(Important Background Information, suitable for quizzes, exams,
||English 315: British Romanticism: Introduction
Introduction to Longman Anthology,
Supplementary Information On:
- Importance of historical context for complete understanding
of texts produced during this period.
3: Literature and the Age:
- American Revolution timeline (1775-1783)
- French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815)
- General History French Revolution Chronology
Napoleonic Wars Chronology
- Reform Bill of 1832
- Abolition of Slavery timeline:
- 1772: Mansfield Case (No Slave could be forcibly
removed from England)
- 1773: Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects published
- 1775: American War for Independence begins
- 1789: French War for Independence begins
- Equiano's Narrative published (England)
- 1791: Equiano's Narrative published (America)
- 1793: France abolished slavery in St. Dominique
- 1802: Slavery reestablished by French under Napolean
- 1804: Haitian Independence
- 1807: Britain, U.S. abolish slave trade
- 1833: Slavery in British territories "abolished"
- (As of Aug. 1, 1834, for those under six; others become
unpaid "Apprentices" for six year period)
- 1838: July 1: All British slaves freed
- 1863: Emancipation Proclamation in U.S.
- 1865: Thirteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution
ratified, ending slavery
- Madness of King George III / Regency
- The Romantic period “was marked on one end by the
revolutions in America and France, and on the other by the
reform of Parliament to extend the vote and reconfigure
representation, by the emergence of the modern industrial state,
and by the abolition of slavery in British colonies” (3).
- Events of French Revolution “had announced a radical break in
historical continuity—a sudden, cataclysmic overthrow of a
monarchy surrounded by high culture, and the eruption of a new
social order that no one knew how to ‘read’” (3).
- “Enthusiasts heralded the fall of an oppressive aristocracy
and the birth of democratic and egalitarian ideals, a new era,
shaped by ‘the rights of man’ rather than the entailments of
wealth and privilege, while skeptics and reactionaries rued the
end of chivalry, lamented the erosion of order, and foresaw the
decline of civilization” (3).
Romance, Romanticism, and the Powers of the Imagination:
- Romantic period writers “were invigorated by a sense of
participating in the modern world, of defining its values, and
of claiming a place for writers as its instructors, prophets,
critics, and inspirers” (4).
- “This enthusiasm inspired innovations in content and literary
form. Lyric, epic, and autobiography became radically
subjective, spiraling inward to psychological dramas of mind and
memory, or projecting outward into prophecies and visions of new
worlds formed by new values” (4).
- 18th C. philosophy and science “had argued for objective,
verifiable truth and the common basis of our experience in a
world of concrete, measurable, physical realities. Over
the century, however, there | emerged a competing interest in
individual variations subjective filterings, and the mind’s
independence of physical realities, or even creative
transformation of them: not just a recorder or mirror, the mind
was an active, synthetic, dynamic, even visionary power—of
particular importance to poets” (4-5).
- Coleridge: Primary Imagination: “‘the living Power
and prime Agent of all human perception, [and . . . a repetition
in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the
infinite I AM” (Biographia Literaria: Longman
575)]’ analogous to but a lesser power than divine
creation. Poetry was written by the ‘secondary
Imagination,’ an ‘echo’ of the Primary ‘coexisting with
conscious will’: it dissolves and diffuses the materials of
perception ‘in order to recreate’” (5).
- PBS, Defence: “‘Reason is to imagination as the
instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the
shadow to the substance’” (5).
- “Keats proposed the imagination as a link to the ideal world
at the dawn of creation”—compared to Adam’s dream (5).
(see Longman 900)
- “As Keats’s analogy of Adam’s dream suggests, male
imagination often projects an eroticized female or feminized
- Women writers re: imagination—“prone to a skeptical bias,
accenting dangers, a corruption of rational capacity and moral
judgment, an alliance with destructive (rather than creative)
- Women had more to lose—were already associated with
passion, emotions, were not acknowledged to be capable of
rational thought (see also 8, 24-26).
- Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary: Romance: “‘A military
fable of the middle ages; a tale of wild adventures in war and
- “Radcliffe perfected the gothic romance novel” (6).
