Romanticism versus Neoclassicism

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Neoclassical and Romantic movements cover the period of 1750 to 1850. Neoclassicism showed life to be more rational than it really was. The Romantics favoured an interest in nature, picturesque, violent, sublime. Unlike Neo_classicism, which stood for the order, reason, tradition, society, intellect and formal diction, Romanticism allowed people to get away from the constrained rational views of life and concentrate on an emotional and sentimental side of humanity. In this movement the emphasis was on emotion, passion, imagination, individual and natural diction. Resulting in part from the liberation and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movement had in common only a revolt against the rules of classicism. There are obviously a lot of distinctions between these two movements and here I am going to compare and contrast these two movements in English literature by considering the principles and writers and works of writers which exhibit these differences in both periods.

Neoclassicism was an artistic and intellectual movement, beginning in the mid-17th century in England, both progressive and traditional in its goal of rivaling the literary and artistic accomplishments of Augustus Caesar's day and the classical period in general. This movement could be characterized as a "religion of the head." On the contrary, Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that spread across Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century. This movement was a reaction in direct opposition to the Age of Reason in its understanding of human happiness and the means to achieve it. This literary revolution could be characterized as a "religion of the heart."

Neoclassical writers imitated great poems of the past because of the belief that men had agreed on certain, fixed ways of writing across the centuries. Rules for pastoral poetry, the satire and the epic were respectfully followed. A Neoclassical poet's philosophy argued that the best way for humans to communicate effectively and thus move forward in better understanding the world was to agree upon certain conventions. Romantic writers were skeptical and cynical regarding existing laws, political structures, manners and other conventions such as rules for an epic or an ode. Romantic writers experimented with mixing the various art forms. British Romantic writers on the whole still observed certain conventions in writing as a self-imposed discipline and expressed revolutionary ideas rather than taking lawless, radical actions. Neoclassicist insisted on order in beauty but the Romantics constituted the predominance of imagination over reason and formal rules and over the sense of fact or the actual. Neoclassical writers were confident in the human power of reason to achieve progress in this "new day" or Enlightenment. Human faculties were capable of making sense and order out of the universe. Romantic writers were deeply and self-consciously interested in emotions and imagination. Writers strove to deify the heroic extremes of feeling, encouraging readers to trust their emotions, intuitions and instincts over rational thought. The imagination was thought to be the most valuable of all human faculties. As Schubert stated: "Oh, imagination, thou supreme jewel of making . . . Preserve us from that so-called Enlightenment, that ugly skeleton without flesh or blood."

The belief that humans are rational animals, composed of a central, identifiable human nature, is the focus of certain Neo _classical works. Many writers assumed that humans could overcome individual eccentricities and find commonality; thus they extrapolated that all people could relate to the ideas, emotions and expression of their writing. In Neo_classicism we have objectivism whereas Romanticism deals with subjectivism. A Romantic writer was occupied with his/her own unique response to the world, with an inward focus on his/her individual emotional history. As Schlegel stated: "Reason is but one...
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