Romantic Revival: in English Literature - Romantic Movement

Also Read

      The first half of the nineteenth century records the triumph of romanticism in literature and of democracy in Government. Newton's science and Locke's philosophy were important contributions to the eighteenth century ethos that made the literature of Pope and Dryden. The revolution of 1789 had violently shaken English thought and aroused liberal ideas in England. Moreover, Rousseau stirred up the red up the ideas which helped on a revolutionary movement in literature not less than in politics and in education. England assimilated the philosophical ideas of Kant and Hegal and the revolutionary ideas of the French philosophers which created the literary movement of Romanticism.

Romanticism in the broad sense meant individualism and the revival of imaginative faculty in the matter of literary compositions. Romanticism is described as return to Nature and 'the renascence of wonder'. It is the introduction of imagination and a sense of mystery in literature.
Romantic Revival Poet's

      Romanticism in the broad sense meant individualism and the revival of imaginative faculty in the matter of literary compositions. Romanticism is described as return to Nature and 'the renascence of wonder'. It is the introduction of imagination and a sense of mystery in literature.

      The Lyrical Ballads published by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798 inaugurated the romantic era. It is called the period of Romantic Revival because the glorious productions of the nineteenth century had a close kinship with those of the spacious age of Elizabeth. Unbridled imagination, the first joy of a new found power - the inevitable consequence of the Renaissance and Reformation characterised the Elizabethan and Caroline literature in the seventeenth century. But this spirit of imaginative enthusiasm was subjected to deep scrutiny and close criticism by the growing self-consciousness of the nation in the next age - the age of Pope and Johnson. During the eighteenth century, in society, in politics, in life and literature which is but a reflection of life, it stood for order, dignity, clarity and for a certain standard of grace and beauty of 'correctness' and decorum in expression, and for the smothering of all passions and emotions which came to be regarded as barbaric and genteel. Against this spirit the natural reaction was the second Romantic movement which was actually founded by William Blake and strengthened by William Wordsworth.

      Victor Hugo describes romanticism as 'liberalism in literature'. Wordsworth in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads boldly asserts "Those who have been accustomed to the guadiness and inane phraseology of modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion will no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness." Romantic movement thus made a reaction against the eighteenth century tradition of Pope, Dryden and Johnson both in matter and manner. It made a revolt against the so-called classical poetry which, delighting in order, grace, clarity and precision forgot the one thing which alone makes true poetry i.e, inspiration and imagination. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Byron broke away from the artificial tradition of certain conventions, stereotyped expressions, capitalised personifications, uninspired imageries, rhetorical arguments and rebaptised English poetry with the fire of inspiration and the water or emotion and sentiment. Revolt against rules, imaginative recreation or Nature and human life, love of the strange interest in the enchanting past, love ot Nature and re-interpretation of it as an important part of cosmic drama, increased interest in elemental feelings of common human beings, subjective emotion and subtle elasticity in style are the pre-dominant features of romantic poetry.

      William Wordsworth (1770-1850) endowed Nature with a' new meaning and significance. He wrote about familiar common subjects and gave them a light that was never on sea or land". He departed from the gaudy poetic diction and wrote in familiar language as far as practicable. His great contribution to English poetry was the re-interpretation of Nature as a vital entity, a speaking presence and an acting principle. Nature was regarded as exerting edifying influence on human life. Wordsworth through his poetry made a revolt against urban industrial civilisation and considered the evils of modern life as stemming from man's separation from Nature. He therefore made a fervent plea for return to Nature and wanted through his poetry to re-establish a spiritual kinship between man and Nature and thus to restore humanity to the glory and dignity which they had lost under the increasing impact of industrial revolution. In this nature poetry, he perceived the presence of a spirit that is immanent in Nature and the mind of man.

      His long poem, the Prelude and his poem like Lines Written on Tintern Abbey are eloquent expressions of his philosophy of nature. Wordsworth, again celebrated the dignity and beauty of common men. His poetry was written in the language of common men. In short, Wordsworth spearheads the movement against the neo-classical school.

