The Romantics

The Romantics

The Romantics

The Romantics

Excerpt

Unlike other volumes in this series, whose titles denote periods of time with more or less arbitrary boundaries, we see the 'Romantics' as characterizing a distinctive age, or even a 'movement'. The period between, say, 1770 and 1830 had, or was believed to have, an internal consistency and rationale uniquely its own. Our problem is how to define it.

There is, in fact, remarkably little agreement on what constitutes 'Romanticism'. The original meaning of 'romantic' was simply 'as in the old romances'. It first came to prominence as one of a group of similarly derived words in the 1650s -- along with such forms as 'romancical' (1656) 'romancial' (1653) and even 'romancy' (1654). It was nearly always used in an uncomplimentary sense, as in the case of 'romancer' (1663), meaning 'liar'. If not always so bluntly disreputable, the suggestions of fable, fairy tale and even dream were never very far from the word throughout most of the eighteenth century. We find references to 'childish and romantic poems', 'romantic absurdities and incredible fictions', and even to 'vile and romantic' deceptions. As late as 1803 Mrs Trimmer, a stalwart of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) Tract Committee and indefatigable do-gooder, published in her magazine, The Guardian of Education, an attack on a recently published collection of fairy stories, describing them as 'full of romantic nonsense'. Coleridge himself in Biographia Literaria (1817) tells us that in the Lyrical Ballads he had undertaken to write of 'persons . . .

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