Romanticism is a cultural movement which took place throughout Europe between 1770 and 1848. It started in Germany between 1770 and 1785 with the “Sturm und Drang” movement which criticized classicism and supported a modern, ‘romantic’ style. It revaluated the irrational and individual experience. From Germany the Romantic movement spread to Europe where it acquired national features.
The dates of English Romantic period of literature was not precise, but it can be dated from 1798 (publication of Lyrical Ballads) to 1832 when the government passed the First Reform Bill, a law which widened (=ampliò) the electorate to the upper middle class and redistributed parliamentary representation including the new industrial cities.
The Romantic Age was an age of rebels against current beliefs and customs.
The poets Wordsworth and Coleridge published in 1798 Lyrical Ballads that was a collection of poems that revolutionized the theory and practise of poetry. In the second edition (1800) there was a Preface written by Wordsworth that was the manifesto of romantics theory of poetry.
• Subject matter of poetry ‘to describe incidents and situations from common life. […] Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passion of the heart find a better soil’, great simplicity.
• Role of the poet he is an ‘ordinary man endowed with a knowledge of human nature’
• Language of poetry a ‘language really used by men’, plain and emphatic.
Wordsworth believed that the common people and the ordinary events were serous subjects for poetry that was the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, sprang from sincerity. The primary role of poetry was to save human beings from a state of torpor. He changed the use of language in poetry that became comprehensible to everyone. Wordsworth was considered ‘the father of modern poetry’, he had an interest in childhood and in nature (he was a worshipper of nature) and he is a real Romantic poet, not ideal like Blake.
In fact, in Romanticism, there were two tendencies of poetry: the tendency toward the real which is typical of Wordsworth and Keats, and the tendency toward ideal, typical of Blake and Coleridge. The first one starts from a real experience and produces a semblance of novelty, the second one starts from and ideal experience and produces a semblance of truth.
NatureNeoclassicism: a sort of machine engineered by God, so it has to follow some principles (Newton principles), it is static, mechanical, perfect, unchangeable, created. The two most important philosophers of that period (18th century) were Locke and Hartley.
Romanticism was completely in opposition to Neoclassicism: universe and nature are dynamic, they always recreate, develop, move, evolve themselves.
This dynamic theory was supported by Rousseau who sustained the need of human to have a close relationship with nature, but also human perfect ability, the idea of natural man (a man not jet corrupted by civilization, like children) and democracy. Another important philosopher of that time, Kant, had an idealistic philosophy that sustained that “creation never ends” (nature is a living power) and that objected world always interests in subjected human lives, so nature is not a fix background but influences man life (individualism).
In the last years of the 18th century, two metaphors were used to express the idea of universe:
1) Plant: it is the dynamic, vitalistic, organic idea of universe: it ever changes (Neoclassicism)
2) Cclockwork: it is the static or mechanistic attitude of a created universe that follows specific principles.
Imagination in Romantic term is considered as an individual, creative, original faculty, (a personal quality/ability). Through imagination a poet can go beyond the sensorial reality and can get in touch with the truth. ( Plato thought that the sensorial experience is not the reality, so you have to go beyond reality to find the truth). Imagination is related with God (for many Romantics) and with Nature (for poets like Wordsworth) which becomes a primary poetic subject and men’s relationship with it.
In Neoclassicism the theory of poetry was based on a mimetic conception of imagination art, so poets, imitates nature faithfully (it is a model).
These precepts which the mind produces realty, was based on two associations of ideas: memory and fancy. Through memory the association of ideas has the same order of time and place, while through fancy the association of ideas has a new order of time and place.
The Romantics substituted the organic idea for the mechanistic idea: art doesn’t imitate what realty offers, but it recreates reality according by a subjective sensibility/perception/vision.
The Romantic Age was a period of great landscape painting. Until the 18th century, landscape painting was seen as a minor form of art: it was painted as a background, a visual record of place. Romanticism changed this view by focusing attention on the correspondence between the moods of nature and man. The style of landscape painting was set by the French Poussin and Lorrain in 17th century, and it was followed by Turner and Constable in 19th century.
[Turner contributed the new appreciation of landscape painting with his depiction of atmospheric conditions and his tragic vision of the vanity of human effort in the face of the frightening power of nature. His style in painting anticipate late 19th century French Impressionism. Constable was the greatest painter of skies, his innovative technique was not very popular with contemporary critics. Later French Impressionism were much influenced by his idea about observing the effects of nature.]