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E-text prepared by Jeanette Hayward and Al Haines. Dedicated to the memory
of James Hayward.



A HISTORY OF ENGLISH ROMANTICISM IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

by

HENRY A. BEERS

Author of _A Suburban Pastoral_, _The Ways of Vale_, etc.







"Was unsterblich im Gesang soll leben Muss im Leben untergehen."
- Schiller




PREFACE

Historians of French and German literature are accustomed to set off a
period, or a division of their subject, and entitle it "Romanticism" or
"the Romantic School." Writers of English literary history, while
recognizing the importance of England's share in this great movement in
European letters, have not generally accorded it a place by itself in the
arrangement of their subject-matter, but have treated it cursively, as a
tendency present in the work of individual authors; and have maintained a
simple chronological division of eras into the "Georgian,", the
"Victorian," etc. The reason of this is perhaps to be found in the fact
that, although Romanticism began earlier in England than on the Continent
and lent quite as much as it borrowed in the international exchange of
literary commodities, the native movement was more gradual and scattered.
It never reached so compact a shape, or came so definitely to a head, as
in Germany or France. There never was precisely a "romantic school" or
an all-pervading romantic fashion in England.

There is, therefore, nothing in English corresponding to Heine's
fascinating sketch "Die Romantische Schule," or to Théophile Gautier's
almost equally fascinating and far more sympathetic "Histoire du
Romantisme." If we can imagine a composite personality of Byron and De
Quincey, putting on record his half affectionate and half satirical
reminiscences of the contemporary literary movement, we might have
something nearly equivalent. For Byron, like Heine, was a repentant
romanticist, with "radical notions under his cap," and a critical theory
at odds with his practice; while De Quincey was an early disciple of
Wordsworth and Coleridge, - as Gautier was of Victor Hugo, - and at the
same time a clever and slightly mischievous sketcher of personal traits.

The present volume consists, in substance, of a series of lectures given
in elective courses in Yale College. In revising it for publication I
have striven to rid it of the air of the lecture room, but a few
repetitions and didacticisms of manner may have inadvertently been left
in. Some of the methods and results of these studies have already been
given to the public in "The Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement,"
by my present associate and former scholar, Professor William Lyon
Phelps. Professor Phelps' little book (originally a doctorate thesis)
follows, in the main, the selection and arrangement of topics in my
lectures. _En revanche_ I have had the advantage of availing myself of
his independent researches on points which I have touched but slightly;
and particularly of his very full treatment of the Spenserian imitations.

I had at first intended to entitle the book "Chapters toward a History of
English Romanticism, etc."; for, though fairly complete in treatment, it
makes no claim to being exhaustive. By no means every eighteenth-century
writer whose work exhibits romantic motives is here passed in review.
That very singular genius William Blake, _e.g._, in whom the influence of
"Ossian," among other things, is so strongly apparent, I leave untouched;
because his writings - partly by reason of their strange manner of
publication - were without effect upon their generation and do not form a
link in the chain of literary tendency.

If this volume should be favorably received, I hope before very long to
publish a companion study of English romanticism in the nineteenth
century.

H.A.B.


_October, 1898._




CONTENTS

Chapter

I. The Subject Defined

II. The Augustans

III. The Spenserians

IV. The Landscape Poets

V. The Miltonic Group

VI. The School of Warton

VII. The Gothic Revival

VIII. Percy and the Ballads

IX. Ossian

X. Thomas Chatterton

XI. The German Tributary




A HISTORY OF ENGLISH ROMANTICISM


CHAPTER I.

