The eighteenth century was known, among other possessions, as the neo-Classical Age of Reason. Thinkers admired all things Classical, from architecture to literature, and logical thinking was highly prized. Broadly speaking, Romanticism was a reaction against neo-Classicism. Writers and artists of the Romantic period considered that reason and logical thinking were all very well, but that these things did not value the emotional side of human responses highly enough. In modern terms, they might have said that the importance of the right hand-side of the brain, which deals with emotions, had been ignored. For instance, the writer, printer and painter William Blake (1757-1827) despised the clinical Classicism which was filling the new Royal Academy under the auspices of its founder, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), finding there no place for the imagination. In a famous painting of Sir Isaac Newton, Blake shows the great scientist absorbed in a calculation but apparently unaware both of his own natural nakedness and of the beauty of the world symbolized by the wonderfully colored rock upon which he is sitting. The second generation of Romantic poets, Keats, Shelley and Lord Byron were also revolutionaries. All grew up under a repressive, reactionary Tory government which had been quick to point out what ‘power to the people’ had led to in France. Shelley’s crusade in the name of liberty led him to fall out with his father, an MP and minor baronet, and to be expelled from Oxford University for writing The Necessity of Atheism (1811), a deliberately provocative pamphlet given that in those days most dons were churchmen. In 1818 he exiled himself for good, settling in Italy. From there, upon hearing of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 when troops attacked a gathering of 60,000 Manchester civilians meeting to hear speeches advocating parliamentary reform, he wrote ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, arguably the most vicious satirical poem ever written. No publisher dared to print it until after the 1832 Reform Act, and long after Shelley’s death. And although Keats is, on the face of it, the least political of these three poets, it is surprising for us to find out that his experiments with meter were seen as a challenge to the social order, and that this is one of the reasons why right-wing critics attacked his work.
Second Generation Romantic Poets:
The second generations Romantic Poets are slightly different in their thoughts. They are very much pessimistic and melancholic to observe the bad influence of the French Revolution. The groups which it has become usual to use in distinguishing and classifying 'movements' in literature or philosophy and in describing the nature of the significant transitions which have taken place in taste and in opinion, are far too rough, crude, undiscriminating -- and none of them so hopelessly as the category is the second generation Romantic Poets.
Many scholars say that the Romantic period began with the publication of "Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in 1798. The volume contained some of the best-known works from these two poets including Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's "Lines Written a Few Miles from Tintern Abbey." Of course, other Literary scholars place the start for the Romantic period much earlier (around 1785), since Robert Burns's Poems (1786), William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" (1789), Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," and other works already demonstrate that a change has taken place — in political thought and literary expression. Other "first generation" Romantic writers include: Charles Lamb, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott. A discussion of the period is also somewhat more complicated, since there was a "second generation" of Romantics (made up of poets Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats). Of course, the main members of this second generation — though geniuses — died young and were outlived by...