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English Romanticism

Introduction Romantic poetry

William Wordsworth S.T. Coleridge G.G. Byron P.B. Shelley John Keats

English Romanticism begins in 1798 with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridges The Lyrical Ballads and ends in 1832 with Walter Scotts death. William Blake and Robert Burns also belong to this literary genre, though they live prior to the Romantic period.

English Romanticism is a revolt of the English imagination against the neoclassical reason. The French Revolution of 1789-1794 and the English Industrial Revolution exert great influence on English Romanticism. The romanticists express a negative attitude towards the existing social or political conditions. They place the individual at the center of art, as can be seen from Lord Byrons Byronic Hero. The key words of English Romanticism are nature and imagination. English
Romantic tend to be nationalistic, defending the greatest English writers. They argue that poetry should be free from all rules.

Overview of Romantic literature

The romantic period is an age of poetry. Wordsworth and Coleridge are the most representative writers. They explore new theories and innovate new techniques in versification. They believe that poetry could purify individual souls and society. For further study of their literary theory, please refer to Wordsworths Preface to The Lyrical Ballads & Coleridges Biographia Literaria.

Lake poets
Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey were known as Lake Poets because they lived and knew one another in the last few years of the 18th century in the district of the great lakes in Northwestern England. The former two published The Lyrical Ballads together in 1798, while all three of them had radical inclinations in their youth but later turned conservative and received pensions and poet laureateships from the aristocracy.

Other greatest Romantic poets are: John Keats, P.B. Shelley and G. G. Byron. Karl Marx likes Byron and Shelley very much. MU Dan / a renowned Chinese poet and translator , did splendid work to popularize Byron and Shelley in China. Years ago, Wordsworth and Coleridge were labeled negative romantic poets while Byron and Shelley were hailed as positive (revolutionary) Romantic poets. Wordsworth and Coleridges literary achievements were underestimated for a long time.

Feminist works
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. Gothic novel is a type of romantic fiction that predominates in the late 18th century and continues to show its influence in early 19th century. Its principal elements are violence, horror, and the supernatural. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe are masterpieces of English gothic novel.

English fiction gropes its way amidst the overwhelming Romantic poetry. It revives its popularity in the hands of Jane Austen & Walt Scott.
Walt Scott is noted for his historical novel based on Scottish history and legends. He exerted great influence on European literature of his time. Jane Austen is the first and foremost English women novelist. Following the neoclassical tradition, she is unsurpassed in the description of uneventful everyday life.

Essayists in English Romanticism

William Hazlitt Charles Lamb Coleridge

Representative works
Familiar essays Essays of Elia; Tales from Shakespeare Biographia Literaria

William Wordsworth
Wordsworth is the most representative poet of English Romanticism. He was born into a lawyers family in 1770 at Cockmouth, Cumberland. His parents died when he was very young.

He was taken care of by his relatives. He got his education at the Grammar School of Hawkshead and then at St. Johns College, Cambridge. He was a worshipper of nature from his childhood. He frequently visited places of beautiful scenery. A walking tour of the Swiss Alps heightened his addiction to nature.
He had great sympathy with the French Revolution. He paid 2 visits to France, during the second visit he fell in love with Annette Vallon, who bore him a daughter.

Wordsworth was totally disillusioned by the Jacobin dictatorship and the French invasion of other European countries. He became conservative in politics. He was labeled as negative Romantic poet by Karl Marx and was severely criticized by Byron. In 1795 he and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth settled down in Racedown, Dorsetshire. In 1797 he made friends with Coleridge. The three persons became three people with one soul in literary history.

Legend has it that Wordsorth and his sister lived a kind of incestuous life during this period. Dorothy helped Wordsworth turn his eyes to the face of nature and preserved the poet in him. She served as Wordsworths confidante and inspirer. As Wordsworth put it in his poem:
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble cares, and delicate fears;

A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;

And love, and thought, and joy.

In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads. !n 1798 and 1799, he made a tour around Germany. Upon his return to England, he and his sister moved to Dove Cottage in Grasmere, the most beautiful place in the Lake District. Coleridge & Robert Southey lived a stones throw from their dwelling place. The three poets came to be known as Lake Poets.
In 1802, Wordsworth got married to Mary Hutchingson. In 1813, he got a sinecure job as distributor of stamps.

In 1842, he received the government pension and in the following year, he succeeded Southey as Poet Laureate.
He died at Rydal Mount in 1850 and was buried in the Grasmere churchyard.