      The English public took some time to decide whether the imposing appearance called Wordsworth was a mountain or a cloud, It was convinced at last that he was a mountain, the most massive in the lofty range called the Romantic Revival. His creative originality was closely linked to his intimate contact with the revolutionary faith. It was a kind of spiritual bond. He was always on the quest for truth—a desire for such an experience as will be profitable to both feelings and conduct. His realism is a reaction against false nobleness. It is a recognition of the nobility of man, especially in the humble man. He imposes a supernatural aura through his reflective sensibility on familiar reality. Man is seen against the setting of normal daily life. His very first poems bear testimony to his response to the uncommon in the common.

      Wordsworth along with S. T. Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems. Wordsworth invested the natural with a supernatural veneer, while Coleridge invested the supernatural with the resemblance of natural truth. Wordsworth wanted to use a diction that was simple and drawn from everyday language. He wrote his poems Lyrical Ballads using this new diction. The disease that was destroying poetry was artificiality. Coleridge and Wordsworth wanted to free poetry from these shackles. Wordsworth broke the spell of antiquated tradition. The substance of the poems was simple about the daily chores of the simple, peasant folk; the language used had to be equally simple and shorn of all its trappings. Sometimes, Wordsworth may rise far above the level of ordinary life. His Tintern Abbey and Ode on the Intimations of Immortality express inner moods of such an ardent quality that they isolate the poet from his average fellow-men.

      Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1799-1805) is a record of a soul’s progress towards the full possession of self. To him, Nature is an educator of senses and mind alike; the promoter of our feelings and beliefs. His creed is a mystical pantheism. He was a psychological poet. He put forth his ideas on his poetic diction and creed in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”. He always preferred incidents and situations from common life. He chose humble and rustic life “because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain maturity.” He discarded the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers. His views on poetic diction may be summed up as follows; “there neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” Many of his poems deal with humble and rustic life. His style is touchingly simple. His treatment of nature is from firsthand, observation.

      S.T. Coleridge (1772-1834) made the supernatural and thereby widened the scope of imaginative understanding. Coleridge introduced into romance a touch of dream and fantasy that increased its unreality and reduced the total living experience to the level of a mere groundwork for a supernatural thrill and a tenuous symbolism. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Kubla Khan are remarkable for evoking the thrill of the supernatural through suggestive details and witchery of language.

      Coleridge possessed a vigorous mind. His work, his life and even his thought are marked by an unhappy fate, which prevented him from reaching complete self-fulfillment. He was a slave to opium. Coleridge met Wordsworth in 1797 and planned their joint production of Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge too went through a phase of revolutionary ardor. He invests their common doctrine with a more philosophic and mystical character. He goes directly to the supernatural. His poems “The Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”, are visions. In “Christabel” reality plays its parts, but that of the invisible is still paramount. The supernatural element in “The Ancient Mariner” is a hallucination as a result of remorse, “Christabel” too suggests the terror of a vague menace. Coleridge possesses a homely, religious inspiration. He makes more use of the senses than Wordsworth. His poems were marked by intense imaginative power. They exploit the weird, the supernatural and the obscure. Such is the power of imagination that it can produce what Coleridge calls “that willing suspension of disbelief which constitutes poetic faith”. His descriptions of the wider and more remote aspects of things are truly fine. He preserves a simplicity of diction, and appeals to the reader’s imagination by writing with great clearness. He resembles Wordsworth in this aspect. His poem “Frost at Midnight” shows this resemblance.

      Coleridge’s prose was scrappy, chaotic and tentative, but possessed a searching wisdom. He was indebted to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, but this indebtedness was overrated. In 1817 he published Biograplna Literaria his most valuable prose work. After sixteen chapters of philosophizing, almost irrelevant, he discusses the poetical theory of Wordsworth. He gave a length and breadth of artistic values, hitherto unknown in England. His other work was a series of lectures on Shakespeare and other poets. He treated every work of art as an organic, developing whole, subject only to the laws of its own existence. He revolts against the Augustan conception of poetry as an art to instruct. For him the aim of poetry is to give pleasure “through the medium of beauty.”

      John Keats (1795-1821) added to the basic quality of romance a sensuousness, a hunger and yearning for beauty in all its concrete shapes and forms, a sense of regret and frustration more poignantly felt because rooted in his personal experience. In his poetry he suggests a contrast between the real world of suffering and frustrations and the imaginative ideal world of dreams and desires and his poetry records his wistful yearning for the ideal world. Keats' romanticism lies in suggesting the thrill of beauty through sensuous pictures and expressions. His Lamia, the Eve of St Agnes, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Autumn show his romantic aspiration, his sensuous appreciation of beauty and the pictorial quality of his poetic art.

