19th Century Romanticism in Europe


Romanticism began in the early 19th century and radically 
changed the way people perceived themselves and the state of nature 
around them. Unlike Classicism, which stood for order and established 
the foundation for architecture, literature, painting and music, 
Romanticism allowed people to get away from the constricted, rational 
views of life and concentrate on an emotional and sentimental side of 
humanity. This not only influenced political doctrines and ideology, 
but was also a sharp contrast from ideas and harmony featured during 
the Enlightenment. The Romantic era grew alongside the Enlightenment, 
but concentrated on human diversity and looking at life in a new way. 
It was the combination of modern Science and Classicism that gave 
birth to Romanticism and introduced a new outlook on life that 
embraced emotion before rationality.

 Romanticism was a reactionary period of history when its seeds 
became planted in poetry, artwork and literature. The Romantics turned 
to the poet before the scientist to harbor their convictions (they 
found that the orderly, mechanistic universe that the Science thrived 
under was too narrow-minded, systematic and downright heartless in 
terms of feeling or emotional thought) and it was men such as Johann 
Wolfgang von Goethe in Germany who wrote "The Sorrows of Young 
Werther" which epitomized what Romanticism stood for. His character 
expressed feelings from the heart and gave way to a new trend of
expressing emotions through individuality as opposed to collectivism. 
In England, there was a resurgence into Shakespearean drama since many 
Romantics believed that Shakespeare had not been fully appreciated 
during the 18th century. His style of drama and expression had been 
downplayed and ignored by the Enlightenment's narrow classical view of 
drama. Friedrich von Schlegel and Samuel Taylorleridge (from Germany 
and England respectively) were two critics of literature who believed 
that because of the Enlightenment's suppression of individual emotion 
as being free and imaginative, Shakespeare who have never written his 
material in the 19th century as opposed to the 18th century. The 
perception that the Enlightenment was destroying the natural human 
soul and substituting it with the mechanical, artificial heart was 
becoming prevalent across Europe.

 The Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798, was a series of poems 
that examined the beauty of nature and explored the actions of people 
in natural settings. Written by William Woodsworth, this form of 
poetry was free, expressive and without constraint as evident by this 

"If this belief from heaven be sent, If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament, What man has made of man?"

Such passages from his work indicates that poetry and literature was 
also used as a form of rebellion or distaste for political 
institutions or social conditions during the 19th century. However, 
since most poets thrived on the emotional and irrational abstract that 
they were writing about, there was no specific category that this mode 
of thinking could fall into. This was a strength since the freedom to 
explore nature was infinite and without any restriction based on 
rules, law or doctrine. This invariably led to a re-introduction into 
religion and mysticism; people wanted to explore the unknown. The 
Genius of Christianity, written by Rene de Chateaubriand, offered a 
contrast to Science. He found Christianity to be "the most poetic,
most human, the most conducive to freedom, to arts and literature..." 
of all the religions and deduced that Science was lacking this element 
which could benefit mankind.

 The middle ages were regarded as a creative period when humans 
lived close to the soil and were unblemished with the effects of 
industrialization or urbanization. Romanticism began to show the 
people that the Enlightenment had overstayed its welcome by leading 
the people to a future that offered a vision of mankind as being part 
of a group rather than an individual. G. W. F. Hegel, a German 
philosopher, rejected the rational philosophy of the 18th century 
because he believed in "Idealism". This involved looking at life in 
terms of the importance of ideas, not thought the narrow tunnel of 
materialism and wealth. By advocating Idealism, Hegel concluded that 
mankind could be led by his spirit, his soul, rather than the 
establishment or the status quo. Although Romanticism was perhaps 
conservative in nature, every participant of this swift and silent 
movement could relish in his own free and glorious vision of nature.

 Romanticism was not a political movement or a reformist package 
offered by a group of dissidents; Romanticism was a time when mankind 
could restructure his outlook on life so that he was able to reach new 
heights of intellectual and political awareness. In the process of 
doing so, he found answers to practical problems by simply using his 
heart and searching his soul.


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