The Romantics Attitudes towards the French Revolution

I - The Romantics Attitudes towards the French Revolution introduction. Introduction

            The word “Romantic” is derived from the old Romantic or Romance languages, which were formed by a fusion of Latin as spoken by the common people in Italy with the native tongue of the northern barbarians who invaded that country. This Romance speech naturally assumed a variety of forms, but it reached its highest development in Provence, in southern France, where it became an important instrument of popular literary expression, especially during the 11th and 12th centuries. The compositions which appeared in this vernacular tongue were generally tales and ballads in which the adventures of knights in pursuit of honor, or in devotion to the Christian religion, or the enthusiastic deeds of chivalry (Lim, 2002), and the spirit of loyalty and reverence for women were portrayed.

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Another mark of this literature is its evident fondness for events that are strange, mysterious and supernatural. The name “romance” then, first applied to the language, in which those compositions were written, came afterward to refer to the prevailing characteristics which they displayed, as contrasted with the works written in Latin which were termed “classical.” During the 18th century, which delighted to term itself the “Augustan Age,” and prided itself upon its purity and refinement of taste, the classical models and modes of expression were regarded as furnishing the only correct standards. While the literature and art of Medieval Period was regarded as barbarous, and its whole mode of thought (Abrams, 1971) and life to be characteristic of Dark Ages that were unworthy of the attention of a cultivated man.

            Thesis Statement: This paper scrutinizes the Romantics attitudes towards the French Revolution, thus, discusses and evaluates the contributions of William Wordsworth as a poet during the French Revolution.

II. Background

A. French Revolution

            French revolution was a European political convulsion with social and cultural consequences, which began in France toward the end of the 18th century. It profoundly affected all of Europe and left marks on the Middle East, India, North and South America, and other parts of the globe that Europeans explored, colonized, and exploited (Hibbert, 2003).

            Through the Revolution is traditionally dated from 1789, its first phase in fact opened in 1787. Though historians recognize a French Revolutionary period that ended in 1799 or 1815, it cannot be said that the revolutionary struggle or movement ended at all. What the Revolution established during the 1790’s in large part survived, The Napoleonic regime, though governing despotically, preserved many revolutionary reforms and imposed revolutionary institutions and creeds outside France. The so-called Restoration of 1814-15 was meant to halt revolutionary change, but its sponsors had to accept many of the Revolution’s innovations (Hibbert, 2003). From 1815 to 1850, moreover, revolutionaries in many parts of Europe fought to realize goals that Frenchmen had pursued in 1789 and in 1793-1794. As a movement, the French Revolution continued into the 19th century. The agitation it began never died but blended into political and ideological conflicts of later times.

III. Discussion

A.  The Romantic Movement

            The romantic movement may best be understood if we regard it as a part of the general intellectual revolution of the 19th century, and as one in spirit with the historical an scientific spirit of modern times. The entire spiritual attitude of modern life, as contrasted with that of the 18th century, may be characterized as a new consciousness of infinite possibilities and boundless aspirations. The spirit knows itself as infinite and is also conscious of the infinite task set for the individual through its own demand for expression and realization. The new tendency turns away in disdain from the mechanical conceptions and formal syllogisms in which the 18th century had self-complacently summed up the universe (Masson, 2007), it laughs to scorn the unintelligent and formal imitation of classical models that bases itself on ancient canons; it declares that the infinitely mysterious law of life cannot be comprehended by the principle of self-love; it refuses to believe in a transcendent God. The new movement is thus romantic through and through, filled with a sense of mystery and wonder, with the love of adventure and discovery, and with buoyant spirit of aspiration. As Wordsworth says: “In that dawning age ‘twas bliss to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.” This tendency to advance to new achievements manifested itself in many and various directions. In philosophy it led to a new and fruitful attempt to comprehend in more adequate terms God, nature and the place and significance of man’s life in the universe (Lim, 2002).

B. Romanticism in France

             Everyone has seen that Jean Jacques Rousseau may in a sense be called one of the earliest romanticists. As a result of the French Revolution and the prolonged Napoleonic Wars, literature received little attention in France during the years that were most fruitful in Germany and England. Francois Rene de Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael are sometimes said to be the forerunners of romanticism in France. But the tradition of classicism was strongly intrenched, and even Victor Hugo at first adhered to this standard (Abrams, 1971). But in1826 in the Nouvelles Odes et Ballades, and in the following year in the preface to the play entitled Cromwell, he declared his allegiance to romanticism, and at once became the leader in a new cause into which he threw himself with all the fervor of his enthusiastic nature. Besides Hugo, the principal French romanticists are Alfred de Musset, Charles Nodier, George Sand, Theophile Gautier and Honre de Balzac.

C. William Wordsworth

            During the French Revolution, William Wordsworth contributed much through his writings. William Wordsworth was an English poet. He was the foremost nature poet of his time (Gill, 2004), not only describing natural scenes but expressing a close and mystical relationship between man and nature.

            Wordsworth was not always successful in applying his principles, and some of his verse is prosaic and awkward. However, in such poems as “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” some of the short lyrics, and most of the sonnets, Wordsworth achieved a masterly union of rich imagination and poetic expression (Davies, 2000).

            In his youth Wordsworth was influenced strongly by the Frenchman Rousseau and his revolutionary ideas on the rights of man. As he grew older, however, his political and social views grew more conservative.

·         One of the Late Poets

Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland. In 1791, he graduated from Cambridge University, and in the next year went to France. He had visited the country during vacations, and had developed an enthusiasm for the ideals of the French Revolution. While in France, Wordsworth fell in love with Annette Vallon, and she bore him a daughter.

When war between France and England became imminent, Wordsworth returned home. He soon was repelled by the excesses of the French Revolution (Gill, 2004). In 1975 a small inheritance enabled him and his sister Dorothy to move to a cottage in Dorsetshire.

IV. Conclusion

            In conclusion, the rise of the Romantic Movement in continental Europe was very gradual and exhibited many phases. The Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) movement in the 1770’s in Germany is considered by some scholars as a forerunner of Romanticism; by others, as a first wave of the movement. Inspired by the writings of the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, it was a protest against intellectualism and formalism. Most works of this movement were plays typified by a strong nationalistic and folk element and the portrayal of great passion.

            In addition, the main Romantic Movement in France was established in the 1820’s.

Reference:

Abrams, Meyer H. (1971). The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, (Oxford University Press).
Davies, Hunter (2000). William Wordsworth: a Biography (Atheneum).
Gill, Stephen (2004). William Wordsworth (Oxford University).
Hibbert, Christopher (2003). The days of the French Revolution (Morrow).
Lim, Cwisfa (2002). Romanticism – The dawn of a new era. (Reprinted 2006).
Masson, Scott (2007). ‘Romanticism’, Ch.7 in The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology, (Oxford University Press).

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