- “Scott elaborated the poetic romance and virtually
defined the historical romance” (6).
- “Byron made his name and fame in exotic quest romance”
- “In a variety of genres—ballad, narrative poem,
novel—Romance turned to other places and times, or shaped
timeless, ahistorical tales of quest and desire, love and
- PBS & Keats “turned to the landscapes and myths of
ancient Greece as resources of imagination before the age of
Christian "truth’” (6).
- Thus, Romantic-era writers enacted “a turn, even an
escape, from the tumultuous and confusing here-and-now of
England. The appeal lay not only in exotic settings and
remote ages themselves but also in the freedom these licensed
to explore superstitions and customs that had been dismissed
by Enlightenment thinkers who championed faith in ‘Reason,’
progress, and universal truths” (7).
- Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary: Romantick: “‘1) resembling
the tales of romances; wild. 2) Improbable; false. 3) Fanciful;
full of wild scenery’” (7).
- “Acutely aware of the chaos of their historical moment,
writers often make the attraction to another world a critical
- “Romances often reflect, and reflect on, the world seemingly
escaped or effaced from consciousness” (7).
- Women writers: “Especially in the popular form of the novel,
they felt that it [Romance] encouraged too much ‘sensibility’—the
cultivation of emotional refinement over rational intellect—and
fed an appetite for fantasy over sound judgment” (8).
- Mary Wollstonecraft believed that “The genre enfeebled reason
and stimulated illusions about ‘romantic love’ that held
perilous social consequences” [see Maria] (8).
- Intersection of “Romance exoticism” and “the socially
immediate world”: “Encounters with outcasts of all
kinds—refugees, the poor, abandoned and fallen women, discharged
soldiers, sailors, vagrants, peasants, north-country shepherds
and smallholders, abject slaves—supplied the unusual and
unexpected, and at the same time provoked social
- Importance of literary tradition: “Milton’s
revolutionary politics provided an example of anti-monarchal
courage, and Paradise Lost was indisputably the most
important poem in English literature” (9).
- “Milton’s Satan, an epitome of the ‘sublime,’ is
echoed and doubled everywhere, and along with Milton’s God and
Adam, casts his shadow across the fable of masculine ambition
and heroic alienation that Wollstonecraft’s daughter Mary
Shelley creates for Frankenstein” (9).
- “The Romantic sublime is a moment of vision which, by
providing an intuition of the absolute grounds of existence,
claims to close the gap between subject and object” (Oxford
Companion 723) See also Longman 1031.
- “At the same time . . ., Romantic creativity also defined
itself—often defiantly—against tradition, experimenting with new
forms and genres” (9).
The French Revolution and Its Aftermath:
- The “I” becomes “an individual authority, for whom the mind,
in all its creative powers and passionate testimony of deeply
registered sensations, becomes a compelling focus” (10).
- Leads Keats to discuss the “wordsworthian or egotistical
sublime” (Longman 908)
- “Poets such as Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley cultivated the
‘I’ as antihero: the exile, the damned visionary, the alienated
idealist, the outcast, whose affiliates were Cain, Satan, even
the paradoxical figure of Napoleon—all joined by the passion of
mind and the torrents of imagination” (10).
- In his focus on common figures, “Wordsworth’s revolution was
to treat them all as vehicles of worthy imagination and passion”
- In “On the Living Poets” (1818), “Hazlitt had no problem
linking this program to ‘the sentiments and opinions which
produced the French revolution,’ as well as its ‘principles and
- After fall of Bastille (July 14, 1789), in England,
“Conservatives were alarmed, while liberals welcomed the early
phase as a rep-|etition of England’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688, an overdue end to feudal abuse and
the inauguration of constitutional government” (10-11).
- August 1792: Overthrow of French Monarch, Louis XVI
- Sept: September Massacres
- Extremist Jacobins replace moderate Girondins=> Reign of
- Jan  1793: Louis XVI guillotined
- (Oct  1793: Marie Antoinette guillotined)
- Feb 1793: War declared on Britain, Britain reciprocates,
“throwing the political ideals of WW and his generation into
sharp conflict with their love of country” (11).
