The Constitution of the United States of America, the French Revolution and the industrial revolution that lead to England becoming an industrial country, are all changes that woke feelings in the British people. This was the start of what we call the “Age of Romanticism” in Britain. This period reaches from 1790 to 1830. The poets, like everybody else, were interested in politics and most of the poets from the Romantic period supported the radicals. They wanted revolution, and supported therefore the French revolution enthusiastically. They also supported Napoleon at first, but when they saw how violent the war was, they abandoned his beliefs. The same thing happened with the French revolution. They saw the revolution grew in violence and lost their belief in it. Many poets also felt cheated by the revolution. They thought they saw a way to a better life, but the revolution only made things worse.
After their dreams were scattered by the outcome of the revolution, many of the “old” Romantics, who were born before all these changes, turned to a more conservative political view. Many of the “younger” Romantics criticised the “old” Romantics for their turnabout. They still wanted democracy and radical change. They supported later the Nationalists in Italy and Greece.
The poets in the Romantic period were individualists who wanted their freedom to write how they wanted. They felt the old “rules” and “forms” took the heart and emotion out of the poetry. Therefore they intentionally “broke” all the old “rules” of form, rime etc. Some of the younger poets went later back to the “neo-Classical” way of writing, but in the Romantic period the poets mainly wrote without any “rules”. Another thought they had about writing was the use of common language. The “old” Romantics used simple language, or “rustic language” as they called it, but the younger ones who wrote more in a neo-Classical way used the old “correct” language, which I’d like to demonstrate here:
“Stanzas for Music”
Normally you wouldn’t call William Wordsworth’s language in “The Prelude” for “rustic”, but you have to take it to consideration that this poem was written over 200 years ago an that they had a quite different language then. If you compare the language in “The Prelude” with the language in “Stanzas for Music”, you can easily see the difference between the Romantic (“rustic”) language, and the neo-Classic (“correct”) language.
Through all ages poets have used nature in their work, and this was no different in the Romantic period. But you couldn’t call the Romantics “nature poets”. They were interested in nature, especially “wild” nature like mountains, rivers and waterfalls, and used it to enrich their language. Many poets believed that nature was an important issue in life and that you could often find the answers to many essential questions of fundamental truth, if you studied it. Therefore many poets used nature as a symbol of what they wanted to express. Romantics weren’t satisfied whit just observing and describing nature, they used the answers they got from observing it and placed what they meant was the fundamental truths in life and reshaped nature with it.
Besides writing about political issues, the Romantics were especially interested in a person’s development in different societies. They often compared life in the country with life in the city, the life of a simple man and the life of a highly educated and rich man, and they looked upon children as free and innocent minds, which were unspoilt by civilisation. Another theme Romantic writers love, is being alone. This theme makes a lot of the Romantic works melancholic. Themes, that also were important in the Romantic period, were the “unusual” things in life. The exceptional, the wonderful and the supernatural were subjects many poets studied and wrote about. Many Romantics thought of old “folk-tales” as fresh material in their poetry.
English Romanticism was most strongly expressed in poems, but the writers also wrote plays, novels, essays and “fascinating” letters. The romantic period was a period full of thoughts and wondering. Many of the writers wanted to find answers to different questions in life, often by studying the nature, and must have felt that they expressed themselves best through poems. Still some of the best-known novels in the world were written in Britain during this period (ex. Frankenstein). The theme in many novels, such as “Frankenstein”, is the natural goodness being corrupted by an evil authority, which is strongly Romantic. Other known and important works are “Lyrical Ballads” by Wordsworth and Coleridge (1798), the Preface to “Lyrical Ballads” by Wordsworth, “The Prelude” by Wordsworth and “A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman” by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792).