The World or the Mind?
AS WE have seen, the sensitive point in the structure of early Romantic theory is the relationship between the poet's mind and the world which it contemplates: at this point his consciousness recoils again and again on itself. Is the real world the domain of the poet's imagination, in which, like a king, it has its duties and responsibilities, or is the poet concerned only with a world perceived and created by his own mind? In so far as the world is dead, stupid, intractable, a gross materialistic presence, may the poet ignore it--or must he attempt to make all come to life under the power of the imagination?
Conscience inclined the English poets to the latter duty, but not so in France. Less susceptible to German metaphysics, and with Montaigne rather than Hamlet in their blood, the French poets preserved a traditional realism. Wordsworth and Coleridge were hardly heard of, and Baudelaire and de Nerval would have been genuinely surprised to learn that it was their function as poets to expound and justify the ways of the imagination to men. They saw themselves as isolated, disinherited like the El Desdichado of de Nerval poem, proud and alien figures in a materialist society in which they had no place. They welcomed Childe Harold but not The Friend: the evangelical urge and the civic sense have never been strong in French poetry. The differ-