Wordsworth, Coleridge, and British Romanticism
After a brief introduction of the period that will contrast the Romantics with the century that preceded them, we shall move on to analyze the great poetic, theoretical experiment that most consider the Ur text of British Romanticism: "Lyrical Ballads". We shall explore both the unique plan of "Lyrical Ballads", and the implications of that plan for literary theory. In this elaborate introductory summary, we shall consider the contributions of the British Romantic poets. Our texts will be: Wordsworth's Preface to the "Lyrical Ballads",
Coleridge's "Biographia Literaria",
Shelly's "Defense of Poetry",
After this initial lecture on "Lyrical Ballads" itself, we'll then devote one talk to Wordsworth. Coleridge, and Shelly. Rather than devote an entire lecture to Keats, we'll consider Keats' theories in relation to those of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelly. So he will be fitted in the additional talks. Like Pope and Dryden, all four of our theorists were poets before they were critics. Thus their theory is a reflection of their own poetic technique. Because the four Romantics were poets, when they wrote their criticism, they were doing so out of their own experience. So this gives a little more practicality or pragmatic touch to their theory. Now the difference is that they're like Pope and Dryden in the sense that they're poets, however, there's a big difference. The Romantics treated the poet, rather than the rules of decorum, as a source and touchstone of art. When we look at Pope and Dryden, especially the former, we notice that they were theorists very interested in decorum, following those rules. Yet we'll see our poets/critics following the idea of the poet. In addition, we'll find they fashion a new social role for the poet, very different from the 18th century (mainly to delight and teach or more precisely to teach and delight). Another introductory matter is all four of our Romantics altered the epistemological theories of the Germans. Now the Romantics are epistemologists, but there's a difference. Whereas the German epistemologists were stillpragmatic theorists and interested in the relationshipbetween the poem and the audience, the British Romantics were what we might callexpressive epistemologists, interested in the relationship between the poem and the poet.
Another different is that whereas the theorists of the last century portray an 18th century or Enlightenment orientation, particularly true in the case of Burke and Kant, as proto- or pre-Romatics, yet still very much interested in reason and analysis. The Romantics often define themselves in opposition to the Age of Reason. They borrow some ideas from it, but basically they are a kind of revolution, a reaction against what was going on in the age before. Now although they are still interested in mental faculties, like epistemology, they replace the 18th emphasis onanalysis, with a new focus on synthesis. In addition, they privilege imagination over reason and judgment. Of course, we talked about this in quite some detail in the last unit.12 Origins of Romanticism
So before moving on to "Lyrical Ballads", we'll survey one more thing. There are three competing events for the cause or origin of Romanticism, that we'll just run-through quickly. Rousseau's "Confessions"
The first possible origin is the publication of Rousseau's "Confessions" in 1781, with itschampioning of the individual and its radical notion that the personal life and ideas of a single individual, is matter worth of great art. So the great Jean Jacques Rousseau, although he lived and died in the 18th century, really is one of the great origins of Romanticism. He was one of the first people to dare to write an autobiography. Rousseau is writing an autobiography because he thinks that he himself is matter worthy of...