The British Romantic Period

The British Romantic
“The divine arts of imagination: imagination,
the real and eternal world of which this
vegetable universe is but a shadow.”
William Blake
How and When Did it Start?
• Spring, 1798
• Two English poets, aged 27 and 25, sold
some poems to pay for a trip to
• Soon after, Lyrical Ballads, with a few
other poems, was published.
• The poets were Wordsworth and
Coleridge and the work contains poems
considered among the most important of
the era.
Perhaps another
• The French Revolution – 1789
• End with the Parliamentary
Reforms of 1832 which laid the
foundation for Modern Britain
• A turbulent time which saw
England change from an
agricultural nation to an
industrial one.
• Large and restless working class
Time Line of Important Events
Storming of the Bastille 1789
King Louis XVI beheaded 1793
France declares war on England 1793
Thomas Jefferson becomes President 1800
Napoleon conquers Italy 1800
Act of Union creates United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland 1801
Workday of pauper children limited to 12 hrs. 1802
Louisiana Purchase made by US 1803
Napoleon becomes emperor 1804
United States bans import of slaves 1808
English artisans riot to stop industrialization 1811
Napoleon invades Russia 1812
United States declares war on Great Britain 1812
Mexico declares its independency from Spain
• British forces burn Washington, DC 1814
• Napoleon defeated at Waterloo 1815
• First in a series of ineffective Factory Acts prohibits
employment of children under the age of 9. 1819
• Antarctica sighted by Russian, British, and American
sailing ships 1820
• George III, mentally ill since 1810, dies
• In the US, Monroe closes the Americas to further
European colonization 1823
• First labor unions permitted in Great Britain 1824
• Catholic Emancipation Act allows British Roman
Catholics to hold public office 1829
• Charles Darwin serves as a naturalist on HMS Beagle
during expedition along coast of South America 1831
• Reform Act extends voting rights of British uppermiddle class men 1832
• Slavery abolished in the British empire 1833
So, What is a Poet in Romantic Poetry?
• According to Wordsworth, “He is a man
speaking to men.”
• The speaker is an ordinary man, a democratic
• The speaking in lyrical poetry is a passionate
speaking from the heart.
• It seems to be more of an “overhearing” – as if
we are privy to a private conversation or
someone speaking to himself.
• A language of the heart
• According to Keats, “What the imagination
seizes as beauty must be the truth whether it
existed before or not.”
The Lure of the Gothics
• Literature of the Romantic period is filled with
examples of the eerie and the supernatural.
• This taste for terror grew from a sensibility
called “gothic” that set stories in gloomy
medieval castles.
• It’s intention? To make the readers’ blood run
• The turn from rational enlightenment to
Gothic sensationalism indicated more than just
a fad for terrifying tales and quirky
• It was a way the people of the age expressed a
sense of helplessness about forces beyond their
So, What Does This Mean?
• Idealists and liberals (which often writers are) felt
exhilarated by the events in France.
• Even made trips to France to watch “the new
• However, the Reign of Terror did instill some fear
about how far things were going and when
Napoleon took over it was evident that this new
dictator was no less of a tyrant than what the
French had seen before.
• They felt betrayed.
• Became a little more conservative realizing that
political stability was non-existent. They also felt
the repercussions of Britain’s war with France.
Laissez- Faire
• Hand-made changed to factory-made
• Communal land is no more
• Homeless migrated to cities and many
went of the dole
• Economics NOT controlled by
• Children paid biggest price
• Resulted in poets rejecting formal,
public verse and turning to private,
spontaneous lyrically poetry.
Imagination became the answer to the
Characteristics of Romanticism
Romanticism turned away from 18 century emphasis on
reason and artifice. Embraced imagination and
Rejected the public, formal, and witty works of previous
century. Preferred poetry that spoke of personal
experiences and emotions, often in simple, unadorned
Used the lyric as the form best suited to expressions of
feeling, self-revelation, and the imagination.
Wordsworth urged poets to adopt a democratic attitude
towards their audience.
Many turned to a past or an inner dream world that they
saw as picturesque.
Most believed in individual liberty and sympathized with
those who had rebelled against tyranny.
Thought of nature as transformative; fascinated by the
ways nature and the human mind “mirrored” one another.
This Nature Business
• Yes, much of the literature of this time
embraced nature
• However, the Romantics prized
experiences of beauty and majesty that
could be found in nature.
• According to Wordsworth, he “considers
man and nature as essentially adapted
to each other, and the mind of man as
naturally a mirror of the fairest and
most interesting properties of nature.”
And Imagination?
• Most of the Romantic poems present
imaginative experiences as very powerful and
• They suggest that as well as being a special
faculty of the mind, the imagination is also a
kind of desire, a motive that drives the mind to
learn and to know things it cannot learn by
rational and logical thinking.
• The mind moves in mysterious ways to imitate
the powers of the Maker.
• The purpose of this imitation is to create new
realities in the mind.