The Romantic Period

The Romantic Period
Whitechapel High Street, ca. 1894
• 1772 – Slavery is outlawed in England
(slave trade continues)
• 1776 – America declares independence
• 1781 – the British lose the American Rev.
• 1781 – 133 Africans thrown overboard
from the slave ship Zong
• 1787 – 1st fleet of convicts transported to
• 1789 – the fall of Bastille launches the
French Revolution
• 1791 – Parliament rejects bill to abolish
slave trade
• 1793 – France declares war on England
• 1794 – England suspends habeas corpus
• 1795 – Speenhamland poor relief system
• 1798 – Society of United Irish rebel
against British rule
• 1801 – The Act of Union joins Great
Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) with
Ireland to create the United Kingdom
• 1804 – Napoleon crowns himself emperor
of France
• 1807 – Slave trade is abolished
• 1812 – Widespread economic distress;
textile workers attack machinery due to job
• 1815 – Napoleon defeated at Waterloo
• 1819 – 11 citizens killed at the “Peterloo
Massacre”: a protest against gov’t policies
and high food prices
• 1820 – George III dies after long battle
with mental illness
• 1825 – 1st steam locomotive passenger
service begins
• 1832 – the right to vote given to landed
men with a specific amount of property
• 1833 – Factory Act limits work hours for
women and children and provides some
mandatory schooling for children
• 1833 – The Abolition of Slavery Act frees
all slaves in the British empire
The Romantic Period
• Began in 1785, the year Blake and Burns published their
first poems.
• Ended in 1830, by which time the major writers of the
preceding century were either
dead or no longer productive.
• It was a turbulent time period,
when England changed from
a primarily agricultural society
to a modern industrial nation.
• Wealth and power shifted
from the landholding aristocracy to large-scale employers, who found themselves
against a large, restive working class.
Reaction to Revolution
• The American Revolution was a recent memory
for the British, at once an inspiration to political
progressives, an embarrassment for the prestige
of the Empire, and a worry to a conservative
ruling class concerned about the arrival of
democratic ideas on British shores. When the
next Revolution exploded in France, the press of
radical, violent, and inevitable change seemed
• In response, the English government prohibited
public meetings, suspended habeas corpus (the
release from unlawful restraint), and advocates of
even moderate political change were charged
with high treason.
Economic and Social Changes
• Yet economic and social changes created
a desperate need for corresponding
political changes, and new social classes
were demanding a voice in government.
Viaduct across the Great Northern Railway, 1851
The Industrial Revolution
• Resulted from the invention of power-driven machinery
replacing hand labor.
• Open fields and farms were enclosed into privately owned
agricultural holdings.
• A new labor population
massed in the sprawling mill
towns that burgeoned in
central and northern England.
• The new landless class
migrated to the industrial
towns or remained as farm
laborers, subsisting on
Megg's almshouses, 1800s
starvation wages.
Protests and Riots
• In the face of newfound technological
unemployment and extreme poverty,
workers - who could not vote – had to
resort to protests and riots, incurring
further repression.
Results of the Industrial Revolution
• The landscape began to take on its modern appearance,
with rural areas divided into a checkerboard of fields
enclosed by hedges and stone walls.
• Factories of the industrial
and trading cities cast a
pall of smoke over vast
areas of jerry-built houses
and slum tenements.
• The population polarized
into two classes of capital
labor, the large owner or trader and the possessionless
wage-worker, the rich and the poor.
• Population
– 1791 – 8.3 million; 1831 – 14 million
• Life Expectancy: 37-39
• Average Annual Income:
– 4,000 p: wealthy gentry (city & country houses)
– 150 p: shopkeepers
– 120 p: clergy, farm owners, & schoolmasters
– 55 p: skilled laborers
– 20 p: seamstresses
(modern 1 p in 1880 = $48.80 today)
Governmental response to the
Industrial Revolution
• A laisses-faire attitude
encouraged government to not
• The results were inadequate
wages, long hours of work
under harsh discipline in sordid
conditions, and the large-scale
employment of women and
children for tasks that
destroyed both the body and
the spirit.
Plight of Women
• Women of all classes were regarded as
inferior to men, were undereducated, had
limited vocational opportunities, were
subject to a strict code of sexual behavior,
and had almost no legal rights.
• In spite of this, the cause of women’s rights
was largely ignored
• While the poor were suffering, the landed classes, the
industrialists, and many merchants prospered as the
British Empire expanded aggressively both westward
and eastward.
• During this time period, the British Empire became the
most powerful colonial presence in the world.
• The British East India Co.
ruled the entire Indian subcontinent, and black slave
labor in the West Indies
generated great wealth for
British plantation owners.
• The term “Romanticism” is difficult to
define because of the variety of literary
achievements. The period was labeled
“Romantic” much later.
The “Spirit of the Age”
• Writers during this time period did not think of
themselves as “romantic.”
• Many writers, however, felt that there was
something distinctive about their time – a
pervasive intellectual and imaginative climate
which they called “the spirit of the age.”
• They described it as a release of energy,
experimental boldness, and creative power
that marked a literary renaissance, an age of
new beginnings when, by discarding
traditional procedures and outworn customs,
everything was possible.
• Wordsworth described all good poetry as “the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”
• He believed that the source of all poetry was not in
external things, but in the individual poet.
• The lyric poem, expressing the poet’s own feelings
and temperament, became a major Romantic form.
• .
• The natural scene became a primary poetic subject,
and poets described natural phenomena with an
accuracy of observation that had no earlier match.
• Poets bestowed attitudes and sentiments
on the landscape that earlier writers had
felt only for God, parents or a beloved.
• Humble, rustic life and plain style were elevated and
the wonder of ordinary things was exalted.
• Poets sought to refresh readers’ sense
• of wonder about the ordinary things
• of existence, to make the “old” world
• seem new.
Themes in Literature
• Nature
• Isolationism
• Exile – especially of a
disinherited mind that
cannot find a spiritual
home in its native land
England’s Lake District
• Fascination with the
outlaws of myth, legend, or history
• Mysticism, visionary states of consciousness,
hypnotism, dreams, drug-induced states
• Results of the industrial revolution
Authors from the Romantic Period
• William Blake
• Robert Burns
• William Wordsworth
• Samuel Taylor Coleridge
• George Gordon, Lord
Percy Bysshe Shelley
John Keats
• Rousseau: “Man is born
free and everywhere he is
in chains.” In other
words, civilization is in
part the cause of our
But there were 2 views of
• The first viewed nature as peaceful, calm,
nurturing, a source for spiritual renewal. It
often showed an innocent life of rural
dwellers, a world of peace and harmony
which nurtures and comforts the human
spirit. This is very much how Wordsworth
viewed nature.
John Constable: The Hay Wain
But nature could also be
frightening in its power, and
cause a dizzying sense of awe
and wonder.
J.M.W. Turner: Avalanche
Edmund Burke defined these
two views of nature as:
•The beautiful
•The sublime
Starting with Sir Joshua Reynolds,
who was President of the Royal
Academy in England
Blake quit the Royal Academy
partly because of Sir Joshua
So, on to some of Blake works
Two Works by Henry Fuseli, a
Swiss artist living in England
who was friends with Blake
One of the most interesting
artists of the period is
J.M.W. Turner
Starting with an early, fairly
conventional painting
And then to end on John
Who said, “I try to paint as if I had
never seen a painting before.”
And then: Eugene
And . . . Caspar David Friedrich