England / Romantic-Romanticism

The word romantic glided unobtrusively into early nineteenth-century English usage.  It was flexible enough to be accommodated to some serious uses, yet from implications accumulated in the previous century it was often used carelessly and voguishy enough to attract the amused scorn of superior intelligences.  Too variable in meaning to serve as a rallying point for any artistic group – for we speak now of England – the word lacked the cutting edge that the malicious need when they attach a durable name to their enemies.  To think of the first half of the nineteenth century in England, or the major poets of that period, as romantic was a comfortable aberration that canonized itself towards the end of the century.  Certainly Wordsworth and Coleridge institute a revolution: but was it romantic?

Thomas Warton’s work on the history of English poetry and on Spenser, Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1742-5) and Thomas Gray’s bardic odes (1757, 1761), Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and his translation of the Northern Antiquities (1770) represented and encouraged an imperfectly informed literary interest in medieval, ‘primitive,’ ‘Northern,’ and other exotic materials.  This blended with the Gothic-sentimental strain that was partly architectural and partly an interest in ‘inner goings-on’ (to use Coleridge’s phrase) seeded by Richardson, Sterne, and Rousseau; and it came to strange and specialized flowering in the Gothic romances of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764: unique in being at once prototype and parody?), Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk (1797).  William Taylor of Norwich (1765-1836), friend of Southey by 1798 and of Coleridge by 1799, was important as a translator from the German: his translation of Bürger’s Lenore in July 1796 was crucial to Walter Scott, and was rhapsodically noticed by Coleridge, Lamb, and Wordsworth.[i]  Tytler’s translation of Schiller’s Die Räuber (1792) made a strong impression on Coleridge in 1794,[ii] and in 1800 Coleridge was to make a verse translation on Schiller’s Wallenstein.  The custom of interpolating ballads in Gothic romances gave wide currency to a new German enthusiasm and helped to bridge the gap between the acknowledged archaism of Percy’s Reliques and the contemporary taste.[1]  The contrived supernaturalism of the Gothic romances that Coleridge reviewed in 1797 did not impress him;[2] but his response to these converging literary fashions is to be seen in his Bristol reading and in some of his poems from 1794 to 1798.[iii]  These and other elements, crystallizing for literature a mood, tone, and method that in hindsight came to be called ‘romanticism,’ is much more clearly to be seen and traced in the work of minor writers and in the effusions of faceless contributors to periodicals and annuals.  According to later literary historians – not always a clear guide to the incisive criticism of individual works and writers – a distinctive ‘sensibility’ was emerging, a growing awareness of the ambivalence of man’s deepest emotions and impulses, that links the cult of sensibility, the Shandean world of Laurence Sterne, and the novels of Samuel Richardson with the writings of the divine marquis and the inevitability of Freudian psychology.  But this development, if indeed it has been correctly traced and analyzed by historians, did not crystallize around the word romantic, although in the course of the century the words romantic and romanticism, not with entire inappropriateness, came to be used to describe certain widespread and elusive literary and artistic phenomena.  I am not aware, for example, that any reviewer or admirer of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner ever in his own day referred to the poem as romantic, although later exponents of ‘romanticism’ find it an excellent instance of the procedures of exotic distancing, of the supernatural naturalized by pathological realism, and of the ‘romantic’ hero who wanders like the Jew bearing the mark of Cain and distinguished from his startled fellows by his glittering eye.  When a writer in the Critical Review in 1816 referred to Christabel as ‘a romantic fragment’ and went on (sceptically) to speak of it as ‘one of those dreamlike productions whose charm partly consisted in the undefined obscurity of the conclusion,’ the word romantic probably looks back as much to the romance-world of the Faerie Queen as it looks forward to a later attempt to prove a general specification for romanticism.[3]

What concentrates our attention on the early nineteenth century when we think of the words romantic and England in the same breath is the way literary historians towards the end of the century use the word romantic to describe the major poetry of the first half of the century.  The poets themselves never applied the term to themselves, nor did their enemies apply it to them.  And the fact that the word was available for later reference turns on the historical accident that in 1813 Schlegel’s distinction between classical and romantic, having received in the early years of the century a currency and interpretation that he himself had little intended, being then triumphantly established in Germany and in Europe generally, reached England with characteristic English delay.  Coleridge’s early advocacy of the distinction in his lectures from 1808 had not established it for serious critical consideration – it was after all a German idea.[4]  But after Madame de Staël’s invasion of England in 1813, it slowly gained currency, apparently more in speech than in writing, until Pater in 1889 affirms the distinction as both new and axiomatic for the polarity of all literature.  At the beginning of chapter 19 of Middlemarch (1871), George Eliot evidently expected her readers to follow her when she said: ‘Romanticism, which has helped to fill some dull blanks with love and knowledge, has not yet [c 1830] penetrated the times with its leaven and entered into everybody’s food; it was fermenting still ... in certain long-haired German artists at Rome, and the youth of other nations who worked or idled near them were sometimes caught in spreading the movement.’[iv]  Dowden in 1878 refers to ‘a leader of the Romantic movement’; and by the end of the century the phrases romantic poets, romantic school, romantic movement, and romantic revival had slid into respectable academic currency as affirmations of historical conclusions drawn from vaguely specified evidence and no better than casual analysis.  Even if long before the end of the century death had not supervened upon the five major poets who are now so commodiously bundled under the single historical blanket term romantic, they would have protested that they never called themselves ‘romantic,’ that they had never formed a ‘school,’ and that it was highly questionable whether they constituted a ‘movement.’  Their protest would have been very much to the point as things have turned out.  Historical generalizations about the alleged uniformity of romanticism in the early nineteenth-century poets have established a complex and opaque set of conditioned critical reflexes which have – until less than 25 years ago – induced systematic distortion and misreading of the writings themselves.  Thanks to those who were more interested in trends in the history of literature and the history of ideas than in the integrity of literature, the work of the five major poets has remained demurely withdrawn behind the historical presuppositions, waiting like a spirited child not only to be addressed in the right language, but to be spoken to in the right tone of voice.

The phrases romantic poets and romantic movement conceal a notable complication: the great ‘romantic’ poets – five in number – comprise two generations; and the younger generation was unaccommodating enough to die before the two masters who had given strong but not always salutary impulse to their work.  William Wordsworth, the earliest born, lived the longest – 1770-1850; his contemporary and sometime friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born in 1772, died in 1834.  (Robert Southey, by all accounts a minor figure although Coleridge’s brother-in-law and for years Wordsworth’s neighbour, was born in 1774 and lived – though at the end not of sound mind – until 1843; and Charles Lamb, Coleridge’s school-fellow and lifelong friend, born in 1775, died a few months after Coleridge and is a more significant figure for our study than Southey is.)  The second generation falls comfortably even within Coleridge’s lifetime, and they died in the reverse order of their births: George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1788-1824; Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822; John Keats 1795-1821.  None of the second generation – not even the precocious Byron – would have read the first (1798), or even the second (1800), edition of Lyrical Ballads at publication, yet all lived to read Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes (1807), The Excursion (1814), and the Poems of 1815; and in addition to Coleridge’s early collections of poems (1796, 1797) and the Ancient Mariner (1798), Christabel, and Kubla Khan (1816), they read the collection of poems entitled Sibylline Leaves (1817) and the Biographia Literaria.  All of them one way and another had the rhythms and themes of Wordsworth’s work in their minds and the tune and images of Coleridge’s poems in their heads (and Shelley parodied some of both).  But there was little or no coherence of sustained relationship between the members of the same generation or between the members of the different generations.  Wordsworth and Coleridge came upon one of the most fruitful literary friendships we know of, but within little more than ten years it had suffered irremediable disruption.  Shelley and Byron were close but not always comfortable friends for the last four years of Shelley’s life.  Keats avoided Shelley and Byron, met Coleridge only once by accident, and having missed Wordsworth on the only occasion he visited the Lakes saw ‘a good deal’ of him when he was in London from December 1817 to January 1818 and was at an ‘immortal dinner’ at Haydon’s with Wordsworth, when Lamb addressed Wordsworth as ‘you old lake poet, you rascally poet.’[v]  Byron knew neither Wordsworth nor Coleridge; for a short time he admired Coleridge, used his influence to see the Christabel volume (1816) published, and tried to get it favourably reviewed; but he soon regretted this gesture of good poetic faith and in the end was unkind in verse to both Coleridge and Wordsworth and vituperative to Southey.  Shelley knew neither Wordsworth nor Coleridge.  The closest kinship of intelligence and poetic sensibility might have developed between Keats and Coleridge; Keats’s witty, vivid, and affectionate account of Coleridge’s conversation on the occasion of their one walk on Hampstead Heath suggests that, in spite of certain misgivings about Coleridge’s discursive-encyclopedic tendencies in the later years, life and literature are impoverished by the circumstance of their never meeting again.[5]

Since word-usage and manner of speech were much clearer marks of class and locale in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England than they are now, it is worth noting the social and educational differences among the five major poets.[6]  Wordsworth and Coleridge came from similar backgrounds, although their way of speaking was as widely separate as Cumberland and Devon.  Coleridge’s father was a clergyman and polymath, and the family produced men of law, soldiers, clergymen, linguists, and schoolmasters; Wordsworth’s father was an attorney and substantial estate manager, and the family ran to law, the church, and scholarship.  Both Coleridge and Wordsworth had thorough orthodox schooling in the classical tradition – Wordsworth at Cockermouth Grammar School and Coleridge at Christ’s Hospital.  Coleridge was a brilliant, if erratic, undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree; Wordsworth, rendered morose by loneliness and lack of purpose, made less effort at St John’s College, Cambridge, than he might have done, even in view of the debilitated condition of the universities at that time, but took his B.A. without honours.  Neither can be seen on the pattern of the twentieth-century intellectual, and neither could have been an academic without taking Holy Orders.  Byron (Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, after and during a stormy childhood and youth) was a good scholar, widely read, and of highly cultivated intelligence and developed historical sense.  Shelley, having survived Eton, was sent down from University College, Oxford; he came of a wealthy upper middle-class arriviste family – his father was a Member of Parliament and earned a Knighthood – and in his own way he managed to lay the foundations of a sound and curious learning, for he had a scholarly instinct that turned with almost equal intensity upon Gothic romances, chemistry, Italian, and the mastery of Greek that was to inform his poetry to the end of his life.  Byron, as a peer of the realm, greeted Shelley as an equal and an intimate friend when both were exiles in Italy – even though Byron could never quite forgive Shelley his superiority as a pistol-shot.  Keats, as the Edinburgh Review pointed out with unnecessary brutality, was a Cockney.  His schooling was modest and limited but by no means ineffectual, and he developed a tough, original, and venturesome mind of his own, the force of which is undoubtedly heightened by his ignorance of most of the philosophical dross that clutters the instruction of the more fortunate.  His friendships with Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, and Haydon were for a time fertile, but his social self-consciousness seems to have been acute among strangers; he found Shelley’s self-assured eccentricities of manner disconcerting, and in Shelley’s company he could not preserve his own identity.  All of them, with varying degrees of confidence and success, were able to enter the cultivated society of their time when occasion or need arose.  But there is little reason for regarding them – even hypothetically – as a ‘school.’

One outstanding anomaly remains.  Byron, out of the five the one person who seriously and continuously sought to cultivate the virtues of Horace and the neoclassical manner of Dryden and Pope, is the one person who also cultivated – and at times to a ridiculous extreme of theatricality – the Wertherian dress, posture, stock responses, and fascinating omens of guilt and doom that were then considered distinctively ‘romantic.’  (Shelley could be catlike and bizarre in behaviour and was startlingly good-looking; but if that was to be ‘romantic,’ it was a different kind from Byron’s.)  Yet Byron’s weakest major work, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, is marred – particularly in the first two cantos – by an unconvincingly-assumed Wordsworthianism, and its immense popularity owed much to the thinly veiled ‘romantic’ figure of Byron himself at the centre of the poem.  The brio and stride of the best parts are not so much ‘romantic’ as simply Byronic; and the unique manner first explored in Beppo and then established in Don Juan – founded on Italian models and informed by a most unromantic and un-English irreverence – released and sustained a virtuosity of brilliant improvisation that declares an ironic and aristocratic intelligence of a very high order.  In short, the specific differences that separate and define these five major poets are great enough to resist the most redoubtable generalist, and make the work of each of them a subject for close and individual inquiry each in its own right.



The word romantic could hardly be regarded as a favourite of Wordsworth’s: it occurs only ten times in poems that cover a span of more than forth years.  Without engaging in any subtle classification, Wordsworth’s uses can be seen to fall – with one exception – under three areas of reference: 1 / the adjective of romance (tale) and the sentiments that are alleged to colour or arise from romance; 2 / the colour of hope, joy, and lyrical impulse that accompanies the (perhaps undirected) sentiment of love; 3 / a quality of landscape (he only once uses the word to refer directly to landscape, but some of the other uses – as might be expected of a ‘nature-poet’ – are related to a heightened awareness of landscape).


1 Associated with romance (legend)

1/1 Prelude I, 180 (1805) = 1, 169 (1850):[vi] speaking of his preparation for writing an epic poem, Wordsworth says that

Sometimes, mistaking vainly, as I fear,

Proud spring-time swellings for a regular sea,

I settle on some British theme, some old

Romantic tale, by Milton left unsung;

More often resting at some gentle place

Within the groves of Chivalry, I pipe

Among the Shepherds ...

1/2  The Excursion VIII, 85:[7] composed 1809-12, published 1814.  The Wanderer ‘playfully draws a comparison between his itinerant profession and that of the Knight-errant,’ and ends by saying:

‘... – By these Itinerants, as experienced men,

Counsel is given; contention they appease

With gentle language; in remotest wilds,

Tears wipe away, and pleasant tidings bring;

Could the proud quest of chivalry do more?’


‘Happy,’ rejoined the Wanderer, ‘they who gain

A panegyric from your generous tongue!

But, if to these Wayfarers once pertained

Aught of romantic interest, it is gone ...’

Here the primary reference is clearly to the romance of the knights-errant, given the context of the discussion at this point; but – is it because of the peculiar verb pertained? – the word also encompasses the heartsease that the Wanderer claims for the knight-errantry of his ‘poor brotherhood who walk the earth / Pitied, and, where they are not known, despised.’  Here the interfusion of meanings (1) and (2) shows how fastidiously Wordsworth, being in fact no spontaneous overflow-er, has chosen the word romantic in this passage.


1/3 ‘Aix-la-Chapelle,’ 1. 3 [sonnet] in Memorials of a Tour of the Continent,[vii] composed 1820-1.

Was it to disenchant, and to undo,

That we approached the Seat of Charlemaine?

To sweep from many an old romantic strain

That faith which no devotion may renew!

Why does this puny Church present to view

Her feeble columns? and that scanty chair! ...

What has been lost by witnessing the actual place is faith in what had been assumed on the evidence of legendary poems of Charlemagne and Roland.


1/4 ‘The Armenian Lady’s Love,’ 1.86:[viii] composed 1830, published 1835.  A ‘fair Armenian, / Daughter of the proud Soldàn,’ falls in love with a Christian slave, renounces her religion and her father’s house, and leaves her ‘narrow world ... for evermore’ informed by the ‘higher, holier’ conviction that she must reject ‘a sensual creed that trampled / Woman’s birthright into dust.’

Judge both Fugitives with knowledge:

   In those old romantic days

Mighty were the soul’s commandments

   To support, restrain, or raise ...

The reference to romance (legend) is clear enough, because a head-note announces that ‘the following poem is from the Orlandus of the author’s friend, Kenelm Henry Digby.’  Wordsworth first met Digby (1800-80) in November 1830 but was already acquainted with his The Broad-Stone of Honour (1822), a book of chivalry.  Digby seems to have steered Wordsworth into a sentimental anachronism here.


1/5 ‘To Cordelia M——,’ 1. 5 [sonnet] in Poems Composed or Suggested during a Tour, in the Summer of 1833:[ix] composed in 1833.  The poem reflects upon Cordelia’s necklace.

Not in the minutes beyond the western main,

You say, Cordelia, was the metal sought,

Which a fine skill, of Indian growth, has wrought

Into this flexible yet faithful Chain;

Nor is it silver of romantic Spain;

But from our loved Helvellyn’s depths was brought,

Our own domestic mountain ...

Spain is here thought of, it seems, as ‘Spain of legend,’ not ‘Spain that arouses “romantic” feelings.’  Romantic Spain, for Coleridge, recalled Cervantes; and that may have been the case for Wordsworth.[x]  Byron also thinks of Spain as ‘romantic’ more than once.[xi]


1/6 ‘Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg,’ 1. 41:[xii] composed and published 1835.  In this poem Wordsworth laments the death of James Hogg, but also the deaths, in the course of three years, of Sir Walter Scott, Coleridge, Lamb, George Crabbe, and Felicia Hermans.  The last stanza of the poem reads:

No more of old romantic sorrows,

For slaughtered Youth or love-lorn Maid!

With sharper grief is Yarrow smitten,

And Ettrick mourns with her their Poet dead

The ‘romantic sorrows’ feel literary – the abstract grief perhaps that Coleridge and Wordsworth had uttered when they thought of that talented but ill-tempered youth, Thomas Chatterton, as the emblem of poetic genius destroyed by insensate society.  The ‘love-lorn Maid’ also feels like a perfunctory stock figure, lacking the primordial vitality and mysterious implication of Wordsworth’s solitary reaper or Coleridge’s ‘woman wailing for her demon-lover.’  The closing stanza does not make its point with the compelling force that an earlier passage demands:

Nor has the rolling year twice measured,

From sign to sign, its stedfast course,

Since every mortal power of Coleridge

Was frozen at its marvellous source;[8]


The rapt One, of the godlike forehead,

The heaven-eyed creature sleeps in earth:

And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle,

Has vanished from his lonely hearth.

In contrast to that mordant and personal grief, the ‘old romantic sorrows’ are indeed pale and insubstantial.


Associated with the sentiment of love (but with Wordsworth the association is at best oblique)

2/1  ‘Written with a Pencil upon a Stone in the Wall of the House, on the Island at Grasmere,’ 1. 30 (last line):[xiii] composed 1800, published 1800.  Wordsworth tells how ‘one Poet’ sometimes rows his boat across to the island, laden with heath and fern, makes ‘his summer couch’ in the little house, and daydreams while the sheep ‘Lie round him, even as if they were a part / Of his own Household’ –

   nor, while from his bed

He looks, through the open door-place, toward the lake

And to the stirring breezes, does he want

Creations lovely as the work of sleep –

Fair sights, and visions of romantic joy!

Despite the landscape setting, the emphasis may be amorous or erotic,[9] but in the absence of firm control of context, the visions may be simply of a romance-world.


2/2  The Recluse, pt. I, book I, ‘Home at Grasmere,’ I, 311:[xiv] composed early 1800, not published by Wordsworth.  In this poem Wordsworth celebrates his taking up residence in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, late in December 1799, with his sister Dorothy.  The poem is charged with intense affection both for his sister and for the place, but romantic here may mean ‘other worldly’ – that is, not consonant with reasonably expectation.

   But not betrayed by tenderness of mind

That feared, or wholly overook’d the truth,

Did we come hither, with romantic hope

To find, in midst of so much loveliness,

Love, perfect love; of so much majesty

A like majestic frame of mind in those

Who here abide, the persons like the place.

2/3 Prelude VII, 474 (1805) = 442 (1850): composed 1804; 1805 version quoted.  This is a much more complex passage that needs to be quoted at length because of the eventual connection with the word romance.  Wordsworth is speaking of his first desolate spell in London (1793-5) and how the theatres were his consolation, not as escape but for the activity of mind that they generated.  He wishes ‘To shew what thoughts must often have been mine / At theatres, which then were my delight, / A yearning made more strong by obstacles / Which slender funds imposed.’  He gives a vigorous and amusing sketch of the stock figures on the stage (including an anticipation of Yeats’s ‘tattered coat upon a stick’ in the ‘scare-crow pattern of old Age, patch’d up / Of all the tatters of infirmity’).

               Through the night,

Between the show, and many-headed mass

Of the Spectators, and each little nook

That had its fray or brawl, how eagerly,

And with what flashes, as it were, the mind

Turn’d this way, that way!  sportive and alert

And watchful, as a Kitten when at play,

While winds are blowing round her, among grass

And rustling leaves.  Enchanting age and sweet!

Romantic almost, looked at through a space,

How small of intervening years!  For then,

Though surely no mean progress had been made

In meditation holy and sublime,

Yet something of a girlish child-like gloss

Of novelty surviv’d for scenes like these;

Pleasure that had been handed down from times

When, at a Country-Playhouse, having caught,

In summer, through the fractur’d wall, a glimpse

Of daylight, at the thought of where I was

I gladden’d more than if I had beheld

Before me some bright Cavern of Romance,

Or than we do, when on our beds we lie

At night, in warmth, when rains are beating hard.

The 1850 revision refurbishes the last eight lines into a more conscientiously literary mode, thereby destroying the direct and personal connection with the Grasmere island poem.  The earlier and more trenchant version points towards a ‘spot of time’ otherwise unrecorded – another instance of the distinctive Wordsworthian concentration of all his faculties in a still moment of symbolic vision, the symbol eluding him.  In his case the word romantic points, not to something exotic, but to something as homely as the sources of Shakespeare’s comedies and as common to the English social landscape as ‘what has been and may be again.’  Wordsworth could not have carried the word romantic closer to the mainsprings of his curious and intractable art than he does in this passage; but he never returned to it.


Associated with landscape of awesome grandeur, whether real or contrived

3/1  Descriptive Sketches ... taken during a pedestrian Tour in the Italian, Grison, Swiss, and Savoyard Alps. I. 283 (1793) = 226 (1849):[xv] the key line is identical in both versions, except for punctuation; the 1793 version is quoted.  The section preceding the key line is an account of Sckellened-thal; in his note dictated to Isabella Fenwick in 1843 Wordsworth said: ‘I will only notice that the description of the valley filled with mist, beginning – “In solemn shaped,” was taken from that beautiful region of which the principal features are Lungarn and Sarnen.  Nothing that I ever saw in nature left a more delightful impression on my mind than that which I have attempted, alas, how feebly!  to convey to others in these lines.  These two lakes have always interested me especially, from bearing, in their size and other feature, a resemblance to those of the North of England ...’[xvi]  The word romantic therefore lies at a key position, referring to a scene of memorable beauty (but not, apparently, wildness) which is also linked in Wordsworth’s mind to his native Lakes.

   On as we move, a softer prospect opes,

Calm huts, and lawns between, and sylvan slopes.

While mists, suspended on th’ expiring gale,

Moveless o’er-hang the deep secluded vale,

The beams of evening, slipping soft between,

Light up of tranquil joy a sober scene; –

Winding it’s dark-green wood and emerald glade,

The still vale lengthens underneath the shade;

While in soft gloom the scattering bowers recede,

Green dewy lights adorn the freshen’d mead,

Where solitary forms illumin’d stray

Turning with quiet touch the valley’s hay,

On the low brown wood-huts delighted sleep

Along the brighten’d gloom reposing deep.

While pastoral pipes and streams the landscape lull.

And bells of passing mules that tinkle dull,

In solemn shapes before th’ admiring eye

Dilated hang the misty pines on high,

Huge covent domes with pinnacles and tow’rs,

And antique castles seen thro’ drizzling show’rs.

   From such romantic dreams my soul awake,

Lo!  Fear looks silent down on Uri’s lake ...

Although in the end there are the ‘pinnacles and tow’rs, / And antique castles’ that the generalized romantic formula would lead us to expect, the scene is actually one of gentleness, greenery – for all its steepness – reminiscent of home; and the word romantic refers less to the awesome grandeur of the scene (if that is what it was) than to the reminiscent – but not noticeably nostalgic – feelings aroused by the scene.


3/2  Prelude VI, 193 (1850 only): composed ? after 1824.

   In summer, making quest for works of art,

Or scenes renowned for beauty, I explored

That streamlet whose blue current works its way

Between romantic Dovedale’s spiry rocks;

Pried into Yorkshire dales, or hidden tracts

Of my own native region, and was blest

Between these sundry wanderings with a joy

Above all joys ...

The 1805 version is more condensed, relies upon the evocative power of the names, needs no reinforcement of the rhetorical word romantic, and does not fall back upon an adjective coined in the standard eighteenth-century special-poetic manner - spiry.

   In summer among distant nooks I rov’d

Dovedale, or Yorkshire Dales, or through bye-tracts

Of my own native region, and was blest ...

Here the object of the search is not self-consciously designated as ‘making quest for works of art, / Or scenes renowned for beauty.’  This late diffuse instance is the only case that I find in Wordsworth’s poems of the word romantic used as a weak cliché.

In the Isabella Fenwick note on the ‘Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg,’ Wordsworth remembers a conversation with Hogg in which Wordsworth said he wished Hogg were as ‘zealous and diligent [a] labourer’ as a poet as he was as a Minister of the Gospel.  ‘I happened once to speak of pains as necessary to produce merit of a certain kind which I highly valued: his observation was – “It is not worthwhile.”  You are quite right, thought I, if the labour encroaches upon the time due to teach truth as a steward of the mysteries of God: if there be cause to fear that, write less: but, if poetry is to be produced at all, make what you do produce as good as you can.’[xvii]  Poetry well made does not declare the difficulty of the making; but Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals and letters, even at a glance, give ample evidence of the obsessive concentration that Wordsworth brought to bear on the writing and revision of his poems.  It is not surprising then that his uses of romantic – a word with fashionable currency in his day – should be few, fastidious, and – with the one exception above in the Prelude 3/2 – complex and sharply controlled by the context.  Even in Descriptive Sketches, a youthful poem recording what memorable landscapes he had seen in walking through the Alps – at that time the romantic setting par excellence – the word romantic occurs only once and then with unexpected and complex implications.  This is only one piece of evidence that within the Wordsworth-Coleridge circle romantic was a tiresome vogue-word: outsiders used the word uncritically, but here where language was respected the word was used seldom, and if it was used at all it would be with contempt or merriment.  The one careless or perfunctory use (3/2) is in reference to landscape.  ‘Romantic’ landscape, in the standard view, was generally awe-inspiring, steep, dark, savage; specifically it referred to such effects deliberately produced or cultivated in landscape gardening, by cross-fertilization with the literary-archaeological cult of sentimental medievalism called ‘Gothic.’  If the landscape that is ‘romantic’ in its own natural right is also provided with an isolated tower or castle the romantic quality is reinforced by ‘Gothic’ implication; and this is to be seen to some extent in Descriptive Sketches (3/1).

I have not searched the Wordsworth letters for uses of the word romantic, but I have searched Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals with interesting results.  Although the account of the Scotch Tour of 1803 is full of highly detailed descriptions of what we would recognise as ‘romantic’ settings and scenes, she never uses the word romantic to describe them or to reinforce her description.  The Alfoxden and Grasmere journals also include many descriptions that say to us ‘romantic,’ but she does not use the word.  Although the restraint in Somerset may be unexpected, it is easy to understand why she did not use the word in reference to the Lakeland scenery: the Lakes were not ‘strange’ to her or to William – that was their ‘native region.’[10]  This makes the slip about ‘romantic Dovedale’s spiry rocks’ particularly striking, and the late date of the slip makes it all the more interesting.  There is, however, one place where Dorothy uses romantic; and that is in a specific, even technical, reference to a Gothic garden.

