The phrase “Romantic Period” refers to a span of time between the year 1798, when Wordsworth and Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads, and 1832, when Sir Walter Scott died.
This was a turbulent period during which England experienced the change from a primarily agricultural society to a modern industrial nation.
This was a period characterized by the French revolution and the constant threat to the social structure by imported revolutionary ideologies to which the ruling classes responded by the repression of traditional liberties.
The early period of the French Revolution evoked enthusiastic support from English liberals and also English radicals (the liberals supported gradual moderate changes while the radicals were in favor of rapid complete changes).
Two influential books indicate the radical social thinking stimulated by the French revolution: Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (1791-92) justified the French revolution and advocated for England a democratic republic to be achieved by popular revolution.
More important as an influence on Wordsworth was William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). It foretold the inevitable but peaceful evolution of society to a stage in which all property would be equally distributed.
Later on the English sympathizers dropped off as the French Revolution followed its increasingly violent course (the accession to power by Jacobin extremists, the September Massacres of the imprisoned nobility in 1792 followed by the execution of the Royal Family, the invasion by the French Republic of the Rhineland and the Netherlands and its offer of armed assistance to all countries desiring to overthrow their governments, the execution of thousands of people in the Reign of Terror under Robespierre and finally the emergence of Napoleon first as a dictator and then as the emperor of France.)
In England this was a period of harsh repressive measures: public meetings were prohibited, habeas corpus was suspended and advocates of even moderate political change were charged with high treason.
As far as literature is concerned this period was characterized by a vast range of diversity of achievements and for this reason any attempts at a single definition of its literary features is considered to be inadequate.
The critics of the time treated the various writers as independent individuals not as a movement or grouped them into a number of separate schools: “The Lake School” of Wordsworth and Coleridge, “The Cockney School”, a derogatory term for the Londoners Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt and other writers including John Keats, “The Satanic School” of Byron, Shelley and their followers.
Many of the leading romantic writers, however, felt there was something distinctive about their time: an intellectual and imaginative climate that some of them called “The Spirit of the Age”.
In his A Defense of Poetry Shelley explained the new literary spirit as an accomplishment of political and social revolution.
One of the most important critics of the time connected the poetry of the school of Wordsworth with the French revolution.
William Hazlitt wrote a book of essays called The Spirit of the Age in which he described how in his early youth the Revolution seemed “the dawn of a new era”. He maintained that Wordsworth’s poetry had its origins in the French revolution, which was a time of promise, of renewal of the world and of literature.
In the early stages of the French Revolution nearly all the great English writers were in sympathy with it and Wordsworth and Coleridge were among its most fervent adherents. The French revolution produced a feeling that that was a great age of new beginnings when everything was possible not only in the political and social realm but also in intellectual and literary enterprises.
In 1797 Wordsworth and Coleridge set out to revolutionize the theory and practice of poetry.
The product of their daily discussions was their Lyrical Ballads of 1798.
Wordsworth undertook to justify the new poetry by a critical manifesto or statement of political principles in the form of an extended preface to the second edition of 1800, which he enlarged still further in the third edition of 1802.
In this Preface Wordsworth set himself in opposition to the writers of the preceding century, who, in his view, had imposed on poetry artificial conventions which distorted the free and natural development of poetry.
During the 18th century there had been increasing oppositions to the neo-classical writers of the previous century.
In the 1740s there had emerged many of the critical concepts and a number of the poetic subjects later exploited by Wordsworth and his contemporaries.
Wordsworth’s Preface can be regarded as a turning point in English literature as he gathered up isolated ideas and put them into a coherent theory. Moreover he used them as the fundamental principles for his own poems.
Eighteenth-century theory had regarded poetry as an imitation of human life designed to instruct and give artistic pleasure to the reader.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, described all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.
Reversing earlier theory he located the source of a poem in the individual poet and he specified that the essential materials of a poem were not external people and events but the poet’s own feelings.
In accordance with the view that poetry expresses the poet’s feelings, the lyric poem, once regarded as minor kind, became a major romantic form.
In the great romantic lyrics the “I” is not a conventional lyric speaker but the poet in his own person and circumstances.
In the poems of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats the experiences and states of mind expressed by the lyric speaker often accord closely with the known facts of the poet’s life and his confessions in his letters and journals.
In the long poem entitled The Prelude Wordsworth presents himself as what he calls “a chosen son” or “Bard” modelled on Milton and the prophets of the Bible, and puts himself forward as a spokesman for western civilization at a time of crisis.
Wordsworth revives the Biblical promise of divine redemption and pronounces the coming of a time when a renewed humanity will inhabit a renovated Earth.
The Prelude also exemplifies a central literary form of English Romanticism: a long poem about the formation of the self, usually centering on a crisis and presented in the metaphor of an inner journey in quest of one’s true identity.
Major examples of this literary form are Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and Keats’s Endymion and The fall of Hyperion.
Wordsworth defined good poetry not only as the overflow of powerful feelings but also as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
In traditional aesthetic theory, poetry was an art that could be practised successfully only by poets who had assimilated the example of the classical poets and were aware of all the rules governing the kind of poem they were writing.
To Wordsworth the composition of a poem originated in “emotions recollected in tranquility”, and may be preceded and followed by reflection, but the immediate act of composition must be spontaneous, that is, arising from impulse and free from all rules.
This emphasis on the free activity of the imagination was related to an insistence on the essential role of intuition and the feelings of the heart to supplement the judgments of the logical faculty.
Coleridge once wrote that deep thinking was attainable only by a man of deep feeling.
The idea of nature in Romantic poetry
The natural scene became a major poetic subject in the Romantic period.
The Romantic poets described the landscape with great accuracy but their description was never done for its own sake. Most of the major lyrics begin with an aspect in the natural scene but this only serves to raise an emotional problem or a personal crisis. The development and resolution of that crisis constitute the organizing principle of the poem itself.
Romantic nature poems are generally meditative poems.
The Romantic poems usually imbue the landscape with human life, passion and expressiveness.
The Romantic descriptions of nature are in part the equivalent of the metaphysical idea of nature which developed in revolt against the world views of the scientific philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries.
These philosophers had posited as the ultimate reality a mechanical world consisting of physical particles in motion.
Coleridge used to say that what was needed was the substitution of life and intelligence for the philosophy of mechanism.
The Romantic poets responded to the outer universe as a living entity which participated in the feelings of the observer.
Wordsworth also revived the concept of God’s creation as a symbol system or a physical revelation similar to Revelation in the Bible.
In two lectures on Wordsworth, Hazlitt declared that the school of poetry founded by Wordsworth was the literary equivalent of the French Revolution because it translated political changes into poetical experiments.
What Hazlitt had in mind was Wordsworth’s statement that the aim of Lyrical Ballads was “to choose incidents and situations from common life and to relate or describe them in a selection of language really spoken by men”.
Wordsworth inverted the traditional hierarchy of genres, subjects and style. He did that by elevating humble and rustic life and the plain style into the principle subject and medium for poetry in general.
Wordsworth’s aim in Lyrical Ballads was not to represent the actual world but to cast over incidents and situations from common life a certain colouring of imagination whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way. His aim, in other words, was to arouse our sense of wonder in the common_ place, the trivial and the lowly.
 arco di tempo
 characterised by sudden changes
 classi dirigenti
Habeas corpus was a law which stated that a person couldn’t be detained in prison for a long period unless a judge decided that it was right
 erano accusati di alto tradimento
 From London’s East End
 una rinnovata umanità abiterà una Terra rinnovata
 non era mai fine a sé stessa
 una realtà ultima
 lo stile semplice
 gettare (=to throw)