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Nate Yurow

Romanticism Paper

The poem “France: An Ode”, written by Samuel Coleridge and Robespierre’s Republic of

Virtue agree on the values that the French Revolution fights for but have contrasting

views on the methods used to achieve those goals. The French Revolution fought to break

down the monarchial system and replace it with egalitarian government. Both Coleridge

and Robespierre agreed that a new form of government was necessary. They differ,

though, on Robespierre’s idea that terror is virtue and the destruction caused by the

French Revolution. As a Romantic poet, Coleridge focuses on the common person and

natural aspects of the world.

Coleridge agrees with the original intent of the French Revolution which fights

for the common person. He feels that liberty is something that all humans should have

regardless of their social class or lineage. Coleridge compares liberty to “the solemn

music of the wind.” Comparing freedom to “solemn music” he shows that ones liberty is

a serious matter that if addressed correctly would enhance the enjoyment of life, like

music. By associating freedom with wind, Coleridge implies that freedom is universal

because wind travels everywhere. These ideas tie in with the Romantic views that all

people should have the right to strive for happiness. These views are again illustrated

when Coleridge writes, “Thou rising Sun! thou blue rejoicing Sky.” (Coleridge, 102) By

comparing “liberty” to the sun and the sky, Coleridge states that the idea of liberty is a

natural right. It is not something that should have to be fought for, but something that all

people should inherently possess. By also comparing “liberty” to the rising sun implies
that the rise of a democratic government is on the horizon and that when it is uncovered it

will be a very good thing for the whole world. Romantic poetry often referred to the

natural aspects of the world as Romantic poetry strived to bring together nature and man.

Coleridge illustrates that he is optimistic about where the French Revolution could lead

and the ideas it could bring to the world.

When Robespierre took control of the French Revolution he immediately began to

assert his ideas of natural equality on France. In Robespierre’s Republic of Virtue, he

states that his goal is “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that

eternal justice whose laws are engraved not on marble or stone but in the hearts of all

men.” (Perry, 114) Robespierre meant that he wanted to create a state where people do

not have to fight for there liberties. The metaphor in this passage “laws are engraved not

on marble or stone but in the hearts of all men” shows Robespierre’s belief in unbendable

laws that apply to everyone. By saying that laws are engraved he means that these laws

must stick with his citizens at all times and “in the hearts of all men” confirm his belief in

natural laws that all are born with. Robespierre only wants people who are willing to give

for the greater good. Robespierre also says, “We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions

of nature and the destiny of humanity, realize the promises of philosophy, and acquit

providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny.” (Perry,114) In this passage,

Robespierre claims that the intention of nature is for humankind to use the ideas of

philosophy, reason and logic, and remove the monarchial constraints that have been

placed upon them. Robespierre argues that humans have the right to govern themselves

instead of God and kings. Robespierre’s ideal government is a republic or democracy as

those are the only formats that allow for universal happiness. Like many leaders before
him who ultimately failed, Robespierre, in the traditional Enlightenment theory, sought to

use reason and logic to build a perfect society, a utopia.

Coleridge supported the idea of the Revolution, but as the Revolution turned

violent he began to criticize the Jacobins for the approach they took to achieve their

goals. Coleridge shows this when he says, “Forgive me, Freedom! O forgive those

dreams! I hear thy voice, I hear thy loud lament.” (Coleridge, 103) Coleridge states in this

passage that he feels humbled by believing that the French Revolution could actually

change anything. By saying that he “hears thy loud lament” he shows his emotions of

sadness that Robespierre could bring freedom and that he still feels he has a duty to bring

freedom to all people. Coleridge disapproves of the disregard for human life, “I hear thy

groans upon her blood-stained streams.” (Coleridge, 103) Coleridge, in this passage,

illustrates the level of violence in France by saying that Robespierre killed so many

people that blood replaced the water in the streams. The imagery used depicts more

violence than anyone could imagine. With this new regime, the Reign of Terror,

Coleridge feels that the French created a mockery of what liberty actually is. “O France,

that mockest Heaven, adulterous, blind, And patriot only in pernicious toils!” (Coleridge,

104) This passage shows that the Revolution did not unify France like it should. The

citizens only act patriotic towards their country when acting in a violent manner.

