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Turbulent Times, Bitter Realities • Started with the French Revolution and ended with the Parliamentary reforms • A turbulent, revolutionary age • England changed from an agricultural society to an industrial nation
The French Revolution • Represented the worst fears of the English ruling classes – the overthrow of an anointed king by a democratic mob • Ruling classes feared a revolution would start in England
The “New Regime” • “September massacre” – hundreds of French aristocrats and some members of the clergy had their heads cut off by the guillotine • France and England went to war • Napoleon Bonaparte became dictator then emperor of France, but became as ruthless as the executed king himself had been.
The Conservatives Clamp Down • England instituted severe repressive measures such as keeping suspected spies or agitators in prison without a trial • Romantics clung to their hopes for the “dawn of a new era” through peaceful change
The Industrial Revolution Finds a Foothold • England was the first nation to experience the effects of the Industrial Revolution • Production (formerly by hand) switched to factories, where machines worked much faster • City populations increased (due to factories), resulting in desperate living conditions • Land once shared by small farmers was taken over by individual owners, resulting in a large number of landless people, many of whom migrated to cities and/or relied on begging
The Tyranny of Laissez Faire • Laissez faire – let people do as they please • Government shouldn’t interfere • This resulted in the rich growing richer and the poor suffering even more • Small children of the poor were often used as beasts of burden (ex. harnessed to carts for dragging coal)
The Rebellion of the Romantic Poets • Believed in the force of literature • Turned to a more private, spontaneous, lyric poetry • Believed that imagination, rather than mere reason, was the best response to the forces of change
What does “Romantic” mean? • A child’s sense of wonder – a fascination with youth and innocence • Social idealism – people need to question tradition and authority in order to imagine better ways to live • Adaptation to change – an acceptance of change rather than a rejection of it
The Mystery of Imagination – poets • Sought a deeper understanding of the bond between human beings and the world of the senses • Believed that the imagination could be stimulated by both nature and the mind itself • Thought nature’s mysterious forces could both inspire the poet and hint at the causes of the great changes taking place in the world