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The Romantic Period. 1780 - 1832. Garden in Shoreham by Samuel Palmer, 1820s. Key Ideas …. Major Events. American and French revolutions (fighting for democracy) influenced and inspired many people, including literary figures

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the romantic period

The Romantic Period

1780 - 1832

Garden in Shoreham by Samuel Palmer, 1820s

major events
Major Events
  • American and French revolutions (fighting for democracy) influenced and inspired many people, including literary figures
  • People in Britain who supported the ideals of the Revolution were claimed as “English Jacobins”
  • After Britain went to war against France, those in Britain who supported the revolution were declared either unpatriotic or traitors
key terms
Key Terms …





  • Britain relinquished control over its American colonies but found a new empire in other parts of the world – it was transforming into a global superpower; colonial trade was an idea close to home for poets such as Coleridge
  • Began the period as an agrarian economy; by the end of the period, became a rapidly industrialising nation
  • Population of England more than doubled, contributing to the process of urbanisation
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Improved transport system, therefore improved connectivity between people
  • Changing conditions of rural life due to the industrial process

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. Rousseau

What shall I do when I have read all the books? Goodwin

O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts. Keats

  • Copernicun revolution (Immanuel Kant) – both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge (using reason without applying it to experience will only lead to illusions, while experience will be purely subjective without first being subsumed under pure reason). For example, notions of God, freedom and eternity were unknowable ideas, but necessary for us to make sense of reality
  • The Romantics favoured:
  • Concrete over abstract
  • Variety over uniformity
  • Nature over culture, convention and artifice
  • Freedom over constraint, rules and limitations
  • The unique individual to the average man
  • Free creative genius to prudent good sense
  • Feeling to thought
  • Emotion to calculation
  • Intuition to intellect
natural philosophy
Natural Philosophy
  • Until the 1840's what we now call science was "natural philosophy,"
  • Natural philosophy: arose before the development of modern science; study of the natural and physical universe; enquiry into the powers and phenomena of the natural world, demonstrating the splendours of God’s creation
  • Experience and argument attempting to explain or describe nature
  • Scientific agriculture
  • Major advances in mathematics, physics, chemistry, optics, electromagnetism and biology – battled against natural philosophy
  • Romantics often depicted as being opposed to Science but many were deeply interested in scientific enquiry – what they were against was the complete removal of mystery and the divine from nature
  • Coleridge denied that matter and spirit were distinct properties – leads to the idea of pantheism, where God is imminent in nature and not transcendent; although Coleridge was always tempted by the idea of pantheism, he struggled to resist it



Isaac Newton

Nature is subject to laws which can be expressed with mathematical certainty

The physical world is orderly, explicable, regular, logical

Man’s rational capacity and the use of science can penetrate the mysteries of nature



Isaac Newton

The universe is organic, alive, becoming, evolving, expanding

An admiration for all the potency and diversity of living nature

God in Nature; the unseen world, the supernatural, the mysterious

  • Revival of evangelicals – committed to strict morality
  • Conflict between the belief of the origin of the world and the idea of evolution
  • Institution of the established Church was under threat
  • Growth in religious sects – William Blake was attracted to the writings of the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg
  • Romantics generally rejected absolute systems, such as religion, in favour of the idea that each person must create their own system by which to live
  • During the romantic era, Religion was aestheticized
  • Romanticists felt free to draw on religious imagery and allusion but without pressure to be conventionally pious
romantic literature
Romantic literature
  • Romanticism is antithetical to eighteenth-century neo-classicism
  • Romantic poets: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron. These poets formed the literary movement known as “Romanticism”, which marked a profound shift in sensibility
  • The products of Romanticism tend to be radical or revolutionary – (inspired by the French and American revolutions)
  • Criticism of romantic writing: it deliberately ignores material reality and social concerns in its pursuit of transcendence and mysticism

Sensibility was considered a purely feminine attribute. During the Romantic period, there was a strong differentiation between masculine and feminine: women were the guardians of the private sphere (including such things as morality and the home); men were the leaders of the public sphere (political, civil and intellectual life)

Fears of sensibility were that it would lead to hysteria and disorder, the over-cultivation of the senses at the expense of reason and judgement, it might lead to men behaving like women and it might lead to sexual impropriety and ruin


The idea of sensibility soon became politicised and considered to be too closely associated with radical and reformist ideas

In James Gilray’s satire “The New Morality”, British reformers and radicals worship at the shrine of the new trinity (Philanthropy, Sensibility and Benevolence)




sublime continued
Sublime continued …
  • The words “sublime”, “beautiful” and “picturesque” were often used to describe the landscape
  • Romantic poets found ordinary descriptions of beauty as inadequate and too formulaic – they focused instead on the sublime, where an encounter with nature became a quasi-mystical or even religious experience
romantic poetry
Romantic Poetry
  • 1st generation of poets:
  • Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge
  • 2nd generation of poets:
  • Shelley & Keats
  • Some contention between generations – 2nd generation were born after the French Revolution and so reacted against the elder poets
  • Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote poetry as a response to the changing rural life; they describe the plight of people on the margins of existence and the sufferings of the rustic people as a result of the fall in rural earnings and rising cost in provisions
  • Romantic poets moved away from structured forms of poetry which they saw to be artificial
  • In the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth defended the rustic nature of their subjects and the language used by the poets, stating that it was the language really used by men
the lakes district england

The Lakes District, England

Inspiration for Wordsworth and Coleridge


Lake Windamere

Lakes District


“Dove Cottage”

Wordsworth’s grave


  • William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in the Lake District.
  • The magnificent landscape deeply affected Wordsworth's imagination and gave him a love of nature.
  • In 1795 he met Coleridge.
  • Encouraged by Coleridge and stimulated by the close contact with nature, Wordsworth composed his first masterwork, Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner."
  • After the winter of 1798-99, which he spend in Germany with Coleridge, he moved Dove Cottage, Grasmere, and in 1802 married Mary Hutchinson.
  • Born 1772 in Devon, England (the youngest son of a clergyman)
  • 1795 wrote “The Eolian Harp” for Sara Fricker who he later married – this was not a happy marriage
  • 1797 met Dorothy and William Wordsworth and wrote “Kubla Khan”
  • 1798 wrote “Frost at Midnight”
  • 1799 published the “Lyrical Ballads” with Wordsworth which included “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
  • 1799 met Sara Hutchinson who became his lifelong love
  • 1800 became addicted to opium
  • 1804 separated from his wife and spent the following years in the Mediterranean and London
  • 1808 lived with Wordsworth in Grasmere
  • 1810 quarrelled with Wordsworth and left the Lakes District forever; spent the remaining years in London
  • 1816 in an attempt to control his opium addiction he moved in with Dr James Gillman in London where he lived for the remainder of his life
  • 1834 died

(2000-2008). The Literature Network, Jalic Inc. Accessed 9th November, 2008.

(2008) Wikipedia: Immanuel Kant, Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Accessed 11th November, 2008.

(2008) Wikipedia: Natural Philosophy, Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Accessed 11th November, 2008.

Ross, K. (2007). Beginning of Modern Science and Modern Philosophy, Kelley L. Ross. Accessed 12th November, 2008.

(2002) Teachit.

Poplawski, P (Ed.). (2008). English Literature in Context, Cambridge University Press, England.

(2007). 2009-2012 HSC English Prescriptions Unit of Work, NSW Department of Education and Training, Australia.