The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists

The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists

The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists

The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists

Excerpt

A vast change came over England during the hundred years which separate the mid-eighteenth century from the mid-nineteenth. In 1750 politics were ruled by the methods of Walpole and the aristocratic traditions of the Revolution of 1688; formalism was as strong as it was ever to be in English letters; 'Gothic' was a term of reproach; Shakespeare had faults, and Pope was a peer of the great poets; religion, like philosophy, was comfortable and rational, scornful of uncertainties; agriculture was the mainstay of the State, and the parish the centre of common life; enterprise was engaged rather in commerce than in industry, and the mercantile theory had not yet encountered Adam Smith. In 1850 England had already progressed far in that political transformation which has produced a suffrage as general as ever Jacobin desired; in letters, standards and canons had been banished from the finite world of law to take precarious refuge in the soul of the artist; Shakespeare was enthroned above suspicion; Pope had become a minor poet, and Keats and Shelley were well on the way to becoming great ones; Gothic churches had long been springing up all over England in the wake of a religious movement which had small consideration for Right Reason; the abolition of the Corn Laws had meant the final destruction of the old landed aristocracy; in an urban industrial civilization rural life had become an anomaly or a distraction.

This is a revolution. A century is a small thing in a nation's life. The true revolution is not a matter of guillotine and barricades, coups d'état, and conventions. It is simply a transformation, rapid only by comparison with the long unfolding of human history, in the ideas that govern men's minds. And so material change alone is no measure of revolutions. The aeroplane, the sub-

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