Currents and Eddies in the English Romantic Generation

Currents and Eddies in the English Romantic Generation

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Currents and Eddies in the English Romantic Generation

Currents and Eddies in the English Romantic Generation

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Between 1795 and 1820 there was among German authors an easily traceable movement, known as that of the Romantische Schule. It had a definite propaganda, a definite body of contemporary enemies, created a definite type of literature; and in spite of rather undignified civil strife among its different camps during the period of decline, it had in general a social unity and organization like that of a political party. Still more was this true of the romantic movement in France between 1820 and 1840. There Victor Hugo organized and rallied his literary followers like a political leader; and the militant romanticist cried: "He who is not for me is against me." The line of demarcation between romanticist and classicist was clearly drawn, and the main unquestioned line of cleavage.

Some of the same forces which produced these movements on the continent were at work in England. Yet the resulting phenomena were different. The Anglo-Saxon mind is in many ways centrifugal where French or German tendencies are centripetal. In a matter like literature, where there is no great external danger to repress its natural inclination, it does not lend itself readily to a nation-wide, homogeneous reform; and for this reason one finds in England a romantic generation, a gradual evolution in taste; but no one dominant romantic movement. Instead there were a series of minor impulses or camps, often hostile to each other, all presenting certain elements which critics have called "romantic" mixed with others which are doubtfully so. As a result, no matter what definition of romanticism be adopted, it is impossible to make the cleavage between romantic and unromantic poetry coincide with the line of division created by social affiliations or by conflicting theories of literary art. Would not every one call the "Christabel" of Coleridge and the "Giaour" of Byron romantic? Yet Coleridge and Byron . . .

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