Answer: Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era or the Romantic period) was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850.
The Romantic Movement originated in Germany with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s play Faust (1808-1832) addresses the issue of how man can acquire too much knowledge, how man can make deals with the Devil to get that knowledge, and how man can move from one human experience to another without achieving full satisfaction. Ideas about a new intellectual movement had circulated for some time in continental Europe and drifted across the English Channel to the islands of Great Britain. The earliest Romantic writer was William Blake, who was a printer by trade and whose works transcended art and literature. In England however, it was William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s book of poetry, Lyrical Ballads, in 1798 that established the mark of European Romanticism on the British Isles. From this small volume, the criteria for Romantic writing were established.
Romanticism a movement in the literature of virtually every country of Europe, the United States, and Latin America that lasted from about 1750 to about 1870, characterized by reliance on the imagination and subjectivity of approach, freedom of thought and expression, and an idealization of nature. The term romantic first appeared in 18th-century English and originally meant “romancelike”—that, resembles the fanciful character of medieval romances.
ORIGINS AND INSPIRATION
By the late 18th century in France and Germany, literary taste began to turn from classical and neoclassical conventions (see Classic, Classical, and Classicism). Inspiration for the romantic approach initially came from two great shapers of thought, French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
- The Romantic Spirit
Rousseau established the cult of the individual and championed the freedom of the human spirit; his famous announcement was “I felt before I thought.” Goethe and his compatriots, philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried von Herder and historian Justus Möser, provided more formal precepts and collaborated on a group of essays entitled Von deutscher Art und Kunst (Of German Style and Art, 1773).
- The Romantic Style
The preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), by English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was also of prime importance as a manifesto of literary romanticism. Here, the two poets affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination to poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary forms and subjects. Thus, as romantic literature everywhere developed, imagination was praised over reason, emotions over logic, and intuition over science—making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion.
THE GREAT ROMANTIC THEMES
As the Romantic Movement spread from France and Germany to England and then to the rest of Europe and across to the western hemisphere, certain themes and moods, often intertwined, became the concern of almost all 19th-century writers.
Many of the libertarian and abolitionist movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were engendered by the romantic philosophy—the desire to be free of convention and tyranny, and the new emphasis on the rights and dignity of the individual.
Basic to such sentiments was an interest central to the Romantic Movement: the concern with nature and natural surroundings. Delight in unspoiled scenery and in the (presumably) innocent life of rural dwellers is perhaps first recognizable as a literary theme in such a work as “The Seasons” (1726-1730), by Scottish poet James Thomson.
- The Lure of the Exotic
In the spirit of their new freedom, romantic writers in all cultures expanded their imaginary horizons spatially and chronologically. They turned back to the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) for themes and settings and chose locales ranging from the awesome Hebrides of the Ossianic tradition, as in the work of Scottish poet James MacPherson to the Asian setting of Xanadu evoked by Coleridge in his unfinished lyric “Kubla Khan” (1797).
- The Supernatural
The trend toward the irrational and the supernatural was an important component of English and German romantic literature. It was reinforced on the one hand by disillusion with 18th-century rationalism and on the other by the rediscovery of a body of older literature—folktales and ballads—collected by Percy and by German scholars Jacob and Wilhelm Karl Grimm (see Grimm Brothers) and Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.
DECLINE OF THE TRADITION
By about the middle of the 19th century, romanticism began to give way to new literary movements: the Parnassians and the symbolist movement in poetry, and realism and naturalism in prose.