The Subject Defined

To attempt at the outset a rigid definition of the word _romanticism_
would be to anticipate the substance of this volume. To furnish an
answer to the question - What is, or was, romanticism? or, at least, What
is, or was English romanticism? - is one of my main purposes herein, and
the reader will be invited to examine a good many literary documents, and
to do a certain amount of thinking, before he can form for himself any
full and clear notion of the thing. Even then he will hardly find
himself prepared to give a dictionary definition or romanticism. There
are words which connote so much, which take up into themselves so much of
the history of the human mind, that any compendious explanation of their
meaning - any definition which is not, at the same time, a rather extended
description - must serve little other end than to supply a convenient mark
of identification. How can we define in a sentence words like
renaissance, philistine, sentimentalism, transcendental, Bohemia,
pre-Raphaelite, impressionist, realistic? _Definitio est negatio_. It
may be possible to hit upon a form of words which will mark romanticism
off from everything else - tell in a clause what it is _not_; but to add a
positive content to the definition - to tell what romanticism _is_, will
require a very different and more gradual process.[1]

Nevertheless a rough, working definition may be useful to start with.
Romanticism, then, in the sense in which I shall commonly employ the
word, means the reproduction in modern art or literature of the life and
thought of the Middle Ages. Some other elements will have to be added to
this definition, and some modifications of it will suggest themselves
from time to time. It is provisional, tentative, classic, but will serve
our turn till we are ready to substitute a better. It is the definition
which Heine gives in his brilliant little book on the Romantic School in
Germany.[2] "All the poetry of the Middle Ages," he adds, "has a certain
definite character, through which it differs from the poetry of the
Greeks and Romans. In reference to this difference, the former is called
Romantic, the latter Classic. These names, however, are misleading, and
have hitherto caused the most vexatious confusion."[3]

Some of the sources of this confusion will be considered presently.
Meanwhile the passage recalls the fact that _romantic_, when used as a
term in literary nomenclature, is not an independent, but a referential
word. It implies its opposite, the classic; and the ingenuity of critics
has been taxed to its uttermost to explain and develop the numerous
points of contrast. To form a thorough conception of the romantic,
therefore, we must also form some conception of the classic. Now there
is an obvious unlikeness between the thought and art of the nations of
pagan antiquity and the thought and art of the peoples of Christian,
feudal Europe. Everyone will agree to call the Parthenon, the "Diana" of
the Louvre, the "Oedipus" of Sophocles, the orations of Demosthenes
classical; and to call the cathedral of Chartres, the walls of
Nuremberg - _die Perle des Mittelalters_ - the "Legenda Aurea" of Jacobus
de Voragine, the "Tristan und Isolde" of Gottfried of Strasburg, and the
illuminations in a Catholic missal of the thirteenth century romantic.

The same unlikeness is found between modern works conceived in the
spirit, or executed in direct imitation, of ancient and medieval art
respectively. It is easy to decide that Flaxman's outline drawings in
illustration of Homer are classic; that Alfieri's tragedies, Goethe's
"Iphigenie auf Tauris" Landor's "Hellenics," Gibson's statues, David's
paintings, and the church of the Madeleine in Paris are classical, at
least in intentions and in the models which they follow; while Victor
Hugo's "Notre Dame de Paris," Scott's "Ivanhoe," Fouqué's "Der
Zauberring," and Rossetti's painting, "The Girlhood of Mary," are no less
certainly romantic in their inspiration.

But critics have given a wider extension than this to the terms classic
and romantic. They have discerned, or imagined, certain qualities,
attitudes of mind, ways of thinking and feeling, traits of style which
distinguish classic from romantic art; and they have applied the words
accordingly to work which is not necessarily either antique or medieval
in subject. Thus it is assumed, for example, that the productions of
Greek and Roman genius were characterized by clearness, simplicity,
restraint, unity of design, subordination of the part to the whole; and
therefore modern works which make this impression of noble plainness and
severity, of harmony in construction, economy of means and clear,
definite outline, are often spoken of as classical, quite irrespective of
the historical period which they have to do with. In this sense, it is
usual to say that Wordsworth's "Michael" is classical, or that Goethe's
"Hermann and Dorothea" is classical; though Wordsworth may be celebrating
the virtues of a Westmoreland shepherd, and Goethe telling the story of
two rustic lovers on the German border at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

On the other hand, it is asserted that the work of mediaeval poets and
artists is marked by an excess of sentiment, by over-lavish decoration, a
strong sense of color and a feeble sense of form, an attention to detail,
at the cost of the main impression, and a consequent tendency to run into
the exaggerated, the fantastic, and the grotesque. It is not uncommon,
therefore, to find poets like Byron and Shelly classified as
romanticists, by virtue of their possession of these, or similar,
characteristics, although no one could be more remote from medieval
habits of thought than the author of "Don Juan" or the author of "The
Revolt of Islam."

