of emotion: the nature gives back pictures that reflect their own soul.

- Subjectivism
These aspects and ideas that anticipate Romanticism are already being spreading.
In the 18th century subjectivism can be understood as a totally renewed concept from an economic and social point of view – individualism was in fact very frequently considered negatively because the individual usually thinks for himself –.
Subjectivism is among Romanticism’s most lasting effects in attitude and look on reality: this tendence started with pre-romantic movements such as Sturm und Drang.
The core is an individual, who is not positive, who is struggling for destructive deep passions and thoughts: in Sturm und Drang the new individual is not a subject thinking, reasoning, but he’s a subject deeply feeling, tormenting himself, no longer able to apply his reason.
This new individual is a clasher against society, against rules that belong to civilization (The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe is an example), he is not its active and positive member and builder.
He is an outcast (ITA: emarginato) – someone who has been rejected from society –, rebel individual who puts up an extraordinary behaviour and has no adherence to social rules.  In this individual what is exalted are new virtues and alienation from society – first generation of romantic poets from town, second generation from country – is considered as the only suitable condition for him, whose characteristics mark him frequently as unacceptable.
This is a new dimension of individual: this new subject feeling is no longer a social animal, but he is seen and portrayed in a new solitary state, which is the only possible, because he is completely alone inside the society.  This solitary dimension is a spiritual dimension, and only likeminded people can understand this development.
This is a real turning point because he refuses to be a positive member and builder of society.

- New evaluation of past cultures and historical periods
In the Age of Reason the past hadn’t been revaluated positively; on the contrary romantics tended to find out in which historical periods reason hadn’t overpowered: instead of celebrating the previous age, they spontaneously tried to revaluate the Middle Ages – an age where Reason had not yet taken over –.  Middle Ages were revaluated. They were clearly distinct and opposed to “classical antiquities”: the concept of reason and also religious attitudes were much clearer. It was definitely the age when reason was banned.
In fact from this attention and revaluation two elements would arise: the attention to the poetic forms of the Middle Ages, as the ballad and the ancient popular songs ( popular heritage), therefore a revaluation of ancient forms of poetry and gothic vogues, based on love for Middle Ages.
Romantic authors revaluated the Middle Ages: an example was given by Macpherson, who wrote the Ossianic Poems (thought to be fake).

- Interest in the exotic = flight from reality
Anything that was exotic or faraway in time, as unknown places, exotic past civilizations where contact with nature was untainted by civilization and its superstructural rules – Celts and their cultural forms –, was revaluated: it represents the natural life, the echo of Rousseau’s ideas.

- Gothic vogue
This love for the Middle Ages would bring about a gothic vogue, a taste for old ancient architectures, ruins and secluded (ITA: appartato, isolato) places, Gothic buildings and churches. In fact it started in architecture itself.
This new vogue reversed the literature: it set a completely different dimension of the spirit, developing as opposed to the realistic production  opposite to reason.
Therefore reason is banned from this new dimension: supernatural, uncontrollable forces are unleashed (ITA: scatenato) and unspeakable sins are committed.  These are symbols of the individual’s dark side and of his impossibility to rule reality through Reason.  The individual is also made of him dark side: those unspeakable passions and feelings are dimensions that cannot be revealed in reality.
The typical set of the gothic literature is night.
Lewis’s The Monk, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and M. Shelley’s Frankenstein are exemplar works of this new kind of literature.

1798 = Point of maturation of diverse trends and ideas, which had appeared well before this moment, in confrontation with the dominant cult of Reason.  This year marked the beginning of Romantic Age.
The impulse given to philosophical ideas, and therefore the poetic diction of Romantic Age, would go on through the ages until the 20th century, even when poets of ‘900 came and decreed new trends; the gothic diction of Romantic Age instead lasted until new poetic reversed and destroyed the tragic trend of this age.

- The original meaning of the word ROMANTIC derives from the French-Provencal word romanz, that defines works written in a Romance language – medieval, not in Latin –, referring to adventures of knights against supernatural forces ( derivation from epic poem).
Therefore in those adventures there was always the contact between reality and supernatural.

- Early works such as the Lyrical Ballads or the Preface to its second edition did not contain this definition: the very early works that we call romantic did not called themselves so.
The first time this word appeared was in 1814 in Scott’s Postscript to Waverley and later in 1817 in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria meaning unusual/ extraordinary as opposed to common.
Later on through the age this word got linked with natural description: it was linked to the feeling that the landscape created in the observer, fullness of which evokes a feeling in the soul of the individual.
Therefore the Romanticism reflects the condition of the soul.

- Because they were forming a new school, they were not aware of what they were doing: they never called themselves romantic.  No awareness they formed a school and literary movement.

- After 1880 the term romantic came in use as opposed to classical (they are nowadays two opposite concepts), thus indicating a school or a comprehensive movement with a poetic diction of its own.

- Romanticism was the last great movement of ideas involving all European countries before the fragmentation of tendencies typical of the 20th century.

- Romanticism was an European phenomenon and a cultural vogue that took up different forms and specific features according to the single country and its historical situation.
-- Germany: Romanticism was a philosophical movement called idealism
It was supported by the philosophy of idealism (Fichte and Schelling).
It was anticipated by the Sturm und Drang in 1770s.
Romantic ideas of Schlegel appeared in 1798 in the university periodical Das Athenaeum.
Goethe and Schiller were great representative of idealism: they had a strong ideal and were marked by nationalism.
-- England: the English movement was less philosophical and more literary
It much more corresponded to a condition of the soul: neoplatonism was widespread.
The fundamental work is Lyrical Ballads, written in 1798 by Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Critics negatively saw it: this first edition was strongly criticized. Therefore the second edition of the collection presents a Preface – manifesto of English Romanticism – in which the authors explained the nature and the new subjects of their poetry.
Two generations of romantic poets, including the three main authors Shelley, Keats and Byron, are fundamental and these have quite distinct features.
-- France: the movement was more revolutionary
De l’Allemagne by Madame de Stael is a fundamental work.
-- Italy: this later movement would take more patriotic and political aspects
Lettera Semiseria (1816) by Berchet

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Romantic Age