Th century: ROMANTICISM
Extending from about 1789 until 1837, the romantic age stressed emotion over the Augustan harmony and reason, the cult of nature, and the primacy of the individual will over social norms of behavior. The romantic writers preferred the mysterious (the "long ago and far away"), believed in the creative power of the imagination and adopted an intensely personal view of the world.
The first important English romantic poets were William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They lived in the scenic Lake District of northwestern England and wrote expressively and conversationally about the beauties of nature. Wordsworth and Coleridge produced a joint volume of poems titled "Lyrical Ballads" (1798), the manifesto of the new Romantic age. Wordsworth's preface to the second edition (1800) is almost a handbook for romantic poetry. There he explained why he wrote in everyday language rather than in the elevated poetic language of such earlier writers as Dryden and Pope and discussed why he wanted to write about everyday topics, especially rural, unsophisticated subjects.
A second generation of romantic poets included George Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and John Keats, each of them bringing out a new feature of English romanicism. Lord Byron created the antihero in such lengthy works as "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" (1812-1818) and the unfinished "Don Juan" (1819-1824), partly using his own autobiography. Byron sympathizes with rebels, outlaws, and other people traditionally scorned by society, because of their romantic appeal expressed in their individualism, free will, and adventuresome spirit.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was an idealist and social reformer. In his long poem "Prometheus Unbound" (1820), Shelley praised the individual who takes a stand against unjust authority.
Keats showed an unrivaled awareness of immediate sensation and an unequaled ability to reproduce it. Many of his works deal with beauty and its inevitable passing, including his major works "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1819) and "Ode to a Nightingale" (1819). Keats had a more profound influence than that of any other romantic.
Romantic prose included essays, literary criticism, journals, and novels. Criticism gained new prominence with Coleridge "Biographia literaria" (1817). The leading essayists were Thomas De Quincey and Charles Lamb. De Quincey's impassioned autobiography "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" (1821) is typical of the highly personal, revealing essay that was popular during the early 1800's. Lamb's warm and humorous essays were collected in two volumes known as "Essays of Elia" (1823) and "Last Essays of Elia" (1833).
The two greatest novelists of the romantic period were Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott. The Scottish writer Walter Scott took over the Gothic tradition to create the first truly historical novels in English literature setting his Waverley series in the Scottish Highlands or Edinburgh. He also contributed to the Romantic movement in a series of narrative poems glorifying the active virtues of the simple, vigorous life and culture of his land in the Middle Ages. Scott's death in 1832 marked the end of the romantic period.
The other popular kind of novel, the comedy of manners was established by Jane Austen, who heralded the coming Victorian Age. Austen wrote about middle-class life in small towns and in the famous resort city of Bath. The women in such Austen novels as "Pride and Prejudice" (1813) and "Emma" (1816) are known for their independence and wit.