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The Romantic period was largely a reaction against the ideology of the Enlightenment period

that dominated much of European philosophy, politics, and art from the mid-17th century until
the close of the 18th century. Whereas Enlightenment thinkers value logic, reason, and
rationality, Romantics value emotion, passion, and individuality.

These values manifested themselves in literature in several important ways, listed below. It is
important to keep in mind that nothing on this list describes all Romantic literature or all
Romantic writers. These general ideas, however, provide a reasonable description of tendencies
which would have been fairly commonplace amongst Romantics.

 Art, as the product of individual creation, is highly prized. Many Romantics “found
admirers read to hero-worship the artist as a genius or prophet” (Baldick 223).
 Nature, rural life, and pastoral imagery make common subjects for poetry.
 Individual achievements are highly prized. This notion applies both to actual people
(artists, writers, military heroes, explorers, etc.) and also to fictional characters. This
tendency produces the notion of the “romantic hero” and the “Byronic hero”.
 Many Romantic writers, especially the poets, believed all people, regardless of wealth or
social class, should be able to appreciate art and literature, and artists should create art or
literature accessible to everyone.

Famous Romantic Writers:

Definitions of the canon of any period are constantly in flux, but for the Romantic Era in
England, there are six writers who will doubtless find their way into any such definition.

William Blake (1757 – 1827):


Blake is famous not only for his poems, but for the illuminated plates on which he printed them.
An excellent example is the title page to Songs of Innocence and of Experience. His poetry is
highly visual, and reading only the text of the poems without medium of the illuminated plate is
an incomplete experience. Blake’s personal spirituality and his views of theological issues
frequently filter into his work, perhaps most famously in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and
in Jerusalem. His most famous works are likely those in Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
The poems often function in pairs, one from the perspective of childlike “innocence,” the other
from the perspective of disillusioned “experience.”

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850):


Wordsworth is one of the domineering figures of British Romanticism. He was good friends
with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the two of them (along with some other writers who are no
longer as well known as these two) settled in the Lake District in northwestern England. The
group is often referred to as “the Lake Poets.” In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge anonymously
published a collection of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads. Many critics cite the publication of this
volume as the true beginning of the Romantic Period. In the 2nd edition of Lyrical Ballads (now
published under Wordsworth’s name), Wordsworth added a preface which outlines his aesthetic
theory and his views on what makes for good poetry. This preface is often considered as a
manifesto of Romantic ideology.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834):
Coleridge’s role in Lyrical Ballads is often overshadowed by Wordsworth, but Coleridge’s
poetic skill stands on its own. Though not as prolific as Wordsworth, many of Coleridge’s works
resonate with readers in ways few other poets are able to match. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
is a narrative poem that is a mix of traditional ballad form, adventure story, and tale of spiritual
redemption. “Kubla Khan” is slightly less famous as a poem, but its backstory is notorious:
Coleridge fell asleep while high on Laudanum (which is basically opium dissolved in alcohol),
had a crazy dream in which he wrote a few hundred lines of poetry, woke up claiming to
remember everything he had written in the dream and started writing it in real life, only to be
interrupted by a knock on his door after recording about 50 lines. The knock on his door caused
him to forget everything else.

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824):


Byron is one of the few British Romantic writers to achieve widespread fame during his
lifetime. Byron was good friends with Percy Shelley, but very much disliked (and was disliked
by) Wordsworth and Coleridge. In fact, Byron’s poetry bears little resemblance to that of the
Lake Poets; it’s style and form is much more similar to British poetry of the 18th century

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822):


Percy Shelley was in many ways a stereotypical degenerate artist. He was constantly in debt
(despite his family’s wealth), often on the move, and deliberately provocative in the face of
established traditions and social norms, prizing artistry and social rebellion above stability and
acceptance.

John Keats: (1795 – 1821):


Keats was the prodigy of the Romantics. Though dead at age 25, he was enormously prolific.
During his brief career, he was stubbornly (tough fairly successfully) insistent on maintaining his
artistic independence and originally, even going so far as to refuse to befriend Percy Shelley out
of fear that the slightly older, more established poet might influence his writing. As a result,
Keats's poetry, though distinctly Romantic in flavor, is unlike any of his contemporaries. He is
best known for his sonnets and odes, particularly "Ode to a Nightingale" and „ Ode on a Grecian
Urn." He is also well-known for his love of the classics of antiquity, which often filters into his
poetry.