The cultural trends which characterised Europe in the years between the French Revolution and the middle of the 19th century brought significant changes in taste and attitude, and bacame known as the Romantic Movement.
The word “romantic” comes from the French “romant” (today “roman”, which means tale). For a time it was used in England to indicate the fantastic and irrational events present in old romances, but it soon began to be used in connection with feelings, emotions and states of mind like melanchology and loneliness.
Romanticism originated in Germany. Without ignoring the influence of the philosophers of German Idealism, it must be acknoledged that the first challenge to the exasperated rationalism of the Age of Reason came from the poets of the Sturm und Drang, a literary movement of the 1770s. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) are some of the most famous exponents, but it must be noted that both Goethe and Schiller later detached from the movement. The Sturm und Drang poets exalted freedom, the individual, creativity, and saw nature as a sacred and influencing force, thus paving the wayfor the famous “Sehnsucht nach der blauen Blume der Romantik” (longing for the blue flower of romanticism) as the Romantics defined their desire to escape from everyday reality and find refuge in nature.
Their concept of nature as the expression of a divine plan was based on the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). This famous French philosopher stated that man is born free, but he is in chains, and these chains have been forged by an artificial civilization that vaues the reason above the impulse of the heart. Hence the concept of the “noble savage”, innocent and idea that the child, not yet corrupted by civilisation, is closer to God than the adult.
In English history the Romantic Period is said to extend from 1798 – When Wordsworth and Coleridge published the Lyrical Ballads – to 1837, when Victoria became Queen of England.
The Lyrical Ballads were revolutionary when compared to the classical schools of the Augustan Age, and the perface to the 1800 edition, commonly regarded the manifesto of English Romanticism. Presented the canons of the new poetry: both the sublect-matter and form of poetry changed radically; the poets advocated creative originality and aimed to move poetry towards the language of everday speech, and the natural world provided the dominant subject matter.