      John Keats Born in London, Keats was afflicted with consumption. The mental and physical distress caused by the affliction, added to despair regarding his love affair. He died in Rome at the young age of twenty-five. Elis Endymion tells the story of the lovely youth who was kissed by the moon-goddess on the peak of Mount Latmos. The first line “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” contains the theory of Keat’s poetical career. “Isabella” (1818) is a version of a tale from Boccaccio and tells the story of the murder of a lady’s lover by her. two brothers. Hyperion, takes up the epic theme of the primeval struggle between the older race of such gods such as Saturn and Hyperion. Then came “The Eve of St. Agnes (1819) a fine narrative poem about two eloping lovers. Along with the longer poems, were the shorter pieces of great beauty. His Odes are great poems.

      Keats loved the writers of the Renaissance like Spenser, Chapman, Milton. Religion for him was the adoration of the beautiful. Beauty is the Supreme Truth. He was a man of sensations. His art was full of passion-pleasure became a joy, and the joy was illuminated with beauty.

      Keat’s Romanticism is crystallized in his Odes. Each ode is a store house of beautiful word-pictures. The atmosphere is an enchanting one of sensual and dreamy contemplation. In Keats one sees the final stages of English Romanticism. His early and eager delight in poetry was for the sake of poetry. To Shelley poetry was a vehicle for his passionate polemic his Utopian enthusiasm:

“Drive my dead thoughts over the Universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth.”

      To Keats poetry was an art to be mastered and it was an end in itself. Death cut short a rather promising career. O latest born and loveliest vision for Of all Olympus’s faded hierarchy! This is how Keats hails Psyche: and this is how we feel inclined to hail Keats himself. He was the last of the great Romantics to be born and the first to die.

      Shelley (1792-1822) was the most vitally instinct with the pure essence of romantic spirit. He gave himself up most unreservedly to the impulse and inspiration of the romantic spirit. He had imbibed the explosive forces of the French Revolution and championed the cause of revolution and freedom in every sphere of human life. There is, however, a melancholy note in his poetry which springs from his frustrations and unfulfilled desires. He pined for an ideal world of beauty, love and freedom but he yearned in vain. His poetry is, however, imbued with optimism. He sang of millennium when evils of life would disappear like patches of clouds. Shelley's best qualities are revealed in his Prometheus Unbound, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark. He is a lyrical genius par excellence: His poetry is marked by melody and imagery.

      Reason and feeling converted Shelley into a revolutionary in the flush of his youth and he remained so. He had a sensitive, high-strung nature and was stirred by revolt from boyhood. He was influenced by Godwin’s philosophy. His earliest effort of any note is “Queen Mab ” (1813). The poem was immature. “Alastor” (f816) was the next one. That was a kind of spiritual autobiography. Then came “Laon and Cythna” or “The Revolt of Islam” (1818).

      Shelley then left for Italy. He published Prometheus Unbound in 1820. This was a combination of the lyric and the drama. The story is about Prometheus, who defied the gods and suffered for his boldness. The poem has immense vitality, The Cenci (1819) was a formal drama. The story is a grim and sordid family affair. “Adonais’’ is an elegy where he weeps, over Keats and over victims of immoral idealism. His other poem was “Hellas”. Shelley as a lyric poet is unparalleled. His poetry reveals a mystical desire with its anguished pangs and spiritual raptures. According to him, love is at the core of his idealism. He conveys the highest emotional ecstasy and a mood of blessed cheerfulness. The Shelleyan hero is a rebel against tyranny and a leader in the struggle which is to bring about the final happiness of mankind. To a large extent, they are projections of their creator like a Byronic hero. In poetry, he is considered “a beautiful and ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain”. One cannot say this is true of Shelley on all occasions but the lyrical quality of his poetry acquires wings and soars high above into the clouds. He was an apostle of liberty of hope for a new bright future. “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind ? “He strikes this note of optimism in his “Ode to the West Wind”.