- Peace of Amiens: 1802-1803
- Otherwise, “ Britain was at war with France until the final
defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815” (11).
- Terror of Robespierre (1793-1794): “thousands of aristocrats,
their employees, the clergy, and ostensible opponents of the
Revolution were guillotined, the violence swallowing up
Robespierre himself in [July 28] 1794” (11).
- “The Revolution had evolved into a military dictatorship, its
despotism confirmed when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in
- “Although war barely reached Britain, it was a constant
threat, cost thousands of British lives, and sent its economy
into turmoil” (12).
- “When Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1807, British
support for the spontaneous resistance of the Portuguese and
Spanish peoples enabled former radicals to return to the
patriotic fold, to see their country as the champion of liberty
against French imperialism” (12).
- “Unlike the English, the French rejected their monarchy; if
France could thus claim to be the first modern nation in the old
world, Britain could feel superior to a country defined by the
Terror and then Napoleon” (12).
- “Its fears heightened by the threat of invasion, the
government clamped down on any form of political expression that
hinted at French ideas. Efforts to reform Parliament begun in
the 1780s were stifled, as was the movement to abolish the slave
trade, and even moderates were silenced by accusations of
‘Jacobinism’ (sympathy with Revolutionary extremists)” (13).
- 1794: Suspension of habeas corpus: “Now anyone
suspected of a crime could be jailed indefinitely” (13). [cf.
USA ca. 2001-]
- Gagging Acts of 1795: “defining any criticism of the
monarchy as treason and squelching political organization by
limiting the size of meetings to discuss reform” (13).
- Combination Act of 1799: Prevented unionization,
discussion of collective bargaining
- Pentridge Rising of 1817: Jeremy Brandeth, instigated by agent
provocateurs [one employed to associate with suspected persons
and by pretending sympathy with their aims to incite them to
some incriminating action (m-w.com)], led abortive, futile
uprising of radicals in form of march on Nottingham.
- Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820: “scheme to murder cabinet ministers
(a prime minister [Spencer Perceval] had been assassinated in 1812) and stage a
coup d’etat” (13).
- “The ultimate conspirators had been the government” (13).
- “Rather than international ‘fraternity,’ it was
repression at home and wars abroad that defined the legacy of
the French Revolution” (13).
- Corn Laws of 1815: “restricted imports in order to
sustain the artificially high prices, a boon for landlords and a
disaster for the poor, for whom bread was a chief article of
- “In 1800 only males, and only five percent of them, were
allowed to vote; only Anglicans, members of the state Church,
could serve in the House of Lords. Workers did not have a vote,
or even a representative in Parliament” (14).
- “It was in Manchester that the modern vocabulary of class
struggle emerged” (14).
- Peterloo Massacre: August 1819, “nearly a hundred
thousand mill-workers and their families gathered at nearby St.
Peter's Field for a peaceful demonstration with banners and
parades, capped by an address by the radical "Orator" Hunt
calling for Parliamentary reform. . . The militia struck
out at the jeering though unarmed crowd and, backed by mounted
Hussars, in ten minutes left an official toll of eleven dead,
including one trampled child, and more than four hundred
injured, many from sabre wounds” (14).
- “Parliament did not reform, but instead consolidated the
repressive measures of previous decades into | the notorious Six
Acts at the end of 1819. These Acts outlawed
demonstrations, empowered magistrates to enter private houses in
search of arms, prohibited meetings of more than fifty unless
all participants were residents of the parish in which the
meeting was held, increased the prosecution of blasphemous or
seditious libel (defined as language "tending to bring into
hatred or contempt" the monarchy or government), and raised the
newspaper tax, thus constricting the circulation of William
Cobbett's radical Political Register by tripling its price”
- “The King lived a domestic life and his successive
administrations were firmly Tory—that is, socially and
politically ‘conservative,’ committed to the constitutional
power of the monarchy and the Church, and opposed to concessions
of greater religious and political liberties” (15).
- Prince George “expected the crown in 1788, but the King
unexpectedly recovered, hanging on until November 1810, when he
relapsed and became permanently mad. In January 1811 the Prince
was appointed ‘Regent’” (15).
- After being sent to prison in 182 for ridicule of the Regent,
Leigh Hunt “continued to edit The Examiner from his prison cell,
which he transformed into a gentleman's parlor, where he was
visited as a hero by Byron, Moore, Keats, and Lamb” (15).
Industrial England and “Never-resting Labour”:
- “By 1750, the population of England and Wales was around
five-and-a-half million; at the turn of the century, when the
first census was taken, it was about eight million, with most of
the increase in the last two decades” (17).
- “by 1831 the population of Great Britain neared fourteen
- “In 1800 only London—with about ten percent of the entire
population of England and Wales—had more than a hundred thousand
people. By 1837, when Victoria was crowned, there were five such
cities, and London was growing by as much as twenty percent a
- “This unprecedented concentration was the result of several
converging factors. The 1790s had been racked by poor harvests,
and harvests were bad again in 1815. Scarcities were aggravated
by the Corn Laws and an increase of "Enclosure acts"—the
consolidation and privatization of the old common fields into
larger and more efficient farms. The modernizing did improve
agricultural yield and animal husbandry, thus offsetting in some
measure Malthus's prediction of an inadequate food supply, but
it also produced widespread dislocation and misery” (17).
- “The census of 1811 revealed for the first time that a
majority of families were engaged in nonagricultural employment”
- There was no philosophy of government restraint and
regulation of these practices; all was ‘laissez-faire,’
the doctrine associated with Adam Smith's enormously influential
Wealth of Nations (1777) that national wealth would flourish if
businesses were left to operate with unfettered self-interest”
- “If Romantic poetry is famous for celebrating "Nature," this
affection coincides with the peril to actual nature by modern
Consumers and Commodities:
- “The East India Company, originally a trading
organization, gradually assumed administrative control of the
subcontinent, even to the point of collecting taxes to protect
British interests. The Company penetrated every aspect of
British life” (20).
- “The East India Company [w]as the prototype for later
colonial rule” (21).
- “Cotton and tea were major goods. So was opium, and behind
the dreams of Coleridge's Kubla Khan, Keats's Ode to a
Nightingale (whose poet compares his state of sensation to
intoxication by "some dull opiate"), and De Quincey's
Confessions of an English Opium Eater were grim realities” (21).
- “The Opium Warsserved the larger purpose of opening
China to Lancashire cotton, as India had been opened earlier:
the Wars concluded with the annexation of Hong Kong, and the
opening of five treaty ports to British commerce” (21).
- “As morals adjusted in relation to economic opportunities,
the empire also fed a growing appetite for the exotic among
those shut up in urban squalor, or merely in an increasingly
routinized commercial life” (21).
- Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795): “In the 1770s he discovered how
quickly high art could be transformed into status commodity, and
began to produce imitation Greek vases, in vogue because of
recent excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. The Wedgwood
fortune enabled Josiah's sons to offer Coleridge an annuity of
£150 so that he could devote himself to literature” (21).
Authorship, Authority, and “Romanticism”:
- Gift-books: “This stimulus reached its acme with the arrival
of The Forget Me Not, a Christmas and New Year's Present for
1823. More than sixty annuals emerged to capitalize on
this pioneering venture, bearing such titles as The Book of
Beauty. Partly because they targeted female readers, they
were hospitable to female authors, including Shelley and Hemans.
And because they paid so well, they also attracted male writers:
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Lamb, and Scott published in
them, even though literary contributions were subordinated to
the engravings that were their most compelling feature” (22).
- “This revolution in manners and family structure reduced
‘family’ to its biological nucleus, replacing the economic unit
that enfolded laborers, servants, and dependents” (22).
