There were many reasons for the outbreak of
Romanticism at the turn of the
nineteenth century. For example, some artists and intellectuals had begun to feel uncomfortable
with the rationalist outlook of the Enlightenment--which had never completely
dominated--and turned to more emotional, spiritual releases in the arts and in politics.
The Romantics accused the philosophes of being narrowly logical, overly-optimistic,
and depriving man of supernatural or spiritual inspiration. In addition,
many held the Enlightenment responsible for the excesses of the French
revolution, thus the counter-revolt of Romanticism.
There were at least six important English
Romantic poets: William Wordsworth, 1770-1850; Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
1772-1825; Lord Byron (George Gordon), 1788-1819; Percy Shelley, 1792-1822;
John Keats, 1795-1821; and William Blake, 1757-1827. In 1798 Coleridge
and Wordsworth published a collection of poetry with the title, Lyrical
Ballads. The preface of the volume came to be regarded as the manifesto
of the Romantics, and in it, Wordsworth and Coleridge argued for the power
of the poet, e.g., that poetry was the source of all truth.
You've read my notes on the Decembrists, but I'd like also now to quickly add some points about the new artistic and intellectual movement that swept across Europe in the early nineteenth century. The Decembrists were very much a part of the Romantic revolt that had its origins in the emotions unleashed by the French Revolution. Romanticism was a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and also a response to the rationalism of factory life in the new industrial world. Romantics advocated a back-to-nature movement and turned to the irrational human spirit for inspiration, not cold, logical science. It is rather strange that Romanticism found its fullest expression in the work of a series of English poets in the early nineteenth century. But there were also Romantics in other artistic forms (music and art) and in every country in Europe.
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