Romantic Poets Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein   (Most notes are taken from Martin S. Day, History of English Literature 1660-1837 ) The following elements may be seen as Romantic characteristics. Although no poet exhibited all of these interests, they are all in some way manifestations of the Romantic taste and focus. 1. Medievalism. The Romantics took a leap backwards over the Renaissance, perhaps as a reaction to Neo- Classicism, and developed a fascination with the Middle Ages. This was the largest element in Sir Walter Scott. 2. Orientalism. The Far East was also a fascination for the Romantics, not because of its ancient wisdom, but because it was considered exotic and richly colored. Chief among those interested in this element was George Gordon, Lord Byron. Day notes that eroticism was particularly associated with this element. 3. Primitivism. It was a conviction of the writers of this period that a less advanced stage of culture breeds greater happiness and a higher character than does modern society. This attitude goes hand in hand with the rebellion and escapism that were prominent during the period, and the interest in medievalism can be better understood when it is recognized the Romantics saw the society of the Middle Ages as a primitive culture. 4. Progress. The Romantics believed that human beings were progressing to a more glorious future. It may seem odd and ironic that this belief went hand in hand with that of a trust in primitivism, but the point seems to have been that a brushing aside of the trappings of modern society would aid in improving human progress. 5. Anti-Intellectualism. Through much of Romantic literature there is a faith in innocence, as sell as an equating of naivete with goodness and shrewd intelligence with evil. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley were in fact well schooledin the classics, but even they counsel reliance on emotion rather than on reason. 6. Sentimentalism. This may be defined as the enjoyment of emotion for its own sake, and the delighting in emotional moods. This was particularly seen in some of the minor Romantic poets. 7. Humanitarianism. Day says our tendency in Western culture toward humanitarian actions stems not from Christian tradition but from the Romantic insistence on equality of all human beings and the belief that we must help our brothers in need. (The faith in equality was an inheritance from the Age of Reason.) 8. Democracy. Every Romantic writer except Scott went through a republican period, strengthened by the Romantic hostility toward monarchical authority and established institutions. 9. Originality. We are so schooled in our own time to valuing originality and individuality that we don’t recognize how novel this idea was in the 19th century. Earlier time periods only valued something that could be attributed to ancient masters; e.g., only one of Shakespeare’s plays is without a known source. In part, however, originality was considered positive in this period because the new reading public of the time was not generally schooled in the classics, wouldn’t recognize an allusion if they bumped into it, and hence preferred original composition. 10. Diversitarianism. An outgrowth of individualism was the opportunity to express every possible viewpoint. Today’s art, which often expresses unusual experiments in perspective, may in part claim justification under this expression. 11. Confessionalism. There was a tendency among Romantic writers toward self exposure, especially in presenting their personal problems. Day says this was in part responsible for the lyrical expression of the age. 12. Belief in the purgative purpose of art. Whereas Aristotle had said the purpose of art was purgation on the part of the audience, the Romantic writers saw art as an opportunity for the artist to express and purge his/her own emotions. 13. Fundamental antipathy of the artist to his/her times. This manifested as a general protest and discontent of the artists with the times and conditions under which they lived. 14. Love of the natural world, and particularly of the wild and picturesque in both the external order and in human nature. The love of nature in its peace and in its violence, and the recognition that the external order mirrored the internal mood swings of the psyche, were part of the Romantic consciousness. These attitudes were reflected to some extent in the works of the pre-Romantics such as William Blake and were fully expressed in virtually all the English writers of both the first and second generation of Romantic writers. (The first generation includes William Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the second generation includes Byron, Shelley, and John Keats.) In addition we see some of these elements in Edgar Allen Poe, in the American Transcendentalist writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, and in virtually all the Romantic writers of Western Europe, especially Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily