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The political background: revolution and reaction

Morduhov Andrey, 11A

The early period of the French Revolution, worked enthusiastic support from English liberals and radicals alike. In England this period was one of harsh repressive measures. Yet this was the time of great economic and social changes. The «Industrial Revolution» was given immense impetus when James Watt perfected the steam engine in 1765. Some time later there began that ever-accelerating alternation in economic and social conditions which shows no sign of showing down in the foreseeable future. In rural communities the destruction of home industry was accompanied by a rapid growth of the process of enclosing the old open-field and communally worked forms into privately owned agricultural holdings.

The population was becoming increasingly into what Disraely later called the «Two Nations». The government must maintain a policy of strict non-interference and leave people to pursue their private interests. In 1815 the conclusion of the French war when the enlargement of the working force, by demobilized troops coincided with the fall in the wartime demand for goods brought on the first modern industrial depression. In the August 16, 1819 was the day of the notorious «Peterloo Massacre», so named as a parody on the Battle of Waterloo.

The event incited Shelley to write his great poems for the working class, «England in 1819», «Song: Men of England» and «To Sidmonth and Castlereagh». In London the Regency Period (1811-1820) was for the leisure class a time of lavish display and moral laxity. Woman constituted a deprived class which cut across social classes. In the revolutionary period women finally acquired a strong and eloquent champion. Gradually the working class reformers acquired the support of the middle classes and the liberal Whigs. Finally the first Reform Bill was carried in 1832 widespread rejoicing. And reform was to go on until, by stages, England acquired universal adult suffrage.

The Spirit of the Age

Mane of the major writers did feel that there was something distinctive about their time — a pervasive intellectual and imaginative climate. They had to sense that (as Keats said in one of his sonnets) «Great spirits now on earth are sojourning» and that there was evidence all about of that release of energy, experimental boldness and creative power which marks a literary renaissance. In his «Defence of Poetry» Shelley claimed that the literature of the age «has arisen as it were from a new birth», and that «an electric life burns» within the words of its best writers which is «less their spirit than the spirit of the age». William Haglitt described how the French Revolution seemed «the down of a new era, a new impulse had given to men’s minds».

Poetic Theory and Poetic Practice

In the course of the 18th century there had been increasing opposition to the tradition of Dugden, Pope, and Johnson. Wordsworth undertook to justify the new poetry by a critical manifest, he gathered up isolated ideas, organized them into a coherent theory based on explicit critical principles.

1. The Concept of Poetry and the Poet

18th century theorists had regarded poetry as primarily an imitation of human life which the poet artfully rudders and puts into an order designed to instruct and give artistic pleasure to the reader. Wordsworth, on the other hand described all good poetry as «the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings». He located the source of poem in the individual poet and specified that the essential materials of a poem were the inner feelings of the author.

«Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge». Other Romantic theories referred primarily to the mind, emotions and imagination of the poet. Many writers identified poetry as the «expression» or «utterance» or «exhibition» of emotion. Coleridge introduced into English criticism an organic theory of the imaginative process and the poetic product, based on the model of the growth of a plant. The lyric poem written in the first person became a major Romantic form. And in the Romantic lyric the «I» often has recognizable characteristics of the poet in his own person. Wordsworth «Prelude» also represents a central literary form of English, as of European Romanticism — a long work about the formation of the self, often centring on a crisis.

2. Poetic Spontaneity and Freedom

To Wordsworth the immediate cut of composition must be spontaneous — that is arising from impulse, and free from all rules and the artful manipulation of means to foreseen ends. Other important Romantic critics also voiced declarations of artistic independence. Coleridge claimed that the act of composing poetry involves the psychological countries «of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and of voluntary purpose».

3. Romantic «Nature Poetry»

Because of the prominence of landscape in this period, «Romantic poetry» has to the popular mind become almost synonymous wit «nature poetry». But the aim of this poetry was not description for its own sake. And while most of the great Romantic lyrics begin with an aspect or charge of aspect in the natural scene, this only as stimulus to the most characteristic human activity, that of thinking. In Romantic «nature poems» the presented scene usually serves to raise an emotional problem or personal crisis whose development and resolution constitute the organizing principle of the poem. But for many Romantic poets it was clearly also a matters of immediate experience to respond to the outer universe as a living entity which participates in the feelings of the observer. This views of natural objects as corresponding to an inner or a spiritual world served to write a symbolist poetry.

4. The Glorification of the Commonplace

Wordsworth elevated humble and rustic life and the plain style, earlier appropriate only to the lowly pastoral, into the principal subject and medium for poetry in general. Wordsworth’s concern in his poetry was not only with «common life», but with «ordinary things». This aim throughout is to shake us out of the lethargy of custom so as to refresh our sense of wonder — indeed, divinity — in the everyday, the common places, the trivial and the lowly. But for many Romantic critics to arouse in the sophisticated mind that sense of wonder felt by the ignorant and the innocent was a primary power of imagination and a major function of poetry.

5. The Supernatural and «Strangeness in Beauty»

Coleridge’s function was to achieve wonder by a frank violation of natural laws and the ordinary course of events. He opened up to poetry the realm of mystery and magic.

Individualism, Infinite Striving, and Nonconformity

Mind, wrote Coleridge in 1801, is «not passive» but «made in God’s Image, and that, too, in the sublimest sense is the Image of Generation». The aspect of humanity becomes a glory and a triumph. In almost all Wordsworth’s, poems, long or short the words «single», «solitary»», «by oneself*, «alone» constitute a leitmotif his imagination is released by the sudden appearance of a single figure or object. Coleridge also and still more strikingly Byron and Shelley represented a solitary protagonist who is separated from society because he has rejected it, or because it has rejected him.


The drama of that period tended to the extremes of either farce or melodrama. The most successful Romantic dramatist was Shelley. In «The Guri» (1820) Shelley, converts a true story of the Italian Renaissance into a powerful version of his own central fable of the instinctive desire of evil to the unconquerable single spirit, even death.

Опубликовано 23.01.2021 в категории Работы учащихся |
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Щукина Надежда Михайловна
учитель английского языка, зав. кафедрой ИЯ, Заслуженный учитель РХ, МОУ “Гимназия”, г.Абакан, р. Хакасия.


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