But the extension of these opposing terms to the work of writers who have
so little in common with either the antique or the medieval as
Wordsworth, on the one hand, and Byron, on the other, does not stop here.
It is one of the embarrassments of the literary historian that nearly
every word which he uses has two meanings, a critical and a popular
meaning. In common speech, classic has come to signify almost anything
that is good. If we look in our dictionaries we find it defined somewhat
in this way: "Conforming to the best authority in literature and art;
pure; chaste; refined; originally and chiefly used of the best Greek and
Roman writers, but also applied to the best modern authors, or their
works." "Classic, _n._ A work of acknowledged excellence and authority."
In this sense of the word, "Robinson Crusoe" is a classic; the "Pilgrim's
Progress" is a classic; every piece of literature which is customarily
recommended as a safe pattern for young writers to form their style upon
is a classic.[4]

Contrariwise the word _romantic_, as popularly employed, expresses a
shade of disapprobation. The dictionaries make it a synonym for
_sentimental, fanciful_, _wild_, _extravagant_, _chimerical_, all evident
derivatives from their more critical definition, "pertaining or
appropriate to the style of the Christian and popular literature of the
Middle Ages, as opposed to the classical antique." The etymology of
_romance_ is familiar. The various dialects which sprang from the
corruption of the Latin were called by the common name of _romans_. The
name was then applied to any piece of literature composed in this
vernacular instead of in the ancient classical Latin. And as the
favorite kind of writing in Provençal, Old French, and Spanish was the
tale of chivalrous adventure that was called _par excellence_, _a roman_,
_romans_, or_ romance_. The adjective _romantic_ is much later,
implying, as it does, a certain degree of critical attention to the
species of fiction which it describes in order to a generalizing of its
peculiarities. It first came into general use in the latter half of the
seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth; and naturally,
was marked from birth with that shade of disapproval which has been
noticed in popular usage.

The feature that struck the critics most in the romances of the Middle
Ages, and in that very different variety of romance which was cultivated
during the seventeenth century - the prolix, sentimental fictions of La
Calprenède, Scudéri, Gomberville, and D'Urfé - was the fantastic
improbability of their adventures. Hence the common acceptation of the
word _romantic_ in such phrases as "a romantic notion," "a romantic
elopement," "an act of romantic generosity." The application of the
adjective to scenery was somewhat later,[5] and the abstract
_romanticism_ was, of course, very much later; as the literary movement,
or the revolution in taste, which it entitles, was not enough developed
to call for a name until the opening of the nineteenth century. Indeed,
it was never so compact, conscious, and definite a movement in England as
in Germany and France; and its baptism doubtless came from abroad, from
the polemical literature which attended the career of the German
_romanticismus _and the French _romantisme_.

While accepting provisionally Heine's definition, it will be useful to
examine some of the wider meanings that have been attached to the words
_classic_ and _romantic_, and some of the analyses that have been
attempted of the qualities that make one work of art classical and
another romantic. Walter Pater took them to indicate opposite tendencies
or elements which are present in varying proportions in all good art. It
is the essential function of classical art and literature, he thought, to
take care of the qualities of measure, purity, temperance. "What is
classical comes to us out of the cool and quiet of other times, as a
measure of what a long experience has shown us will, at least, never
displease us. And in the classical literature of Greece and Rome, as in
the classics of the last century, the essentially classical element is
that quality of order in beauty which they possess, indeed, in a
pre-eminent degree."[6] "The charm, then, of what is classical in art or
literature is that of the well-known tale, to which we can nevertheless
listen over and over again, because it is told so well. To the absolute
beauty of its form is added the accidental, tranquil charm of
familiarity."