      Lord Byron is rightly described as a romantic poet only on the outer fringe of his consciousness. He was affiliated to the Popian tradition by his satiric spirit and adoption of couplet. Yet he possessed a romantic ardour which is manifested in his upholding the cause of freedom and liberty and in his zeal for expressing his ego-centric consciousness.

      George Gordon, Lord Byron: (1788-1824) was born in London, but brought up in Scotland. He cultivated the theatrical side of his nature. This became a by-word later. His ‘Byronic’ temperament was not entirely affected. He suddenly leaped into the limelight. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) the record of his travels, became the rage. He became the idol of society. His physical appearance, his wit and his romantic melancholy made him a marvel and a delight. The hero of the poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) is a romantic young man and is Byron himself. He visited some of the popular beauty spots on the Continent. His other poem The Vision of Judgement is a fine political satire.

      At the very center of Byron’s personality was an element of morbidity. Byron definitely establishes in England the European type of the Romantic artist whose art feeds on his disease, who takes a voluptuous delight in self and who weaves his remorse into a texture of beauty. All his tendencies worked together in his art which was for him full and true life. He was endowed with haughty courage. To the field of literature, his instincts were classical. He believed in precision of form. He was an aristocrat at heart who hated Wordsworth’s peasant prosaism. His poetry was marked by an energy of expression. His heroes embody his Romantic feeling of himself. To Byron, the universe was. a mysterious power and “an accomplice, looking benignly upon a rebellious spirit because it ignores human orthodoxies”. This Pantheism was different from that of his contemporaries. His other poem “Don Juan” abounds in brilliant pictures and with digressions. He lashed out at the false principles of contemporary society.

      Robert Southey (1774-1843) belongs to the group called the Lake Poets, along with Wordsworth and Coleridge. He is the least read of the Lake Poets, because his works lacked vitality. He lacked genius. He did not have the capacity to, adorn his poems with imaginative power.

     Walter Scott (1771-1832) was born at Edinburgh. His earliest poetical efforts were translations from the German. His work was mostly compilation of old material, with a few original poems. His “Lay of the Last Minstrel” (1805) had originality. It was marked by vitality of style; and a healthy love of Nature. This was followed by “Marmion” (1808). It was, Scott’s masterpiece. The story was intricate in detail, and cumbered with masses of antiquarian and topic material. Then came “The Lady of the Lake” (1810). It contained some of his best lyrics. He gave new zest to the Romantic methods that had already been adopted in poetry.

      Scott was acquainted with the past of Scotland, which he had explored in documents, history and legend. His best novels were Guy Mannering The Antiquary (1816), The Black Dwarf (1816), Old
Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1818), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) and A Legend of Montrose (1819). All these novels had scenes in Scotland as their background. In Ivanhoe (1819) he turned his gaze towards England. He was in great haste while composing the novels. His style was spacious and decorative. He displayed a lot of knowledge in the novels and added to that there was vitalizing energy, and an insight. Scott was often called the prose Shakespeare. He resembled Shakespeare in the manner of choosing material high and low, right and left. Of course, his characterization asked deep penetration. Scott has the genius of the narrator, but he had corresponding talent Incidents, pauses, picturesque evocations and dialogues were interwoven with a sense of measure.

      The novels of Scott were a reflection of the triumph of Romanticism in the re-creation of the past. Some of the inner tendencies of Romanticism such as a liking for the bygone era, and a dramatic vision of life were exploited by Scott. He gave Romanticism an average and normal value, an immunity from feverishness.

      Jane Austen ( 1775-1817): was the daughter of a clergyman. She was educated at home. Her novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) showed, Middle-class people pursuing the common round. The book is a masterpiece as a piece of unobtrusive and dexterous art.

      Sense and Sensibility (1811) was her first novel, her last Northanger Abbey (1818). The incidents of the novel are common place and the characters are flatly average. Her plots were unromantic, but her art made then attractive. Her characters were alive and ordinary people. She was fond of clergymen, though each had his own individual characteristics. Her characters were not types, but individuals. She lived in an “ivory, tower” and confined herself to her own observations. The scope of her novels was limited, as her view of life was limited. Her style clear and careful, and there was nothing loud or garish to catch the casual glance.

      Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was a charming man, and a, delightful talker. His essays were a mixture of humor, pathos and cheery goodwill. His Tales from Shakespeare written with his sister Mary Lamb are agreeable to read. He wrote two series of Essays. The Essays of Elia (1833) and the Second Last Essays of Elia (1833), Elia was the pen name used by Lamb, a name taken at random as that of a foreigner, a clerk working in the South Sea House. The Essays are a landmark in the history of English literature. The subjects range from chimney sweeps to old China-Lamb is an egotist, but there is a delicate shade of humor in these essays. There is a tinge of sorrow in his essays. The pathos deepens into a sign of regret. His essays and letters cover almost every aspect of his character and thoughts and life.

      Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859): was born at Manchester, where his father was a rich merchant. While he was an undergraduate he became acquainted with opium to combat the pain of neuralgia he was suffering from. His famous book was Confessions of an English Opium-Ester. It is a series of visions that vanish in the manner of dreams. He has a wide range of knowledge. He had a sure grasp over rhythm and melody.

      William Hazlitt (1778-1830): was the son of a Unitarian Minister. He works are on assortment of philosophical and political subjects. He was an eminent critic too. He had the gift of communicating his enjoyment and evoked unnoticed beauties. His judgments were based usually on emotional reactions rather than on principles. He had the talent of using the right quotations.

      Conclusion: The Romantic Age was the Golden Age of the lyric. It was an age with a large output of descriptive and narrative poetry. The Romantic Revival is variously called “The Renaissance of Wonder” and “The Return to Nature”. “We have reached a stretch in the stream of Time which is broken by the cataract of the French Revolution. Everything within that stretch seems to be either sweeping towards the cataract or issuing from it” says Grierson. Historically, Rousseau was the arch-priest of modern Romanticism even as Aristotle was considered the law-giver of European classicism. The immediate target of the Romantic Movement was the pseudo-classicism or formalism of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. Empson remarks “A basic impulse of the Romantics was to escape from the eighteenth century, their enlightened parent, in fact, so as to experience if only through history and travel-books the variety of the world”. The revolt was against the politics and poetics of the previous Age. One type of Romantic (the back to Nature) apologist revolted against the hypocrisy of the urban sophistication and recommended naturalism. The Romantic tended to turn to the past Golden Age or to a dim future Utopia. The Revolution was only the Seedtime, the artistic flowering time came much later. “Romantic” could well mean emotional fervor appetite for experience, a kind of escape from the shackles of tradition. Wordsworth pleaded for a return to Nature while Coleridge was interested in exploring the unknown, the magical and the mysterious. “Classical” and Romantic periods of literature are supposed to alternate, but this is not regular. The classical and the romantic spirit can thrive side by side in the Age. The Romantic concept gave importance to inner experience, the inexaustible realm of man’s psychic life and an exploration of the unconscious. There was the nostalgic longing for the past or the Utopian dreaming of a future, assertion of individuality. Romantic literature expressed the sensibility of the age in which it was written.

      The words Classical and Romantic signify certain qualities which are found in literature at all times. Herbert Read says, “Romanticism is the expression of personal values, classicism the expression of universal values, the necessities of objectivity imply an ever increasing tendency towards clarity, simplicity and universality. There is profundity in classical art but no obscurity.”

      M.R. Ridley, says “The Classic temper is one which accepts the inevitable and does not wear itself out in attempts to solve the insoluble. It feels emotion strongly, but expresses; it with equally strong restraint, it dislikes the mysterious; in technique, it insists upon harmony, the subordination of details to the whole and upon simplicity. The Romantic temper questions and rebels; it feels emotion strongly and expresses it with little restraint; it has often a vivid love of the mysterious; and in technique, it insists equally upon perfection of form, but it permits, and even prompts greater elaboration and richness and at least condones the concentration or attention upon details. “F.L Lucas enlightens us on the dangers that he in wait for the classicist and Romantic”, the danger that lies in wait for the classical muse is of becoming a blue-stocking and a governess; the danger that besets her Romantic sister is of becoming drunken libertine. “Romantic suggests subjectivity, inner experience, excessive egoism, impulse to adventure, and thirst for freedom. Classicism suggests objectivity outer experience sense of detachment preference for poise. Romanticism is an element of art; while classicism is the “health of art”.

Previous Post Next Post