April 15th [1798].  Set forward after breakfast to Crookham, and return to dinner at three o’clock.  A fine cloudy morning.  Walked about the squire’s grounds.  Quaint waterfalls about, about which Nature was very successfully striving to make beautiful what art had deformed – ruins, hermitages, etc. etc.  In spite of all these things, the dell romantic and beautiful, though everywhere planted with unnaturalised trees.  Happily we cannot shape the huge hills, or carve out the valleys according to our fancy.[xviii]

If William and Dorothy rejected the word romantic as a cult word, it seems to have been not because it implied a ‘literary’ response to landscape but because it involved a cultish expectation about the intensity and kind of response that should be registered in the presence of a hypothetically romantic scene.  On 21 August 1803, as Dorothy records, when Dorothy, William, and Coleridge were at Cora Linn waterfall sitting on a bench placed there to enjoy the view, they were joined by ‘A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than we.’  The strangers moved on, but then joined them again ‘at another station about the Falls.’

C[oleridge], who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a ‘majestic waterfall.’  Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with Wm. at some length the day before.  ‘Yes, sir,’ says Coleridge, ‘it is a majestic waterfall.’  ‘Sublime and beautiful,’ replied his friend.  Poor C. could make no answer, and, not very desirous to continue the conversation, came to us and related the story, laughing heartily.[xix]

In fact, Dorothy herself associated the landscape sense of romantic very closely with ‘romance (legend)’ and so kept sharp control on the definition of her response without using the word romantic.  On her visit to Calais in 1802 she saw the fort in the evening twilight – ‘we could not see anything of the building but its shape, which was far more distinct than in perfect daylight, seemed to be reared upon pillars of ebony, between which pillars the sea has seen in the most beautiful colour that can be conceived’ – and adds: ‘Nothing in romance was ever half so beautiful.’[xx]  The next year, near the Scottish border, at a turn of the road they saw ‘at the distance of less than a mile, a tall upright building of grey stone, with several men standing upon the roof, as if they were looking over battlements.  It stood beyond the village, upon higher ground, as if presiding over it, – a kind of enchanter’s castle, which it might have been, a place which Don Quixote would have gloried in.’[xxi]  Later, reflecting on the different effects of brooks and open water, she concludes that ‘The beauties of a brook or a river must be sought.  and the pleasure is in going in search of them; those of a lake or of the sea come to you of themselves.’  They were on the Clyde, looking at Bothwell Castle, a fortress where English nobility had been imprisoned after the Battle of Bannockburn; and she continues: ‘These rude warriors cared little perhaps about either [river or sea]; and yet if one may judge from the writings of Chaucer and from the old romances, more interesting passions were connected with natural objects in the days of chivalry than now, though going in search of scenery, as it is called, had not then been thought of.’[xxii]  Later again, sheltered from a night of rain in a lonely hut near Loch Ketterinə, she lay awake listening to the rain, the sound of the lake-water, and a beck running nearby.  ‘I was less occupied by remembrance of the Trossachs, beautiful as they were, than the vision of the Highland hut, which I could not get out of my head.  I thought of the Fairyland of Spenser, and what I had read in romance at other times, and then, what a feast would it be for a London pantomime-maker, could he but transplant it to Drury Lane, with all its beautiful colours!’[xxiii]  Dorothy’s reactions to the word ‘romance’ give depth and clarity to Williams’ use of romantic in sense 1 / and reinforce the impression that his own reference is neither vague nor approximate.  But it is complex and personal, calling to mind at once their own reading of romances as visionary, and their sense of the primordial continuity of deep feeling in people who live a ‘natural’ life.  This second point of emphasis is made clear by discussion between Dorothy and William after an unexpected encounter in the rain near Tarbet in twilight, when ‘all was solitary and huge – sky, water, and mountains mingled together.’

While we were walking forward, the road leading us over the top of a brow, we stopped suddenly at the sound of a half-articulate Gaelic hooting from a field close to us; it came from a little boy, whom we could see on the hill between us and the lake, wrapped up in a grey plaid; he was probably calling home the cattle for the night.  His appearance was in the highest degree moving to the imagination: mists were on the hillsides, darkness shutting in upon the huge avenue of mountains, torrents roaring, no house in sight to which the child might belong; his dress, cry, and appearance all different from anything we had been accustomed to.  It was a text, as Wm. has since observed to me, containing in itself the whole history of the Highlander’s life – his melancholy, his simplicity, his poverty, his superstition, and above all, that visionariness which results from a communion with the unworldliness of nature.[xxiv]

On 8 November 1805 Dorothy Wordsworth noted in her journal: ‘Mrs Luff’s large white dog lay in the moonshine upon the round knoll under the old yew-tree, a beautiful and romantic image – the dark tree with its dark shadow, & the elegant creature as fair as a Spirit.’  This recalls the painterly image Coleridge had used in a poem of 1796 (‘To a Young Friend ...,’ example 1/1 on p. 178 below), and the pictorial-romantic sense of the stunted thorn that seems to have been the starting-point for Wordsworth’s poem The Thorn.  It also has the tactile feeling of Christabel and, perhaps even more strongly, of Wordsworth’s White Doe of Rylstone, which was not to be written until 1807-8.

There is one more use of the word romantic by Wordsworth in the Preface to the Poems of 1815.  This Preface, given over mostly to an explanation for the peculiar arrangement of his poems that was to persist to the end of his life, was one of the things that propelled Coleridge in writing Biographia Literaria, for it includes a partial – and in Coleridge’s view incorrect – account of the distinction between imagination and fancy.  Compared with the sustained but confused rhetorical impetuosity and grand phrasing of the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, the 1815 Preface is a dry, tightly controlled, even Augustan performance.  Near the end, just before his account of fancy and imagination, Wordsworth seems to be aware of the by-then-current and fashionable distinction between classical and romantic (which also has Coleridgean connections); but the gesture of recognition is no more than the flicker of an eye, and has the ironic allusiveness that T. S. Eliot was inclined to adopt when noticing a tricky matter that he preferred not to discuss in public.

All Poets, except the dramatic, have been in the practice of feigning that their works were composed to the music of the harp or lyre: with what degree of affectation this has been done in modern times, I leave to the judicious to determine.  For my own part, I have not been disposed to violate probability so far, or to make such a large demand upon the Reader’s charity.  Some of these pieces are essentially lyrical; and, therefore, cannot have their due force without a supposed musical accompaniment; but, in much the greatest part, as a substitute for the classic lyre or romantic harp, I require nothing more than an animated or impassioned recitation, adapted to the subject.[xxv]

The distinction may be a standard metonymic distinction between the epic and the lyric manner, but the terms do not sit comfortably here in specifying the middle ground that Wordsworth requires for speaking some of his verse; and the phrase may be a distant though confused echo of the German distinction.  As will be seen, the classical-romantic distinction had suddenly entered England in 1813.  Wordsworth had been in London, and had seen Coleridge; but if this matter ever came up for discussion between them, the effect on Wordsworth cannot be regarded as volcanic.



Charles Lamb, incorrigible Londoner, never tired of making Rabelaisian lists of the delights of ‘London with-the-many-sins’; he was not easily to be infected with his friends’ enthusiasm for rocks and woods and waterfalls.  His salty observations, varying a little in acerbity depending on his correspondent, provide valuable comment from close range – comment not only on the general currency of the sentimental-romantic response to landscape but also on Wordsworth and Coleridge as praisers of sublime landscape.  To Thomas Manning, November 1800, he said: ‘Consider Grasmere!  Ambleside!  Wordsworth!  Coleridge!  I hope you will.  Hills, woods, lakes, and mountains, to the eternal devil.  I will eat snipes with thee, Thomas Manning ... For my part, with reference to my friends northward, I must confess that I am not romance-bit about Nature.  The earth, and sea, and sky (when all is said) is but as a house to dwell in ...’  As he goes on to rehearse and celebrate the ‘furniture of my world,’ the letter becomes a feat of affectionate virtuosity.[xxvi]  In January 1801, when Wordsworth actually invited Lamb to Grasmere, Lamb replied:

Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don’t much care if I never see a mountain in my life.  I have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local attachments, as any of you mountaineers have done with dead nature ... I have no passion (or have had none since I was in love, and then it was the spurious engendering of poetry & books) to groves and vallies ... Have I not enough, without your mountains?  I do not envy you.  I should pity you, did I not know, that the Mind will make friends of any thing.  Your sun & moon and skys and hills & lakes affect me no more, or scarcely come to me in more venerable characters, than as a gilded room with tapestry and tapers.  where I might live with handsome visible objects ...[xxvii]

In February 1801 he wrote to Charles Lloyd, who was not yet installed at Old Brathay: ‘Let them talk of lakes and mountains and romantic dales – all that fantastic stuff; give me a ramble by night, in the winter nights in London – ...’[xxviii]  Again, he wrote to John Rickman, in July 1803, from Cowes: ‘In short nothing in this house goes right till after supper, then a gentle circumambience of the weed [tobacco] serves to shut out Isle of Wight impertinent scenery and brings us back in fancy to Mutton Lane and the romantic alleys ever green of nether-Holborn, green that owes nothing to grass, but the simple effect of cabbage-water, tripe-cauls, children’s st[oo]ls, etc.’[xxix]  But in the summer of 1802 Charles and Mary Lamb did go to the Lakes and reached Coleridge’s house in Keswick unannounced.  They spent some time there, missed the Wordsworths but saw the Clarksons at Ullswater.  What he wrote to Coleridge afterwards was probably genuine enough: ‘I feel that I shall remember your mountains to the last day I live.  They haunt me perpetually.  I am like a man who has been falling in love unknown to himself, which he finds out when he leaves the Lady.  I do not remember any very strong impression while they were present; but, being gone, their mementos are shelved in my brain.’[xxx]

A few days later he wrote to Thomas Manning, a little chastened, giving a brilliant account of his visit, and the only detailed picture of Coleridge’s study in Greta Hall we have.

We thought we had got into Fairy Land ... we entered Coleridge’s comfortable study just in the dusk, when the mountains were all dark with clouds upon their heads.  Such an impression I never received from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose I can ever again.  Glorious creatures, fine old fellows, Skiddaw, &c.  I never shall forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an intrenchment ... In fine, I have satisfied myself, that there is such a thing as that which tourists call romantic, which I very much suspected before: they make such a spluttering about it, and toss their splendid epithets around them, till they give as dim a light as at four o’clock next morning the lamps do after an illumination ... Besides, after all, Fleet-Street and the Strand are better places to live in for good and all than among Skiddaw.  Still, I turn back to those great places where I wandered about, participating in their greatness ...’[xxxi]

I am reasonably sure that a thorough search of Lamb’s letters would provide a number of occurrences of the word romantic, but I doubt whether their uses would go beyond what these few passages convey by jocular and inverted emphasis.



The ‘deep romantic chasm’ of Kubla Khan must surely be the most widely known use of the word romantic in the whole corpus of English poetry; yet Coleridge used romantic only four other times in the whole of his poems, and in senses of less poetic complexity than most of the uses made by Wordsworth.  Coleridge’s use of the word, however, can be expected to be of peculiar interest, not only because of his eminence as poet and philosopher, and not only because he was the earliest exponent of the classical-romantic distinction in England, but also because he was a word-maker of exceptional and ingenious fertility and a man who insistently ‘desynonymized’ pairs of approximately identical terms whenever he encountered them – fancy-imagination, reason-understanding, imitation-copy, genius-talent, and the like.

All Coleridge’s uses of romantic in his poems fall within the last five years of the eighteenth century; and only one of these occurs in a major poem.  Four refer to landscape (although one is used perhaps in a painterly sense), the other is mock-amorous.  (The notation used for Wordsworth is continued for Coleridge.)


1.  Associated with romance (legend)

1/1 ‘To a Young Friend on his proposing to domesticate with the Author,’ 1. 32:[xxxii] composed 1796, published 1797.  This poems falls within the annus mirabilis; it imagines ‘A mount, not wearisome and bare and steep, / But a green mountain variously up-piled’ – ‘The Hill of Knowledge’ that Coleridge as master and Charles Lloyd as pupil will climb together.  The allegoric sketch is provided with much minute detail taken from the Somerset landscape.  He imagines how one of them might drop musing behind, while the other, going ahead, would shout eagerly ‘from the forehead of the topmost crag’ –

               for haply there uprears

That shadowing Pine its old romantic limbs,

   Which latest shall detain the enamour’d sight

Seen from below, when eve the valley dims,

   Tinged yellow with the rich departing light ...

The pinetree, caught up into ‘allegoric lore,’ seems not to be directly observed or remembered, although it may be a painter’s image in the manner of Salvator Rosa; for why not windswept and thereby more ‘romantic’ for its frozen declaration of force than for its langorous shelter?[11]  Unfortunately Coleridge’s poem is paratactic and not very clear as it unfolds.  What at first sight looks like an unfocussed landscape use of romantic seems more probably, on reflection, to refer to ‘romance’ (legend): the tree assumes the aspect of some huge figure from romance, perhaps human or bestial but not clearly discernible, and portentous – a little like the figure of the leech-gatherer in ‘Resolution and Independence’ that lies on the margin between terrestrial and human, between living and dead, between monster and man; the tree may be a huge indistinct figure from primordial myth or from the less awe-inspiring contrivances of romance.  That the poem is admittedly allegoric rather than descriptive reinforces the conjecture.


2. Associated with love

2/1 ‘Lines written in the Album at Elbingerode, in the Hartz Forest,’ I. 14:[xxxiii] composed 17 May 1799, published September 1799.

And the Gale murmuring indivisibly,

Preserv’d it’s solemn murmur most distinct

From many a Note of many a Waterbreak,

And the Brook’s Chatter; on whose islet stones

The dingy Kidling with it’s tinkling Bell

Leapt frolicsome, or old romantic Goat

Sat, his white Beard slow-waving! ...

On this occasion Coleridge had walked to the top of the Brocken with certain irreverent undergraduates and had looked upon scenes that were unquestionably ‘romantic.’  The transferred epithet from the scenery to the well-known amorous propensities of the goat is a more eloquent comment on the tone of the conversation between the walkers than evidence for a scrupulous poetic practice.


3 Associated with landscape of awesome grandeur, whether natural or man-made

3/1 ‘To the Rev. W. J. Hort while teaching a young Lady some Song-tunes on his Flute,’ I. 18:[xxxiv] composed 1795, published 1796.  Coleridge says that when, according to the scheme of Pantisocracy, he and his friends (and their several wives) have taken themselves to the idyllic banks of the Susquehanna River, he will still remember this occasion.

   In Freedom’s UNDIVIDED dell,

Where Toil and Health with mellow’d Love shall dwell,

   Far from folly, far from men,

   In the rude romantic glen,

   Up the cliff, and thro’ the glade,

   Wandering with the dear-lov’d maid,

   I shall listen to the lay,

   And ponder on thee far away ...

This is not one of Coleridge’s ablest poems.  From what Coleridge knew of the Susquehanna, the place he was going to was not particularly savage.  Yet the phrase ‘rude romantic glen’ seems to be reaching out toward ‘that deep romantic Chasm’ of Kubla Khan by way of a cancelled passage in This Lime-Tree Bower, two lines of which poem, as sent to Southey in a letter of 17 July 1979, read: ‘Wander delighted, and look down, perchance, / On that same rifted Dell ...’ Coleridge has added in a footnote:

Wand’ring well-pleas’d, look down on grange or dell

Or [that deep gloomy cancelled] deep fantastic Rift ...

At first published in 1800, by which time Kubla Khan had been written, the thread is lost in ‘that still roaring dell ... The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep ...’


3/2 Religious Musings, I. 250:[xxxv] composed late 1794?, published 1796.  Coleridge declares how, at the apocalyptic change of society to perfection, the philosophers and bards will ‘tame the outrageous mass’ –

Moulding Confusion to such perfect forms.

As erst were wont, – bright visions of the day! –

To float before them, when, the summer noon,

Beneath some arched romantic rock reclined

They felt the sea-breeze lift their youthful locks ...

This image of visionary day-dreaming recalls Wordsworth’s ‘Written with a Pencil ...’ (p. 167 above, 2/1); but although late enough to fall within the newly discovered manner of ‘Shurton Bars’ and ‘The Eolian Harp,’ it is evidently informed less by an actual occasion than by some recollection of oracular literature.  Yet the words ‘arched romantic rock’ by anticipation partake of the world of Kubla Khan in two senses.


3/3 Kubla Khan, I. II:[xxxvi] composed 1798, published 1816; Crewe MS quoted.

In Xannadù did Cubla Khan

A stately Pleasure Dome decree;

Where Alph, the sacred River, ran

Thro’ Caverns measureless to Man

Down to a sunless Sea.

So twice six miles of fertile ground

With Walls and Towers were compass’d round:

And here were Gardens bright with sinuous Rills

Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing Tree,

And here were Forests ancient as the Hills

Enfolding sunny Spots of Greenery.

But o!  that deep romantic Chasm, that slanted

Down a green Hill athwart a cedarn Cover,

A savage Place, as holy and inchanted

As e’er beneath a waning Moon was haunted

By Woman wailing for her Deamon-Lover:

From forth this Chasm with hideous Turmoil seething,

As if this Earth in fast thick Pants were breathing,

A mighty Fountain momently was forc’d,

Amid whose swift half-intermitted Burst

Huge Fragments vaulted like rebounding Hail,

Or chaffy Grain beneath the Thresher’s Flail:

And mid these dancing Rocks at once & ever

It flung up momently the sacred River.

Five miles meandering with a mazy Motion

Thro’ Wood and Dale the sacred River ran,

Then reach’d the Caverns measureless to Man,

And sank in Tumult to a lifeless Ocean; ...

If there is any source for this landscape it may be found in ‘Some wilderness-plot, green & fountainous & unviolated by Man’ of an early opium vision,[xxxvii] perhaps in the walking tour with Hucks in North Wales in the summer of 1794,[xxxviii] perhaps (as Geoffrey Grigson has suggested[xxxix]) in a visit to the Gothic garden at Haford on that walking tour, perhaps even in a visit to the Gothic garden at Crookham or an account of it.[xl]  But such sources account for rather less than everything, for the passage is a spell-binding transfiguration of the romantic landscape and its Gothic literary evocations – called forth and crystallizing upon (as we know well) a passage in Purchas His Pilgrimage (1626).  It is worth noticing the origin in literature, the exotic setting and names, the Gothic theme of the ‘Woman wailing for her Daemon-Lover,’ the primordial – even menacing – sense of power.  But its origin is also to be seen in the direct links with actual places, and with actual instants of heightened observation and vivid feeling, which impart force and momentum of a kind that is not to be found in what Coleridge was later to distinguish in Biographia Literaria as fanciful constructions of ‘fixities and definites.’

In all five occurrences of the word romantic in his poems, Coleridge had placed the word in exactly the same verbal and metrical structure; a phrase of three words – monosyllabic adjective + romantic + monosyllabic noun.  This pattern (and Wordsworth uses it four times, in all of them choosing ‘old’ for his anacrustic words, although once ending with the disyllabic ‘sorrows’) inevitably throws the main emphasis off the word romantic.  It may be a trick of careless versifying that makes Coleridge choose ‘old’ as the introductory adjective twice, and Wordsworth four times; but it is more likely that that adjective recurs because romantic – whatever else it may imply – is strongly connected in their minds with ‘romance’ and the fact of distance in time, whether historical, psychic, linguistic, or imaginative.  It is presumably in the sense of distance, in the word old, that romantic refers simultaneously to ‘romance’ and to the Gothic elements of the medieval, the dark, and the psychologically unaccountable.  At least for Coleridge, two of the three occurrences of ‘romance’ in his poems call in the word old, and the third implies a context historically distant.

‘Lines in the Manner of Spenser,’[xli] 1795:

            (No fairer deck’d the flowers of old Romance)

‘The Silver Thimble,’[xlii] 1795:

            As oft mine eye with careless glance

            Has gallop’d thro’ some old romance ...

– allegedly written by Mrs Coleridge, but one can well believe her later statement that ‘she wrote but little of these verses.’

‘The Garden of Boccaccio,’[xliii] 1828:

            Mid gods of Greece, and warriors of romance.

These uses are standard enough: but in prose writings Coleridge clarifies and locates his meaning of ‘romance’ and in doing so brings them recognizably close to the uses of Dorothy and – by implication – of William Wordsworth.

In the second of the essays ‘On the Principles of Genial Criticism,’ published in Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal in August and September 1814, Coleridge allows us to go a little behind the tantalizing scrap of conversation that (according to Dorothy) he had with the unnamed tourists in 1803 in Scotland.  ‘There are few mental exertions more instructive, or which are capable of being rendered more entertaining, than the attempt to establish and exemplify the distinct meaning of terms, often confounded in common use, and considered as mere synonyms.  Such are the words Agreeable, Beautiful, Picturesque, Grand, Sublime.’[xliv]  He evolves the terms agreeable and beautiful at considerable length but leaves the series incomplete.  In a letter to Thomas Allsop [in 1825?] he gives a brief account of a more extended list in terms of the relation of the whole to the parts: shapely, beautiful, formal, grand, majestic, picturesque, sublime.  No account of the romantic is found in any such formal or reflective context.

Most of Coleridge’s uses of the word romantic in his Notebooks and letters refer to landscape.  The earliest record was written from the walking tour in North Wales in the summer 1794 that may have laid the seeds for the ‘deep romantic Chasm.’  Writing to Southey while both were still undergraduates, his use of the word romantic is some indication of its vogue currency.  He found Llangunnog ‘a Village more romantically situated’; the mountains thence to Bala were ‘most sublimely terrible’; and at Bala ‘The rugged and stony Clefts are stupendous – and in winter must form Cataracts most astonishing.’  (The crescendo of adjectives is probably facetious.)  Then he and his companion made their way from Llangollen to Wrexham to Ruthin to Denbigh.

At Denbigh is a ruined Castle – it surpasses every thing I could have conceived – I wandered there an hour and a half last evening ... Two well drest young men were walking there – Come – says one – I’ll play my flute – ‘twill be romantic!  Bless thee for the thought, Man of Genius & Sensibility!  I exclaimed – and pre-attuned my heartstring to tremulous emotion.  He sat adown (the moon just peering) amid the most awful part of the Ruins – and – romantic Youth!  struck up the affecting Tune of Mrs Casey! – ‘Tis fact upon my Honor![12]

In May 1799 when he climbed the Brocken, Coleridge’s only poetical record of the grandeur of the scene is in the ‘Lines written in the Album at Elbingerode’ – in which he had turned the actual belled cattle into kids and goats so that he could make a mildly indelicate jest on the word romantic.  There is record of this same walk both in a Notebook and in a letter.  The Notebook entry is particularly interesting for his repeated use of the words ‘coombs’[13] (one of his favourite features of the Somerset landscape), for the repetition of the word greenery (a year after composing Kubla Khan) and the prominence of the word green (although admittedly the landscape forced that on him); and ‘In short the scene extremely resembles some parts of the River Wye / & still more the Coombes about Porlock &c.’  As they climbed up from one valley to another they suddenly found ‘all the verdure gone, the Trees leafless, & low down & close along the Banks of the River the Concial Fir Trees, in great multitudes / a melancholy & romantic Scene that was quite new to me. –’[xlv]  Later, when they came to the foot of the great Brocken, climbed to the top, and visited ‘the Blocksberg, a sort of Bowling Green inclosed by huge Stones, something like those at Stonehenge’ – the ‘place where the Witches dance’ – they saw ‘nothing particularly wild or romantic.’[14]

In August 1802, walking by himself, Coleridge made note of ‘Ponsonby Hall & Calder Bridge Village & romantic Mill just on the line at the opposite end.’[xlvi]  A few days later he ‘passed over a common, wild, & dreary, and descending a hill came down upon Ulpha Kirk, with a sweet view up the River, with a large mirror over a rapid / Ulpa Kirk is a most romantic vale, the mountains that embosom it, low & of a remarkably wild outline / and higher mountains looking in from behind.’[xlvii]  In Sicily in October 1805, near Giardini, he saw ‘a Church Tower (white) most romantically placed on [the slope] of one [Hill], just before the rise of another’;[xlviii] and near Naples that December he saw ‘Romantic round Tower at projecting Battlements of Fondi.’[xlix]  Then in May 1806, after leaving Rome, he took

a sweet ride to Nepi, the most romantic place I have seen, both when first its then round ruined Tower & extinguisher-steeple peeped thro’ the Trees – & it continues improving to the very last / Its walls, ivy, double Gate, picturesque & novel waterfalls between the 1st & second / ... indeed from this place even to Terni thro’ Borchetto, is a continued scene of beauty chiefly in the style of the River Wye – only the clefts are deeper, more romantic, & more wooded – but the river, is very inferior / ...[l]

Through these few notes two strains run through the word romantic: one is the Gothic sense of menacing force concentrated into the Kubla Khan image, with darkness and ‘melancholy’; the other is more domestic, gentler, reminding him of the Wye Valley.  Tower, mill, church are important, it would seem, because of the sense of lives lived there long ago, or lived obscurely lived still that cannot be known, or simply the sense of human life imprinted upon the landscape (as one may sense the immanence of Saracens in the Provençal hills); even the recollection of Stonehenge is less powerful than that.  Particularly noticeable is the absence of literary reference and the restraint from any expected or formulated response of feeling.  The notebook entries themselves need to be read carefully to see with what painstaking precision the detail is rendered into words, even when the notes are terse, broken, and elliptical.  There is no air of fine writing, but rather the patient fidelity of the poet obsessed with affectionate accuracy, as Gerard Manley Hopkins was when he set down the look of broken water, or the texture of leaves, or ‘a lovely damasking in the sky.’  In this, being what he was, Coleridge uses even the word romantic with fastidious meaningfulness in his prose rendering of landscape.

In March 1805 Coleridge made note of an uncongenial conversation with an unknown person in Malta.

Of country – Great Britain for me – none of your romantics! – and what then do you mean?  If my feelings are romantic, upon what are yours founded?  Why should you love your country at all?  It is an axiom.  Be it so!  But still an Axiom implies definition, & is preceded by it.  What do you mean by country?  The clod under your feet?  or where you were born?  What if I had been born in a Sicilian Vessel, my mother an English-woman being there brought to bed?  No, where my Parents were born. – What then if my Father had been so born, &c &c.[li]

The note is clearer if expanded a little and repunctuated.

Of Country

[Coleridge] ‘Great Britain for me.’  [Interlocutor] ‘None of your romantics!’  ‘And what then do you mean?  If my feelings are romantic, upon what are yours founded?  Why should you love your country at all?’  ‘It is an axiom [that I should love my country].’  ‘Be it so!  But still an Axiom implies definition, & is preceded by it.  What do you mean by country?  The clod under your feet?  or where you were born?  What if I had been born in a Sicilian Vessel, my mother an Englishwoman being there brought to bed?’  ‘No, where my Parents were born.’  ‘What then if my Father had been born [in a Sicilian Vessel], &c &c?’

The charge of indulging in ‘romantics’ evidently implies ‘romancing,’ placing an imaginative gloss over the thought of (a disreputable) Great Britain, imparting a colour that no ‘realist’ would recognize as proper to the state of the nation; it also implies that Coleridge is responding sentimentally – in the order of an inappropriate trigger-response – to the thought of his country.  Coleridge, in replying, reads ‘romantic feelings’ as allegedly feelings that are not shaped and controlled by the object which has aroused them.  But he sees the word romantic as pointing not simply to an assumed distinction between the actual and the imagined, but also to the question whether the object of affection is worthy to arouse the affection expressed.  ‘Why should you love your country at all?’  Coleridge asks, and the argument has been turned from a simple question of actualities and appropriateness to a question of values and the source of values.  The remark ‘None of your romantics!’ is clearly a contemptuous dismissal.  Coleridge, without examining the term, accepts the basis of the dismissal, thereby acknowledging a current pejorative usage.

John Foster, in his tiresomely diffuse and sententious essay ‘On the Application of the Epithet Romantic,’ written in 1805, confirms this use.

A thoughtful judge of sentiments, books, and men, will often find reason to regret that the language of censure is so easy and so undefined.  It costs no labour, and needs no intellect, to pronounce the words, foolish, stupid, dull, odious, absurd, ridiculous.  The weakest or more uncultivated mind may therefore gratify its vanity, laziness, and malice, all at once, by a prompt application of vague condemnatory words, where a wise and liberal man would not feel himself warranted to pronounce without the most deliberate consideration, and where such consideration might perhaps terminate in applause ...

            These vague epithets describe nothing, discriminate nothing; they express no species, are as applicable to ten thousand things as to this one and he has before employed them on a numberless diversity of subjects.  But he can perceive that censure or contempt has the smartest effect, when its expressions have an appropriate peculiarity, which adapts them more precisely to the present subject than to another ...

He despatches puritan, methodist, and Jacobin briefly, then turns to romantic.

For having partly quitted the rank of plain epithets, it has become a convenient exploding word, of more special deriding significance than the other words of its order, such as wild, extravagant, visionary.  It is a standard expression of contemptuous dispatch, which you have often heard pronounced with a very self-complacent air, that said, ‘How much wiser I am than some people,’ by the indolent and inanimate on what they deemed impracticable, by the apes of prudence on what they accounted foolishly adventurous, and by the slaves of custom on what startled them as singular.  The class of absurdities which it denominates, is left so undefined, that all the views and sentiments which a narrow cold mind could not like or understand in an ample and fervid one, might be referred hither; and yet the word seems to discriminate their character so conclusively as to put them out of argument.  With this cast of significance and vacancy of sense, it is allowed to depreciate without being accountable; it has the license of a parrot, to call names without being taxed with insolence.  And when any sentiments are decisively stigmatized with this denomination, it would require considerable courage to rescue and defend them; for as the epithet romantic is always understood to deny sound reason to whatever it is fixed upon, the advocate may expect to be himself enrolled among the heroes of whom Don Quixote is the time immemorial commander-in-chief.  At least he may be assigned to that class which occupies a dubious frontier space between the rational and the insane.

Not without labour, Foster then extricates at considerable length the various aspects of the notion: a / it refers to the ascendancy of imagination over judgment; b / ‘The extravagance of imagination in romance has very much consisted in the display of a destiny and course of life totally unlike the common condition of mankind’; c / ‘If this excessive imagination is combined with tendencies to affection, it makes a person sentimentally romantic’; d / ‘an exclusive taste of what is grand’; e / ‘an utter violation of all the relations between ends and means’ (he remarks particularly upon novels that are ‘full of these lucky incidents and adventures, which are introduced as the chief means toward the ultimate success’).[lii]  If anything is clear from Foster’s lucubrations it is that the word romantic in its contemptuous and condemnatory sense in the early nineteenth century had not moved very far from the notion of romance and that it preserves a strong literary connection simultaneously with the ‘old romances’ and with ‘that class of fictitious works called novels.’

Inasmuch as the word romantic is related primarily to ‘romance’ it might be taken to mean ‘other-worldly,’ referring to a world not ours, distant in time and space yet coherent in terms recognizably acceptable to us.  Romance is a dream-world; but dreams are part of our experience and we tend to assume that dreams, in the act of dreaming, ‘make sense’ even though they do not structure themselves much under the ‘light of common day’; and we recognize – as Coleridge did – that there are different kinds of dreams, and that even the crudest classification of dreams would draw a line between the dreams that are projections of our desires and the dreams that are visions ‘given’ to us.  ‘Every thing, that lives, has its moment of self-exposition,’ Coleridge noted.[liii]  The non-logical structuring of poems can be seen as dream-working or dream-making: the elements, otherwise unrelated, put themselves together in a structure that convinces us of this coherence – if we grasp them in an appropriate mode.

At the beginning of Chapter 14 of the Biographia Literaria – the section on the ‘Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads,’ which is the most commonly known part of the book – Coleridge says that in one of the two sorts of poems he and Wordsworth had agreed to write

the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions, as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real.  And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency ... [I]t was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.[15]

The word romantic here means primarily ‘in or from romance,’ but it gathers to itself complex and important relations.  It is associated with the supernatural, with the ‘dramatic truth of emotions,’ with an implied distinction between delusion and illusion (the second being in Coleridge’s view the working basis of imaginative ‘truth’), and with an implied tension between truth and reality.  Furthermore ‘a semblance of truth’ can be secured for these ‘shadows of imagination’ only by a function exerted by the poem itself: not by a collusive pact of make-believe on the reader’s part, but by the poem commanding in the reader a sudden transposition into belief in the poem as poetic-imaginative and in the drama of the poem as imaginative-real.  The ‘willing suspension of disbelief for the moment’ is a compulsive or charmed stepping over the threshold into the ‘self-expository’ world of the poem, the poem being self-expository in the way a dream is.  To be able to take the decisive step over the threshold into a state of faith (which is not quite the same as mere ‘belief’) depends upon the power of the poem to command our whole attention so that we refrain for the moment from saying No; we then pay attention to the poem in the same way that we watch a dream gravely unfolding.  Like the Wedding-guest we ‘cannot choose but hear.’  Although romantic in this passage at first sight looks like the simple adjective of ‘romance,’ I know of no other place in Coleridge’s writing where romantic lies so firmly and reverberantly within the nucleus of his theory of poetic imagination.  On this basis, I suggest, and on no basis less complex and paradoxical, could Coleridge be regarded as ‘romantic’ in terms that he himself would recognize as valid.

Accounts of literary ‘romanticism’ make much of exoticism – in manners, setting, colour, states of mind – as though the introduction of such materials were enough to secure a specific quality in the poem.  Coleridge knew better, from his early reviewing of Gothic romances and from watching Southey make ‘cold-blooded carpentry’ of spectacularly exotic materials.  What matters in a poem, however, is not the materials used, or even the ‘colour’ of the materials used, but the functioning and interaction of all the materials within the poem: if they function well the poem has ‘its moment of self-exposition.’  When Coleridge made extensive revision of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1800 (first published in 1798), he removed a quantity of Gothic and charnel material, and most of the elements of archaic vocabulary,[liv] because he recognized that they were of the order of emotional rhetoric, that they were gratuitous stage-effects that clogged rather than catalyzed the functions of the poem, and that they had arisen from, and appealed too obviously to, a wide-spread literary fashion of the day.  The revisions clarify the inner functioning of the poem, and particularly the modes of ‘distancing’ that allow the poem to construct its own universe.  The theme of the poem is extremely complex, the cognitive intensity of a very high order: these demand resources of an extraordinary kind, the functioning of exceptional forces in a suitably complex and intricate manner.  It is clear that for Coleridge, on the evidence of this poem, there is no common-sense distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ – that whatever in the poem is ‘supernatural’ is ‘natural’ because the two words refer merely to the two poles of a continuous order.[lv]  For example, the ‘supernatural’ visions and events can as well be explained as the eidetic fantasies (or hallucinations) of a mind driven to extremity by deprivation and loneliness as they can be ascribed to the use of ‘supernatural machinery’ (for which Coleridge had the utmost contempt).  The poem is not a fairy-tale that we may condescendingly accept if we wish, but an affirmation of a world we all recognize (although sometimes with horror) as our world, ‘supernatural’ perhaps inasmuch as it is not of the order of common experience, but ‘natural’ inasmuch as it delineates an area in which our haunted and desperate attempts to understand our lives are engaged.  That Coleridge never wrote the prefatory essay on the supernatural that he promised for the Ancient Mariner is greatly to be lamented.

Coleridge discovered – or more properly rediscovered – that ‘distancing’ was an outstanding means of securing both intensity and concentration in poetry.  The discovery is the more remarkable when we consider that the resources for ‘distancing’ that he chose were the very same materials that were commonly and fashionably used as a narcotic stimulus to induce ‘sentiment,’ horror, melancholy, frisson.  Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony tells us a great deal about the application of these sensational materials through the nineteenth century; but his account includes suspiciously little of the work of any major writer.  That is, he tells us how the materials were applied; he does not tell us how – in the hands of a major artist – they were made to function poetically.  Yet Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ are brilliant examples of the way ‘distancing’ can trace out the exact movement of mind; and in both cases the movement is defined in psychic space in terms of literary exoticism.

From the parish clerk of Grasmere, and no way connected with the Scotch Tour of 1803, Wordsworth heard an eye-witness story of a blind Scottish boy whose most fervent desire was to go to sea as the men of his village did; and how he set out on Loch Leven, to his great peril, in an improvised vessel, and was with difficulty and against his wish rescued by the fishermen.  Wordsworth wrote a poem on this story in December 1806 and called it ‘The Blind Highland Boy.’  To the delight of his ill-wishers Wordsworth sent the boy to sea in

A Household Tub, like one of those

Which women use to wash their clothes –

and so the text ran when it was published in Poems in Two Volumes in 1807.[lvi]  Coleridge was a Coleorton when Wordsworth wrote the poem; whether he protested at that time we cannot say.  But in January 1808 he made the following note.

I almost fear, that the alteration would excite suprize and uneasy contempt in Verbidegno’s [Wordsworth’s] mind – towards one less loved, at least: – but had I written the sweet Tale of the Blind Highland Boy, I would have substituted for the washing Tub, and the awkward Stanza in which it is specified the image suggested in the following lines from Dampier’s Travels ...: ‘I heard of a monstrous green Turtle once taken at the Port Royal in the Bay of Campeachy, that was four feet deep from the back to the belly, and the belly six feet broad.  Captn Roch’s Son, of about 9 or 10 years of age, went in it as in a boat, on board his Father’s Ship, about a quarter of a mile from the Shore.’ ... Why might not some Mariners have left this Shell on the shore of Loch Levin for a while, about to have it transported inland for a curiosity; & the blind boy have found it.  Would not the incident be in equal keeping with that of the child, as well as the image & tone of romantic uncommonness –[lvii]

Coleridge’s advice prevailed.  In the Poems of 1815 the wash-tub was turned into a turtle-shell; and Wordsworth added a note referring to Dampier, and acknowledging his ‘defence to the opinion of a Friend’ but attesting his authority for ‘the less elegant vessel in which my blind Voyager did actually entrust himself to the dangerous current of Loch Leven, as was related to me by an eye-witness.’  Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, and the anonymous author of The Simpliciad (1808), made merry about the wash-tub; but Charles Lamb, as soon as he saw the turtle-revision in 1815, defended the original to Wordsworth.  ‘... that substitution of a shell (a flat falsification of history) ... The tub was a good honest tub in its place, and nothing could fairly be said against it.  You say you made the alteration for the friendly reader, but the malicious will take it to himself.’[lviii]  Barron Field in 1828 endorsed Lamb’s view, and Wordsworth replied testily: ‘greatly as I respect your opinion and Lamb’s, I cannot now bring myself to undo my work; though if I had been aware before-hand that such judges would have objected, I should not have troubled myself with making the alteration.’[lix]

Coleridge may have misjudged Wordsworth’s capacity to make effective use of ‘romantic uncommonness’; neither in ‘The Blind Highland Boy’ nor in the introduction to ‘Peter Bell’ does this sort of ‘imaginative’ material lie any more easily than the Gothic material Wordsworth tried unsuccessfully to introduce into a few juvenile poems.  But Coleridge, with his own particular cast of poetic mind, could see how the ‘romantic uncommonness’ of the turtle shell (which after all on Dampier’s evidence was by no means impossible or implausible) could resonate to the strangeness of the world of desire the boy’s imagination had constructed in his blindness.  In this particular case everything in Wordsworth’s nature was inhospitable to such a resonance: the actuality of the story, the eye-witness account, the fact that he himself had seen Loch Leven, all called forth that ‘matter-of-factness’ which Coleridge saw as both a defect and a strength in Wordsworth’s work – as a defect it involved ‘a laborious minuteness and fidelity in the representation of objects and their positions as they appeared to the poet himself.’[lx]

Wordsworth’s poem is better – more consistent, more Wordsworthian – as Lamb could see, if the tub is used instead of the turtle.  But Coleridge was also correct in his own terms.  For him, ‘romantic uncommonness’ was not so much a property of the thing perceived as the mode in which the perception was cast.  In that mode of perception even the commonest thing could have the sudden strangeness of a familiar word heard as pristine, original, and new – and it is the business of poets to make words so.  Both Wordsworth and Coleridge, if the Biographia account of the origin of Lyrical Ballads is to be taken for literal truth (as I think it is), saw ‘the poetry of nature’ as ‘The sudden charm which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape’:[lxi] this poetry of nature argued to them that it was possible to combine ‘a faithful adherence to the truth of nature’ and ‘the interest of novelty’ in one poem.[lxii]

The mode of perception that sees the ‘romantic uncommonness’ of a thing commands a state of feeling that is at once intense and sharply – often obsessively if dreamily – concentrated; this is the source of poetic symbolism, and in the ambience of this activity anything whatsoever may become symbolic.  For Coleridge in the matter of the tub and the turtle there is no evasion of ‘the truth,’ no blurring of precision either in perception or response.  His notebooks, particularly in the earlier years, attest to the recurrence of images actually apprehended in this mode, that command fixed attention and prolonged and wondering attention, that hint at a symbolic language that alphabets the world, clamouring for ‘self-exposition.’  For Coleridge, as far as an image is precise, it is symbolic; as far as it is symbolic, it is definitive; as far as it is definitive, it is inexhaustible to reflection.  At the end of a letter describing the Harzreise, Coleridge adds a curious observation made at Oder Teich.  ‘Here & else where we found large rocks of violet Stone which when rubbed or when the Sun shines strong on them, emit a scent which I could not [have] distinguished from violet.  It is yellow-red in colou[r].’[lxiii]  Some such recollection was in his mind perhaps when, in the Biographia Literaria, he considered the ‘characteristic excellence’ in Wordsworth that was the counterpart to the defect of his ‘matter-of-factness.’

Fourth: the perfect truth of nature is his images and descriptions as taken immediately from nature, and proving a long and genial intimacy with the very spirit which gives the physiognomic expression to all the works of nature.  Like a green field reflected in a calm and perfectly transparent lake, the image is distinguished from the reality only by its greater softness and lustre.  Like the moisture or the polish on a pebble, genius neither distorts nor false-colours its objects; but on the contrary brings out many a vein and many a tint which escape the eye of common observation, thus raising to the rank of gems what had been often kicked away by the hurrying foot of the traveller on the dusty highroad of custom.[lxiv]

When the best poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge are seen, not as descriptive, but as symbolic, the phrase ‘romantic uncommonness’ refers to a process, a function, and a quality that is not confined to any period, although the word romantic perhaps properly is: it refers to whatever is radical to the power and process of poetry, whether we think of poetry as a distinctive way of putting words together or as an integrative-imaginative resource which is our common birthright and radical to our human nature.  How the more specifically literary trappings of the word romantic come in – the Gothic colour, the melancholy and sentimentality, the intimations of guilt and spiritual disease – is another matter, being a study of the sources and applications of certain materials; a matter that belongs more properly in the field of literary history.  When we study the function of certain materials in particular poems, however, it is a matter for poetics, and for considerations that lie at a more philosophical level than criticism.  Confronted by the work of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Tolstoy’s proposition that ‘Romanticism comes from the fear of looking straight into the eyes of truth’ seems rather wide of the mark.



John Keats used the word romantic only four times: twice in letters and twice in poems, the poems being of early date.  In the letters and one poem he uses the word jocularly; in the other poem he uses it in a Spenserian context.  In ‘Imitation of Spenser’ (1812?) he writes:

For sure so fair a place was never seen

Of all that ever charm’d romantic eye ...

In the ‘Epistle to George Felton Mathew’ (1816) –

Should e’er the fine-eyed maid to me be kind,

Ah!  surely it must be whene’er I find

Some flowery spot, sequester’d, wild, romantic,

That often must have seen a poet frantic ...

From Inverness he wrote in August 1818: ‘But I must leave joking & seriously aver, that I have been werry romantic indeed, among these Mountains & Lakes.’[lxv]  And from the Isle of Wight in July 1819 to his sister Fanny: ‘Bonchurch too is a very delightful place – as I can see by the Cottages all romantic – covered with creepers and honey sickles [sic] with roses and eglantines peeping in at the windows.  Fit abodes, for the People I guess live in them, romantic old maids fond of novels or soldiers widows with a pretty jointure – or any body’s widows or aunts or any things given to Poetry and a Piano forte – ‘[lxvi]

Keats knew painters and painting, sometimes wrote his poetry with particular paintings in mind, and learned in the end how to ‘paint pictures of his own’ in his poems – ‘By allowing his imagination to work in the way in which a painter’s works, he could produce a passage of which we cannot say whether it is based on a particular work of art or not.’[lxvii]  In his mind’s eye were the paintings of those masters of the picturesque, Claude, Poussin, and Titian; Salvator Rosa, an early enthusiasm, faded early.[lxviii]  And after March 1817, when Haydon took him to see the Elgin Marbles recently acquired for the nation and installed in the British Museum, Keats’s imagination was fired with the reality of a Greek art that he had earlier glimpsed only dimly from literary and blurred impressions – from the conversation of painters, from engraved representations, and from Tassie’s gems.[16]  Byron thought that Keats ‘took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoilt by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary’;[lxix] but De Quincey, who found Endymion an example of ‘fantastic effeminacy,’ also recognized that Hyperion ‘presents the majesty, the austere beauty, and the simplicity of Grecian temples enriched with Grecian sculpture.’[lxx]  Keats’s Endymion-manner, carried through Tennyson and Rossetti to the early Hopkins and early Yeats, became vague, dreamy, and allusive; but the painterly manner of The Eve of St Agnes and La Belle Dame sans Merci continued into the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood where posture and conception may have been languid but the outline was never vague.  The word romantic seems not to have travelled with Keats’s name (although ‘Beauty’ did); perhaps because his mature poems were seen as sculptural or statuesque, and therefore ‘classical’; perhaps also because the word classical did not yet in England call up as polar opposite the word romantic.

Byron uses the word romantic fifteen times in his poems.  None of these refers to landscape, unless ‘renown’d, romantic Spain’ (in ‘The Age of Bronze’), ‘lovely Spain!  renown’d romantic land’ (in Childe Harold I, XXXV), and the ‘romantic hills’ of Spain (in Childe Harold I, XXX) can be regarded as landscape references when their first meaning is ‘Spain of romance.’

In Hours of Idleness (1807) there are four occurrences.  ‘On a distant View ... of Harrow’ uses the phrase ‘friendships ... too romantic to last’ – which is matched in Marino Faliero (349) by ‘love, romantic love, which in my youth / I knew to be illusion.’  In ‘To a Lady’ he asks ‘Then wherefore souls we sigh and whine ... / Merely to make our love romantic?’ – here rhyming romantic with frantic, as he does again in Don Juan (IV, xviii; XII, lxviii), and as Keats did in the ‘Epistle to George Felton Mathew,’  In ‘The Tear,’ ‘The soldier braves death for a fanciful weather / In Glory’s romantic career’; and in ‘Childish Recollections,’ ‘My soul to Fancy’s fond suggestion yields, / And roams romantic o’er her airy fields.’

Considering the tone and purpose of Don Juan, the occurrences of romantic are surprisingly few in number (seven), and unevenly distributed (two in Canto IV, one in XI, and four in XII).  In IV, xviii, he speaks of ‘Young innate feelings ... what we mortals call romantic,’ and in IV, iii, he says that ‘sad truth ... Turns what was once romantic to burlesque.’  All the other uses are flippant or ironic comment on the love relation: in XII, lxv, preliminary love-making is called ‘romantic homages,’ and in XII, xxii, the comment on the expected duty of providing subsistence for wife and child is ‘That’s noble!  That’s romantic!’  In XI, xxxiii, rumours of Don Juan’s ‘wars and loves’ have gone before him, ‘And as romantic heads are pretty painters ... He found himself extremely in the fashion;’ so also, in XII, xxvii, Leila’s ‘charming figure and romantic history / Became a kind of fashionable mystery’; and in XII, lxviii, Juan is noted as ‘coming young from lands and scenes romantic, / Where lives, not lawsuits, must be risk’d for Passion.’  Byron had already made clear in his 1813 addition to the Preface to Childe Harold I and II, that he was not unaware of the connection between romantic sentiment (although he does not use the phrase) and the romances of chivalry.  We note with admiration that the man who has long been recognized in Europe as the supreme figure of the romantic man has left us – it may be out of aristocratic fastidiousness and a genuine classical sense – no notable uses of the word romantic.

Ian Jack has brought together Leigh Hunt’s uses of the word in the first version of his autobiography, Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (1828).[lxxi]  ‘The centre from which the different shades of meaning radiate,’ he says, ‘is of course “like something in a story.” ’  Hunt described Byron as listening to music ‘with an air of romantic regret,’ and says that Byron discovered ‘that the romantic character was not necessary to fame.’  When Hunt refers to the ‘classical and romantic’ associations of Italy and the Mediterranean, however, he evidently does not touch upon the nerve of Schlegel’s distinction.

Hazlitt’s uses are different again and rather more fluid than in any other writer we have studied, and on the whole less specific than some.[lxxii]  He refuses to ‘pamper [his] natural aversion to affectation or pretence, by romantic and artificial means’ (1821; p. 46); the imaginary figure in the essay ‘On going a Journey’ is ‘Our romantic and itinerant character ... not to be domesticated’ (1822, p. 82); at the point of death ‘the extreme points [of life] close and meet with none of that romantic interval stretching out between them that we had reckoned upon’ (1821, p. 164).  He speaks of the ‘feelings excited by a long walk in some romantic situation’ (1826, p. 254); and when he hears a ‘chapel-bell with its simple tinkling sound’ it has – as Keats said of the Isle of Wight cottages – ‘a romantic and charming effect’ (1827, p. 343).  When Hazlitt calls Ben Jonson’s visit to Drummond of Hawthornden a ‘romantic visit’ (1826, p. 534), the word romantic seems a synonym of sentimental in Sterne’s sense.  Although Hazlitt found Coleridge ‘too romantic for the herd of vulgar politicians’ (1825, p. 733), his account of their first meeting puts Coleridge in a less contemptuous context: ‘A poet and a philosopher getting up into a Unitarian pulpit to preach the gospel, was a romance in these degenerate days, a sort of revival of the primitive spirit of Christianity, which was not to be resisted’ (1823, p. 502).[lxxiii]  Poets in general he accused of being ‘As romantic [?Quixotic] in their servility as in their independence’; and he happily says that Sir Walter Scott is ‘like a man who had got a romantic spinning-jenny, which he has only to set a going, and it does his work for him much better and faster than he can do it for himself.’[lxxiv]

In the Nonesuch selection studied, there are few landscape references for the word romantic; more interesting connections turn up for the word in landscape painting, and so make a link with Keats and Coleridge.  For Coleridge, for Keats, and for Hazlitt himself, the landscape painters that came most readily to mind in their day were Poussin, Claude Lorraine, and Salvator Rosa.  Although Coleridge and Wordsworth are known to have used at times the ‘Lorraine glass’ to enhance the picturesque quality of landscape,[lxxv] Poussin and Claude were too much a neoclassical vogue to appeal much to either.  Salvator Rosa was a different matter.  Rosa (1615-73) – painter, engraver, poet (Coleridge knew his poetry), musician, and actor – developed a flamboyant and dramatic style of landscape painting (‘the sinister romantic’ is one name for it) in opposition to the ‘classical’ manner of Poussin and Claude.  Although the fashion for his work has passed its peak by about 1805, Coleridge was very much aware of it, as he was also aware of the contemporary vogue for Henry Fuseli without sharing it.  Hazlitt, who at times wrote with admiration of Coleridge in his reminiscences never hesitated to deal roughly with him in anonymous reviews.  In his essay ‘On a Portrait of an English Lady, by Vandyke’ (?1826) he notes that ‘Mr. Coleridge used to say, that what gave the romantic and mysterious interest to Salvator’s landscapes was their containing some implicit analogy to human or other living forms.  His rocks had a latent resemblance to the outline of a human face;[17] his trees had the distorted jagged shape of a satyr’s horns and grotesque features.  I do not think this is the case; but it may serve to supply us with an illustration of the present question.’[lxxvi]  Elsewhere, in his Edinburgh Review essay on Lady Morgan’s Life of Salvator (July 1824) Hazlitt enlarges upon the theme of Salvator as a romantic landscape painter.[18]

Salvator was the victim of a too morbid sensibility, or of early difficulty and disappointment ... Landscape painting is the obvious resource of misanthropy.  Our artist, escaping from the herd of knaves and fools, sought out some rude solitude, and found repose there ... In the coolness, in the silence, in the untamed wildness of mountain scenery, in the lawless manners of its inhabitants, he would forget the fever and the anguish, and the artificial restraints of society.  We accordingly do not find in Salvator’s rural scenes either natural beauty or fertility, or even the simply grand; but whatever seizes attention by presenting a barrier to the will, or scorning the power of mankind, or snapping asunder the chain that binds us to the kind – the barren, the abrupt, wild steril regions, the steep rock, the mountain torrent, the bandit’s cave, the hermit’s cell, – all these, while they released him from more harassing and painful reflections, soothed his moody spirit with congenial gloom, and found a sanctuary and a home there ... There is not in Salvator’s scenes the luxuriant beauty and divine harmony of Claude, not the amplitude of Nicolas Poussin, nor the gorgeous richness of Titian – but there is a deeper seclusion, a more abrupt and total escape from society, more savage wildness and grotesqueness of form, a more earthy texture, a fresher atmosphere, and a more obstinate resistance to all the effeminate refinements of art.  Savator Rosa then is, beyond all question, the most romantic of landscape painters; because the very violence of his temper threw him with instinctive force upon those objects in nature which would be most likely to sooth and disarm it ...[19]

Hazlitt, himself a mood and misanthropic man, greatly admired Titian’s work and copied some of it.  His treatment of Salvator, whether or not psychologically correct, suggests that the term romantic does not for him necessarily signify praise or self-identification.[20]



In February 1818, when Coleridge was on the point of beginning a series of lectures on Shakespeare, he wrote to thank James Perry for defending him against a charge that in his earlier lectures on Shakespeare he had drawn upon Schlegel, without acknowledgement, for his leading ideas.

The close resemblance in the general principles of my Lectures given on the same subject at the present Lecture-Room, to those of Schlegel, since then translated but of which the first Copy that arrived in England was presented to me in the Room by a German Gentleman just arrived from Germany, was so very striking that the utter improbability of my having read the work would scarcely have borne me out in the assertion, it was wholly the effect of coincidence and the study of the same philosophy – had not these very Lectures, in all the substance of their contents, been delivered to crowded audiences of the highest respectability at the Royal Institution three years before Schlegel had given his Lectures at Vienna – nay, Mr Hazlitt in answer to the charge that I had borrowed my opinions from Schlegel had openly said – ‘That must be a Lie: for I myself heard Coleridge give the very same theory before he went to Germany and when he did not even understand a word of German –’ ...[lxxvii]

The story, and the wrangling that went with it, is not easy to sort out.  The point at issue is whether Coleridge was independent of Schlegel in defending Shakespeare as a man of conscious artistic judgement, against the received view that Shakespeare was a wild genius who always put his feet right without knowing what he was doing.[21]  Coleridge claimed that he had declared such a view before he had read anything of Schlegel’s; and the claim can be plausibly supported by a note as early as October 1802.[lxxviii]  As a few contemporaries were quick to point out, and as Sara Coleridge, John Shawcross, T. M. Raysor, René Wellek, and G. N. G. Orsini (to mention only a few) have since traced in closer detail, Coleridge did at times in his lectures virtually translate from the text of Schlegel’s Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und Litteratur.[22]  This is no concern of ours at present except as far as it helps to trace the introduction into English usage of the distinction between romantic and classical literature.

There can be no doubt that the exposition of this distinction as given by Coleridge in his literary lectures from 1809 onward owes a great deal in substance and wording to Schlegel.  It should be stated, however, that although Coleridge was admittedly careless at times in making direct and unacknowledged use of the work of others – usually for convenience but never with plagiaristic intent – he used only materials that were harmonious with views and positions that he already held himself.[23]  Widely read, with ‘a memory capacious and systematising,’ and thoroughly familiar with the landscape of his own mind and memory, Coleridge generously supposed that others would assume good faith in such instances.  He had noted in April 1805: ‘What is the right, the virtuous Feeling, and consequent action, when a man having long meditated & perceived a certain Truth finds another, a foreign Writer, who has handled the same with an approximation to the Truth, as he had previously conceived it? – Joy! – Let Truth make her Voice audible!’[lxxix]  In December 1811, Coleridge gave a detailed account of how Bernard Krusve gave him his copy of the Vorlesungen after a lecture that seemed to owe much to Schlegel;[24] and Henry Crabb Robinson, not an easy man to fool, although a friend of Coleridge’s, read the Vorlesungen after hearing Coleridge’s lectures and noted: ‘Coleridge, I find, did not disdain to borrow observations from Schlegel, tho’ the coincidences between the two lectures are for the greater part coincidences merely and not the one caused by the other.’[lxxx]    Nevertheless, the fragmentary records of his lectures show that Coleridge did make very effective use of Schlegel’s text.

René Wellek has said that ‘The distinction of classical-romantic occurs for the first time in Coleridge’s lectures, given in 1811, and is there clearly derived from Schelegel ... But these lectures were not published at that time, and thus the distinction was popularized in England only through Madame de Staël.’[lxxxi]  The lectures Coleridge gave between 1808 and 1813, it is true, were not published until long afterward, and then only in fragmentary form.[lxxxii]  For that reason it is worth going back to trace Coleridge’s use of the distinction.  Perhaps he had glimpsed it independently for himself, and certainly it was reinforced and clarified by his reading of Schiller and Schlegel.

As for Madame de Staël, we know that her De l’Allemagne, originally suppressed by Napoleon on the point of publication, was finally published in London in 1813, and almost simultaneously (also in London) in English translation.  That the book contained much repetition and exposition of Schlegel’s work was well known.  The book was favourably and extensively reviewed by Sir James Mackintosh (whom Coleridge had known for fifteen years and distrusted) in the Edinburgh Review in October 1813, and by William Taylor of Norwich in the Monthly Review; both reviews drew attention to the romantic-classical distinction, and we know that Madame de Staël approved of the Taylor review (at least).[lxxxiii]  Madame de Staël may no doubt have been responsible for spreading throughout England Schlegel’s romantic-classical distinction, with other Schlegelian doctrine, but evidently not to Coleridge.  With an introduction from Southey, Coleridge paid a call on Madame de Staël in October 1813.  It is unlikely in any case that he expected to get from her an exposition of Schlegel’s theories; for five years he himself in his lectures had been drawing a distinction between antique and modern, classical and romantic, had already read a good deal of Schlegel in the original and was beginning – according to Henry Crabb Robinson’s evidence – to express sharp reservations both in detail and in principle.[lxxxiv]  The meeting would make a good subject for an imaginary conversation: Coleridge, as Wilson noted drily, was ‘justly admired for his extraordinary loquacity,’ and as for Madame de Staël’s prowess we have Byron’s evidence that ‘really her society is overwhelming – an avalanche that buries one in glittering nonsense – all snow and sophistry.’  Coleridge seems to have got the better of the encounter.  He tells us nothing about the meeting except that de Staël had made a disparaging comment on Faust.  As for Madame de Staël, she told Southey that ‘Pourtant, pour M. Coleridge, il est tout à fair un monologue!’[25]  Crabb Robinson heard the same from her: ‘Think of him?  Why, that he is very great in monologue, but that he has no idea of dialogue’; and so the remark found its way into the Quarterly Review.[lxxxv]

It is worth noticing in passing that Coleridge owned a copy of the Athenaeum (1798-1800) and annotated the first of the three volumes.  The date of the notes has not been accurately determined; many of the notes are quizzical.  What Wellek calls ‘the famous fragment, No. 116 ... by Friedrich Schlegel, which defines “romantic poetry” as “progressive Universalpoesie,” ’ has no note by Coleridge; but Fragments 99 and 119 do.  Whenever Coleridge made his notes, whether before or after the dispersal of Schlegel’s doctrine in England, his silence on Fragment 116 suggests that his heart did not exactly leap up when he read it.[26]

Taken in chronological order – as far as the order can be determined from the fragmentary remains – Coleridge’s awareness of a classical-romantic distinction moves from a distinction between antique and modern to a more qualitative distinction between classical and romantic, and comes in the end to a statement about the romantic that is both earlier and more substantial than the textbooks assign to any English writer.[27]

a  British Museum Add. MS 34225, fol. 167: associated by Raysor with notes for the 1808 lectures, but surely somewhat later than the publication of Schlegel’s Vienna lectures.[28]

            Ancients, statuesque; moderns, picturesque.  Ancients, rhythm and melody; moderns, harmony.  Ancients, the finite, and, therefore, grace, elegance, proportion, fancy, dignity, majesty, – whatever is capable of being definitely conveyed by defined forms or thoughts.  The moderns, the infinite and indefinite as the vehicle of the infinite; hence more [? devoted] to the passions, the obscure hopes and fears – the wandering thro’ [the] infinite, grander moral feelings, more austere conceptions of man as man, the future rather than the present – sublimity.

Raysor notes that Coleridge is here condensing Schlegel’s first lecture, ‘with some possible reminiscence in the second sentence of Schiller’s essay ...’  Coleridge had known Schiller’s Über naïve and sentimentalische Dichtung since – at least – December 1803.[lxxxvi]

b  British Museum MS Egerton 2800, fol. 26;[lxxxvii] watermark 1810, apparently a note for a lecture.  The original is heavily revised; a plain text, neglecting cancellations, is here given.

To perceive and feel the Beautiful, the Pathetic, and the Sublime in Nature, in Thought, or in Action – this combined with the power of conveying such Perceptions and Feelings to the minds and hearts of others under the most pleasurable Forms of Eye and Ear – this is poetic Genius.  A gift of Heaven confined to no one Race or Period, a ray which penetrates to the Savage in the depth of Wildernesses, and throws a nobler Light, a glory beyond its own, on the splendor of the Palaces.  If then Poetry itself be a free and vital power which never wholly deserts any age or Nation unless it have previously deserved itself, that Criticism, which would bind it down to any one Model, and bid it grow in a mould is a mere Despotism of False Taste, and would reduce all modern Genius to a state which (if it were not too ludicrous) might be justly compared to that of the Soldier Crabs on the Tropical Islands, which wander naked and imperfect till they creep into the cast off Shells of a nobler Race.

            To counteract this Disease of long-civilized Societies, and to establish not only the identity of the Essence under the greatest variety of Forms, but the congruity and even the necessity of that variety, is the common end and aim of the present Course [of lectures].

            ... Beauty, Majesty, Grace and Perspicuity, and before the Harmony we have described came to its perfection, Vehemence and Impetuosity – these are the constituents of the Greek Drama – and the great Rule was the separation, or the removal, of the Heterogeneous – even as the Spirit of the Romantic Poetry, is modification, or the blending of the Heterogeneous into an Whole by the Unity of the Effect.  Such were the deeper and essential contra-distinctions – and to these we must add the more accidental circumstances, from the origin of the Drama, and the size, arrangement, and object of the Theatres.

c  British Museum MS Egerton 2800, fols. 19-10;[lxxxviii] watermarked 1810: according to Raysor, with ‘evidence of indebtedness to Schlegel.’

I have before spoken of the Romance, or the language formed out of the decayed Roman and the northern tongues; and comparing it with the Latin we found it less perfect in simplicity and relation, the privileges of a language formed by the simple attraction of homogeneous parts, but yet more rich, more expressive and various, as one formed out of a chaos by more obscure affinities of atoms apparently heterogeneous.  As more than a metaphor, as an analogy of this, I have named the true genuine modern poetry the romantic; and the works of Shakespeare are romantic poetry revealing itself in the drama ... They are in the ancient sense neither tragedies nor comedies, nor both in one, but a different genus, diverse in kind, not merely different in degree, – romantic dramas, or dramatic romances.  And even a recurrence to my recent explanation of Romance would awake a presentiment that the deviation from the simple forms and unities of the ancient stage is an essential principle and, of course, an appropriate excellence, of the romantic; that these unities are to a great extent the natural form of that which in its elements was homogeneous, and its representation addressed eminently to the outward senses; and tho’ both fable, language, and characters appealed to the reason rather than the mere understanding, inasmuch as they supposed an ideal state rather than referred to an existing reality, yet it was a reason which must strictly accommodate itself to the senses, and so far became a sort of more elevated understanding.  On the other [hand], the romantic poetry, the Shakespearian drama, appealed to the imagination rather than to the senses, and to the reason as contemplating our inward nature, the workings of the passions in their most retired recesses ...

The appeal in the closing sentence to what he elsewhere calls ‘inward goings-on’ is pure Coleridge.

d  ‘Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on the Belles Lettres ... [November] 1812 [to January 1813].’[lxxxix]

Lecture IV.  On Poetry in genere, and as common to antient Greece and to Christendom.  On the Poetry of the Antients as contradistinguished from that of the Moderns; or, the differences of the Classical from the Romantic poetry, – exemplified in the Athenian Dramatic Poets.

Raysor comments: ‘Evidently Schlegel’s first lecture, with illustrations from the succeeding lectures on Greek drama.’

Lecture VI. ... The Deluge of Nations ... and the formation of mixed languages, in which the decomposed Latin became amalgamated, in different proportions, with the Gothic or Celtic.  These, collectively, were called the Romance, and in this sense of the mixed, as opposed to the simple or homogeneous the word Romantic is used, – and not exclusively with reference to what we now call Romances.

This is clearly parallel to c.

Something of the sort was also given in May-June 1812; Henry Crabb Robinson heard about a quarter of an hour of the first lecture: ‘I perceived only that he was in a digressing vein.  He spoke of religion, the spirit of chivalry, the Gothic reverence for the female sex, and a classification of poetry into the ancient and romantic.’  The second lecture was ‘a beautiful dissertation on the Greek drama.’  The fourth lecture was ‘on the nature of comedy, about Aristophanes, etc.  The mode of treating the subject very German, and, of course, much too abstract for his audience, which was but thin.’[xc]  Robinson recognized that these lectures were a refurbishing of the series given at Fetter Lane.  Similar matter, similarly treated, found a place in the lectures given in Bristol in 1813-14,[xci] and the underpinning of Schlegel is no less strong.

Coleridge gave lectures on literature in 1808, 1811-12, 1812, (twice), 1812-13, 1813 (Bristol), January-February 1818, and 1818-19.  Little record remains of either of the last two courses, but the prospectuses show a thorough recasting of the elements.  Lecture XI of the first 1818 series has as its announced topic: ‘On the Arabian Nights Entertainments, and on the romantic Use of the Supernatural in Poetry, and in Work of Fiction not poetical.’[xcii]  A fragment of Lecture XI connects with what has already been said about dreaming:

The Asiatic supernatural beings are all produced by imagining an excessive magnitude, or an excessive smallness combined with great power; and the broken associations, which must have given rise to such conceptions, are the sources of the interest which they inspire, as exhibiting, through the working on the imagination, the idea of power in the will.  This is delightfully exemplified in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments and indeed, more or less, in other works of the same kind.  In all these there is the same activity of mind as in dreaming, that is – an exertion of the fancy in combination and recombination of familiar objects so as to produce novel and wonderful imagery ...[xciii]

As far back as 1797, in a review of Lewis’s The Monk, he had said: ‘The romance writer possesses an unlimited power over situations; but he must scrupulously make his characters act in congruity with them.  Let him work physical wonders only, and we will be content to dream with him for a while; but the first moral miracle which he attempts he disgusts and awakens us.’[xciv]

The first lecture of the second series was announced as being on ‘The Tempest, as a specimen of the Romantic or Poetical Drama of Shakespeare.’[xcv]  This does not look new, but there is no record of what was said.  At the same time that he was giving these literary lectures, he was also giving a series of philosophical lectures.  Here, in Lecture X, something seems to have overflowed from his earlier discussion of the romantic and classical.  In tracing the development of the European philosophical mind, he explains first how the scholastic philosophy introduced into all the languages of Europe ‘the power and force of Greek and Roman connexion,’ and (through the Nominalist-Realist controversy) introduced ‘the true engine of all speculation’ – the ability to distinguish between universals and the words that refer to ‘forms of the mind’ as ‘forms ... truly correspondent to connexions in nature.’  The other component in the European mind was the Gothic – ‘an antidote, which was to grow as the scholastic philosophy was losing more and more its utility, and finally to take its place when it was superannuated.’  He continues:

This was the other part, the Gothic mind – the inward, the striking, the romantic character, in short the genius, but genius marked according to its birthplace; for it grew in rude forests amid the inclemencies of outward nature where man saw nothing around him but what must owe its charms mainly to the imaginary powers with which it was surveyed.  There nothing outward marked the hands of man.  Woods, rocks and streams, huge morasses, nothing wore externally the face of human intellect; and yet man cannot look but intellect must be either found or placed ... They had nothing but what was to be inward and sullenly refuse[d] to disclose itself otherwise than in terrors.  So powerfully was this held, so strongly did the inwardness of the Gothic nature work, that the first great children of genius ... never could in the least degree approach near to the centre.  They believed themselves imitators.  They professed to follow the ancients as guides.  They sometimes actually copied ... but [they were] imitators only as nature imitates herself, when the same energies are excited under other circumstances, and on different materials through which she is to diffuse her creative and shaping mind.[29]

There is no sign that Coleridge was particularly interested in the romantic-classical distinction as matter for sustained reflection or emphatic public declaration.  He makes no mention of it (as far as written record shows) when he refers to A. W. Schlegel or to Madame de Staël, and there is no mention of it in Biographia Literaria (written in 1815, published with later additions in 1817).  By 1815, his mind had in any case largely turned away from what we would now call questions of literary criticism: in place of the distinction between fancy and imagination he was preoccupied with the distinction between reason and understanding, of which imagination and fancy was a special instance.  Writing to William Mudford early in 1818 (he was then 46), he said of his earliest lectures (1808): ‘three fourths ... appeared at that time startling Paradoxes ... [and] have since been adopted even by men who at the time made use of them as proofs of my flighty and paradoxical turn of mind.’  He goes on to speak of his distinction between judgment and genius, particularly as seen in Shakespeare, and says that he anticipated Schlegel in this view;[xcvi] but there is no mention of the romantic-classical distinction, although that too had played its part in the lectures.  How much his listeners were struck by the distinction, how much he – or they – singled it out as a daring new thought, is not clear; perhaps not much.  Coleridge’s influence was, then and later, largely subterranean and unacknowledged, even in matters of importance, so that we are unlikely to be able to trace his influence in this small but vexatious (and not uninteresting) detail.  That Coleridge himself was aware of the historical development in which he himself had played no insignificant part is shown by a note written in 1820 or a little later.

The revived attention to our elder Poets, which Percy and Garrick had perhaps equal share in awakening, the revulsion against the French Taste which was so far successful as to confine the Usurper within the natural limits of the French Language; the re-establishment of the Romantic and Italian School in Germany and G. Britain by the genius of Wieland, Goethe, Tieck, Southey, Scott, and Byron among the poets, and the Lectures of Coleridge, Schlegel, Campbell and others among the Critics; these, at once aided and corrected by the increased ardor with which the study of ancient literature, and especially the Greek Poets and Dramatists, is pursued, esteemed and encouraged by the Gentry of the Country, and men of the highest rank and office, have given a spread and a fashion to predilections of higher hope and (what is still better) to principles of Preference at once more general and most just.[30]

In view of Coleridge’s importance as an intelligent introducer and disseminator of German literature and thought in England, at a time when Englishmen knew little German and did not much like what little they knew, it is ironic that the very German distinction between romantic and classical, which he had repeatedly disclosed to the public in his lectures, should have been given currency and impetus by a French expositor of a triumphant German literary vogue when it was already passing its peak.  Even then, the English were not instantly captivated.  Coleridge, on the continental tour with Wordsworth in 1828, finally met A. W. Schlegel at a literary gathering in Bonn.  They talked in English, and praised each other’s work on that occasion; but afterwards Coleridge told Colley Grattan that Schlegel was a ‘consummate coxcomb.’  Coleridge may not have lived to see part IV of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature; if he did, he may not have rejoiced to find his own essay on the Prometheus of Aeschylus followed by a paper of Schlegel’s.[xcvii]

The early reviews of De l’Allemagne in England were favourable, copious, and respectful; but there was no landslide.  The anonymous review of the French translation of Schlegel’s Vorlesungen in the Quarterly Review for October 1814 drew attention to the German source of the romantic classical distinction.

The comparative merit of the ancients and moderns has long afforded abundant matter for dispute.  Latterly, however, men of literary reputation, particularly in Germany, have endeavoured to simplify the question.  Without distracting from the excellence of their precursors, they were desirous of establishing the claims of their contemporaries upon a sure and solid foundation.  This investigation led them to distinguish the productions of antiquity by the appellation of classic, those of modern times by that of romantic; a name intended to designate the popular idioms that have been formed by a mixture of the Latin tongue with the ancient dialects of Germany (p. 113.)

A footnote adds: ‘Madame de Staël had made the British public familiar with these expressions’; but in the course of the 34-page review there is no further mention of the distinction.  Hazlitt’s review of John Black’s translation of the Vorlesungen, in Edinburgh Review for February 1816, is more to the point.  Here is found what must be the most coherent English review of the romantic-classical distinction – unless Coleridge made a better fist of it in the lectures for which we have only fragmentary record.

The author ... proceeds to unfold that which is the nucleus of the prevailing system of German criticism, and the foundation of this whole work, namely, the essential distinction between the peculiar spirit of the modern or romantic style of art, and the antique or classical.  There is in this part of the work a singular mixture of learning, acuteness and mysticism.  We have certain profound suggestions and distant openings to the light; but, every now and then, we are suddenly left in the dark, and obliged to grope our way by ourselves.  We cannot promise to find a clue out of the labyrinth; but we will at least attempt it.  The most obvious distinction between the two styles, the classical and the romantic, is, that the one is conversant with objects that are grand and beautiful in themselves, or in consequence of obvious and universal associations; the other, with those that are interesting only by the force of circumstances and imagination.  A Grecian temple, for instance, is a classical object: it is beautiful in itself, and excites immediate admiration.  But the ruins of a Gothic castle have no beauty or symmetry to attract the eye; and yet they excite a more powerful and romantic interest from the ideas with which they are habitually associated.  If, in addition to this, we are told that this is Macbeth’s castle, the scene of the murder of Duncan, the interest will be instantly heightened to a sort of pleasing horror.  The classical idea or form of any thing, it may also be observed, remains always the same, and suggests nearly the same impressions; but the associations of ideas belonging to the romantic character, may vary infinitely, and take in the whole range of nature and accident ... Even Lear is not classical: for he is a poor crazy old man, who has nothing sublime about him but his afflictions, and who dies of a broken heart ...

            The great difference, then, which we find between the classical and the romantic style, between ancient and modern poetry, is, that the one more frequently describes things as they are interesting in themselves, – the other for the sake of the associations of ideas connected with them; that the one dwells more on the immediate impressions of objects of the senses – the other on the ideas which they suggest to the imagination.  The one is poetry of form, the other of effect.  The one gives only what is necessarily implied in the subject; the other all that can possibly arise out of it.  The one seeks to identify the imitation with an external object, – clings to it, – is inseparable from it, – is either that or nothing; the other seeks to identify the original impression with whatever else, within the range of thought or feeling, can strengthen, relieve, adorn or elevate it.  Hence the severity and simplicity of the Greek tragedy, which excluded every thing foreign or unnecessary to the subject ... Hence the perfection of their execution; which consisted in giving the utmost harmony, delicacy, and refinement to the details of a given subject.  Now, the characteristic excellence of the moderns is the reverse of all this.  As, according to our author, the poetry of the Greeks is the same as their sculpture; so, he says, our own more nearly resembles painting, – where the artist can relieve and throw back his figures at pleasure, – use a greater variety of contrasts, – and where light and shade, like the colours of fancy, are reflected on the different objects.  The Muse of classical poetry should be represented as a beautiful naked figure: The Muse of modern poetry should be represented clothed, and with wings.  The first has the advantage in point of form; the last in colour and motion ...[xcviii]

The leading virtue of Christianity – self-denial and generosity – produced ‘the spirit of chivalry, of romantic love, and honour.’

The mythology of the romantic poetry differed from the received religion: both differed essentially from the classical.  The religion, or mythology of the Greeks, was nearly allied to their poetry: it was material and definite.  The Pagan system reduced the Gods to the human form, and elevated the powers of inanimate nature of the same standard.  Statues carved out of the finest marble, represented the objects of their religious worship in airy porticos, in solemn temples and consecrated groves ... All was subjected to the senses.  The Christian religion, on the contrary, is essentially spiritual and abstract; it is ‘the evidence of things unseen.’  In the Heathen mythology, form is everywhere predominant; in the Christian, we find only unlimited, undefined power.  The imagination alone ‘broods over the immense abyss, and makes it pregnant.’  There is, in the habitual belief of an universal, invisible Principle of all things, a vastness and obscurity which confounds our perceptions, while it exalts our piety.  A mysterious awe surrounds the doctrines of the Christian faith: the Infinite is everywhere before us, whether we turn to reflect on what is revealed to us of the Divine nature of our own (pp. 70, 72-3, 74-5).

Whether Hazlitt hoped to be (anonymously) influential we cannot say.  His faithful and painstaking account of Schlegel’s distinction, however, is to a great extent negated by the ‘unmeaning sneer’ that opens his essay.

... we will explain at once what appears to us to be the weak side of German literature.  In all that they do, it is evident that they are much more influenced by a desire of distinction then by any impulse of the imagination, or the consciousness of extraordinary qualifications.  They write, not because they are full of a subject, but because they think it is a subject upon which, with due pains and labour, something striking may be written.  So they read and mediate, – and having, at length, devised some strange and paradoxical view of the matter, they set about establishing it with all their might and main.  The consequence is, that they have no shades of opinion, but are always straining at a grand systematic conclusion.  They have done a great deal, no doubt, and in various departments; but their pretensions have always much exceeded their performance (p. 67).

Hazlitt’s hostility towards the Germans was an ungracious an unintelligent as his contemporaries’ reflex assumption that all things German were nurtured in what Coleridge called ‘the holy jungle of transcendental metaphysics.’  Hazlitt’s critical authority in such matters is further diminished – in a butcherly review of the Biographia Literaria, a book now acknowledged as probably the most fertile book of critical theory and practice established in the century – when he says that the system of ‘the great German oracle Kant’ is ‘the most wilful and monstrous absurdity that ever was invented.’[xcix]

De Quincey’s evidence, although set down later, is earlier than, or at most contemporary with, Hazlitt’s.  In his autobiography (Tait’s Magazine, 1833-41) he was reminiscing, and even though he noticed the romantic-classical distinction many times in his writing he speaks as though it were in the historic past and no longer a live issue.  As an undergraduate and even before he could read German, he says in his autobiography, he had formed in his own mind, from his reading of Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, ‘the elementary grounds of difference between the Pagan and Christian forms of poetry.’  His distinction was between ‘the Christian and the Antique; but he found ‘Schiller and Goethe applauding the better taste of the ancients’ as against the Christians in certain points of symbolism, and was ‘much surprised to hear Mr. Coleridge approving of the German sentiment.’

These speculations, at that time, I pursued earnestly; and I then believed myself, as I yet do, to have ascertained the two great and opposite laws under which the Grecian and the English tragedy has each separately developed itself.  Whether wrong or right in that belief, sure I am that those in Germany who have treated the case of Classical and Romantic are not entitled to credit for any discovery at all.  The Schlegels, who were the hollowest of men, the windiest and wordiest (at least, Frederick was so), pointed to the distinction; barely indicated it; and that was already some service done, because a presumption arose that the antique and the modern literatures, having clearly some essential differences, might, perhaps, rest on foundations originally distinct, and obey different laws.  And hence it occurred that many disputes, as about the unities, etc., might originate in a confusion of these laws.  This checks the presumption of the shallow criticism, and points to deeper investigations.  Beyond this, neither the German nor the French disputers on the subject have talked to any profitable purpose.[c]

Unaffected, clearly, by the German arguments, De Quincey continued to reiterate his own view (which was in fact more derivative than he seems to have thought), sometimes making the conventional distinction between the picturesque and the statuesque (as Coleridge had) and in 1838 adding the refinement that ‘life’ was the mark of English drama and ‘death’ the mark of classical drama.[ci]

So it seemed (at least to some knowledgeable persons) that the distinction established by Schlegel and others in Germany, and expounded by Coleridge, Madame de Staël, Bowles, and others in England, had soon gone underground again.  On 14 October 1820 Byron wrote to Goethe:

I perceive that in Germany, as well as in Italy, there is a great struggle about what they call ‘Classical’ and ‘Romantic’ – terms which were not subjects of classification in England, at least when I left it four or five years ago [i.e., 1816].  Some of the English Scribblers, it is true, abused Pope and Swift, but the reason was that they themselves did not know how to write either prose or verse; but nobody thought them worth making a sect of.  Perhaps there may be something of the kind strung up lately, but I have not heard much about it, and it would be such bad taste that I shall be sorry to believe it.[cii]

The following year, when Bowles had written strictures on Pope by discoursing on ‘the Invariable Principles of Poetry,’ Byron noticed that ‘Schlegel and Madame de Staël had endeavoured ... to reduce poetry to two systems, classical and romantic – the effect is only beginning.’[ciii]  In 1831, Thomas Carlyle said – a little ruefully – that ‘we are troubled with no controversies on romanticism and classicism – the Bowles controversy having long since evaporated without results’; and Emerson in 1841 thought that ‘The vaunted distinction between ... Classic and Romantic Schools, seems superficial and pedantic.’[31]

It is clear that Coleridge worked out for himself in his lectures before 1811 convincing arguments to support his view that Shakespeare was a conscious and gifted craftsman of clear judgment rather than a lucky lusus naturae; it is also clear that Coleridge became acquainted with Schlegel’s Vorlesungen almost as soon as they were published, that he found Schlegel’s position strongly consonant with his own, and that in subsequent lectures he used Schlegel to illuminate and support his own critical attitude to Shakespeare.  For the distinction between antique and modern, classical and romantic, he seems not to have claimed priority – indeed it was a distinction that he showed little interest in.  In criticism, as in politics, he was repelled by the half-truths of partisanship; his desire was not to carry a position or even to establish one, but rather to arrive at certain central recognitions about Shakespeare’s art in particular and about poetry altogether.  His habit of mind was comprehensive, not divisive; unitary, not categorical; his distinctions were intended to clarify the centre and direction of inquiry, to enlarge understanding, to strengthen the reflective and heuristic powers of the mind; in this ‘method’ a category is a means, not an end, and for him the end is always implicit in the means.  His interest at the time of his literary lectures was in the nature of poetry and its status as a dynamic way of knowing that was potentially declarative of truth.  In his lectures, his criticism was primarily concentrated upon Shakespeare, in the Biographia Literaria it was centred upon Wordsworth; his intention was not to make definitive declarations upon either (though he did in fact make some) but to make discoveries – and declarations – about the nature, function, and uses of poetry.  His own experience of making poetry, particularly The Ancient Mariner, provided him with a centre of reference of a kind that few ‘critics’ have had direct access to, and it imparted a commanding impulse to his desire to explore the nature of poetry.  In choosing Shakespeare at his centre of inquiry in the lectures he was no more sentimental than he was nepotistic in choosing Wordsworth as the centre for the Biographia: each in his own way provided him with inexhaustible evidence of the way poetry worked and of the demands that such poetry made on a reader.

Coleridge’s lectures on Shakespeare made an impression when they were delivered, but the tradition, being oral, was evanescent.  The lectures were not published until 1836, and then only as a fragmentary patchwork that gives us only part of what he intended to say and only part of what a few other people thought he had said.  Biographia Literaria has not – until recent years – been an influential book, and despite the presence of some Schelling in it it does not overtly reinforce the Schlegelian position.  Whatever Coleridge contributed to the general currency of Schlegel’s notion of romanticism, the Biographia did not have the effect either of giving wider currency to romantic as a cult term (either of praise or abuse), nor did Coleridge apply it as a label for ‘modern’ poetry – neither Wordsworth’s nor his own.  His sense of the continuity of human thought and of imaginative endeavour was too compelling for him to see the history of literature as a simple oscillation of actions and reactions from one set of literary ‘values’ (or fashions) to another; he saw the history of literature – like the history of philosophy – as the variable self-discovery and self-affirmation of the human mind and psyche, as a declaration of the life of the human spirit irrespective of time and place.  In so far as ‘romantic’ and ‘classic’ represented two ‘positions’ for poetry, he saw them not as critical categories or orders of literary accomplishment, but as poles of imaginative activity.  What he found ‘romantic’ in Shakespeare was his proliferating variety and his mixed forms, his breadth of human apprehension, his power of securing unity in multeity.  Coleridge knew the Greek language too well, and the monuments of Greek literature, ever to call eighteenth century poetry ‘classical’; and he revered the power of intellect, judgment, and discrimination far too highly ever to suppose that the dream-world of ‘romance’ represented more than a part – though an essential part – in the total imaginative activity of the human mind.  He might well feel aggrieved that his name had found no place in Tieck’s history of Shakespeare criticism: he had said things that were radical in his own time, and what he had said was by no means always identical with what the proponents of ‘romanticism’ were saying.  In evolving his position, the concept ‘romantic’ served some purposes, but it is only one among many factors that brought him to his view of Shakespeare, of dramatic art, and of poetry altogether.



How the five major English poets of the early nineteenth century came to be called the ‘Romantic Poets’ is not easy to trace; the title is a late invention.  Any attempt there might have been in the first thirty years of the century to arrive at an accurate general specification for five poets so markedly individual and distinct was frustrated by the critics’ persistent concentration upon the doctrine of the Preface to Lyrical Ballads and their treating it primarily as a political issue.  This, in the public mind, threw Coleridge into uneasy identification with Wordsworth, and isolated Wordsworth and Coleridge (in the critical view) as much from Scott, Campbell, Moore, and Southey as from Byron, Shelley, and Keats.  In a climate of political tumult, national danger, and social suspicion springing out of the French Revolution, it was perhaps inevitable that a revolution – even one a detachedly poetic as Wordsworth’s – should be associated with other kinds of revolution.  Coleridge and Southey had been labelled Jacobins in the late nineties, and the names of ‘L[loy]d, and L[am]be and Co’ had been linked with theirs in the Anti-Jacobin; but the label could not be made to stick.  Wordsworth was even more elusive.

That Wordsworth and Coleridge had actually instituted a revolution in poetry with the publication of Lyrical Ballads was not openly acknowledged by the critics until long after the forces were engaged and the revolutionaries apparently discredited.  In October 1817 John Wilson (‘Christopher North’), trying to repair the damage done to Wordsworth by Francis Jeffrey, wrote in Blackwood’s: ‘Mr Wordsworth is a man of too much original power not to have very often written ill; and it is incredible that, ‘mid all his gigantic efforts to establish a system (even allowing that system to be a right one), he has never violated the principles of taste or reason.  He has brought about a revolution in Poetry; and a revolution can no more be brought about in Poetry than in the Constitution, without the destruction or injury of many excellent and time-hallowed establishments.  I have no doubt that ... Posterity will hail him as a regenerator and a creator.’[civ]

Four years later, the brilliant young barrister Henry Nelson Coleridge wrote: ‘That to Coleridge and Wordsworth the poetry, the philosophy, and the criticism of the present day does actually owe its peculiar character, and its and its distinguishing excellence over that of the last century, those who would trace the origin of the present opinions back for thirty years would find no difficulty in believing.’[cv]  But for the twenty years after the first publication of the Preface in 1800, the policies of the great new quarterlies encouraged critics to think according to a political analogy, even in the literary field, and to cast each individual writer as a member of some party or ‘school’ which in turn was to be seen as in conflict with other parties or schools in the prevailing social ferment precipitated by the American and French revolutions.[32]  If there was ever any justice in seeing the work of the five great English poets as the triumph of ‘romanticism’ in England, and on that account any reason for attaching the epithet ‘romantic’ indifferently to all of them as though they were of one ‘school’ or party, that was not what their contemporaries (literary or political) wished to see or acknowledge.  If their world could be seen as ‘romantic,’ it would be revolutionary; and revolution was a topical threat not to be encouraged.  The critics – absent-mindedly perhaps, but no less positively – tried to disarm the revolution by saying that it was uncivilized and silly, dissenting rather than revolutionary.  The reviewers, with tedious insistence, singled out the ‘mawkish affectations of childish simplicity and nursery stammering,’[cvi] and chose that one characteristic as butt for merriment, lampoon, parody, amused contempt, patronizing sarcasm, and even vicious personal attack.  In this there was no conspiracy; it was a sign of the times.  Since neither Wordsworth nor Coleridge was partisan enough to be open to direct political attack, the violence and extent of the reaction to their work shows how mercilessly they had blown cold air on the exposed nerves of the Zeitgeist.

Wordsworth had indeed trailed his coat; and Coleridge, whether he wanted to or not, could not escape from the bond of their first collaboration.  The very title Lyrical Ballads was itself a paradox if not an open scandal (if lyrical, not ballads; if ballads, not lyrical – that would be the contemporary assumption); and it was difficult not to see the Preface as anything but a deliberate outrage.  For better or worse, the Preface announced itself as ‘a systematic defence of the theory upon which the poems were written’ – the poems, that is, that were written experimentally ‘to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.’  This involved an attack not only on the ‘inane phraseology’ inherited from an inert neoclassicism, but also on the sentimental-romantic-Gothic writing that had recently seized upon public taste – ‘frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.’  In choosing ‘incidents and situations from common life’ – from ‘humble and rustic life’ – and claiming that ‘in the condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity,’ he was not only reviving the debate between town and country, urban and rural, cultivated and naïve; he was also talking darkly in the language of the French revolution.  By insisting that he would write about a real ‘country’ populated with real people, he would join ‘the company of flesh and blood,’ turning his back on those stylized landscapes-with-figures which Thomson and even Goldsmith saw through the Lorraine-glass of an urbane and condescending sophistication.  Without political or parabolic intent, Wordsworth might seem to threaten his readers with glimpses of the world as it existed – a world of grotesque human suffering and injustice, of brutal penal laws, and a corrupt governmental system, a world in which slavery was not a romantic theme but a squalid and lucrative reality.  Even if these issues never came to the surface either in his poems or in the reviews of them, the poems that were not identifiably lyrical ballads were strange and perplexing, demanding more than usual critical steadiness.  ‘In all perplexity,’ Coleridge noted in Biographia Literaria, ‘there is a portion of fear, which predisposes the mind to anger.’[cvii]  It is well known that anger, whatever its source, does not clear a critic’s perception.  Well might the Blackwood’s reviewer of The River Duddon in May 1820 say, ‘The age has unquestionably produced a noble band of British Poets ... Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge ... Yet, when a man asks of himself, what has really been said ... concerning any one of these poets – how lamentably must we feel the worthlessness of all the criticism of the most critical age the world produced.’[cviii]

In the Biographia Literaria (1817), Coleridge tried to set the record straight and to establish the possibility of just and philosophical criticism; he rehearsed the history of the origins of Lyrical Ballads, examined ‘Mr Wordsworth’s doctrine’ with a sensitive justice that his own circumstances could scarcely account for, attacked ‘the present mode of conducting critical journals,’ and confronted the critics with some genuine criticism; and he crowned the work, which had Wordsworth as its starting-point, provocation, and theme, with a long chapter (ch. 22) which must stand as one of the glories of English literary criticism.  This performance of Coleridge’s was unpardonable as well a perplexing.  When Jeffrey had opened his review of The Excursion in 1814 with the words ‘This will never do!’ he had referred to much beyond The Excursion and had spoken for more than himself.

The critics could not stem the slowly rising tide of public approval for Wordsworth’s poems.  After the slow reception of the 1815 collection, another followed in 1820, the first American edition in 1824, and thereafter collective editions appeared at regular intervals steadily accumulating the canon.  From 1820 onwards the reviewers spoke of him more often with respect.  After 1822, except for Yarrow Revisited (1835), he published no other substantial single work; The Prelude had to wait for his death in 1850.  There seems to be a note of relief or exhaustion in the Edinburgh Review notice of Memorials of a Tour November 1822: the battle was over and the sting of the outrage of Lyrical Ballads had been drawn.

The Lake School of Poetry, we think, is now pretty nearly extinct.  Coleridge, who had by far the most original genius among its founders, has long ceased to labour for the fraternity, and gave their reputation a most unkind cut at parting, by the publication of Christabel [in 1816], which they had all been lauding, while it remained unprinted, as the crowning glory of their sect.  The laurel seems to have proved mortal to the vivacious Muse of Southey – and the flame of his aspirations, after waxing woefully dim in various songs of triumph and loyalty, at last fairly went out in his hexameter Vision of Judgment.  The contact of the Stamp-office appears to have had nearly as bad an effect on Mr. Wordsworth.  His Peter Bell and his Waggoner put his admirers, we believe, a little to their shifts; but since he has openly taken to the office of a publican, and exchanged the company of leech-gatherers for that of tax-gatherers, he has fallen into a way of writing which is equally distasteful to his old friends and his old monitors – a sort of prosy, solemn, obscure, feeble kind of mouthing ...[33]

As long as Wordsworth and Coleridge could be held as the central figures for attack, the younger poets – although profoundly influenced by their two great predecessors – were not included much in the general assault.  Keats, for example, was much more fairly reviewed than either Wordsworth or Coleridge; the one or two allegedly murderous reviews were precisely those that made him, through his acquaintance with Leigh Hunt, a political target.  Once ‘the Lake school’ seemed to be extinct, even Coleridge drifted out into the clear.  His collective editions of 1828, 1829, and 1834 (the year of his death) drew some perceptive reviews; and even Sibylline Leaves had an outstandingly favourable review in the Edinburgh.  It was around Coleridge’s name – not Wordsworth’s – that the word ‘romantic’ begins tentatively to crystallize, particularly in two reviews by his nephew Henry Nelson Coleridge.  And in July 1833 William Maginn referred to Coleridge as ‘the founder of the romantic school of poetry.’[cix]

How Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey came to be called ‘the Lake School’ or ‘the Lake Poets,’ and how – singly and as a group – they eluded critical definition in a single qualitative name, is virtually a special study; but it can be briefly outlined.  As early as October 1800 Coleridge was noticed as the founder of ‘a distinct school in poetry,’[cx] but that was a ‘school’ identified with Coleridge’s two early volumes of poems and with the pantisocratic name of Southey (and marginally with Lamb, Lloyd, and Lovell), and guyed by the Anti-Jacobin since 1797.[34]  Francis Jeffrey, reviewing Southey’s Thalaba in October 1802, gives what must be one of the earliest extended general accounts of the ‘new school of poetry,’ later to be called ‘the Lake school’ (although Lamb’s name is still connected here with Coleridge’s).

The author who is now before us [i.e., Southey], belongs to a sect of poets, that has established itself in this country within these ten or twelve years, and is looked upon, we believe, as one of its chief champions and apostles.  The peculiar doctrines of this sect, it would not, perhaps, be very easy to explain; but, that they are dissenters from the established systems in poetry and criticism, is admitted, and proved indeed, by the whole tenor of their compositions.  Though they lay claim, we believe, to a creed and a revelation of their own, there can be little doubt, that their doctrines are of German origin, and have been derived from some of the great modern reformers in that country.  Some of their leading principles, indeed, are probably of an earlier date, and seem to have been borrowed from the great apostle of Geneva ...

            The discipline of this school boast much of its originality, and seem to value themselves very highly, for having broken loose from the bondage of ancient authority, and reasserted the independence of genius ... The productions of this school, we conceive, are so far from being entitled to the praise of originality, that they cannot be better characterized, than by an enumeration of the sources from which their materials have been derived.  The greater part of them, we apprehend, will be found to be composed of the following elements: 1 / The antisocial principles, and distempered sensibility of Rousseau – his discontent with the present constitution of society – his paradoxical morality, and his perpetual hankerings after some unattainable state of voluptuous virtue and perfection.  2 / The simplicity and energy (horresco referens) of Kotzebue and Schiller.  3 / The homeliness of harshness of some of Cowper’s language and versification, interchanged occasionally with the innocence of Ambrose Philips, or the quaintness of Quarles and Dr Donne.  From the diligent study of these few originals, we have no doubt that an entire art of poetry may be collected, by the assistance of which, the very gentlest of our readers may soon be qualified to compose a poem as correctly versified as Thalaba, and to deal out sentiment and description, with all the sweetness of Lambe, and all the magnificence of Coleridge (pp. 63-4).

Jeffrey is taking the strong neo-classical line here: he objects to most of the features in Thalaba that later historians of literature would single out as signs of literary ‘romanticism,’ and he accuses the new ‘school’ of breaking with ‘ancient authority’ and of deriving their doctrines from German models.  While he notes with strong disapproval Southey’s deviation from the neo-classical norms, he does not put a name to what Southey is doing – the romantic-classical distinction has not yet reached him; and he declares that strong English prejudice (which Hazlitt held in extreme form) against things German, representing them as obscure, ‘metaphysical,’ or gratuitously terrible.[35]

In October 1807, in a review of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes, the ‘new school’ is associated with the Lake District: ‘The author is known to belong to a certain brotherhood of poets, who have haunted for some years about the Lakes of Cumberland.’[cxi]  After a few tentative variants, the phrase ‘Lake poets’ seems first to have been used in a review of John Wilson’s The Isle of Palms in February 1812;[36] and in 1814 John Taylor Coleridge, writing in the Quarterly Review, mentions ‘a colloquial title, the Lake Poets,’[37]  The identity of the ‘Westmoreland triumvirate of Bards’ had long been established – Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey.[38]

The task of finding an appropriate designation for the distinctive style and quality of three writers as ‘essentially unlike to each other’ as these was too much for the critics.  They settled for a local label and proceeded to spin around it selective descriptions that purported to be comprehensive.  When Jeffrey reviewed George Crabb’s Poems in the Edinburgh Review of April 1808, he made a luxurious digression to attack ‘The gentlemen of the new school’ – in contrast to Crabbe – because they ‘invent for themselves certain whimsical and unheard of beings, to whom they impute some fantastical combination of feelings, and then labour to excite our sympathy for them, either by placing them in incredible situations, or by some strained and exaggerated moralisation of a vague and tragical description.’  Wordsworth, he says, ‘represents his grey-haired rustic pedagogue [Matthew] as a sort of half crazy, sentimental person, overrun with fine feelings, constitutional merriment, and a most humorous melancholy’; but even in so promising a context Jeffrey does not use the word romantic.  Again, January 1809 the Edinburgh Review used Burns as pretext to say that ‘These gentlemen [of “the new school of poetry”] are outrageous for simplicity.’[cxii]

In November 1814 Wordsworth’s Excursion fell into Jeffrey’s hands.  ‘This will never do!’ he cried indignantly.  ‘It bears no doubt the stamp of the author’s heart and fancy: but unfortunately not half so visible as that of his peculiar system ... We have imitations of Cowper, and even of Milton here; engrafted on the natural drawl of the Lakers – and all diluted into harmony by that profuse and irrepressible wordiness which deluges all the blank verse of this school of poetry ...’  Next year Jeffrey found that The White Doe of Rylstone consisted of ‘a happy union of all the faults, without any of the beauties, which belong to his school of poetry.  It is just such a work, in short, as some wicked enemy of that school might be supposed to have devised, on purpose to make it ridiculous.’[cxiii]

In Thomas Moore’s review of the Christabel volume in 1816 – contemptuous in spite of Byron’s urgent request that Moore give Coleridge some encouragement – Coleridge is identified with ‘the Lake School.’[cxiv]  An anonymous contributor to Blackwood’s in October 1817 published, as the first series ‘On the Cockney School of Poetry,’ a scurrilous attack on Leigh Hunt.  After Hunt, John Keats was to be the next victim.  The opening words run: ‘While the whole critical world is occupied with balancing the merits, whether in theory or in execution, of what is commonly called The Lake School, it is strange that no one seems to think it at all necessary to say a single word about another new school of poetry which has of late sprung up among us ... The Cockney School.’[cxv]

In the same number of Blackwood’s, John Wilson, in a scathing condemnation of Biographia Literaria, recognized that Wordsworth had ‘brought about a revolution in Poetry.’[cxvi]  And in the following year, coming to Wordsworth’s defence in the first of a series of ‘Essays on the Lake School of Poetry,’ he claimed that ‘scarcely one syllable of truth – that is, of knowledge – has ever appeared in the Edinburgh Review on the general principles of Wordsworth’s poetry, or, as it has been somewhat vaguely, and not very philosophically, called, the Lake School of Poetry.’[cxvii]  As for the poetical revolution, Byron, who had anointed with vitriolic contempt the names of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey (as well as many others) in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) and yet was deeply influenced by both Wordsworth and Coleridge, was not certain about his own place in the revolution.  In 1817 he wrote to John Murray:

I am convinced, the more I think of it, that ... all of us – Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, Moore, Campbell, I – are ... in the wrong, one as much as another: that we are upon a wrong revolutionary poetical system, or systems, not worth a damn in itself, and from which none but Rogers and Crabbe are free; and that the present and next generations will finally be of this opinion.  I am the more convinced in this by having lately gone over some of our classics, particularly Pope ... I took Moore’s poems and my own and some others, and went over them side by side with Pope’s, and I was really astonished ... and mortified at the ineffable distance in point of sense, harmony, effect, and even, Imagination, passion and Invention, between the little Queen Anne’s man, and us of the lower Empire.  Depend upon it, it is all Horace then, and Claudian now ... and if I had to begin again, I would model myself accordingly.[39]

That there was a revolution in progress – whenever and wherever it started – Byron did not doubt.  The hostile and scathing notices of ‘the Lake Poets’ all in their various way adopted or assumed a ‘classical’ position; but the obvious consequence does not follow – they do not use the word romantic as term of identification, praise, or contempt.  Byron did not name a leader of the Revolution, but others did not hesitate to name the leader – Wordsworth.  This had serious consequences.

When Lyrical Ballads was first published anonymously in 1798, Coleridge had a wider reputation than Wordsworth and was thought to offer great poetic promise.  Rumour in literary circles quickly established the identity of the two authors, and correctly assigned The Ancient Mariner to Coleridge.  In the second edition (1800) Wordsworth’s name appeared alone on the title page, the proportion of his poems was greatly increased by the addition of a second volume, and the emphasis on Coleridge’s poems was reduced by moving The Ancient Mariner from the place of honour at the beginning to the end of Volume I (where ‘Tintern Abbey’ had originally been).  Wordsworth identified Coleridge’s poems in the Preface, but he did not give Coleridge’s name.  The note made it clear that the book was really Wordsworth’s and that Coleridge had been invited to ‘assist’ because Wordsworth ‘believed that the poems of my Friend would in a great measure have the same tendency as my own, and that, though there would be found a difference, there would be found no discordance in the colours of style; as our opinions on the subject of poetry do almost entirely coincide.’[cxviii]  Although Coleridge had made a brilliant revision of The Ancient Mariner for the 1800 edition, Wordsworth drafted a long and ungracious section of the Preface pointing out ‘the defects of the poem’; Lamb seems to have been responsible for persuading Wordsworth not to print these comments.  Wordsworth felt that The Ancient Mariner had damaged the sales of Lyrical Ballads and at first intended to omit it from the second edition – ‘I shall probably add some others in Lieu.’[cxix]  Also, Part I of Christabel was actually set in type for this edition and Coleridge was hard at work on the completion when Wordsworth peremptorily cancelled the proofs and rejected the poem.[cxx]  Lyrical Ballads was not really a two-handed engine.

From 1800 to 1814 Wordsworth’s publication was persistent rather than prolific; during those years Coleridge’s reputation as a poet-of-promise suffered as the silence stretched out from the perfunctory edition of his poems in 1803.  There were reports – and later, imitations and parodies – of a marvellous poem in manuscript called Christabel; but reviewers felt entitled to express their disapproval of his ‘strange and unworthy indolence.’  When the Christabel volume came out in 1816, the critics were outraged at ‘one of the most notable pieces of impertinence of which the press had lately been guilty’ (Moore) – even though, or because, it was known to have been published with Byron’s encouragement.  What Wordsworth had said publicly in 1800 about the coincidence of ‘our opinions on the subject of poetry’ was at that time endorsed in private by Coleridge: ‘The Preface contains our joint opinions on Poetry’; but less than two years later Coleridge had told Southey that ‘altho’ Wordsworth’s Preface is half a child of my own Brain ... I rather suspect that some where or other there is a radical Difference in our theoretical opinions respecting Poetry.’[cxxi]  Coleridge had been increasingly irritated at the way his name was linked with Wordsworth’s and with ‘Mr. Wordsworth’s theory.’  But he had no way of stating his own position and unravelling the subtle difference until the Biographia (written mostly in 1815) was published in 1817.  By then it was much too late to reverse a convenient and reiterated half-truth.

In the critics’ minds Wordsworth was the ‘leader’ and ‘most prominent ornament’ of the ‘school,’ and Coleridge ‘the inner priest of the temple.’[cxxii]  Critics who saw Coleridge as of the same ‘school’ as Wordsworth, and mocked him (as they did Wordsworth) for the ‘babbling imbecility’ induced by the principles of the Preface, were obliged to overlook the important difference between Wordsworth’s lyrical ballads and The Ancient Mariner, and paid little or no systematic attention to the searching critical questions raised by the ‘Conversation poems’ and ‘Tintern Abbey,’ the Immortality Ode and the Dejection Ode, ‘The Solitary Reaper,’ the Lucy poems, and Kubla Khan – questions that could not be much illuminated by concentrating on the Preface.  Certainly the chances of accurately defining the ‘revolution in poetry’ were not enhanced by this crucial oversight.

The title ‘Lake Poets,’ however, provided a centre around which certain stylistic generalizations could cluster – some of them just and perceptive – and to which the work of other poets could be referred.  But as long as Wordsworth was seen as the ‘leader of the school’ his powerful individuality defied accurate critical definition and at the same time interfered with the construction of a broader basis for generalization.  There had been a ‘revolution’ certainly; it was one revolution, not several; an appropriate name was needed, and none came to hand.  Why ‘romantic’ was not chosen can be seen in two remarks made in 1817 and 1818.  Hazlitt, in his savage review of the Biographia in August 1817 says that Coleridge had acknowledged that there were ‘silly and puerile passages’ in Lyrical Ballads, and he adds that they were ‘equally unworthy of the poet’s [Wordsworth’s] genius and classical taste.’[cxxiii]  Then in 1818 in the fourth of the essays on ‘The Cockney School of Poetry,’ the anonymous author abuses Keats for putting together the names of ‘Wordsworth and Hunt!  What a juxta-position!  The purest, the loftiest, and, we do not fear to say, the most classical of living English poets, joined together in the same compliment with the meanest, the filthiest, and the most vulgar of Cockney poetasters.’[40]  If classical, how conceivably – since Coleridge’s lectures and Mme de Staël’s invasion of England – romantic?

Had those critics who admired ‘Tintern Abbey’ and the Immortality Ode decided to write off the ‘childish simplicity’ as a venial aberration, and call Wordsworth a ‘classical’ poet?  Even that manoeuvre was not easy.  Wordsworth was a strong child of the eighteenth century; Charles James Fox, ‘master of all the best of the ancient and modern poets,’ who took Vergil and Pope as his favourites, particularly admired ‘Goody Blake and Harry Gill.’  Perhaps in time the ‘simplicity’ might be ignored, but then The Excursion (1841) administered another bitter drench: this was not ‘simple’ surely – it was (the critics said) ‘metaphysical,’ or a ‘fantastical oddity,’ ‘not always so intelligible as ... might fairly be expected.’[cxxiv]  Then, as The White Doe of Rylstone (1815) and Peter Bell and The Waggoner (both 1819) followed, attention was drawn again to the alleged silliness and puerility.  The reaction was a trigger-response; for, as Coleridge said, ‘In the critical remarks ... prefixed and annexed to the “Lyrical Ballads,” I believe that we may safely rest, as the true origin of the unexampled opposition which Mr. Wordsworth’s writings have been since doomed to encounter.’[cxxv]

The reaction could be very violent.  Coleridge’s poem ‘To a Gentleman, composed on the night after his recitation of a poem on the growth of an individual mind’ was first published in Sibylline Leaves (1817); a reviewer concluded correctly that the ‘Gentleman’ was Wordsworth and assumed that the poem – which happened to be The Prelude – was ‘some nonsensical piece of mysticism, spouted forth by that solemn but flimsy author.’[cxxvi]  In 1819 a review of The Waggoner says, less contemptuously: ‘Shakespeare had exquisite taste.  Milton’s taste was still more refined.  But Mr. Wordsworth’s system pours contempt on all those finer rules which his predecessors have worked by: he is for bringing in a Gothic horde of potters and pedlars and waggoners upon the classic regions of poetry: he has attempted to set up a new reign of taste, and he has sacrificed his genius in the adventure.’[cxxvii]

In 1820, an essay in the New Monthly Magazine on ‘Lake School of Poetry. – Mr. Wordsworth’ repeated the Gothic theme with perhaps greater accuracy than the writer knew.

Unless the true and general maxim ‘the proper study of mankind is man’ be now disputed, and must now be superseded, we cannot approve of that part of the system of the Lake Minstrels, that neglects rational exalted man, [to] lavish his powers upon naturals, idiots, and madmen – that transfers poetical agency from rational to irrational creatures, from animated to inanimate nature ... It seems to be a kind of poetical materialism too, to subject mind to matter, to bind down the imperishable spirit in the trammels of perishable objects, which is a system uniformly preserved in the entire range of the Lake poesy ... The Lakers seem to have ridiculed the purity, simplicity, and philosophy of their admired models – Cowper and Akenside, by German exaggeration.  For the same morbid sensibility manifested in the creation of character and sentiment and action in the one class of writers, is transferred to the feelings derived from the visible creation, by the other.  So that the Lake poetry is a sort of mongrel minstrelsy, made up of English truth and simplicity, and German exaggeration and eccentricity; of English meaning and German mystery, so blended, that it takes the air of something novel, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ridiculous, and always so in exact proportion to the predominant likeness it bears to one or the other of the ill-mated partners of its parentage.

As the writer continues, he ascribes to Wordsworth a mind ‘meditative, mild, and philosophical, and a heart delicately sensitive to all the impulses from visible nature.’  His peculiar quality arises from ‘a communion of sense and soul.’

In the happier effects of this mental process, his poetry is like a mild autumn day, with quick and fleeting successive alternations of sun and shadow – or rather like a soft moonlight night, where objects are not less lovely for being less defined, where those that can be seen, are seen more accurately than in the glare of day, and where the distant scenes, though obscured by an impervious shadow, undefined and undefinable to the most piercing ken, yet the mysterious veil that envelops them is so glowing, so mild, and so mellow, that though we cannot admire them selves, we admire the painted mist that wraps them from our grosser sense with its rich and delicate texture.[cxxviii]

This recalls a passage in the Biographia Literaria, and ascribes ‘romanticism’ of a sort with vengeance.  But it must have been a cheating glimpse; for the writer goes on – ‘we can never read many pages before we are disgusted, with silliness, rudeness, meanness, affectation, eccentric thinking and false simplicity, which when it is not merely babyism, degenerates into perfectly folly ...’

I find the word romantic used with reference to Wordsworth up to 1822 only three times.  Two of these refer to landscape: the ‘wild, romantic scenes of Switzerland’ in the Descriptive Sketches (1793) and the ‘beautiful and romantic scenery’ of the White Doe (1816).[cxxix]  The third is rather more to our point – in a fulsome review of The Excursion in 1815: ‘Some ineffable spell Mr. Wordsworth possesses, the meanest circumstance he raises into dignity; to the homeliest feature he communicates grace; whatever, in “Nature, Man, or Society,” was indifferent to us before, becomes interesting and romantic, when it comes under his notice.’[41]  But in the eyes of one or two critics at least, the word romantic had a different ambience and a sharper specification when it referred to Coleridge.  In October 1819, J. G. Lockhart in reviewing The Friend wrote:

The whole essence of his [Coleridge’s] poetry is more akin to music than that of any other poetry we have ever met with ... The love he describes the best is a romantic and spiritual movement of wonder, blended and exalted with an ineffable suffusion of the powers of sense.  There is more of aerial romance, than of genuine tenderness, even in the peerless love of his Genevieve.  Her silent emotions are an unknown world which her minstrel watches with fear and hope, and yet there is exquisite propriety in calling that poem ‘Love,’ for it truly represents the extent of that passion – where the power acquired over the human soul depends so much upon the awakening, for a time, of the idea of infinitude, and the bathing of the universal spirit in one interminable sea of thoughts undefineable.  We are aware that this inimitable poem is better known than any of its author’s productions – and doubt not that many hundreds of our readers have got it by heart long ago, without knowing by whom it was written.[cxxx]

A much clearer focus is achieved by Henry Nelson Coleridge – Coleridge’s nephew, born in the year of Lyrical Ballads and named for Lord Nelson – in a remarkable essay published in the Etonian in 1821, when he was 23 years old.  In the course of a sustained contrast with Wordsworth, he writes: ‘From the natural bent of his genius there is a tendency to the strange, the wild, and mysterious; which, though intolerable in the cool pursuit of Truth, is yet oftentimes the fruitful parent of the very highest Poetry.  To this he adds a power of language truly wonderful, more romantically splendid than Wordsworth’s and more flexible and melodious than that of Southey.’[42]  In 1834 Henry Nelson Coleridge published in the Quarterly Review what may be regarded as the first entirely sympathetic and judicious general critical evaluation of Coleridge’s poetry.  He knew what he was writing about: he had been recording Coleridge’s conversation for ten or twelve years and had just finished editing, under Coleridge’s eye, the last collective edition to be published in Coleridge’s lifetime.  This review was published in August 1834, the month after Coleridge’s death, but Coleridge himself had almost certainly read the review in proof.  Hence the word romantic turns up in a readily recognizable reference, but the extreme difficulty of ready definition is made clear.

The volumes before us contain so many integral efforts of imagination, that a distinct notice of each is indispensable, if we form a just conclusion upon the total powers of the man.  Wordsworth, Scott, Moore, Byron, Southey, are incomparably more uniform in the direction of their poetic mind.  But if you look over these volumes for indications of their author’s specific powers, you find him appearing in at least half a dozen shapes, so different from each other, that it is in vain to attempt to mass them together.  It cannot indeed be said, that he has ever composed what is popularly termed a great poem; but he is great in several lines, and the union of such powers is an essential term in a fair estimate of his genius.  The romantic witchery of the ‘Christabel’ and ‘Ancient Mariner,’ the subtle passion of the love-strains, the lyrical splendour of the three great odes, the affectionate dignity, thoughtfulness, and delicacy of the blank verse poems – especially the ‘Lover’s Resolution,’ ‘Frost at Midnight,’ and that most noble and interesting ‘Address to Mr. Wordsworth’ – the dramas, the satires, the epigrams – these are so distinct and so whole in themselves, that they might seem to proceed from different authors, were it not for that same individualizing power, that ‘shaping spirit of imagination’ which more or less sensibly runs through them all.[43]

Here, however, the term romantic refers especially to Christabel, The Ancient Mariner, and Zapolya; in the 1821 essay it had also referred to Love.  In Henry Nelson Coleridge’s usage the word has lost its pejorative overtones, but he does not use it to cover either the whole of Coleridge’s poetry or ‘the Lake School.’  It is worth recalling that Wordsworth’s reason for excluding Christabel from Lyrical Ballads (1800) was that ‘the poem was in direct opposition to the very purpose for which the Lyrical Ballads were published – viz – an experiment to see how far those passions, which alone give any value to extraordinary Incidents, were capable of interesting, in & for themselves, in the incidents of common Life.[cxxxi]

When Shelley’s Laon and Cythna and The Revolt of Islam were reviewed in the Quarterly in April 1819, Shelley was drawn into the field of the ‘Lake Poets’; The Revolt of Islam ‘resembles the latter productions of Mr Southey, though the tone is less subdued, and we copy altogether more luxuriant and ornate than the original.  Mr Shelley indeed is an unsparing imitator; and he draws largely on the rich stores of another mountain poet, to whose religious mind it must be matter, we think, of perpetual sorrow to see the philosophy which comes pure and holy from his pen, degraded and perverted ... by this miserable crew of atheists or pantheists ...’[44]  In the previous August, Blackwood’s had sneered at Keats for his defective classical learning.  The shifting pattern was disturbed further when Macaulay discoursed upon Byron in the Edinburgh Review of June 1831 with the full force of his precocious, opinionated, and quarrelsome talent.  Byron’s lot, he said, ‘was cast in the time of a great literary revolution ... The real nature of this revolution has not, we think, been comprehended by the great majority of those who concurred in it.’  He mentions Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley; but his thesis is a curious one.

The forerunner of the great restoration of our literature was Cowper ... During the twenty years which followed the death of Cowper [1800], the revolution in English poetry was fully consummated.  None of the writers of this period, not even Sir Walter Scott, contributed so much to the consummation as Lord Byron.  Yet he, Lord Byron, contributed to it unwillingly, and with constant self-reproach and shame ... He now and then praised Mr Wordsworth and Mr Coleridge; but ungraciously, and without cordiality ... Lord Byron was ... the mediator between two generations – between two hostile poetical sects.  Though always sneering at Mr Wordsworth and the multitude ... Lord Byron founded what may be called an exoteric[45] Lake School of poetry; and all the readers of poetry in England, we might say in Europe, hastened to sit at his feet.  What Mr Wordsworth had said like a recluse, Lord Byron said like a man of the world, – with less refonnpd feeling, but with more perspicuity, energy, and conciseness.  We would refer our readers to the last two cantos of Childe Harold and to Manfred, in proof of these observations.[46]

How influential Macaulay’s essay was, it is difficult to say; but it had performed the feat of congering the two generations (but excluding Keats) into a single revolution, and with perverse ingenuity had placed them both under the uneasy title of ‘the Lake School.’  If Macaulay’s essay points towards the comfortable phrase ‘the Romantic Poets,’ it is to be remarked that Macaulay was an historian, and that his verses do not argue that he was anything else.

In July 1833 William Maginn contributed to the ‘Gallery of Literary Characters’ in Fraser’s Magazine a sketch of Coleridge:

Sorry are we to present

               The noticeable man with large grey eyes –

the worthy old Platonist - the founder of the romantic school of

poetry ... the good honest old thoroughgoing Tory – even Samuel

Taylor Coleridge himself – in an attitude of suffering ...[cxxxii]

The portrait is written without affection, compassion, or admiration.  Whether Maginn’s patronizing coinage of ‘the romantic school’ had any precedent, or any currency thereafter, I cannot say.  It seems not to have been taken up directly.  If what H. N. Coleridge meant by ‘romantic’ was what Maginn meant by ‘romantic,’ Maginn was not far adrift in seeing Coleridge as ‘the founder of the romantic school’ in England.  But the quality that H. N. Coleridge had defined at least tentatively was much harder to find in Wordsworth; and it was on Wordsworth that the critics had concentrated their attention when they wrote about ‘the Lake School.’



The last part of the history of the word romantic in nineteenth-century England is indistinct and has to be inferred, largely from negative evidence.  It is clear that when Southey’s Thalaba was reviewed in October 1802 the German distinction between romantic and classical had not effectively reached England; Warton and Gray, as much as Wordsworth and Coleridge, could have been identified as asserting ‘the independence of genius’ and advocating a break from ‘the bondage of ancient authority’ – that is, the neoclassical tradition in England.  One of the outstanding differences between the English and German literary traditions in the early nineteenth century was that English ‘classicism’ was almost exclusively Latin and Horatian, whereas the German classical enthusiasts were consumed with Greek.  Coleridge himself, in the Biographia Literaria, seems to repudiate the notion of literary revolution: ‘At present it will be sufficient for my purpose, if I have proved, that Mr. Southey’s writings no more than my own, furnished the original occasion to this fiction of a new school of poetry, and to the clamors against its supposed founders and proselytes.’[cxxxiii]  Coleridge’s view of his own work, and of Wordsworth’s, was shaped by a powerful sense of continuity, of the immanence of the literary past in the present; in spite of all the revolutionary talk – social, political, and literary – that had filled the air in his youth, he did not see himself as a revolutionary breaking out of a benighted past, although he did seek to purge his work of the flaccid habits of poetification that he had inherited from his immediate predecessors.  He could admire Pope and Dryden, as Wordsworth did, although somewhat short of idolatry, and could find fruitful resources in such different second-raters as Akenside, Cowper, and Bowles.  But his eye was on poetic excellence wherever he could find it; his rage against Samuel Johnson was against a man of authoritarian temper who seemed to reduce poetry to didactic common sense and to advocate a sort of everyman’s egalitarianism that looked too much like the current trend of enclosed ‘rationalism.’  He rightly saw Wordsworth as a modern Milton – a modern Milton – and meant this specifically; for he knew Wordsworth well enough to know that his powerful egotism had produced in his best work a bleak intransigence of manner that was without parallel in the language.[47]

The notion that a poetical revolution had started with Lyrical Ballads was a commonplace of the reviews by 1814.  But it was Southey, not one of the enemies of the Lakers, who (reviewing Chalmers’s English Poets in 1814 in the same number of the Quarterly that ran Hazlitt’s review of Schlegel said: ‘To borrow a phrase from the Methodists, there has been a great revival in our days – a pouring out of the spirit.  The publication of Percy’s Reliques led the way.’[cxxxiv]  Coleridge could not reverse the conviction that ‘a new school’ had arisen; even the most vicious assailants of that school accepted the proposition, have initiated it.  But no name lay comfortably to hand, and as late as 1831 Macaulay was trying to see at least four of the ‘Big Five’ as members of ‘the Lake School.’

We have already put forward one reason why the term romantic did not suggest itself, either for self-commendation or for purposes of abuse.  Perhaps, also, the word had become so eroded by the late twenties that it could serve none of the exact or suggestive meanings that it had had earlier in Germany.  If it had, we should expect to find it in the reviews.  Reviewers, unlike scholars or critics, deal with books not yet familiar to themselves or to anybody else; and a scholar or critic can find himself in the position of a reviewer.  The craft of reviewing, even when anonymous, being a form of journalism, encourages cleverness and superiority; when anonymous, it encourages brutality and secret vanity.  If the romantic-classical distinction had been current in whatever was the middle nineteenth-century equivalent of the literary cocktail party, the anonymous reviewers could be expected to have used it.  But they did not.  The evidence of the reviews is not conclusive; but it suggests that ‘romantic’ was not an exciting word and that the romantic-classical distinction was not a lively issue in the twenties in England – if it ever was.  Those who saw the influence of Keats or Tennyson, or of Wordsworth on Arnold, seem to have preferred not to connect the later poets with the earlier ‘schools.’  Romantic was not a favourite or even special words with any of the ‘romantics’, and none of the new poets set it in currency.  Tennyson, the most direct poetic link with the poets of the early nineteenth century, did not use romantic in his poems at all; it occurs twice in Browning’s poems, only once in Arnold’s;[48] it does not seem to have been a word current among the pre-Raphaelites; and Gerard Manley Hopkins never once used it in a poem.

Certain tenuous threads, however, may be picked up in the writing of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1818) – a man born in the same year as Keats and who was to live to within seven years of Matthew Arnold’s death.  Though in Arnold’s view, Carlyle was ‘the living writer who has done most to make England acquainted with German authors,’[cxxxv] he was remarkably wary of the word romantic.  In a notebook of 1827 he observed that ‘Grossi is a Romantic and Manzoni a romanticist’;[cxxxvi] he can imagine the terrific assault of ‘those new Paper Goths’ (led by Schiller and Kotzebue) upon the discreet sensibilities of the English;[cxxxvii] and only a Scotsman (one imagines) could have written of the Age of Romance as Carlyle did:

Roland of Roncevalles too ... found rainy weather as well as sunny; knew what it was to have hose need darning; got tough beef to chew, or even went dinnerless; was saddle-sick, calumniated, constipated (as his madness too clearly indicates); and oftenest felt, I doubt not, that this was a very Devil’s world, and he, Roland himself, one of the sorriest caitiffs there.  Only in long subsequent days, when the tough beef, the constipation and the calumny had clean vanished, did it all begin to seem Romantic ...’[cxxxviii]

He rises joyously to the bait of the sub-title to Goethe’s Helenaa classico-romantic Phantasmagoria: ‘In fact, the style of Helena is altogether new ... passing by a short gradation from Classic dignity into Romantic pomp.’  His concluding comment shows that he is alert to such a distinction: ‘It is wonderful with what fidelity the Classical style is maintained throughout the earlier part of the Poem; how skilfully it is at once united to the Romantic style of the latter part, and made to reappear, at intervals, to the end.’[cxxxix]  In the ‘State of German Literature’ (1827) he hailed the dawn of a new quality of criticism, which Tieck and the two Schlegels had ‘laboured so meritoriously’ to impress and diffuse ‘first in their own country, and now also in several others.’  However,

we should err widely if we thought that this new tendency of critical science pertains to Germany alone.  It is a European tendency, and springs from the general condition of intellect in Europe.  We ourselves have all, for the last thirty years, more or less distinctly felt the necessity of such a science ... our increased and increasing admiration not only of Shakespeare, but of all his contemporaries, and of all who breathe any portion of his spirit; our controversy whether Pope was a poet; and so much vague effort on the part of our best critics everywhere to express some still unexpressed idea concerning the nature of true poetry; as if they felt in their hearts that a pure glory, nay a divineness, belonged to it, for which they had as yet no name and no intellectual form.  But in Italy too, in France itself, the same thing is visible.  Their grand controversy, so hotly urged, between the Classicists and Romanticists, in which the Schlegels are assumed, much too loosely, on all hands, as the patrons and generalissimos of the latter, shows us sufficiently what spirit is at work in that long-stagnant literature.  Doubtless this turbid fermentation of the elements will at length settle into clearness, both there and here, as in Germany it has already in a great measure done; and perhaps a more serene and genial poetic day is everywhere to be expected with some confidence.  How much the example of the Germans may have to each us in this particular, needs no farther exposition.

            The authors and first promulgators of this new critical doctrine were at one time contemptuously named the New School; nor was it till after a war of all the few good heads in the nation with all the many bad ones had ended as such wars must ever do, that these critical principles were generally adopted; and their assertors found to be no School, or new heretical sect, but the ancient primitive Catholic Communion, of which all sects that had any living light in them were but members and subordinate models.[49]

Carlyle had no doubt that ‘a new era in the spiritual intercourse of Europe is approaching’; [cxl] he wrote essays on Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Tieck, Hoffmann, Fouqué, Jean Paul (to choose only central names); he added a revealing footnote to his translation of Jean Paul’s review of Madame de Staël’s De l’Allemagne (1830): ‘Romantisch, “romantic,” it will be observed, is here used in a scientific sense, and has no concern with the writing or reading (or acting) of “romances.”’[cxli]  Yet he fought shy of both the term and the title romantic, referring carefully in preference to the ‘New School’ – ‘which has been the subject of much unwise talk, and of much not very wise writings.’[cxlii]  He had his own views upon the history of the movement he celebrated, but declined to correct ‘colloquial literary history’ except by implication;[cxliii] it remained for Matthew Arnold to rebuke him for ignoring Heine.[50]  How much influence Carlyle exerted in spreading the gospel of romanticism in Britain does not appear, and he himself eventually lost heart; in any case we are concerned with the word romantic, not primarily with the history of ‘romanticism.’  That Carlyle was not ignorant is clear; that he was not indifferent is equally clear.  In his ‘Schiller’ essay (1831) he said: ‘we [i.e., people in Britain] are troubled with no controversies on Romanticism and Classicism, the Bowles controversy on Pope having long since evaporated without result.’[cxliv]  I cannot agree with Wellek that this represents a ‘complacent’ attitude; to the contrary, in this passage, and in many others, Carlyle shows that he was ashamed how little the English had recognized the importance of this ‘turbid fermentation of the elements,’ and how trifling a part they seemed to have played in it.[51]

In 1831 Carlyle wondered whether ‘instead of isolated, mutually repulsive National Literatures, a World Literature may one day be looked for?’[cxlv]  Matthew Arnold (1822-88), born in the year of Shelley’s death, wished to see the best ideas prevail and sought to obliterate national boundaries of time and language in the country of criticism.  As something like the next critical commissar after Johnson, he adopted the position of the stern classicist, chose to declare the modernity of ancient art, and to develop a distinction between Hellenism and Hebraism.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool Wordsworthian and – like T. S. Eliot – an inverted ‘romantic,’ he is germane to this study, in spite of his exclusiveness of manner.  He recognized the word romantic as a technical term in Heine’s phrase Die romantische Schule and used the phrase ‘romantic school’ in his essays on Maurice de Guérin (1862) and Heine (1863).[52]  In 1863 he delivered at Oxford a lecture entitled ‘The Modern Element in Romanticism,’ but it was not published, and a value piece of evidence has thereby been lost.[53]  He seems not to have been interested in refining the romantic-classical distinction, and his single poetical use of the word romantic (in an elegiac poem of 1864) is not much other than the simple adjective of ‘romance’ – if that adjective can ever be simple.[54]  In 1866, when he tried to delineate the quality that ‘suddenly magicalized by a romance touch,’ he called it not ‘romantic’ but ‘Celtic’: ‘If I were asked where English poetry got these three things, its turn for style, its turn for melancholy, and its turn for natural magic, for catching and rendering the charm of nature in a wonderfully near and vivid way, – I should answer, with some doubt, that it got much of its turn for style from a Celtic source, with less doubt, that it got much of its melancholy from a Celtic source; with no doubt at all, that from a Celtic source it got nearly all its natural magic.[cxlvi]  He finds the ‘romance touch’ in Celtic romance itself, of course, but also in ‘Shakespeare’s touch in his daffodil, Wordsworth’s in his cuckoo, Keats’s in his Autumn, Obermann’s in his mountain birchtree, or his Easter-daisy among the Swiss farms.’  ‘The gift for natural magic,’ he decides after due examination, is properly Celtic rather than Germanic, although not totally absent in German poetry.[55]  ‘Only the power of natural magic Goethe does not, I think, give; whereas Keats passes at will from the Greek power to that power which is, as I say, Celtic; from his “What little town, by river or seashore –” to his “White hawthorn and the pastoral eglantine, / Fast-fading violets cover’d up in leaves –” or his “... magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn –.’”  For such a fine specification, Arnold seems to have found the word romantic, as adjective of romance, too broad a term, too intricately reverberating with overtones and presuppositions that he preferred to exclude; yet it is in his own ‘Celtic’ sense that he draws the ‘romantic’ figures in ‘A Southern Night.’  With something of the perverse insularity of British spirit that he accuses Carlyle of, Arnold himself avoids the word romantic and transfers into an unlocalized ‘Celtic’ quality many of the characteristics, historical and emotional, that the European theorists and poets had attached to the word romantic.  There can be no question of the immense influence of Arnold’s work upon the next half-century of English letters.  It may be that the pervasive (and in this respect evasive) effect of his writing – so much less austere and classical in tone than he seems to have wanted – did much to establish for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries certain unexamined and happy English generalizations about the quality of the ‘romantic’ poets that dominates Palgrave’s selective view[56] and which through second-hand and derivative books of instruction has perverted direct criticism of the ‘romantic’ poets.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in the second half of the nineteenth century and for some time thereafter, the English use of romantic and romanticism has secured for itself an insular existence, largely unpurified either by historical sense or by the careful thinking that had gone into European theories of romanticism.[57]

Yet the word romantic must have had some currency in England in the thirty years after the Great Exhibition, and so must the romantic-classical distinction, eroded no doubt, but not so stale as to be no longer worth discussing.  Although the world of classical scholarship may not be expected to be in nervous resonance at that date with currents of English literary-critical speculation, the preface to the Butcher and Lang translation of the Odyssey (1879) is not without interest; for it was a commonplace of the time that the Iliad was ‘classical’ and the Odyssey ‘romantic.’  ‘After the belief in the ballad manner follows the recognition of the romantic vein in Homer, and, as a result, came Mr. Worsley’s admirable Odyssey.  This masterly translation does all that can be done for the Odyssey in the romantic style.’[58]  Pope, Worsley, and Hawtrey, the preface continues, ‘must be adding to Homer’; yet ‘it would be impertinent indeed to blame any of these translations in their place.  They give that which the romantic reader of poetry, or the student of the age of Anne, looks for in verse ...’  Butcher and Lang sought a style that was ‘old and plain,’ and settled into a manner that was more Ossianic than biblical.

And the tone of Walter Pater’s ‘Postscript’ to his Appreciations (1889) in some indication that the romantic spirit was not utterly moribund in England.  After an essay on style, separate essays on Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb, three on Shakespeare, and one on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the ‘Postscript’ begins:

The words, classical and romantic, although like many other critical expressions, sometimes abused by those who have understood them too vaguely or too absolutely, yet define two real tendencies in the history of art and literature.  Used in an exaggerated sense, to express a greater opposition between those tendencies than really exists, they have at times tended to divide people of taste into opposite camps.  But in that House Beautiful, which the creative minds of all generations – the artists and those who have treated life in the spirit of art – are always building together, for the refreshment of the human spirit, these oppositions cease; and the Interpreter of the House Beautiful, the true aesthetic critic, uses these divisions, only so far as they enable him to enter into the peculiarities of the objects with which he has to do.

The term romantic, he says, ‘has been used much too vaguely, in various accidental senses ... But the romantic spirit is, in reality, an ever-present, and enduring principle, in the artistic temperament; and the qualities of thought and style which that, and other similar uses of the word romantic really indicate, are indeed but symptoms of a very continuous and widely working influence.’  He studies a little the history of the emergence and use of the term; his general conclusion is that ‘the essential elements ... of the romantic spirit are curiosity and the love of beauty; and it is only as an illustration of these qualities, that it seeks the Middle Age, because, in the over-charged atmosphere of the Middle Age, there are unworked sources of romantic effect, of a strange beauty, to be won, by strong imagination, out of things unlikely or remote.’  The essay now seems at once unduly emphatic and unduly soothing.  Was the distinction current at Oxford?  Was it debated between tutor and undergraduate, as forty years later there was still debate about Faith and Reason?  Oxford – as Arnold had reflected nearly twenty-five years earlier in his Preface to Essays in Criticism

Beautiful city!  so venerable, so lovely, so unravaged by the fierce intellectual life of our century, so serene!

            ‘There are our young barbarians, all at play!’

And yet, steeped in sentiment as she lies, spreading her gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age, who will deny that Oxford, by her ineffable charm, keeps ever calling us nearer to the true goal of all of us, to the ideal, to perfection, – to beauty, in a word, which is only truth seen from another side?  – nearer, perhaps, than all the science of Tübingen.  Adorable dreamer, whose heart was been so romantic!  who hast given thyself so prodigally, given thyself to sides and to heroes not mine, only never to the Philistines!  home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties! ...[cxlvii]

In this dead zone where navigation is difficult we make an unexpected landfall in a letter of Gerard Manley Hopkins dated 1 December 1881.  There may be a connection with Pater, for Hopkins as an undergraduate could have heard Pater lecture, and he had certainly worked under Pater for a time between 1866 and 1868.  But if there is any connection with an elder master in these matters it might as well be with Matthew Arnold; for Hopkins referred to the ‘Joubert’ essay and ‘The Function of Criticism’ in January 1865, and a month or so later made note to read ‘Arnold’s Essays.’  On 26 May 1866 he heard Arnold give the last of his four lectures on Celtic Poetry and so heard uttered (although he does not comment upon it) the passage at the opening, which is quoted on p. 238 above.[cxlviii]  In September 1878 he recommended the ‘Guérin’ essay and suggested that, to correspond to the subtitle of the ‘Joubert’ essay – ‘A French Coleridge’ – the ‘Guérin’ might be called ‘The Keats of France’;[59] and five years later he objected to Bridges’ name for Arnold – ‘Mr. Kidglove Cocksure’ – declaring that Arnold was ‘a rare genius and a great critic.’[cxlix]  The letter to Dixon in 1881 is as interesting for its use of the idea of ‘schools’ as for its use of the term romantic.

I must hold that you and Morris belong to one school, and that though you should neither of you have read a line of the other’s.  I suppose the same masters, the same models, the same tastes, the same keepings, above all, make the school.  It will always be possible to find differences, marked differences, between original minds; it will be necessarily so.  So the species in nature are essentially distinct, nevertheless they are grouped in genera: they have one form in common, mounted on that they have a form that differences them.  I used to call it the school of Rossetti: it is in literature the school of he Prae-raphaelites.  Of course that phrase is in part past, neither do these things admit of hard and fast lines; still consider yourself, that you know Rossetti and Burne Jones, Rossetti through his sympathy for you and Burne Jones – was it the same or your sympathy for him?  This modern medieval school is descended from the Romantic school (Romantic is a bad word) of Keats, Leigh Hunt, Hood, indeed of Scott early in the century.  That was one school; another was that of the Lake poets and also of Shelley and Landor; the third was the sentimental school, of Byron, Moore, Mrs. Hemans, and Haynes Bailey.  Schools are very difficult to class: the best guide, I think, are keepings.  Keats’ school chooses medieval keepings, not pure nor drawn from the middle ages direct but as brought down through the Elizabethan tradition of Shakespeare and his contemporaries which died out in such men as Herbert and Herrick.  They were also realists and observers of nature.  The Lake poets and all that school represent, as it seems to me, the mean or standard of English style and diction, which culminated in Milton but was never very continuous or vigorously transmitted, and in fact none of these men unless perhaps Landor were great masters of style, though their diction is generally pure, lucid, and unarchaic.  They were faithful but not rich observers of nature.  Their keepings are their weak point, a sort of colourless classical keepings: when Wordsworth wants to describe a city or a cloudscape which reminds him of city it is some ordinary rhetorical stage-effect of domes, palaces, and temples.  Byron’s school had a deep feeling but the most untrustworthy and barbarous eye, for nature; a diction markedly modern; and their keepings any gaud or a lot of Oriental rubbish.  I suppose Crabbe to have been in form a descendant of the school of Pope with a strong and modern realistic eye; Rogers something between Pope’s school and that of Wordsworth and Landor; and Campbell between this last and Byron’s, with a good deal of Popery too, and a perfect master of style.  Now since this time Tennyson and his school seem to me to have struck a mean or compromise between Keats and the medievalists on the one hand and Wordsworth and the Lake School on the other (Tennyson has some jarring notes of Byron ...).  The Lake School expires in Keble and Faber and Cardinal Newman.  The Brownings may be reckoned to the Romantic.  Swinburne is a strange phenomenon: his poetry seems a powerful effort at establishing a new standard of poetical diction, of the rhetoric of poetry; but to waive every other objection it is essentially archaic, biblical a good deal, and so on: now that is a thing that can never last; a perfect style must be of its age.  In virtue of this archaism and on other grounds he must rank with the medievalists.[cl]

René Wellek has noted that David Macbeth Moir (1798-1851) in his Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the past half Century (1852) reckoned Matthew Gregory Lewis to be the leader of the ‘purely romantic school,’ with Scott, Coleridge, Southey, and Hogg – but not Wordsworth – as disciples; and that W. Rushton of University College, London, in his Afternoon Lectures on English Literature (1863, delivered in Dublin) discussed the ‘Classical and Romantic School of English literature as represented by Spenser, Dryden, Pope, Scott and Wordsworth’ – which suggests a somewhat more comprehensive and continental approach.[cli]  But it appears that, from whatever usage Hopkins picked out the word romantic in 1881, the habit of referring to the English poets of the early nineteenth century, collectively, singly, or generically, as ‘the Romantic Poets’ and ‘the Romantic School’ came from literary historians rather than from critics, and that it was reinforced by – if not actually initiated by – European ideas.  Wellek suggests that the turning-point came with Lady Eastlake’s translation of Alois Brandl’s Coleridge und die romantische Schule in England (1887), the ‘School’ comprising Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, and Scott, but not Keats, Byron, or Shelley – in effect, one version of the ‘Lake Poets.’  But the picture is both more complex and more elusive than that.  Indeed it is by no means clear that there was any ‘turning-point.’  As we search back towards the date of Wordsworth’s death in 1850, we find romantic used as an historical label much earlier than Brandl; we find also that at least two attempts to clarify the definition for English poetry (and Hopkins’s letter, although late, is also of this kind) were not influential enough to prevent deepening confusion.

Hippolyte Taine used the phrase ‘English Romantic school’ almost twenty years before Lady Eastlake’s translation was published; in the Histoire de la litterature anglaise (first published in 5 volumes, 1864-9, translated into English in 2 volumes, 1871-2) he shows Burns as a precursor, groups Lamb, Coleridge, Southey, Moore, and Scott together and treats both Wordsworth and Byron separately on a large scale.[60]

Other evidence in a less illustrious source shows romantic being used in an historical application at about the time that Matthew Arnold wrote his essays on Guérin and Heine – and possibly almost twenty years earlier.  A History of English Literature by Thomas Budd Shaw (1813-62), enlarged and revised by William Smith, was published by John Murray in 1864 as ‘The Student’s Manual of English Literature.’  The original form of this book – Outlines of English Literature – was written and published by Shaw in 1846 at the request of the Imperial Alexander Lyceum in St. Petersburg for the use of its pupils, Shaw having been professor of English literature there since 1842 (and tutor to the grand dukes of Russian from 1853).  The book was not nearly so obscure as this sounds: the first (? St. Petersburg) edition was ‘speedily sold’; it was immediately reprinted in Philadelphia, and in 1849 John Murray issued an edition in London; after Shaw’s death Murray commissioned Smith to prepare for the press the extensive revision of the Outlines that Shaw had been working on at the time of his death.[61]  Chapter 19 is entitled ‘The Dawn of Romantic Poetry,’ and section I opens: ‘The great revolution in popular taste and sentiment which substituted what is called the romantic type of literature for the cold and clear-cut artificial spirit of that classicism which is exhibited in its highest form in the writings of Pope was, like all powerful and durable movements, whether in politics or in letters, gradual.’[62]  Chapter 20 is entitled ‘Walter Scott’ and the opening sentence of section I, ‘Romantic School,’ reads ‘The great revolution in taste, substituting romantic for classical sentiment and subjects, which culminated in the poems and novels of Walter Scott, is traceable to the labours of Bishop Percy’; Chapter 21 is devoted to Byron, Moore, Shelley, Keats, and Campbell; Chapter 22, on Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, begins with ‘William Wordsworth ... the founder of the so-called Lake School of poetry.’  Shaw does not use the word romantic otherwise in this chapter; and in singling out (as Henry Nelson Coleridge had done) The Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Kubla Khan, and Love, he tries to specify their character without recourse to any single generic term.  ‘... The Ancient Mariner, a wild, mystical, phantasmagoric narrative ... is a splendid dream, filling the ear with the strange and floating melodies of sleep, and the eye with a shifting, vaporous succession of fantastic images, gloomy or radiant.  The poem of Christabel, and the fragment called Kubla Khan, are of the same mystic, unreal character ...’ (p. 453).

He uses the phrases ‘Romantic Poetry,’ ‘romantic literature,’ ‘romantic sentiment and subjects’ as referential labels; he does not examine the term romantic by itself, nor does he try to evolve a general view of ‘the romantics’ out of a general account of ‘romanticism.’  He writes as though he were merely repeating current literary-historical axioms.

Walter Bagehot (1826-77), with less panache than Hazlitt and more of the steady intellectual drive of Leavis, takes a very English position: ‘For the English, after all, the best literature is the English.’  In his essay on Shelley (1856) he attempts, on the evidence of English poetry, a correct distinction between classic and romantic.  Picking up Macaulay’s suggestion that Shelley has ‘many of the qualities of the great old masters,’ he writes:

... his imagination is classical rather than romantic, – we should, perhaps, apologise for using words which have been used so often, but which hardly convey even yet a clear and distinct meaning; yet they seem to the best for conveying a distinction of this sort ... When we speak of this distinction [between the classical and romantic imagination], we seem almost to be speaking of the distinction between ancient and modern literature.  The characteristic of the classical literature is the simplicity with which the imagination appears in it; that of modern literature is the profusion with which the most varied adornments of the accessory fancy are thrown and lavished upon it ... Ancient poetry is like a Grecian temple, with pure form and raising columns, – created, one fancies, by a single effort of a creative nature: modern literature seems to have sprung from the involved brain of a Gothic architect, and resembles a huge cathedral – the work of the perpetual industry of centuries – complicated and infinite in details; but by their choice and elaboration producing an effect of unity which is not inferior to that of the other, and is heightened by the multiplicity through which it is conveyed.  And it is this warmth of circumstance – this profusion of interesting detail – which has caused the name ‘romantic’ to be perseveringly applied to modern literature.[63]

Again, in an essay on Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning (1864) he proposes a scheme rather more complex than the classical-romantic polarity.

The great divisions of poetry, and of all other literary art, arise from the different modes in which these types – these characteristic men, these characteristic feelings – may be variously described.  There are three principal modes which we shall attempt to describe – the pure, which is sometimes, but not very wisely, called the classical; the ornate, which is also unwisely called romantic; and the grotesque, which might be called the mediaeval ... The essence of pure art consists in its describing what is as it is, and this is very well for what can bear it, but there are many inferior things which will not bear it, and which nevertheless ought to be described in books.  A certain kind of literature deals with illusions, and this kind of literature has given a colouring to the name romantic ... Ornate art is within the limits as legitimate as pure art.  It does what pure art could not do ... Illusion, half belief, unpleasant types, imperfect types, are as much the proper sphere of ornate art, as an inferior landscape is the proper sphere for the true efficacy of moonlight.  A really great landscape needs sunlight and bears sunlight; but moonlight is an equaliser of beauties; it gives a romantic unreality to what will not stand the bare truth.  And just so does romantic art.[clii]

In this essay, Bagehot was not trying to set up absolute critical canons; he was reviewing Tennyson’s Enoch Arden and Browning’s Dramatis Personae, and wanted to prepare the ground for his conclusion that Tennyson is an instance of the ornate and Browning of the grotesque (the pure being represented, in passing, by Wordsworth and some others).  Bagehot was a man of affairs, an economist, banker, and businessman; but he took his task as a critic seriously and, having a somewhat Arnoldian European sense, set about his criticism in a semi-Coleridgean way: ‘though no complete theory of the poetic art as yet be possible for us ... yet something of some certainty may be stated on the easier elements, and something that will throw light on these two new books.’[64]

With Edward Dowden (1843-1913) we move into an academic setting, for he was professor of English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1867.  In his 1878 collection of essays he had referred to Byron as ‘A leader of the Romantic movement, yet a worshipper of the poetry of Pope.’[cliii]  In his essay on Coleridge (1889) he again shows himself disinclined to lapse into enervating generalities; he is seeking, for the distinctive quality of Coleridge’s poetry, a more exact specification than what ‘the critics tell us of the romantic strangeness of his work ... its wealth of fantastic incident, its dreamlike inconsequence, its cloud-like and rainbow-like splendours.’[65]  Looking back through the eighteenth century, he finds that ‘In the literature of the time thare were two powerful tendencies, each of which was liable to excess when it operated alone, each of which needed to work in harmony with the other.  A little before the death of Johnson English poetry had almost reached the lowest ebb.  It has often been said that its revival was due to the excitement and enthusiasm caused by the Revolution in France; but this is certainly untrue.’  He cites Cowper’s The Task, Burns, and Crabbe as representing the one tendency, and as the second tendency, confusing and ‘also strong,’ ‘the tendency towards romance, which gave their popularity to the Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, ...’; ‘The Gothic revival which in our own century became learned and antiquarian was then sentimental and imaginative.’

Here then were two movements in our literature, each operating apart from the other and each prone to excess – naturalism, tending to a hard, dry, literal manner, unilluminated by the light of imagination; romance, tending to become a coarse revel in material horrors.  English poetry needed first that romance should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of truth, and, secondly, that naturalism, without losing any of its fidelity to fact, should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of imagination.  And this was precisely what Coleridge and Wordsworth contributed to English poetry in their joint volume of Lyrical Ballads,’ which in consequence may justly be described as marking if not making an epoch in the history of our literature.[cliv]

From an examination of English poetry itself, Dowden – like Bagehot – was trying to define the nature and contribution of the early nineteenth-century English poets.  Like Bagehot, he was fully aware of European literary currents, but he was not being carried along on any European wave of theoretical generalization.  His Taylorian Lecture of 20 November 1889 – ‘Literary Criticism in France’ – makes this clear: ‘No wonder that such a critic [as Nisard] was not popular with young and ardent spirits in the first fervours of the Romantic movement [in France] ... His view was determined by a deeper and a truer insight that than of M. Taine or of the romantic critics of an earlier date.  The revolt of the [French] Romantic school itself testifies to the strength in France of the classical tradition, and no critic of French literature can be a sure guide who does not recognise the force and value of that tradition.’[clv]  ‘Two debts we certainly owe to M. Taine,’ Dowden says: ‘first he has helped us to feel the close kinship between the literature of each epoch and the various other manifestations of the mind of the time; and secondly, he has helped to moderate the passion for pronouncing judgments of good and evil founded on the narrow aesthetics of the taste of our own day.’

But there are two things which as they express themselves in literature he has failed to enable us to comprehend – the individual genius of an artist, that unique power of seeing, feeling, imagining, what he and he alone possessed; and again, the universal mind of humanity, that which is not bounded by an epoch nor contained by a race, but which lives alike in the pillars of the Parthenon and in the vault of the Gothic cathedral, which equally inspires the noblest scenes of Sophocles and of Shakespeare ... The critic [Taine] does not possess the delicate tact which would enable him to discover the individuality of each writer; it suits his thesis rather to view the individual as one member of a group.  Nor does he possess that higher philosophical power which would enable him to see in each great work of art the laws of the universal mind of man ... M. Taine’s critical writings have tended to reduce the importance of the individual, have operated together with the scientific tendencies of our time in antagonism to the lyrical, personal character of the Romantic school ... A play of Shakespeare’s, a group of Victor Hugo’s odes or elegies, is for M. Taine not so much the work of its individual author as the creation of the race, the milieu, and the moment – a document in the history and the psychology of a people.[66]

Edward Dowden, we take it, is not to be reckoned among the English fathers of the History of Ideas.

By such means, and no doubt by many other means more unassuming, the term romantic was handed on to the eighties and nineties in England – the word that Macaulay seemed to be reaching for, the term that Carlyle and Arnold avoided, and that Hopkins with a poet’s fastidious discrimination hesitated to use (distrusting it perhaps for some uncritical currency that I have not been able to trace).  As an ill-defined historical category it was cross-fertilized by the shimmering echoes of early German romanticism in Walter Pater’s essay, and by the Celtic qualities that Arnold celebrated and that the early Yeats turned into twilight.[67]  Before the end of the century the word had quietly taken root as a referential term that cast iridescent colours, irritating for its vagueness yet scarcely arousing resolute definition.  In 1893 William Lyon Phelps published his doctoral dissertation, The Beginning of the Romantic Movement, and Henry A. Beer’s History of English Romanticism followed in 1903: both America, both writing about the eighteenth-century prelude to ‘The Romantics’ and both thereby assuming or evading the central term.  Other combinations follow: The Romantic Triumph (T. S. Osmond, 1900), The Romantic Revolt (C. E. Vaughan, 1907); and ‘The Romantic Revival’ – Southey’s phrase grafted on to the architects’ ‘Gothic Revival’ – provides an evocative rallying-point by suggesting renaissance, new birth through ‘romanticism.’[68]  Yet in some quarters romantic was distinct and abusive enough in 1897 for Jowett to say that he disliked Carlyle and Froude ‘as romantics, if not charlatans’[clvi] – some indication of the counter-currents of ‘rational’ scientism that sorely afflicted some of the Victorians.

Whatever Bagehot and Dowden had achieved in scrupulous if limited definition was not a permanent heritage.  The English concentration on things English seems to have encouraged many to react adversely to any study of the English ‘romantics’ in the context of European ‘romanticism.’  Sir Walter Raleigh (1861-1922), appointed in 1904 as first holder of the chair of English literature at Oxford, is an interesting case in point – even if he carries us outside the nineteenth century: he shows into what a sad state of confusion, in the mind of an eminent professor, the word romantic could fall by the time of the First World War.  In his essay, ‘On the Decline and Fall of Romanticism in 19th-century Poetry’ (1913), the tags spring into being like warriors from a scattering of dragon’s teeth: ‘the early Romantics,’ ‘the Romantic Revival,’ ‘the new Romantic school,’ ‘the Romantic poets’ (‘rebels and exiles,’ ‘Revivalists, resuscitators of the past, they attain ... only to make-believe’), ‘the Romantic era,’ ‘the Romantic age,’ ‘Romantic poetry,’ ‘the romantic apotheosis of individual feeling,’ ‘a modern Romantic,’ ‘the Romantic attitude.’  The ‘Romantic poets’ were (in his book) Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey; Shelley, Byron, Landor, Keats.  Then there were ‘the later Romantics’ – Tennyson, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne, Browning (‘the most triumphant and assured of the Romantics’) – and there is mention of ‘ultra-romantic poets,’ ‘decadent Romantic art,’ ‘the melancholy of the Romantic,’ ‘the full-blown Romantics,’ ‘the older Romantics.’  The source of the hysteria peeps out, perhaps, when he speaks of Meredith as ‘a poet whose inspiration comes from order, measure, law – from all that the Romantic poets, or most of them, made war on.’[69]  In May 1915 he gave two lectures at Princeton on the theme of romance – that is, near enough, romanticism.  This time he does not compound the word romantic with such catholic abandon as before; unlike Bagehot and Dowden he makes no attempt at clear definition; his own position is ambiguous, belligerent, desperate.  But he had some inkling that all was not well in the way romantic was being used in literary-critical circles.

Between these two dates [1783 and 1832] a great company of English writers produced a literature of immense bulk, and of almost endless diversity of character.  Yet one dominant strain in that literature has commonly been allowed to give a name to the whole period, and it is often called the Age of the Romantic Revival.  We do not name other notable periods of our literature in this fashion.  The name itself contains a theory, and so marks the rise of a new philosophical and aesthetic criticism.  It attempts to describe as well as to name, and attaches significance not to kings, or great authors, but to the kind of writing which flourished conspicuously in that age ... Scientific names, for all their air of learned universality, are merely fossilized impressions, stereotyped portraits of a single aspect ... Mammal, amphibian, coleoptera, dicotyledon, cryptogram, – all these terms, which ... would be seen to record very simple observations, yet do lend a kind of formal majesty to ignorance.

            So it is with the vocabulary of literary criticism: the first use of a name, because the name was coined by someone who felt the need of it, is often striking and instructive; the impression is fresh and new.  Then the freshness wears off it, and the name becomes an outworn print, a label that serves only to recall the memory of past travel.  What was created for the needs of thought becomes a thrifty device, useful only to save thinking.  The best way to restore the habit of thinking is to do away with the names.  The word Romantic loses almost all its meaning and value when it is used to characterize whole periods of our literature ... It is not needful, nor indeed is it possible, to define Romance ... The word Romance supplies no very valuable instrument of criticism even in regard to the great writers of the early nineteenth century ...[70]

Eventually the word romantic itself began to come under historical and critical investigation, with all the hazards of trying to define one complex term by reference to an equally complex and ill-defined countervailing term, in Quiller-Couch’s not very strenuous essay, ‘On the Terms “Classic” and “Romantic”’ (1918), and more minutely in Logan Pearsall Smith’s monograph, Four Words: Romantic, Originality, Creative, Genius (1924), which is pretty much where this paper started on its backward exploration.


The collective terms romantic and romantic poets, and even romanticism, remain historians’ terms.  Beset as the terms were with a variety of conflicting definitions, they were for too long – and still too often are – offered as skeleton keys to a poetry and criticism of strong individuality and of definition subtle enough to demand an approach less diffuse than an historical generalization.  In practice the poetry resists many of the fashionable techniques of exposition, being perfectly capable of declaring itself in its own right.  Every careful reader of Wordsworth, for example, knows for how long stock generalizations about ‘romantic poets’ have distracted attention from the incisive, direct, and forthright criticism that Coleridge devoted to Wordsworth’s art in Biographia Literaria – a book written in 1815 by the earliest intelligent proponent in England of romantic theory, at the time when the currents of German romantic theory were beginning tentatively to pluck at the ironbound coasts of Britain.

The term romantic has been clarified somewhat by critical examination in recent years, but it remains a convenient historical abstraction that at best serves a critical purpose by its divergences from particular poems and poets rather than by its coincidence.  The most recent sense of romantic reached by back-formation from historical generalisation – a parody of what Schlegel intended – has done widespread (but probably not irreversible) damage to the precise apprehension of the early nineteenth-century poets and their work.  ‘For,’ as Wordsworth said in his Essay, supplementary to the 1815 Preface, ‘to be mistaught is worse than to be untaught; and no perverseness equals that which is supported by the systems, no errors are so difficult to root out as those which the understanding has pledged its credit to uphold.’  Now perhaps the term romantic poets can without harm be used as a neutral indicator, devoid of much specific implication, meaning simply ‘the major English poets of the early nineteenth century.’  The rest can be left to the scholars who know how to navigate warily around and through the historical categories and make – as is the critic’s way – opportunist use of what happens to be handy and happens to suit their purpose, criticism not being a science.

And yet we find a poet, who had used the word romantic only once before in a poem (to lament that ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’) – a greater poet it may be than any of them –  writing in 1931:

We were the last romantics – chose for theme

Traditional sanctity and loveliness;

Whatever’s written in what poets name

The book of the people; whatever most can bless

The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;

But all is changed, that high horse riderless,

Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode

Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.

[1] Coleridge wrote to Wordsworth on 23 January 1798 referring to Lewis’s The Castle Spectre: ‘There is a pretty little Ballad-song introduced – and Lewis, I think, has great & peculiar excellence in these compositions.  The simplicity & naturalness is his own, & not imitated; for it is made to subsist in congruity with a language perfectly modern –’ (Coleridge, Letters I: 379).  For a less enthusiastic view of the quality of the interpolated ballads, see S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross (Oxford, 1907), II: 24 (hereafter cited as Biographia Literaria).  For Wordsworth on Percy’s Reliques, see Wordsworth, Poems II: 421, 425 (Preface of 1815).  But it was Coleridge who drew upon the ‘medieval’ ballads; Wordsworth, although not unaffected by Percy’s Reliques, was strongly influenced by the manner of the popular ballads and by Burns’s popularised versions of older and current ballads.

[2] Part of the review of Lewis’s The Monk is reprinted in Inquiring Spirit, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London, 1951), p. 192, from Critical Review (February 1797).  Of the four reviews of Gothic romances assigned to Coleridge by Garland Greever in A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends (1926), only the review of The Monk now seems genuine.  But one of the interpolated chapters of Biographia Literaria (ch. 23) is a long and contemptuous review (reprinted from the Courier of August-September 1816) of Maturin’s gothic tragedy Bertram (1816); Coleridge refers to ‘the whole breed of Kotzebues, whether dramatists or romantic writers [i.e., writers of romance], or writers of romantic dramas’ (Biographia Literaria II: 184).  For Shakespeare’s plays as ‘romantic dramas, or dramatic romances,’ different in degree from the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes, see passage (c) on pp. 205-6 below.

[3] A review of Christabel in The Times 20 May 1816, recently identified as written by Charles Lamb (Studies in Romanticism IX, 1970, 114-19), observed that ‘The scene, the personages, are those of old romantic superstition’; that the tale, though ‘wild, and romantic, and visionary as it is has a truth of its own, which seizes on and masters the imagination’ (p. 116); and that ‘Another striking excellence of the poem is its picturesqueness’ (p. 118).

[4] The part played by Percy’s Reliques in early German romantic ballad-writing is illustrated by a curious coincidence.  Wordsworth bought his copy of the Reliques in Hamburg immediately on arrival in Germany in September 1798, and Coleridge may have bought his copy there too.

[5] The Letters of John Keats, ed. H. E. Rollins (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), II: 88-9 (hereafter cited as Keats, Letters); cf. I: 193-4.  Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is contemporary with all these, but is remembered as a novelist rather than as a poet.  Although he was both a romancer and an exploiter of the sentimental medievalism that is one of the components of eighteenth century ‘romanticism,’ I have not included him in this study because he appears not to advance the uses of the word romantic beyond those current and recognized in the eighteenth century.  Nevertheless, Stevenson said in 1882 that ‘Walter Scott is out and away the King of the romantics’ (Longman’s Magazine I: 77; cited in OED).

[6] Cf. Blackwood’s, October 1817.  On the Cockney School, No. I: ‘All the great poets of our country have been men of some rank in society, and there is no vulgarity in any of their writings ...’ Cf. Coleridge’s Table Talk (Oxford, 1917, from Thomas Allsop’s Recollections), p. 440: ‘It is very singular that no true poet should have arisen from the lower classes, when it is considered that every peasant who can read knows more of books now that did Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Homer; yet if we except Burns, none such have been.’

