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The Romantic Movement in England

Author(s): Hoxie N. Fairchild


Source: PMLA, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1940), pp. 20-26
Published by: Modern Language Association
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The Romantic Movement in
England
The Romantic Movement in
England
colorful,
less concerned with
emotion,
less sensitive to all the
deep
mystery
and
complexity
of human life.
GEORGE R. HAVENS
Ohio
State
University
3
THIE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND
INCE the flowers of English romanticism are thoroughly familiar, I
shall
pay
what
might
otherwise be a
disproportionate
amount of
attention to the roots.
The immediate sources of the
English
romantic movement are to be
found in the sentimentalized
puritanism
of the
eighteenth-century
middle class.'
Something
like a
philosophical
formulation of the
widely
pervasive
cult of
feeling may
be abstracted from such
mid-eighteenth-
century poets
as
Henry Needler, James Thomson,
David
Mallett,
Isaac
Hawkins
Browne, Henry Brooke, Henry Baker,
Mark
Akenside, John
Gilbert
Cooper,
and
James
Harris.
They sing
of a more or less Neo-
Platonic Divine
Spirit
of
truth, beauty,
and love who has
thought
the
universe into
being by
an exercise of creative
imagination.
"Nature" is
the universe as
permeated by
this
benignly
fecund
spirit.
The creation
is
full, complex,
and
richly variegated;
but it is also a
perfectly integrated
and harmonious whole. Man is a
part
of the universal
harmony.
His
bosom is full of
expansive
benevolent
impulses
akin to those
possessed
by
his Creator. His conduct is
regulated by
an intuitive
spiritual taste,
a virtuoso's
ability
to
appreciate
the cosmic
masterpiece.
In all this the
influence of
Shaftesbury may
be
seen,
but such ideas were so
widely
diffused toward the close of the seventeenth
century
that he cannot be
regarded
as their
only begetter.2
Eighteenth-century lay Christianity
was so broad and
hazy
that
writers who
expressed
these views sometimes called themselves Chris-
tians. We should call them sentimental deists with
pantheistic
hanker-
ings.
Their creed is not
strictly pantheistic,
for it
dimly recognizes
the
transcendence as well as the immanence of the divine. But since God is
revealed
only
in nature and in that most
godlike part
of
nature,
the
1 See Herbert
Schbffler,
Protestantismus und Literatur
(Leipzig, 1922); J.
W.
Draper,
The Funeral
Elegy
and the Rise
of English
Romanticism
(New
York
1929);
and the
present
writer's
Religious
Trends in
English Poetry:
Protestantism and the Cult
of Sentiment,
1700-
1740
(New York, 1939).
2 See
J.
W.
Beach,
The
Concept of
Nature in
Nineteenth-Century English Poetry (New
York, 1936);
and C. A.
Moore, "Shaftesbury
and the Ethical Poets in
England,
1700-
1760,"
PMLA,
xxxI
(1918),
264 ff.
colorful,
less concerned with
emotion,
less sensitive to all the
deep
mystery
and
complexity
of human life.
GEORGE R. HAVENS
Ohio
State
University
3
THIE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND
INCE the flowers of English romanticism are thoroughly familiar, I
shall
pay
what
might
otherwise be a
disproportionate
amount of
attention to the roots.
The immediate sources of the
English
romantic movement are to be
found in the sentimentalized
puritanism
of the
eighteenth-century
middle class.'
Something
like a
philosophical
formulation of the
widely
pervasive
cult of
feeling may
be abstracted from such
mid-eighteenth-
century poets
as
Henry Needler, James Thomson,
David
Mallett,
Isaac
Hawkins
Browne, Henry Brooke, Henry Baker,
Mark
Akenside, John
Gilbert
Cooper,
and
James
Harris.
They sing
of a more or less Neo-
Platonic Divine
Spirit
of
truth, beauty,
and love who has
thought
the
universe into
being by
an exercise of creative
imagination.
"Nature" is
the universe as
permeated by
this
benignly
fecund
spirit.
The creation
is
full, complex,
and
richly variegated;
but it is also a
perfectly integrated
and harmonious whole. Man is a
part
of the universal
harmony.
His
bosom is full of
expansive
benevolent
impulses
akin to those
possessed
by
his Creator. His conduct is
regulated by
an intuitive
spiritual taste,
a virtuoso's
ability
to
appreciate
the cosmic
masterpiece.
In all this the
influence of
Shaftesbury may
be
seen,
but such ideas were so
widely
diffused toward the close of the seventeenth
century
that he cannot be
regarded
as their
only begetter.2
Eighteenth-century lay Christianity
was so broad and
hazy
that
writers who
expressed
these views sometimes called themselves Chris-
tians. We should call them sentimental deists with
pantheistic
hanker-
ings.
Their creed is not
strictly pantheistic,
for it
dimly recognizes
the
transcendence as well as the immanence of the divine. But since God is
revealed
only
in nature and in that most
godlike part
of
nature,
the
1 See Herbert
Schbffler,
Protestantismus und Literatur
(Leipzig, 1922); J.
W.
Draper,
The Funeral
Elegy
and the Rise
of English
Romanticism
(New
York
1929);
and the
present
writer's
Religious
Trends in
English Poetry:
Protestantism and the Cult
of Sentiment,
1700-
1740
(New York, 1939).
2 See
J.
W.
Beach,
The
Concept of
Nature in
Nineteenth-Century English Poetry (New
York, 1936);
and C. A.
Moore, "Shaftesbury
and the Ethical Poets in
England,
1700-
1760,"
PMLA,
xxxI
(1918),
264 ff.
20 20
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Hoxie N. Fairchild
human
breast,
the summit of
religious experience,
for these
writers,
would be the
pantheistic
thrill.
Thus
described,
sentimentalism
may
seem
diametrically opposed
to
puritanism.
Must we invoke that last resort of
literary
historians,
the
swinging pendulum?
I
suggest,
on the
contrary,
the
metaphor
of a road
leading
from Low-Church
Anglicanism
and
Nonconformity, through
latitudinarianism,
to sentimental deism and on to romantic
pantheism.
The
seventeenth-century
Calvinistic
puritan
was an emotional and
introspective person
with a
jealous regard
for his own
spiritual
intuitions.
His creed was a
grim one,
but he was not so
gloomy
as the modern his-
torian would be if he were a Calvinist. On the whole he dwelt less on the
thought
that
anybody might
be damned than on the
thought
that
any-
body-even he-might
be saved. If he
experienced
conversion-and he
generally managed
to do so-he had
practically
conclusive
proof
that
he was
predestined
to salvation. In that case he was whiter than
snow,
incapable
of
sin,
a
seventeenth-century
schone Seele. He knew the
truth,
and the truth had made him free. Hence he could
enjoy
both the tense
dramatic
atmosphere
of
predestination
and "the
glorious liberty
of the
children of God."3
Under the rationalistic influences of the
Enlightenment
the Calvinist's
formal beliefs
decay
much more
rapidly
than his inward
religious
emo-
tions. He loses his
creed,
but he
retains,
in a blurred and softened
form,
the
feelings
which his creed has
given
him. The God above him becomes
more
shadowy
than the God within
him,
so that at last he is left with the
basic attitude of sentimentalism-a sense of inward
goodness
and free-
dom which must somehow find corroboration in the nature of the uni-
verse.
Enough
brimstone remains in the
air, however,
to
tinge
his
optimism
with a strain of
melancholy.4
It is
symbolically appropriate, then,
that Rousseau should have been
reared in the
city
of Calvin. But rather than be drawn back to the Ref-
ormation we had better turn in the
opposite direction, pausing only
to
observe that
Shaftesbury
owed much to the latitudinarian school of
Cambridge
Platonists.5 Between the
productions
of
eighteenth-century
sentimentalism and the work of the
great
romantics the
relationship
is
continuous. Wordsworth and his
contemporaries
are
supreme
artists,
in-
spired by
a tradition which had become
clear, free,
and
strong enough
for
3
This view of Calvinism is
ably
set forth
by
William Haller in his The Rise
of
Puritanism
(New York, 1938).
4
The close historical relation between Calvinistic and romantic
melancholy
is
recog-
nized
by J.
W.
Draper, op. cit., by
A. L.
Reed,
The
Background of Gray's "Elegy" (New
York, 1924);
and
by
Eleanor
Sickels,
The
Gloomy Egoist (New York, 1932).
6
See F. W.
Powicke,
The
Cambridge
Platonists
(London, 1926).
21
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The Romantic Movement in
England
genuinely imaginative treatment; inspired by
vital
hope, anger,
and
despair arising
from the
political
turmoil of their own
day;
inspired
by
congenial
or
stimulatingly antagonistic personal experiences; inspired
by
one
another; inspired
above all
by
the
imponderables
which make for
genius.
Nevertheless their belief in the holiness of the heart's
affections,
their
feeling
for external
nature,
their
medievalism,
their humanitarian-
ism,
their
melancholy,
their critical ideas-all that
they fundamentally
have to
say-are outgrowths
of
eighteenth-century
tendencies.
Some students would insist that in
using
the transcendental doctrine
of the
"higher"
reason as a means of
authenticating
their intuitions the
romantics added an element unknown to the
eighteenth century. Sorely
pressed
for
space,
one can do little more than assert that there is evidence
to the
contrary.
As
early
as 1706 Isaac Watts is
writing pseudo-Pindaric
odes which
mingle
an antinomian sense of
spiritual
freedom derived from
his Calvinistic
background
with a
conception
of the creative
powers
of
imagination
derived from a familiar Renaissance critical tradition. Ed-
ward
Young (1743)
declares that "Man makes the matchless
image
man
admires,"6
and
John Byrom (1751)
that
Mind
governs matter,
and it must
obey;
To all its
opening
forms desire is
key."7
Transcendentalism is at work in
eighteenth-century poetry.
The roman-
tics
develop
it more
richly
than
any
other
part
of their
inheritance,
but
they
do not create it.
Leaving
the
question
of
origins,
let us ask whether
any
common de-
nominator can be found beneath the
extremely
diverse
qualities
of
English
romantic literature. In
Biographia Literaria, Coleridge
asserts
that his contributions to
Lyrical
Ballads were intended to naturalize the
supernatural,
while Wordsworth's were intended to
supernaturalize
the
natural. Both
poets,
in their different
ways,
seek to interfuse two realms
of
being.
Keats dreams a union of truth and
beauty; Shelley,
a universe
of love in which the
phenomenal
world and the Platonic
paradise
"meet
and
mingle."
Blake entitles one of his
poems
The
Marriage
of
Heaven
and Hell. Beneath the entire movement one
perceives
the desire to
bring
God, man,
and
nature,
finite and
infinite,
real and
ideal,
familiar and
strange,
into a
thrilling unity
of diverse elements
through
the
"shaping
spirit
of
imagination";
one
perceives
the
joy experienced
when this
vision is
briefly approximated;
and one
perceives
the
despairing
realiza-
tion that the dualisms of modern life are
irreconcilable,
and that
6
The Works
of
the
English Poets,
ed. Alexander
Chalmers, xmI,
450.
7
Ibid., xv,
250.
22
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Hoxie N. Fairchild
. the
fancy
cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to
do, deceiving
elf.8
Hence romanticism as it
appears
in
English
literature
might
be de-
scribed as the
expression
in art of what in
theology
would be called
pan-
theistic enthusiasm. In the Middle
Ages
this
variety
of
religious experi-
ence was curbed
by
the undivided
Church,
but was
kept
alive
by popular
mystics
like Richard Rolle of
Hampole.9
After the
Reformation,
Prot-
estantism
imposes
no lasting check
upon it; indeed,
the
tendency
of
Protestantism to
collapse
into
pantheism
has often been observed.
Pantheistic
feeling
is
strong among
the
mystical
antinomian sects of the
seventeenth
century.
Its ardor is cooled for a time
by
the common-sense
compromise
of
1688,
but it arises once more in the
eighteenth century
as
that
compromise
breaks down. It is
implicit
and sometimes
explicit
in
Shaftesburyian sentimentalism,
and it becomes the
driving
force of the
great
romantics.
It is not for me to
apply
this
interpretation
to other countries. I
shall,
on the
contrary, emphasize
certain
qualities
of the
English
romantic
movement which seem
distinctively English.
The
following generaliza-
tions are meant to
apply only
to the 1780-1830
period.
The fortunes of
romanticism
during
the
age
of
Victoria,
when
many complicating
cir-
cumstances
arise,
must be
ignored.'0
England
did not need to be instructed in romantic
thought
and
feeling
by
other nations. In this
respect
she
gives
France and
Germany
far more
than she receives. Her
exports
include
Shakespeare, Milton, Thomson,
Young, Goldsmith, Richardson, Sterne, Percy, Macpherson, Scott,
and
Byron-all
of them
potent
influences in Continental romanticism." In
return she
imports comparatively little,
and she
reinterprets
that little
in
agreement
with her own
outlook.l2
For
her,
Rousseau is a
striking
8
Keats,
Ode to a
Nightingale.
The
conception
of romanticism
expressed
in this
para-
graph
receives fuller treatment in the
present
writer's The Romantic
Quest (New York,
1931).
9
See R. M.
Jones,
Studies in
Mystical Religion (London, 1909);
and A. C.
McGiffert,
Protestant
Thought before
Kant
(New York, 1911).
10
For information as to the romanticism of the Victorian
period,
see A. H.
Thorndike,
Literature in a
Changing Age (New York, 1925);
and F. L.
Lucas,
The Decline and Fall
of
the Romantic Ideal
(Cambridge, Eng., 1936).
1
See L. M.
Price,
The
Reception
of English
Literature in
Germany (Berkeley, California,
1932);
and Eric
Partridge,
The French Romantics'
Knowledge of English
Literature
(Paris,
1924).
12See F. W.
Stokoe,
German
Influence
in the
English
Romantic
Period,
1788-1818
(Cam-
bridge, Eng., 1926);
and Marcel
Moraud,
Le romantisme
franqais
en
Angleterre
de 1814
d 1848
(Paris, 1933).
23
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The Romantic Movement in
England
example
of that sentimental naturalism which she had
long independ-
ently
cultivated. The
original
elements in his
thought go
almost un-
heeded. From the
Reign
of Terror to about
1830, England
is
practically
impervious
to French
literary
influences. German
gooseflesh
is
briefly
thrilling,
but for the
major English
writers it is a disease of childhood.
Goethe and Schiller are read as romanticists
pure
and
simple.
For Crabb
Robinson,
Kant is the
apostle
of the
feeling
heart.
Schelling helps
Cole-
ridge
to
systematize
ideas which he had earlier drawn from non-German
sources. There is almost no true
appreciation
of German romantic litera-
ture and
philosophy
before
Carlyle,
and even his
understanding
is
very
deficient.l1
The desire to break down the boundaries which
separate
the various
arts is not
strong
in
England.
There is less interest in
painting
and music
than on the Continent. The real
triumphs
of
English romanticism,
fur-
thermore,
are won almost
exclusively
in
poetry.
The drama of the
period
is
scanty
and feeble. Scott alone forbids the same estimate of the
prose
fiction,
but it
grows increasingly
clear that the most
enduring
elements
in his novels are not
essentially
romantic.14
Although Wordsworth, Keats,
and others sometimes make
gestures
of
rebellion
against
the rationalistic and
pseudo-classical
side of the
eight-
eenth
century, English
romanticism is far more
evolutionary
than
revolutionary.
There was no
very
definite
enemy
to
attack,
for the En-
lightenment
had
mingled rationalism, empiricism,
and sentimentalism
in a
typically English compromise,
and
pseudo-classicism
had never been
tyrannous.
Hence in
European eyes
the
English
movement must
appear
strangely
loose and informal. It
provides
a
large body
of
suggestive
critical
remarks,
but no
clearly
formulated
theory.
These romantics do
not talk about romanticism. Where are the
definitions,
the self-conscious
school,
the
organized propaganda?
Here as
always,
the
English
are a mad
people.
Without much
apparent
awareness of what
they
are
doing, they
produce
a
very great
romantic literature.
Attempts
to
represent
the
English
romantics as more
systematically
philosophical
than
they really
were are liable to
falsify
the warm intuitive
muddle of the movement. What these men
possess
is not a
philosophy,
but a
religion
as nebulous as it is ardent.
Speculative thought
for its own
sake does not
greatly appeal
to them.
They eagerly respond
to
large
synthetic
ideas which
promise
to validate their
faith,
and
hotly reject
18 See C. F.
Harrold, Carlyle
and German
Thought (New Haven, 1934).
14 See P. N.
Landis,
"The
Waverley Novels,
or A Hundred Years
After," PMLA,
LII
(1937),
461-473.
24
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Hoxie N. Fairchild
the
analytical
reason which would
destroy
it. Here
Coleridge may
be
regarded
as an
exception, although
I do not think that he is.15
In his most
truly
romantic
moments,
the
English
romanticist is a deist
with
strong pantheistic leanings
rather than a Christian.
Dogmatic
Protestantism has lost its
grip upon him,
and Catholicism of course is
out of the
question. English
romantic
medievalism,
to be
sure,
in-
directly
and
unconsciously paves
the
way
for the Oxford
Movement;
but
the writers of the 1780-1830
period,
like
good Englishmen, manage
to
like the Middle
Ages
and dislike Catholicism at the same time. The dif-
ferent situation on the Continent
may
seem to militate
against
the
general applicability
of the
interpretation
offered in this
paper.
One
might ask, however,
whether French and German romantic
Catholicism,
as seen
respectively
in Chateaubriand's Ggnie du Christianisme and in
Novalis' Heinrich von
Ofterdingen,
is the real
thing,
or whether it
merely
adds the
beauty
of
mystery
and tradition to an
essentially
non-Catholic
type
of
religious experience.
In
politics
the
English
romantic is
usually-one excepts Shelley-a
liberal rather than a radical. Unless he dies
young,
he is
likely
to end his
career as a conservative. In
ceasing
to be a
liberal, however,
he
generally
ceases to be a romanticist. In
Burke,
in
Scott,
and in Wordsworth and
Coleridge
in their later
days
one finds a
Toryism
of the Burkian
type;
but,
on the
whole,
extreme nationalism and extreme conservatism are not
prominent
elements. The
Junker
and Bourbon
types
of romanticism are
rare in
England.16
If the
English
romantic has his head in the
clouds,
he nevertheless
keeps
his feet on the earth. His
hunger
for illusion is balanced
by
his
respect
for
actuality
and his love of the concrete. His
imaginings
are
strange,
but he is less
prone
to
indulge
in the wildest
flights
of
fancy
than his German cousins. He likes
fairytales,
but does not
regard
them
with
metaphysical solemnity.
He seldom uses the finite
merely
as a
springboard
for
diving
into the
infinite,
and
though very introspective
he never
quite
loses himself in the fastnesses of his own
spirit.
Peter
Bell's
primrose
must be
something
more than what it
appears
to
be,
but
it must not cease to be a real
primrose
and become the Blue Flower.'7
15
For more serious and
respectful
treatment of
Coleridge
in this
connection,
see
J.
H.
Muirhead, Coleridge
as a
Philosopher (London, 1930).
16
See C. C.
Brinton,
The Political Ideas
of
the
English
Romanticists
(London, 1926);
and Alfred
Cobban,
Edmund Burke and the Revolt
against
the
Eighteenth Century:
A
Study
of
the Political and Social
Thinking of Burke, Wordsworth, Coleridge
and
Southey (London,
1929).
17
The allusion of course is to Novalis'
romance,
Heinrich von
Ofterdingen.
25
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The Romantic Movement in
England
Transcendentalism cannot
lastingly satisfy
the
Englishman's
desire
that the
marriage
of real and ideal shall take
place,
not in the
subjective
imagination,
Not in
Utopia,
subterranean
fields,
Or some secreted
island,
heaven knows
where,
But in the
very
world.18
The doctrine of the moral
irresponsibility
of the artist does not invade
England
to
any important
extent before the Victorian era. If the
English
romanticist is a
priest
of
art,
he remains a
parish priest
with a cure of
souls. His sense of
having
a
helpful message
for mankind is
strong.
Even
Keats,
who
urged Shelley
to curb his
magnanimity
and be more of an
artist,19
never
quite gets
rid of the
feeling
that he should be
"doing
some
good
to the world."20 In their studies of the
morbidly
erotic and
perverse
aspects
of
romanticism,
scholars like Mario Praz21 find
comparatively
little material in the
English
writers. In this
respect
their lives
agree
with
their works.
Shelley's unconventionality
is a matter of sober
principle.
In order to
explain
Wordsworth's not
very surprising
affair with Annette
Vallon,
Professor
Harper
must remind his readers that at the time
"France was in a state of unnatural excitement."22 Here
Byron,
the least
English
of the
English romantics, may safely
be
regarded
as
exceptional.
The same writer is the
only important
obstacle to the
generalization
that the
English
are
sincere, serious,
and indeed rather solemn in their
romanticism.
They
seldom strike a
pose
or endeavor to astonish the
bourgeois. They
do not
greatly
esteem the
grotesque
and seldom
attempt
to harmonize
it,
in Victor
Hugo's fashion,
with the sublime. The roman-
tic
irony
of Tieck and Friedrich
Schlegel
is
foreign
to their natures. For
better or
worse, they
mean
exactly
what
they say.
English romanticism,
in
short,
is the romanticism of
Englishmen:
insular, bourgeois, puritanical, empirical,
and
philosophically
rather in-
nocent;
but at the same time
wonderfully strong, indigenous,
sincere,
and noble-a
genuine part
of the
religion
of the
race,
a
thing
of the
deep
heart's core.
HOXIE N. FAIRCHILD
Columbia
University
18
Wordsworth,
French Revolution as It
Appeared
to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement.
19
Letter to
Shelley, August,
1820.
20
Letter to
John Taylor, April 24,
1818.
n La
carne,
la
morte,
e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica
(Milan
and
Rome, 1930).
Translated as The Romantic
Agony by Angus
Davidson
(London, 1933).
2
G. M.
Harper,
William Wordsworth
(New York, 1916), I,
142.
26
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