Early American Romanticism

Early American
Another Change in Our Thinking?
o Ben Franklin v. Arthur Mervyn: Showdown
in Early America
o Journey into the city (“civilization”)
o Franklin: “independence, prosperity, and
o Mervyn (C.B. Brown): “decay, corruption,
and evil”
o What caused these varied perspectives?
Romanticism: Location, Location,
o City: corruption, greed, death, moral
o Countryside: health, moral certainty
o Frontier: Endless possibility and potential
o “In nineteenth century America, this
geography of the imagination – town,
country, frontier – played a powerful role in
American literature and life…” (116)
America: No Longer About the
Benjamin (Franklin)
o Ben Franklin v. Rip Van Winkle:
Antithetical figures; both have
mythical/symbolic qualities
o Freedom is relative (Franklin found it in
“civilization”; Van Winkle found it in
o Question: At this point, do Americans
want to be more like Rip or more like
Tenets of American Romanticism
oA distrust of “civilization”
oA nostalgia for the past
oA concern with individual freedom
oAn interest in the supernatural
oA profound love for the beauties of
the natural landscape
Romanticism: Something Borrowed
o Origins in Europe (go figure)
o Strong influence on music, literature, and
o Rational thinking is inferior to the imagination
o The Age of “What if?”
o “The Romantics believed that the imagination
was able to discover truths that reason could
not reach…” (119) – Example of this?
An Important Tip:
Romantic =
Faith and Romanticism
o Puritans and Romantics found divinity in
o A great deal of Romantic poetry focused on
“the contemplation of the natural world”
o “Romantics found in nature a far less clearly
defined divinity…[a generalized] emotional
and intellectual awakening” (119).
Romantic Heroes: No Cape Required
o Youth (or childlike qualities)
o Innocence
o A love of nature/distrust of town life
o A corresponding uneasiness with women
o The need to engage in a quest for some
higher truth in the natural world
o Examples?
The “Fireside Poets”
o Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier
o Works appealed to “the ordinary, literate man
or woman”
o Subject matter focused on love, patriotism,
nature, family, God, and religion
o “Their attempts to create a new American
literature relied too reverently on the
literature of the past” (122)