Robespierre sought to create a utopia, but the revolution destroyed the values of freedom

and equal liberty that heaven, a utopia, is based on. Rather than help the common people,

Robespierre became power-hungry and turned into what they originally fought, “Are

these thy boasts, Champion of human kind? To mix with Kings in the low lust of sway.”

(Coleridge, 104) Robespierre, believing they knew the best way to reform France took
too much power and attempted to mold France to their liking, but destroying the freedom

they wanted to create.

By using reason, Robespierre came to believe that terror could help to achieve the

goals of the Revolution in the quickest manner possible. Robespierre knew that a

government promoting the liberty and freedom of the common person was morally

correct, not a monarchy. Robespierre called the Revolution a “war of liberty against

tyranny.” Referring to the Revolution as a war alludes to the destructive nature that the

Revolution took under the guidance of Robespierre. Robespierre’s Republic of Virtue’s

modeled what a good citizen should do.

Since virtue (good citizenship) and equality are the soul of the republic, and your

aim is to found and to consolidate the republic, it follows that the first rule of your

political conduct must be to relate all of your measures to the maintenance of

equality and to the development of virtue; for the first care of the legislator must

be to strengthen the principles on which the government rests. (Perry, 115)

This passage shows how Robespierre attempts to take complete control of France. He

says that citizens must give up rights, not gain rights, to help the government, which

Robespierre controls completely. Logically this made sense as he believed that the

government attempted to create was the best and therefore he needed to have all the

power to do so. To him using terror to enforce his laws, which to him were absolutely

necessary, seemed perfectly reasonable as it would only affect his enemies, not his

followers.

If the driving force of popular government in peacetime is virtue, that of Popular


government during a revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which

terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice

that is prompt, severe, and inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue. (Perry,

115)

Robespierre in this passage explains how his destructive actions logically make sense.

According to him terror emanates virtue as terror acts as a mean to enforce virtue,

therefore someone already virtuous will not be affected. Logically this made sense, but

realistically his actions tore apart France as the destruction he caused overwhelmed any

good that his Reign of Terror brought. Robespierre consistently shows a willingness to

fight his own country believing that to stop a civil war he would have to kill everyone

against him, even though these sorts of actions started the civil war.

How can civil war be ended? By punishing traitors and conspirators, particularly

if they are deputies or administrators; by sending loyal troops under patriotic

leaders to subdue the aristocrats of Lyon, Marseille, Toulon, the Vendée, the Jura,

and all other regions in which the standards of rebellion and royalism have been

raised: and by making frightful examples of all scoundrels who have outrage

liberty and spilled the blood of patriots. (Perry, 115)

Robespierre used logic and reason constantly to work towards his goal of creating a

utopia, but he overlooked the consequences that France would face if he followed

through.

The contrast between these two artifacts illustrates the debate between the

Romanticism and Enlightenment theories. The Enlightenment, represented by


Robespierre, uses logic and reason to achieve a certain goal, whereas Romanticism

reacted against that theory, believing the world to be more than just reason and logic. The

Romantic outlook focuses more on life and enjoying where you are since you might not

be there again, while the Enlightenment concentrates on working towards a goal. The

Enlightenment theory led to violence as it logically it made sense, but from an

Enlightenment, perspective the extreme amount of violence became unnecessary and

Romantic thinkers criticized the French Revolution and Robespierre for that. Robespierre

became to focused on perfecting society that he did not take notice to the destruction that

he caused.
Works Cited

Coleridge, Samuel. English Romantic Poetry. Mineola, New York: Dover


Publications, Inc., 1996. 102-04. Print.

Perry, Marvin. "Maximilien Robespierre: Republic of Virtue." Sources of


the Western Tradition. 2 vol. New York: Houghton Mif flin Company,
2008. Print.
peee
Rosen, Charless. "Isn't It Romantic." Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition
and Revolution in Romantic Literature. 06 14 1973. Web. 1 Mar
2010.
<http://faculty.gilman.edu/US/Humanities/Humanities_Project_2005
-06/Secondary%20Sources/wordsworth_revolution.htm>.