1. The peculiarities of English Romanticism: two trends – progressive and regressive.
2. The poets of the 'Lake School' – W. Wordsworth, S. Coleridge, R. Southey.
3. George Byron – his life and work.
4. Percy Shelley – his life and work.
5. Walter Scott, a founder of a historical novel – his life and work. His best novels.
The peculiarities of English Romanticism: two trends – progressive and regressive
The Enlightenment, on the whole, was an expression of struggle of the then progressive class of bourgeoisie against feudalism. But fighting the survivals of feudalism, the Enlighteners, at the same time, were prone to accept bourgeois relations as rightful and reasonable relations among people.
The development of bourgeois relations revealed to the most progressive minds of the century the contradictions of the new society. The realization of it led to the crisis of the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century.
A new literary current came into being at the end of the 18th century during the period of victory and consolidation of capitalist system – Romanticism. It covers the period from the beginning of the French bourgeois revolution (1789-1793) to the parliamentary reform in England (1832). Viewed in its historical aspect Romanticism may be considered to be an expression of reaction against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and expression of opposition and denial of the capitalist progress.
English romanticism can be regarded as an offspring of two great historical events: 1) the industrial revolution in England and 2) the French bourgeois revolution of 1789. The French Revolution was of great importance not only for France but all over Europe. Under its influence social contradictions in England developed to a great extent. The ruling classes were frightened by the revolution. On the other hand a new class of workers sprang into existence. The working people lived in dire poverty and were mercilessly exploited by the bourgeoisie, so the first workers' rebellions broke out. The workers movement of the Luddites (1810-1811), otherwise called 'frame-breakers' naively believed that use of machines was the reason at the bottom of all social evils and expressed their protest against exploitation and misery by breaking machines. But in spite of the fact that the class contradictions were very great at that time, the main contradiction at the beginning of the 19th century was that the movement of the feudal-monarchic society and bourgeois-democratic movement
Romanticism was the reaction of the aristocratic class and the peasants ruined by the agrarian industrial revolutions. Some of the romantic writers reflected the ideology of the classes ruined by capitalism. They protested against new social formation and they found their ideals in the feudal past. These were reactionary or regressive romanticists. Other authors found their ideals in future society free from oppression and exploitation, though they had a very vague idea of this society. These were revolutionary or progressive romanticists.
In contradiction to the rationalistic approach of the enlighteners, the romantic writers concentrate their attention upon spiritual and emotional life of man. Best suited for the expression of all the above sentiments was poetry. Therefore, this genre became predominant in the literature of Romanticism.
The second period in the history of English Romanticism includes the work of two poets of genius George Byron and Percy Shelley. They represent the trend of progressive romanticism. The significant social changes in contemporary England contributed to an increased interest in history. Profound understanding of historical processes is revealed in the prose-work of Walter Scott – the creator of modern historical novel and the last romantic writer.
The poets of the 'Lake School'
Reactionary tendencies in English literature found reflection in the activities of the 'Lakists' – W. Wordsworth (1770-1850), S. Coleridge (1772-1834), and R. Southey (1774-1843). All of them belonged to the 'Lake School', called so after the Lakeland in the Northern part of England, where the poets spent much time and beauties of the land they described in the poems. Early in their literary carrier the three poets were interested in the burning social problems of contemporary life. In some of their poems they depicted the life of the peasants brought to ruin by the development of capitalism in the country, exposed unjust laws and protested against cruel wars.
They hailed the French Revolution but their sympathy for it was not lasting and eventually the poets came to side with the reactionary policy of the British Government which suppressed all traces of protest at home and declared its hostility to the revolution in France. Nevertheless, most of the poems written by them are great from the stand point of poetic art. W. Wordsworth and S. Coleridge jointly wrote and published the collection of 'Lyrical Ballads' in 1798. Many of the poems in the collection were devoted to the position of landless and homeless peasants. Sincerely sympathizing with the poor, they at the same time severely criticized capitalism. But in their criticism they idealized backward patriarchal form of society.
The poets were passionate lovers of nature and the description of lakes and rivers of meadows and woods, of skies and clouds are exquisite. In their poems they, especially Wordsworth, aimed at simplicity and purity of the language, fighting against the conventional forms of the 18th century poetry.
GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON
Byron was a real fighter; he struggled for the liberty of the nations with both pen and sword. Freedom was the cause that he served all his life. Byron hated wars, sympathized with the oppressed people. Nevertheless, definite limitations of the poet's world outlook caused deep contradictions in his works. Many of his verses are touched with disappointment and skepticism. The philosophy of 'world sorrow' becomes the leading theme of his works. Romantic individualism and a pessimistic attitude to life combine in Byron's art with his firm belief in reason: realistic tendencies prevail in his works of the later period. In spite of his pessimism, Byron's verse embodies the aspirations of the English workers, Irish peasants, Spanish partisans, Italian 'Carbonari' movement, Albanian and Greek patriots.