His major works

Wordsworths fame lies chiefly in his short poems. His short poems fall into 2 categories: poems about nature and poems about human life. He is a worshipper of nature. It is nature that gives him strength and knowledge full of grace.

His best known poems of nature include: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Tintern Abbey, To the Cuckoo, My Heart Leaps up, To a Butterfly, An Evening Walk, & The Sparrows Nest.
His best known poems about human life include: Lucy Poems, The Solitary Reaper and The Old Cumberland Beggar, Michael, & To a Highland Girl.

Wordsworth wrote many sonnets. His famous sonnets are: Earth Has Not Anything to Show More Fair, On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, & Thought of a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland.
His best known long poem is The Prelude. In this poem Wordsworth analyses the growth of his poetic genius during his childhood and youth, and recalls the lessons he owes to nature.

Wordsworths greatest contribution to English literature is his poems and his Preface to The Lyrical Ballads. Though The Lyrical Ballads is known as the collaborated work of Wordsworth and Coleridge, all the poems but one (The Rime of The Ancient Mariner) are written by Wordsworth. Most of his most quoted poem are taken from this collection.

Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Wordsworths Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads is the manifesto of English Romanticism. It is one of the revolutionary works of criticism, helping usher in the Romantic Age in literature (Dutton, 1984:50). He is primarily concerned to justify the kinds of his poems which he had contributed to Lyrical Ballads.

Key points in his Preface

Definition of a poet

He ( poet) is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.

Creative process of authentic poetry

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred (similar) to that which before was the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins

Subject matter & poetic language

The principal objectwas to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men , and at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented in an unusual aspect
(cf. Liu Yong in Song Dynasty.

Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity
The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived.

Brief Comments
Wordsworth is the representative poet of English romanticism Wordsworths poetry is distinguished by the simplicity and purity of his language. Wordsworths theory on versification has exerted profound influence on later poets. (mimesis--imaginative recreation)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge was born into a clergymans family in 1772. He was a great genius. At the age of six, he had read the Bible, Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights. He was a mentally precocious boy, full of fantasy and dreams in his mind. During his Cambridge years, he made friends with Charles Lamb, the great essayist of English Romanticism.

But the campus life bored him. He ran away from the university and enlisted in the army but discharged after a few months and he returned to Cambridge. He joined Robert Southey in a utopian plan of establishing an ideal democratic community (named Pantisocracy) in America. The plan resulted in nothing but his marriage to Sara Fricker, which turned out to be an unhappy marriage. In 1797 he began his friendship with Wordsworth. In 1798 they published The Lyrical Ballads.

In 1798 he traveled to Germany with Wordsworth and began to take to Germany philosophy. Upon his return to England, he became addicted to opium with a view to relieving his headache. He quarreled seriously with Wordsworth in 1810. Though they were reconciled to each other later, their friendship had never reached its former intimacy.
In his later years, he turned conservative and resorted to theology for his spiritual support.

Major works
Demonic poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Kubla Khan Chtristabel
Conversational poems Frost at Morning Dejection: An Ode ( Essays

Biographia Literaria Lectures on Shakespeare.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is Coleridges contribution to The Lyrical Ballads. It tells us a strange story in ballad meter. Three guests are on their way to a wedding party when an ancient mariner stopped one of them. The mariner tells of his adventures on the sea. When his ship sails towards the South Pole, an albatross ( comes through the snow-fog and alights on the rigging.

The mariner shoots at it quite thoughtlessly. Then misfortune befalls. The whole crew, with the only exception of the old mariner, die of thirst as punishment for the act of inhospitality. The spell breaks only when the mariner repents his cruelty. The poem is famous for its beautiful cadence and wonderful imagery. The combination of the natural and supernatural, the ordinary and extraordinary makes it one of the masterpieces of Romantic poetry.

Kubla Khan
During an illness in 1797 Coleridge retired to a lonely farmhouse. One day he fell asleep as he was reading a passage about Kubla Khan from Pilgrimage by Purchas. While dreaming he composed a poem about 200 or 300 lines. On waking he began to write down the poem. But he was interrupted by a person on business from Porlock and the vision faded. He left a fragment of only 54 lines and never finished the poem.

It tells a story of a sorcerer ( who casts a spell over a pure young girl. It is written in ballad meter. Its mysterious atmosphere and the Gothic horror may freeze our blood. It is not wholesome to read the poem.

Biographia Literaria
It is Coleridges most influential book of literary essays. The main ideas can be summed up as follows. A poem should not be judged as a mirror of truthas we judge science-but as a thing in itself, almost as a living organism.

Poets are born and not made. Poems should be judged only according to their own lights and not according to any established precept or precedent. Coleridge envisages that the poet as a man of great integrity as well as of special gifts, producing poems which would offer profound insights into mans imaginative, psychological, and ultimately, moral being.

Coleridge is a great Romantic poet. His poetic imagination is unique. He is fond of unusual and supernatural things. Coleridge is one of the first critics to pay close attention to language of poetry. He maintains that the true end of poetry is to give pleasure through the medium of beauty.

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

Biographical Introduction
Byron was born into an aristocratic family. His father is a profligate. His mother was a passionate Scotswoman. He was born with a clubfoot, which made him feel sore and unhappy all his life. He was a radical supporter of workers movement.

In 1811, Byron took seat in the House of Lords. He made vehement speeches to attack English governments policy for the Luddites (workers who destroy machinery).

Byron left England for ever in 1816. He first visited Switzerland, where he made acquaintance with Shelley. He wrote Sonnet on Chillon in Switzerland. Then he moved to Italy, where he finished Childe Harolds Pilgrimage and wrote his masterpiece Don Juan.

Upon hearing the news of the Greek revolt against the Turks, Byron plunged himself into the struggle. The Greeks made him commander in chief of their forces in 1824. Due to months hard work under bad weather, he fell ill and died. The Greek people mourned over his premature death. Byron was regarded as the satanic poet by the English government when he died. It was not until 1969 that a white marble memorial to Byron was erected in Westminster Abbey.
Nowadays his name is put in the Poets Corner.

Major works
Long Poems or Collections Hours of Idleness English Bards and Scotch Reviewers Childe Harolds Pilgrimage Don Juan Best known single poems in China When We Two Parted She Walks in Beauty The Isles of Greece (from Don Juan) Sonnet on Chillon

Brief comments
Byrons poetry is based upon his own experience. His heroes are more or less pictures of himself. His hero is known as Byronic Hero, a proud, mysterious rebel figure of noble origin. For such a hero, the conflict is usually one of rebellious individual against outworn social systems and conventions.

The figure is, to some extent, modeled on the life and personality of Byron. Byrons poetry exerts great influence on the Romantic Movement. He stands with Shakespeare and Scott among the British writers who exert great influence over the mainland of Europe.

P. B. SHELLEY (1792-1822)

Life story
Shelley was born into an affluent family at Sussex. He got a very good school education, first at Eton and then at Oxford. In 1811, while he was still a student at Oxford, he wrote a pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism, repudiating the existence of God.

He was expelled from Oxford for his seditious pamphlet. Then he eloped with Harriet Westbrook to Edinburgh. When he returned to London, he became a disciple of William Godwin, a radical social philosopher. He fell in love with Godwins daughter. Harriets drowning enabled him to marry Godwins daughter, but left him a bad reputation as an immoralist. He left England and went to the Continent.

He made friends with Byron while they were in Geneva, Switzerland. He wrote his best poems during this period. On July 8, 1822, while he was sailing in a small boat along the coast of Italy, a tempest struck her boat and he was drowned. He was buried in Rome. The inscription on his tombstone reads: Percy Bysshe Shelley, COR CORDIUM. ( meaning heart of hearts)

Upon his untimely death, one of his opponents writes, Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is a God or not.
Engels thinks highly of Shelley and Byron, He writes, Shelley, the genius, the prophet, Shelley, and Byron, with his glowing sensuality and his bitter satire upon our existing society, find most of their readers in the proletariat.

Major works
Ode to the West Wind To a Skylark The Cloud Prometheus Unbound Queen Mab The Masque of Anarchy The Necessity of Atheism A Defence of Poetry

Brief Comments
Shelley grew up with revolutionary ideas under the influence of Hume and Godwin. He held a life long aversion to cruelty, injustice, authority and institutional religion. Shelley is one of the greatest English lyrical poets. He expresses his love for freedom and his hatred towards tyranny.

His poems abound with personification, metaphor and other figures of speech.
Shelley is one of the most important dramatists of English Romanticism. His greatest achievement in theater lies in his poetic drama Prometheus Unbound.