- “What Jeffrey helps us see is that naming a literary canon is
a matter of selection from a wide field, motivated by personal
values. Other than Hemans, for instance, he thinks of English
literary tradition as defined by men—even though Jane Austen and
Mary Shelley proved to have as much durability as anyone in his
census (Austen's novels and Shelley's Frankenstein have never
been out of print). He also prefers literature of "fine taste"
and ‘elegance’ to the fiery passion and disdainful vehemence
that other readers would admire in Byron and Shelley” (23).
- “The Lakers”/ Lake School (from their residence in
the Lake District): Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge
- “‘Cockney School,’ a term of insult fixed on Londoners
Hazlitt, Hunt, and Keats, by the Scotsman John Gibson Lockhart,
writing in Blackwood's in 1817” (23).
- Poet Laureate Southey identified still a third school. His
youthful radicalism well behind him, he denounced the men ‘of
diseased hearts and depraved imaginations’ who formed ‘the Satanic
School,...characterized by a Satanic spirit of pride and
audacious impiety’” (23). (Allusion to Byron and Percy Shelley)
- “Except for Hunt and Scott, most of these men bonded across
class and political lines in their contempt of ‘Blue
Stockings’ (intellectual women) and female writers,
even as these women were defining themselves for and against the
stigmatized precedent of Wollstonecraft” (24).
- Wollstonecraft's Rights of Woman (1792) was one of
the first analyses to define ‘women’ as an oppressed class that
cut across national distinctions and historical
differences—oppressed by lack of education, by lack of legal
rights and access to gainful employment, as well as by a
‘prevailing opinion’ about their character: that women were made
to feel and be felt, rather than to think; their duty was to
bear children and be domestic drudges, to obey their fathers and
their husbands without complaint” (24).
- Women writers faced more than a few challenges. One was the
pervasive cultural attitude that a woman who presumed to
authority, published her views, and even aspired to make a
living as an author was grossly immodest, decidedly
‘unfeminine,’ and probably a truant from her domestic calling.
Many women published anonymously, under male pseudonyms, with
the proper title ‘Mrs.’ or, as in Austen's case, under an
anonymous and socially modest signature, ‘by a Lady’ (not one of
Austen's novels bore her name). They also maintained propriety
by hewing to subjects and genres deemed ‘feminine’—not political
polemic, epic poetry, science or philosophy but children's
books, conduct literature, travel writing (if it was clear they
had proper escorts), household hints, cookbooks, novels of
manners, and poems of sentiment and home, of patriotism and
religious piety. Women who transgressed provoked harsh
- “Whether the topic was imaginative literature, social
observation, science, or political commentary, the personality
of the essayist and the literary performance—by turns
meditative, autobiographical, analytical, whimsical, terse and
expansive—were what commanded attention” (26).
- Godwin's political romance, Caleb Williams and Scott's
successful Waverley (1814)
- “Radcliffe was remarkably popular; the genre that she
perfected in the 1790s caught everyone's attention, including
- “Edgeworth's regional-historical novels, their career
launched in 1800 with Castle Rackrent and extending over a
quarter century, also caught the attention of Scott, who dubbed
her ‘the great Maria’ both out of admiration for a genre that
shaped his own ventures and in recognition of her considerable
financial success” (26).
- Hannah More’s only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife
- Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein (1818 and 1831)
- “Austen's novels caught public interest with their sharp
social observation and stories of heroines coming of age in a
world of finely calibrated social codes and financial pressures.
With Scott, she would be deemed one of the major figures in the
- “The explosion of readers at once liberated authors from
patronage and exposed them to the turbulent and precarious world
of the literary marketplace” (27).
- More’s “Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–1799) were
circulated by the millions” (27).
- “Wordsworth remained ambivalent about developing a voice and
a literature that would gain popular reception, and continued to
resent those, such as Scott, who were more successful in these
- “The volatility of the market and of public taste points to
salient qualities of the period: a heightened awareness of
differences and boundaries, and of the energies generated along
their unstable edges, and even more, a heightened awareness of
time and history, public and cultural as well as personal.
‘Romanticism’ denotes less a unified concept, or even a
congeries of ideas, than an era and a literature of clashing
systems, each plausibly claiming allegiance, in a world of rapid