On the other hand, he defines the romantic characteristics in art as
consisting in "the addition of strangeness to beauty" - a definition which
recalls Bacon's saying, "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some
strangeness in the proportion." "The desire of beauty," continues Pater,
"being a fixed element in every artistic organization, it is the addition
of curiosity to this desire of beauty that constitutes the romantic
temper." This critic, then, would not confine the terms _classic_ and
_classicism_ to the literature of Greece and Rome and to modern works
conceived in the same spirit, although he acknowledges that there are
certain ages of the world in which the classical tradition predominates,
_i.e._, in which the respect for authority, the love of order and
decorum, the disposition to follow rules and models, the acceptance of
academic and conventional standards overbalance the desire for
strangeness and novelty. Such epochs are, _e.g._, the Augustan age of
Rome, the _Siècle de Louis XIV_, in France, the times of Pope and Johnson
in England - indeed, the whole of the eighteenth century in all parts of
Europe.

Neither would he limit the word _romantic_ to work conceived in the
spirit of the Middle Ages. "The essential elements," he says, "of the
romantic spirit are curiosity and the love of beauty; and it is as the
accidental effect of these qualities only, that it seeks the Middle Ages;
because in the overcharged atmosphere of the Middle Age there are
unworked sources of romantic effect, of a strange beauty to be won by
strong imagination out of things unlikely or remote." "The sense in
which Scott is to be called a romantic writer is chiefly that, in
opposition to the literary tradition of the last century, he loved
strange adventure and sought it in the Middle Age."

Here again the essayist is careful to explain that there are certain
epochs which are predominately romantic. "Outbreaks of this spirit come
naturally with particular periods: times when . . . men come to art and
poetry with a deep thirst for intellectual excitement, after a long
_ennui_." He instances, as periods naturally romantic, the time of the
early Provençal troubadour poetry: the years following the Bourbon
Restoration in France (say, 1815-30); and "the later Middle Age; so that
the medieval poetry, centering in Dante, is often opposed to Greek or
Roman poetry, as romantic to classical poetry."

In Pater's use of the terms, then, classic and romantic do not describe
particular literature, or particular periods in literary history, so much
as certain counterbalancing qualities and tendencies which run through
the literatures of all times and countries. There were romantic writings
among the Greeks and Romans; there were classical writings in the Middle
Ages; nay, there are classical and romantic traits in the same author.
If there is any poet who may safely be described as a classic, it is
Sophocles; and yet Pater declares that the "Philoctetes" of Sophocles, if
issued to-day, would be called romantic. And he points out - what indeed
has been often pointed out - that the "Odyssey"[7] is more romantic than
the "Iliad:" is, in fact, rather a romance than a hero-epic. The
adventures of the wandering Ulysses, the visit to the land of the
lotus-eaters, the encounter with the Laestrygonians, the experiences in
the cave of Polyphemus, if allowance be made for the difference in
sentiments and manners, remind the reader constantly of the medieval
_romans d'aventure_. Pater quotes De Stendhal's saying that all good art
was romantic in its day. "Romanticism," says De Stendhal, "is the art of
presenting to the nations the literary works which, in the actual state
of their habits and beliefs, are capable of giving them the greatest
possible pleasure: classicism, on the contrary, presents them with what
gave the greatest possible pleasure to their great grand-fathers" - a
definition which is epigrammatic, if not convincing.[8] De Stendhal
(Henri Beyle) was a pioneer and a special pleader in the cause of French
romanticism, and, in his use of the terms, romanticism stands for
progress, liberty, originality, and the spirit of the future; classicism,
for conservatism, authority, imitation, the spirit of the past.
According to him, every good piece of romantic art is a classic in the
making. Decried by the classicists of to-day, for its failure to observe
traditions, it will be used by the classicists of the future as a pattern
to which new artists must conform.

It may be worth while to round out the conception of the term by
considering a few other definitions of _romantic_ which have been
proposed. Dr. F. H. Hedge, in an article in the _Atlantic Monthly_[9]
for March, 1886, inquired, "What do we mean by romantic?" Goethe, he
says, characterized the difference between classic and romantic "as
equivalent to [that between] healthy and morbid. Schiller proposed
'naïve and sentimental.'[10] The greater part [of the German critics]
regarded it as identical with the difference between ancient and modern,
which was partly true, but explained nothing. None of the definitions
given could be accepted as quite satisfactory."[11]

Dr. Hedge himself finds the origin of romantic feeling in wonder and the
sense of mystery. "The essence of romance," he writes, "is mystery"; and
he enforces the point by noting the application of the word to scenery.
"The woody dell, the leafy glen, the forest path which leads, one knows
not whither, are romantic: the public highway is not." "The winding
secret brook . . . is romantic, as compared with the broad river."
"Moonlight is romantic, as contrasted with daylight." Dr. Hedge
attributes this fondness for the mysterious to "the influence of the
Christian religion, which deepened immensely the mystery of life,
suggesting something beyond and behind the world of sense."