George Gordon Byron was born in London, on January 22, 1788, in an impoverished aristocratic family. His mother, Catherine Gordon, was a Scottish Lady of honorable birth and respectable fortune. After having run through his own and most of his wife's fortune, his father an army officer, died when the boy was only 3 years old. His mother was a woman of quick feelings and strong passions. Now she kissed him, now she scolded him. These contradictive emotions affected his life, character and poetry. Byron was lame from birth and sensitive about it all his life. But, thanks to his strong will and regular training, he became an excellent rider, a champion swimmer, a boxer and took part in athletic exercises.
Byron spent the first ten years of his life in Scotland. His admiration of natural scenery of the country was reflected in many of his poems. He attended grammar school in Aberdeen. In 1798, when George was at the age of ten, his grand-uncle died and the boy inherited the title of Lord and the family estate of the Byrons, Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire. Now he was sent to Harrow School. At the age of seventeen he entered the Cambridge University and in 1808 graduated from it. George was sixteen when he fell in love with his distant relative Mary Chaworth, and his youthful imagination seemed to have found the ideal of womanly perfection. But she did not return his affection. Byron had never forgotten his love to Mary and it colored much of his writing. In the first canto of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' the poet says that Harold 'sighed to many, though he loved but one' and it is a hint to the poet's own life.
While a student, Byron published his first collection of poems 'Hours of Idleness' (1807). It was mercilessly attacked by a well known critic in the magazine 'Edinburgh Review'. In a reply to it Byron wrote his satirical poem 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers'. In that poem Byron criticized the contemporary literary life. In 1809, next year after graduating from the University, the poet took his hereditary seat in the House of Lords. The same year he left England on a long journey and visited Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece and Turkey, and during his travels wrote the first two cantos of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage'.
After an absence of two years the poet returned to England. On February 27, 1812, Byron made his first speech in the House of Lords. He spoke in defense of the English workers and blamed the government for the unbearable conditions of the life of the working people. Later the poet again raised his voice in defense of the oppressed workers, encouraging them to fight for freedom in his 'Song for the Luddites'. (1816)
In 1812 the first two cantos of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' were published. Walter Scott declared that for more than a century no work had produced a greater effect. The author himself remarked: 'I awoke one morning and found myself famous'. Between 1813 and 1816 Byron composed his 'Oriental Tales': 'The Giaour', 'The Corsair', 'Lara', Parisina' and others. These tales embody the
poet's romantic individualism. The hero of each poem is a rebel against society. He is a man of strong will and passion. Proud and independent, he rises against tyranny and injustice to gain his personal freedom and happiness. But his revolt is too individualistic, and therefore it is doomed to failure.
A collection of lyrical verses, which appeared in 1815, 'Hebrew Melodies', confirmed Byron's popularity. One of the most beautiful poems of the cycle is 'My Soul is Dark'
My Soul is Dark
My soul is dark — oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o'er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
'Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.
But bid the strain be wild and deep,
Nor let notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
Or else this heavy heart will burst,
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
And ached in sleepless silence long;
And now 'tis doom'd to know the worst,
And break at once — or yield to song.
In 1815 Byron married Miss Isabella Milbanke, but it was an unlucky match. Though Byron was fond of their only child Augusta Ada, and did not want to break up the family, separation was inevitable. The scandal around the divorce was enormous. Byron's enemies found their opportunity, and used it to the utmost against him.
On April 25, 1816, the poet left England for Switzerland. Here he made the acquaintance of Shelley, the two poets became close friends. While in Switzerland, Byron wrote the third canto of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', 'The Prisoner of Chillon', the dramatic poem 'Manfred' and many lyrics. 'The Prisoner of Chillon' describes the tragic fate of the Swiss revolutionary Bonnivard, who spent many years of his life in prison together with his brothers.
In 1817 Byron left Switzerland for Italy. The Italian period (1817- 1823) is considered to be the summit of Byron's poetical career. In Italy he wrote
'Beppo'(1818), a humorous poem in a Venetian setting, and his greatest work 'Don Juan', the fourth canto of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', 'The Prophecy of Dante', the dramas 'Marino Faliero', 'Cain'. At the same period he wrote his satirical masterpieces 'The Vision of Judgement' and 'The Age of Bronze'. Unfortunately, the prudery of Victorian critics obscured these poems from the public, and they have never received their due esteem. Special words should be said about 'Don Juan', one of his great poems, a performance of rare artistic skill. Humor, sentiment, adventure, and pathos were thrown together with that same disconcerting incongruity as they were to be found in life. The style is a clever imitation of idiom and phrasing of ordinary conversation, used with great cunning for satiric and comic effects.
The war of Greece against the Turks had been going on that time. Byron longed for action and went to Greece to take part in the struggle for national independence. There he was seized with fever and died at Missolonghi on April 18, 1824, at the age of 36. The Greeks desired that his remains should be buried in the country for which he had spent his life, but his friends wanted him to be buried in Westminster Abbey. The English authorities refused it, and the poet's body, already transported from Greece to England, was buried in the family vault near Newstead. His spirit might have flourished better in some world other than the heavy Georgian society in which he grew up. The last episode in Greece showed that he had leadership and courage.