Romanticism originated in the second half of the 18th century at the same time as the French Revolution. Romanticism continued to grow in reaction to the effects of the social transformation caused by the Revolution. There are many signs of these effects of the French Revolution in various pieces of Romantic Poetry. A common theme among some of the most widely known romantic poets is their acceptance and approval of the French Revolution. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley all shared the same view of the French Revolution, but they each have their own unique ideas regarding the Revolution itself that have greatly shaped their work. This can be seen by analyzing some of each of their works.
Ever since he was young, Percy Shelley was very nontraditional. According to Hancock,
“The Goddess of Revolution rocked his cradle.”
Common themes that Shelley incorporated into his works include the hatred of kings, faith in the natural goodness of man, the belief in the corruption of present society, the power of reason, the rights of natural impulse, the desire for a revolution, and liberty, equality and fraternity. These are all clearly shaped by the French Revolution.
While Shelley had faith that was founded upon modern ideas, Byron has faith in nothing. He stands for only destruction. Because of this he was not a true revolutionist and was rather “the arch-apostle of revolt, of rebellion against constituted authority.”This statement is easily defended as Byron admits that he resists authority, but offers no substitute. This is supported by what Byron once wrote,
“I deny nothing… but I doubt everything.”
He then said later in life,
“I have simplified politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments.”
Byron believes neither in democracy nor in equality, but opposes all forms of tyranny and all attempts of rulers to control man. In Byron’s poetry, he incorporates deep feeling, rather than deep thinking, to make his characters strong. Often, Byron portrays his characters as being in complete harmony with nature, causing the character to lose himself in the immensity of the world. The French Revolution played a huge role in shaping Byron’s beliefs and opposition to monarch.
While Shelley and Byron both proved to support the revolution to the end, both Wordsworth and Coleridge joined the aristocrats in fighting it.Wordsworth, however is the Romantic poet who has most profoundly felt and expressed the connection of the soul with nature. He saw great value in the immediate contact with nature. The French Revolution helped to humanize Wordsworth as his works transitioned from extremely natural experiences to facing the realities and ills of life, including society and the Revolution. From then on, his focus became the interests of man rather than the power and innocence of nature.
Unlike Wordsworth, Coleridge was more open and receptive to the social and political world around him. He was a very versatile man and he led a life that covered many fields and his work displayed this. He was a poet of nature, romance, and the Revolution. He was a philosopher, a historian, and a political figure.The French Revolution played a great role in shaping Coleridge into each of these things.
For reflection of French Revolution in Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Poetry, follow the link below: