WHAT, ANOTHER REBELLION?' exclaimed Louis XVI on the morning of July 15, 1789, when told of the storming of the Bastille. He was given the famous answer, 'Sir, this is not another rebellion, this is the Revolution.' The French Revolution marked an important turning-point in history. Merging all the main aspirations of the Enlightenment in a single violent outburst, it swept away in a matter of weeks the privileges of the Church and of the Nobility. The Third Estate, subjugated by the feudal overlords in the 16th and 17th centuries, now demanded their rights. The armies of the Revolution nailed the words Liberty, Fraternity and Equality to their banners and carried them triumphantly across Europe.
The humanitarian ideals of the Enlightenment became the planks of a political programme. For example, the slave trade, tolerated by many European countries during the 18th century, was proscribed. The acceptance of the principle of equal rights led to the abolition of the privileges of rank and class. A commoner could now become an officer, a man without private means a magistrate or judge. In order to practise a trade it was no longer necessary to be a member of a guild. Peasants were no longer treated as serfs, and criminals put on the rack.
Men's standards of living underwent a basic change. Whereas the Church and the Nobility, so long entrenched, clung to the preservation of past institutions, the bourgeoisie of the 19th century ardently believed in progress. Technology and commerce, advancing by leaps and bounds, ushered in the first industrial revolution. The people were possessed by a craving for wealth and success, which to this day has continued to grow. Many of these trends, it must be admitted, did not clearly come to light until after the middle of the 19th century.
The people's revolutionary zeal at the turn of the century was still inspired by an idealism that had its roots in the 18th century. Dislike of the outmoded conventions of the Baroque period and of Rococo decadence and licence was already very widespread by 1750. This was the mood that engendered Rousseau's exhortation to go 'back to Nature', and encouraged the German 'Sturm und Drang' movement to exalt the individual man of genius. Schiller, in particular, was an ardent protagonist of this ideal of the 'whole man', whom he eloquently extolled in his poem The Artists, written in the year of the French Revolution. Byron and Carlyle were to follow in his steps, even if their ideals were less lofty.
It was the voice of a newly-orientated bourgeoisie that had awakened to a sense of its own destiny, and which was eager to take an active part in the building of a new world. In such a soil was nurtured the political liberalism of England and France, whose aim was to consolidate the rights for which the Revolution had been fought; in Germany, on the other hand, it blossomed forth as an unpolitical idealism -- the idealism of German Classicism, which held that each individual was intellectually and morally an autonomous being.
Stimulated by the interaction of Romanticism and the Classical Revival, this upsurge of idealism manifested itself in the arts, though to varying degrees in different parts of Europe. The excavations at