“The Storming of the Bastille”, Claude Monet (1789)
This painting represents the chaos and violence that was characteristic of the French Revolution
The Debate Between Romanticism and Enlightenment
The poem France: An Ode, written by Samuel Coleridge and Robespierre’s Republic of Virtue agree on the values that the French Revolution fights for but have contrasting views on the methods used to achieve those goals. The French Revolution fought to break down the monarchial system and replace it with egalitarian government. Both Coleridge and Robespierre agreed that a new form of government was necessary. They differ, though, on Robespierre’s idea that terror is virtue and the destruction caused by the French Revolution. As a Romantic poet, Coleridge focuses on the common person and natural aspects of the world.
Coleridge agrees with the original intent of the French Revolution which fights for the common person. He feels that liberty is something that all humans should have regardless of their social class or lineage. Coleridge compares liberty to “the solemn music of the wind.” Comparing freedom to “solemn music” he shows that ones liberty is a serious matter that if addressed correctly would enhance the enjoyment of life, like music. By associating freedom with wind, Coleridge implies that freedom is universal because wind travels everywhere. These ideas tie in with the Romantic views that all people should have the right to strive for happiness. These views are again illustrated when Coleridge writes, “Thou rising Sun! thou blue rejoicing Sky.” (Coleridge, 102) By comparing “liberty” to the sun and the sky, Coleridge states that the idea of liberty is a natural right. It is not something that should have to be fought for, but something that all people should inherently possess. By also comparing “liberty” to the rising sun implies that the rise of a democratic government will happen soon and that when uncovered, it will be a very good thing for the whole world. Romantic poetry often referred to the natural aspects of the world as Romantic poetry strived to bring together nature and man. Coleridge illustrates his optimism about where the French Revolution could lead and the ideas it could bring to the world.
When Robespierre took control of the French Revolution he immediately began to assert his ideas of natural equality on France. In Robespierre’s Republic of Virtue, he states that his goal involves the well-being of everyone, “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws are engraved not on marble or stone but in the hearts of all men.” (Perry, 114) Robespierre meant that he wanted to create a state where people do not have to fight for there liberties. The metaphor in this passage “laws are engraved not on marble or stone but in the hearts of all men” shows Robespierre’s belief in unbendable laws that apply to everyone. By saying that laws are engraved he means that these laws must stick with his citizens at all times and “in the hearts of all men” confirm his belief in natural laws that all are born with. Robespierre only wants people who are willing to give for the greater good. Robespierre also says, “We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions of nature and the destiny of humanity, realize the promises of philosophy, and acquit providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny.” (Perry,114) In this passage, Robespierre claims that nature intends for humankind to use the ideas of philosophy, reason and logic, and remove the monarchial constraints that have been placed upon them. Robespierre argues that humans have the right to govern themselves instead of God and kings. Robespierre’s believes the ideal government must be a republic or democracy as those are the only formats that allow for universal happiness. Like many leaders before him who ultimately failed, Robespierre, in the traditional Enlightenment theory, sought to use...