This charm of wonder or mystery is perhaps only another name for that
"strangeness added to beauty" which Pater takes to be the distinguishing
feature of romantic art. Later in the same article, Dr. Hedge asserts
that "the essence of romanticism is aspiration." Much might be said in
defense of this position. It has often been pointed out, _e.g._, that a
Gothic cathedral expresses aspiration, and a Greek temple satisfied
completeness. Indeed if we agree that, in a general way, the classic is
equivalent to the antique, and the romantic to the medieval, it will be
strange if we do not discover many differences between the two that can
hardly be covered by any single phrase. Dr. Hedge himself enumerates
several qualities of romantic art which it would be difficult to bring
under his essential and defining category of wonder or aspiration. Thus
he announces that "the peculiarity of the classic style is reserve,
self-suppression of the writer"; while "the romantic is self-reflecting."
"Clear, unimpassioned, impartial presentation of the subject . . . is the
prominent feature of the classic style. The modern writer gives you not
so much the things themselves as his impression of them." Here then is
the familiar critical distinction between the objective and subjective
methods - Schiller's _naiv and sentimentalisch_ - applied as a criterion of
classic and romantic style. This contrast the essayist develops at some
length, dwelling upon "the cold reserve and colorless simplicity of the
classic style, where the medium is lost in the object"; and "on the other
hand, the inwardness, the sentimental intensity, the subjective coloring
of the romantic style."

A further distinguishing mark of the romantic spirit, mentioned by Dr.
Hedge in common with many other critics, is the indefiniteness or
incompleteness of its creations. This is a consequence, of course, of
its sense of mystery and aspiration. Schopenbauer said that music was
the characteristic modern art, because of its subjective, indefinite
character. Pursuing this line of thought, Dr. Hedge affirms that
"romantic relates to classic somewhat as music relates to plastic
art. . . It [music] presents no finished ideal, but suggests ideals
beyond the capacity of canvas or stone. Plastic art acts on the
intellect, music on the feelings; the one affects us by what it presents,
the other by what it suggests. This, it seems to me, is essentially the
difference between classic and romantic poetry"; and he names Homer and
Milton as examples of the former, and Scott and Shelley of the latter
school.

Here then we have a third criterion proposed for determining the
essential _differentia_ of romantic art. First it was mystery, then
aspiration; now it is the appeal to the emotions by the method of
suggestion. And yet there is, perhaps, no inconsistency on the critic's
part in this continual shifting of his ground. He is apparently
presenting different facets of the same truth; he means one thing by this
mystery, aspiration, indefiniteness, incompleteness, emotion
suggestiveness: that quality or effect which we all feel to be present in
romantic and absent from classic work, but which we find it hard to
describe by any single term. It is open to any analyst of our critical
vocabulary to draw out the fullest meanings that he can, from such pairs
of related words as classic and romantic, fancy and imagination, wit and
humor, reason and understanding, passion and sentiment. Let us, for
instance, develop briefly this proposition that the ideal of classic art
is completeness[12] and the ideal of romantic art indefiniteness, or
suggestiveness.

A.W. Schlegel[13] had already made use of two of the arts of design, to
illustrate the distinction between classic and romantic, just as Dr.
Hedge uses plastic art and music. I refer to Schlegel's famous saying
that the genius of the antique drama was statuesque, and that of the
romantic drama picturesque. A Greek temple, statue, or poem has no
imperfection and offers no further promise, indicates nothing beyond what
it expresses. It fills the sense, it leaves nothing to the imagination.



Online LibraryHenry A. BeersA History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century → online text (page 1 of 32)