[7] Wordsworth, Poems V: 268.  Jeffrey, reviewing The Excursion in the Edinburgh Review (November 1814), suggested scornfully that the Wanderer was ‘determined to embrace the more romantic occupation of a Pedlar.’  For Coleridge’s veiled objection to Wordsworth’s plausible back-formation of the Pedlar’s biography, see Biographia Literaria II: 106.  Southey, in the Quarterly Review (October 1814), said that in The Excursion ‘the dialogue throughout is carried on in the very heart of the most romantic scenery which the poet’s native hills could supply’ (p. 101).

[8] The use of ‘marvellous source’ in referring to Coleridge echoes the phrase ‘the marvellous Boy’ used of Chatterton in ‘Resolution and Independence’ (Wordsworth, Poems II: 236).  Coleridge had written a ‘Monody on the Death of Chatterton’ at Christ’s Hospital and revised it extensively in 1795.  Of the last 18 lines of the revised version he said in July 1797 that ‘tho’ deficient in chasteness & severity of diction, [they] breathe a pleasing spirit of romantic feeling ...’  As for the rest of the poem, he said, there was nothing ‘which might not have been written [by a drunken pauper?].’  In a marginal note in a copy of the Statesman’s Manual (1816) presented to Southey, Coleridge said: ‘I myself feel that this introduction is too romantic and (if I may dare whisper my own thoughts) too good for the semi-real, semi-verbal Allegory, or Metaphorage, that follows ...’ (Coleridge, Letters I: 333).

[9] But romantic could also refer to an unreal or superficial attitude to love.  Wordsworth, for example, spoke of Mrs Hemans’s ‘long separation from an unfeeling husband, whom she had been led to marry from the romantic notions of inexperienced youth’ (Wordsworth, Poems IV: 461-2).  When Coleridge wrote for the Morning Post in October-November 1802 three notes on the alleged marriage between Alexander Augustus Hope, MP, and ‘The Beauty of Buttermere,’ and entitled the first two ‘Romantic Marriage’ and the third ‘Fraudulent Marriage,’ it is difficult to tell whether ‘Romantic’ was much less derogatory than ‘Fraudulent’ (Essays on his Own Times, ed. Sara Coleridge, 1850, II: 585-92).  Cf. Coleridge, Notebooks III: 3562: ‘... Love in its highest sense ... is yet an act of the will – ... This most important [&] practicable – for if it were not true, either Love itself is all a romantic Hum, a mere connection of Desire with a form appropriated to that form by accident or the mere repetition of a Day-dream ...’  In a marginal note on Beaumont and Fletcher he speaks of Spanish drama introducing to the English stage ‘romantic Loyalty to the greatest Monsters.’

[10] Cf. Wordsworth, Letters: Middle Years (2nd ed., Oxford, 1969), I: 271-2 of October 1808: declining to venture on ‘a theme so boundless as this sublime and beautiful region,’ Wordsworth adds: ‘you can easily conceive that objects may be too familiar to a Man, to leave him the power of describing them.  This is the case with me in regard to these Lakes and mountains, which are my native Country ...’  But his correspondent must have been an importunate bore; Wordsworth had in fact been writing what was later called his Guide to the Lakes, and it was published in 1810.

[11] Only five days after Dorothy visited the Gothic garden at Crookhom, and the day after Coleridge had left Alfoxden, she and William ‘walked in the evening up the hill dividing the Coombes.  Came home the Crookham way, by the thorn, and the “little muddy pool” ’ (Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals I: 15-16).  This refers to ‘The Thorn’ which Wordsworth wrote on 19 March 1798.  In the Isabella Fenwick note, Wordsworth said that the poem ‘Arose out of my observing, on the ridge of Quantock Hill, on a stormy day, a thorn which I had often passed in calm and bright weather without noticing it.’  Sir George Beaumont ‘painted a picture from it [i.e., the poem], which Wilkie thought his best’ (Wordsworth, Poems II: 513).  It is in a long note to this poem (1798) that Wordsworth said that ‘poetry is passion: it is the history or science of feelings’ (ibid., II: 513).  For Coleridge on Salvator Rosa, see p. 197-8 below.

[12] Coleridge, Letters I: 89-90.  Coleridge repeats much of this account almost word for word several days later, but says that when he was walking by the castle he was ‘feeding on melancholy’ (ibid., pp. 91-2), and also clarifies the point about ‘Mrs Casey’ by quoting the first two lines of the song.  The sentimental flautists may well have been – like Coleridge – undergraduates, indulging in a grave and elaborate lark.

[13] Yet he only once used the word coomb in a poem (Coleridge, Poems I: 94); it appears also in the title of that poem in a place-name.

[14] Coleridge, Letters I: 504; Coleridge, Notebooks I: 412.  For the argument that these descriptions were noted down before the composition of Kubla Khan, and that Kubla Khan was composed in 1800 rather than 1798, see Elisabeth Schneider, Coleridge, Opium, and ‘Kubla Khan’ (Chicago, 1953), particularly pp. 174-8.  For Coleridge’s abrupt rejection of ‘sentimental associations,’ especially of the literary kind, see Coleridge, Notebooks II: 2026 and 2169.  In the second note he says: ‘Childish minds alone, I am more than ever convinced, can attach themselves to (so called) antiquities.’

[15] Biographia Literaria II: 5-6.  Cf. II: 107: ‘That illusion, contra-distinguished from delusion, that negative faith, which simply permits the images presented to work by their own force, without either denial or affirmation of their real existence by the judgement ...’ – a passage that may have helped Keats arrive at his ‘doctrine’ of negative capability.

[16] Haydon was privileged to study the Elgin Marbles – sometimes by lantern light – when they were still temporarily stored in a shed behind Burlington House.  For Haydon this was a turning-point in his life; he communicated that conviction to Keats, and Keats (whether or not correctly) regarded Haydon as having taken heroic initiative in securing the Elgin Marbles for the nation.

[17] Cf. Coleridge, Notebooks II: 1899 (23); of a painting by Sir George Beaumont: ‘A Mad Yew-tree alone, with a grand S. Rosa-Eye more than half way up its rifted Trunk / ...’  Cf. Coleridge, Notebooks III: 3526: ‘I found an admirable illustration of my theory of obscure Hieroglyphics of human or animal life being the foundation of the pathos of natural Scenery, in Rock, Woods, & Waters – in an emblem of Daphne’s metamorphosis.’  Beaumont made a painting based on Wordsworth’s ‘The Thorn’; see note, p. 179 above, and Wordsworth, Poems II: 511-12.

[18] Joseph Warton had said in his Essay on Pope (1756) that Thomson’s scenes are ‘as wild and romantic as those of Salvator Rosa.’

[19] Hazlitt, Works XVI: 289-90; cf. x, 24.  I wonder whether Hazlitt recognised the force of Thomas Bewick’s wood-engraved vignettes in the General History of Quadrupeds; these appealed strongly to Wordsworth’s sense of the grotesque, and somewhat match Wordsworth’s poetic temper.  The Excursion reminded Hazlitt that ‘His poems bear  distant resemblance to some of Rembrandt’s landscapes, whom more than any other painter, created the medium through which he saw Nature, and out of the stump of an old tree, a break in the sky, and a bit of water, could produce an effect almost miraculous’ (XIX: 19).  For Hazlitt on Keats’s The Eve of St Agnes, see XII: 225.  For Keats on a book of engravings of Italian paintings ‘Grotesque to a curious pitch,’ see Keats, Letters II: 19.

[20] I have not yet searched Hazlitt’s works for the word romantic as thoroughly as they deserve; the otherwise excellent index volume has no entry for romantic.  For Hazlitt on the romantic-classical distinction, see Herbert Weisinger, ‘English Treatment of the Classical-Romantic Problem,’ MLQ VII (1946): 477-88, especially pp. 482-5 (hereafter cited as Weisinger).  In at least one place Hazlitt speaks of ‘the Gothic or romantic’ (Hazlitt, Works VI: 347-8).

[21] Biographia Literaria II: 19-20: ‘What then shall we say?  even this: that Shakespeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understand minutely, till knowledge became habitual and intuitive wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class ...’

[22] Coleridge owned a copy of the 1809-11 Heidelberg edition, said to have been annotated, but it has disappeared without any record of the notes.  He describes the volumes in a letter of October 1813, and remarks: ‘Besides, you will remember that I used to take them to the Surrey Institution’ – that is, to the lectures of 1812-13 (Coleridge, Letters III: 446).  Baron von Humboldt had lent him the first volume of Schlegel’s ‘translations from Spanish poetry’ – Spanisches Theater (1803) – in Rome in 1806 (ibid., III: 359).  Coleridge also knew, and apparently owned a copy of, Schiller’s Uber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung.

            For recent accounts of Coleridge’s ‘borrowings’ from Schlegel, see René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 (New Haven, 1955), II: 155-6; and G. N. G. Orsini, ‘Coleridge and Schlegel Reconsidered,’ Comparative Literature XVI (1964): 97-118 (the evidence displayed in parallel columns).  The question of Coleridge’s ‘plagiarisms’ and the history of his acquaintance with Schlegel’s work is considered in detail by Thomas McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford, 1969); his Excursus Note I, ‘Coleridge’s Indebtedness to A. W. Schlegel’ (pp. 256-61), supersedes everything previously written on the subject.

[23] See, for example, Biographia Literaria I: 95: ‘While I in part translate the following observations from a contemporary writer of the Continent [i.e. Schelling], let me be permitted to premise, that I might have transcribed the substance from memoranda of my own, which were written many years before his pamphlet was given to the world; and that I prefer another’s words to my own, partly as a tribute due to priority of publication?  but still more from the pleasure of sympathy in a case where coincidence only was possible.’  Cf. I: 102: in certain works of Schelling ‘I first found a genial coincidence with much that I had toiled out for myself, and a powerful assistance in what I had yet to do.’  The rationale (or ‘psychology’) of Coleridge’s literary borrowings is patiently and brilliantly discussed by Thomas McFarland in Ch. I of Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition.

[24] Coleridge, Letters III: 359-60.  Wellek denies Coleridge’s claim (see History of Modern Criticism) and so does Griggs, at least implicitly, in his note to the letter cited.  Orsini reviews the evidence at p. 105, n. 15 (see note, p. 200).

[25] Letters of Robert Southey II: 332n.  Byron’s comment is from a journal of 1813-14; the entry begins – ‘More notes from Madame de Staël unanswered – and so they shall remain.  I admire her abilities, but really ...’  Nevertheless there is a copy of De l’Allemagne with a long note by Byron in the Harvard Library (Wellek, Concepts, 148n).  Goethe was more patient, although he found her equally exasperating: he praised her as ‘a might implement’ that had broken the Chinese wall of European literary ignorance: see Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (‘The Edinburgh Edition,’ London, 1869), II: 298 (hereafter cited as Carlyle, Essays).

[26] In September 1814 Coleridge, in discussing John Murray’s proposal to write a verse translation of Faust, suggested that an ‘introductory critical essay’ would be essential: ‘In my Essay I meant to have given a full tho’ comprest critical account of the 4 Stages of German Poetry from Hans Sachs to Tie[c]k and Schlegel, who with Goethe are the living Stars, that are now culminant on the German Parnassus –’ (Coleridge, Letters III: 528).  Coleridge had met Tieck in Rome in 1806, and Tieck on his visit to England in 1817 made his way to Highgate to talk Shakespeare with Coleridge.  Coleridge busied himself for a time trying to form a sort of club called ‘Friends of German Literature,’ partly in Tieck’s honour, but the proposal came to nothing.  Crabb Robinson first met Tieck on 13 June 1817 at a dinner given by J. H. Green, Coleridge’s philosophical collaborator and a keen Germanist.  Though Robinson did not think Tieck looked much like ‘a romantic poet,’ he leaves no hint that German romanticism was a subject of discussion (Robinson, Books I: 207).  Seven years later, at a large party at Green’s, Robinson was ‘displeased’ because ‘Coleridge spoke bitterly of Schlegel in general, and of Tieck’s Vorschule von Shakespeare, with a hint that Tieck ought to have noticed him.  Coleridge thinks German philosophy in a state of rapid deterioration’ (ibid., I: 307).  After Tieck’s visit, however, Coleridge’s host James Gillman sent Tieck a copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy with Coleridge’s marginalia in it; it happened to belong to Lamb.  Although a number of Tieck’s books are now in the British Museum the annotated Burton is not one of them.

[27] Herbert Weisinger (see note, p. 199) deals particularly with the effect of the romantic-classical and antique-modern distinctions upon the criticism of Elizabethan drama.  Although the discussion was confined in England to a surprisingly limited group – Coleridge and De Quincey particularly, but also Hazlitt, Scott, Crabb Robinson – the outcome was to include the Middle Ages in the modern era, thereby leaving only two European periods – classical and romantic.  For illustrative quotations from Coleridge, not using the word romantic, see Weisinger, pp. 479-82.

[28] Coleridge: Shakespearean Criticism, ed. T. M. Raysor (Everyman ed., London, 1960), I: 195-6 (hereafter cited as Raysor); variatim in Literary Remains of S. T. Coleridge, ed. H. N. Coleridge (1836-9), II: 23 (hereafter cited as Literary Remains); also quoted by Weisinger, p. 480, n. 8.  Raysor was concerned to show that certain lecture notes in Notebook 25 were used by Coleridge in his 1808 lectures, and that some material that looks Schlegelian was being uttered by Coleridge at the some time that Schlegel was giving his first Vienna lectures (Raysor II: 18-19n).  To one of the notes from Notebook 25, used in a lecture in 1808 but written earlier, Raysor has attached from another MS the note quoted above; his implicit dating of the second fragment as 1808 must be an oversight.  (In Literary Remains this fragment was printed at the end of remarks on Greek drama as though from the 1818 lectures, but H. N. Coleridge is not infallible in dating.)  Coleridge’s claim for independence of Schlegel in 1808 was primarily for his assertion of the regularity of Shakespeare’s poetic judgement.  When the verbal coincidences with Schlegel are as detailed as Raysor shows them to be in this fragment, we must conclude that the note derives from the 1809-11 edition of Schlegel’s Vienna lectures.

[29] In the source, there is the word of after part in the opening sentence.  See also Philosophical Lectures, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London, 1949), p. 442, n. 6.

[30] Inspiring Spirit, pp. 158-9, from British Museum MS Egerton 2800, fols. 54-5, watermark 1820.  The reference to Campbell is puzzling, since in 1805 Coleridge regarded Campbell as one of the ‘pseudo-poets ... [who] both by their writings & moral characters tend to bring poetry into disgrace’ (Coleridge, Notebooks II: 2601) and he never altered that view.  Between 1812 and 1818 Campbell gave and repeated lectures that some auditors thought superior to Coleridge’s (see, e.g., Robinson, Books I: 88).  After Murray had decided not to publish the lectures – he had published Campbell’s Specimens of the British Poets with an ‘Essay on British Poetry’ in 1819 – Campbell printed them serially in his New Monthly Magazine 1820-6 (vol. I-XVII).  Of the twelve lectures all but the introductory lecture and one on Hebrew poetry were on Greek poetry and Greek drama.  What we know of Campbell’s acquaintance with Schlegel and Mme de Staël does not encourage the view that he had anything interesting to say about romantic poetry or about the romantic-classical distinction.  In the spring of 1813 he read some of his lectures of Mme de Staël – ‘one of them [the introductory lecture] against her own doctrine of poetry.  She battled hard with me; but was very good-natured and complimentary.’

[31] Essays in History; quoted in OED.  Wellek records a small scattering of other uses of romantic in England in the first half of the nineteenth century: Thomas Campbell in Essay on Poetry (1819) finds Schlegel’s defence of Shakespeare’s irregularities on ‘romantic principles’ ‘too romantic for his conception’; Samuel Singer in the introduction to his edition of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (1821) writes that ‘Musaeus is more classical, Hunt more romantic’ (Wellek, Concepts, pp. 147, 149).

[32] Blackwood’s notice of Hazlitt’s seventh lecture On English Poetry, April 1818, reported that ‘Mr Hazlitt here entered at some length into the origin of what has been called the Lake School of Poetry, and endeavoured to trace it to the events of the French Revolution.’  See An Estimate of William Wordsworth by his Contemporaries 1793-1822, ed. Elsie Smith (Oxford, 1932), p. 257 (hereafter cited as E. Smith).

[33] E. Smith, pp. 352-3.  Cf. Coleridge’s Table Talk (23 October 1833): ‘he [Wordsworth] has won the battle now, ay!  and will wear the crown, whilst English is English.’  Cf. also Blackwood’s, May 1855: ‘the name of Wordsworth has become a household word on the banks of the Mississippi and the Ganges ... Now Wordsworth is studied all Scotland over.’

[34] The ‘Jacobin Art of Poetry’ is outlined in the number for 20 November 1797, and afterwards the products of the ‘school’ were repeatedly parodied, often very wittily: see The Poetry of Anti-Jacobin (1799).  Both Coleridge and Southey were charged with silliness as well as Jacobinism.  Lamb, Lloyd, and Lovell were taken for members of the school because they had published in Coleridge’s Poems of 1797; all were Pantisocrats.  Southey was seriously embarrassed by the unauthorized publication of his youthful Wat Tyler in 1817.  In August 1803 Coleridge told the Beaumonts: ‘I do seriously believe, that the chief cause of Wordsworth’s and Southey’s having been classed with me, as a School, originates entirely in our not hating or envying each other / it is so unusual, that three professional Poets, in every respect unlike each other, should nevertheless take pleasure in each other’s welfare – & reputation’ (Coleridge, Letters II: 965).  In 1808 he wrote more bitterly: ‘Of me and of my scanty juvenile writings people know nothing; but it has been discovered, that I had the destiny of marrying the Sister of Mrs Southey, that I am intimate with Mr Southey, & that I am in a more special manner the Friend and Admirer of Mr Wordsworth ...’ – but the MS ends so (ibid., III: 84).

[35] Jeffrey, however, in March 1799 had expressed his admiration for The Ancient Mariner and understood that it was by Coleridge (Jackson, p. 60).  Jeffrey joined in forming the Edinburgh Review in 1802 (first issue, October 1802), and was editor 1803-29.  Southey – who had described The Ancient Mariner as ‘a Dutch attempt at German sublimity’ – had had only intermittent poetical association with Coleridge to this date, and virtually none with Wordsworth.  Jeffrey’s adverse review of Thalaba enhanced Southey’s hitherto obscure reputation as a poet by joining his name with Wordsworth and Coleridge.  Even after establishing at Keswick in 1803, it was fifteen years or more before Southey felt anything but uneasy in Wordsworth’s company.  For Wordsworth’s contemptuous reaction to Jeffrey’s identification of a new ‘school’ in this review, see The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years, ed. E. de Selincourt (2nd ed., rev. C. L. Shaver, Oxford, 1967), pp. 433-4.  

In 1808 Mrs. Piozzi thought, like Jeffrey in 1802, that the poetry of Scott and Southey would be a flash in the pan.  ‘The fashionable poetry of Southey and Scott will fall into decay – it will never be classical.  It leaves too little behind it.  Handel and Milton must be for ever felt; Bach’s Lessons and Pope’s Moral Essays must be for ever recollected; Madoc and Thalaba, Teviot Dale and Marmion depend too much on their colouring.  In a hundred years people will wonder why they were so much admired’ (Thraliana, ed. K. C. Balderston, 1942, p. 1096).

[36] Edinburgh Review (February 1812): E. Smith, p. 127; and cf. p. 191 (1815).  The review declares Wilson ‘a new recruit to the company of Lake Poets’ because ‘he wears openly the badge of their peculiarities, and professes the most humble devotion to their great captain, Mr. Wordsworth.’  The Isle of Palms has indeed a strong Wordsworthian tone.  In March 1808, when Wilson was building his house Elleray on Windermere, Dorothy described him as ‘a very amiable young man, a Friend and adorer of William and his verses’ (Wordsworth, Letters: Middle Years, 2nd ed., I: 206).

[37] Quarterly Review (April 1814): Jackson, p. 175, and cf. p. 178.  Thereafter, scornful references to ‘the Lake Poets’ under various styles are too numerous to record.  For ‘Bards of the Lake(s),’ see ibid., p. 30 ‘1809), p. 390 (1817); for ‘scribblers of the Lake School,’ see ibid., p. 377 (1819), p. 393 (1817).  Jeffrey could not resist the metaphorical temptations of the name ‘Laker’ and wondered whether Wordsworth ‘had dashed his Hippocrene with too large an infusion of lake water’ (1815: Wain, p. 60); the Monthly Review in January 1819 linked the Lake Poets with the absurd simplicity of John Taylor (1580-1653) by calling them ‘Water-Poets’ (Jackson, p. 399); in 1820 we read of ‘Lakish ditties’ (E. Smith, p. 319); and it is said of Wordsworth in the River Duddon sonnets that ‘Here and there, a little metaphysical mud, a Lakish tincture, mingles with the stream, and it occasionally runs somewhat shallow’ (E. Smith, p. 325).

[38] Eclectic Review, July 1809: E. Smith, p. 115.  By then the local title was, for the time being, accurate.  Wordsworth, born in the Lakes, had lived in Grasmere since the turn of the century and was to live in the Lakes for the rest of his life.  Coleridge lived in Greta Hall, Keswick, from 1800 until at the end of 1803 he set out for the Mediterranean; after his return he separated from his wife, but took up residence with the Wordsworths in Grasmere from September 1808 until in May 1810 he moved back to Greta Hall for five months.  Southey, a West-countryman, came to Greta Hall in September 1803 not intending to stay but lived there for the rest of his life, incidentally taking charge of the Coleridge family in Coleridge’s absence.  For about two years all three were in the Lakes; and it happened that Francis Jeffrey’s one visit to Coleridge was to Greta Hall in autumn 1810 where he also met Southey.  Coleridge accused Jeffrey later of breach of hospitality in writing about ‘the School of whining and hypochrondriacal poets that haunt the Lakes’ (see Biographia Literaria I: 36-7n; and for Jeffrey’s stiff rejoinder, attached to Hazlitt’s savage review of the Biographia, see Jackson, pp. 314-18n).  The poems in Lyrical Ballads (1798) were composed in the West Country; the Preface and Wordsworth’s new poems in the 1800 edition were composed in the Lakes.  Southey was estranged from Coleridge during the annus mirabilis.  H. N. Coleridge was correct in his later comment: ‘the Lake School – as two or three poets, essentially unlike each other, were foolishly called –’ (Jackson, p. 629).  On 18 June 1847 Crabb Robinson said: ‘Coleridge and Wordsworth ought never to have been coupled in a class as Lake-poets.  They are great poets of a very distinct & even opposite character.  Southey is a poet far below them both.  Lamb had more genius than Southey’ (MS letter in Dr. Williams’s Library.)

[39] Byron, Works: Letters IV: 169 (15 September 1817); cf. p. 489.  On Claudian, see Coleridge, Table Talk, 18 August 1833.  Byron does not refer to ‘the Lakers’ until his opening cannonade on Southey in Don Juan (1819).  Jeffrey had written of Byron in December 1816:’ ... in his general notion of the end and the means of poetry, we have sometimes thought that his views fell more in with those of the Lake poets, than of any other existing party in the poetical commonwealth: and, in some of his later productions, especially, it is impossible not to be struck with his occasional approaches to the style and manner of this class of writers’ (Wain, p. 143).  Wilson replied: ‘If Byron be altogether unlike Scott, Wordsworth is yet more unlike Byron’ (ibid., p. 127).  Byron’s hierarchy of poets, drawn up in November 1813, had Scott at the top, then Samuel Rogers, then Moore and Campbell, then Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and below them ‘the many.’

[40] Blackwood’s (August 1818): Wain, p. 190; my italics.  Cf. Quarterly Review (December 1841): ‘But what some persons would consider the poetic or romantic view of things never shuts out from Mr. Wordsworth’s mind the contemplation of the whole truth.’  The Eclectic Review, November 1842, however, quotes with approval an unidentified critique: ‘to him [Wordsworth] the high reputation is due, of having been the first of the poets of this century to emancipate himself from the bondage of the classical school.’

Hazlitt, reviewing Marino Faliero in the London Magazine, May 1814, found Byron ‘romantic,’ using the term as the adjective of ‘romance’ but also with the pejorative overtone of non-classical’: ‘The characters and situations there [in Manfred] were of a romantic and poetical cast, mere creatures of the imagination; and the sentiments such as the author might easily conjure up by fancying himself on enchanted ground ... Lord Byron can gaze with swimming eyes upon any of the great lights of Italy, and view them through the misty, widespread glory of lengthening centuries: that is, he can take a high and romantic interest in them, as they appear to us and to him; but he cannot take an historical event ...’ (Hazlitt, Works XIX: 44).  Others, however, could see Byron as ‘classical.’  The Edinburgh Review on Childe Harold IV, in June 1818 (p. 99) noticed that ‘certain regions of Europe of late years have induced a sort of romantic pleasure,’ and adds: ‘This fanciful and romantic feeling was common to those who went to see those countries, and to those who remained at home to hear the narration of the adventurers.’  This effect was not brought about by Byron’s Childe Harold, the reviewer continues, ‘but was there already in great force and activity.’  Yet ‘we think the genius of Byron is, more than any other modern poet, akin to that peculiar genius, which seems to have been diffused among all powers and artists of ancient Greece ... singleness, simplicity, and unity’ (p. 103); and the Quarterly Review of April 1818 (p. 230) notices that the ‘general structure [of Childe Harold] is bold, severe, and as it were Doric, admitting few ornaments ...’

[41] Eclectic Review (January 1815): E. Smith, p. 181.  A review of Wordsworth’s Poetical Works in Quarterly November 1834 – a spiritless performance compared with H. N. Coleridge’s essay in the previous number – agrees to ignore what is ‘vapid and laborious’ and to overlook the ‘occasional aberrations and lapses,’ and finds in the narrative poems ‘nothing romantic.’  This review gives an interesting account of the growth of Wordsworth’s reputation.

[42] Jackson, p. 463: ‘On Coleridge’s Poetry,’ written under the pseudonym of ‘Gerard Montgomery.’  Coleridge first met HNC as a boy on 11 May 1811.  When HNC visited Coleridge at Highgate late in 1822, he fell in love with Coleridge’s daughter Sara, whom he finally married in September 1829.  In 1822 he made the first notes on Coleridge’s conversation towards the Table Talk (1835).  In his Quarterly Review essay of 1834, he said of Coleridge’s Remorse that ‘its character is romantic and pastoral in a high degree’ (Jackson p. 641).

[43] Jackson, p. 647.  Cf. p. 642 where he speaks of Zapolya as ‘a mixture of the pastoral and the romantic,’ and p. 645 where he says: ‘The thing attempted in “Christabel” is the most difficult of execution in the whole field of romance – witchery by daylight; and the success is complete.’  Noticeably he does not call Kubla Khan ‘romantic’ – the one poem in which Coleridge had used the word romantic with peculiar emphasis.  Hazlitt’s review of Christabel (Examiner, 2 June 1816) reads almost like an anticipatory parody of what HNC was to write.  ‘It is more like a dream than a reality.  The mind, in reading it, is spellbound ... There is something disgusting at the bottom of his subject, which is but ill glossed over by a veil of Della Cruscan sentiment and fine writing – like moon-beams playing on a charnel-house, or flowers strewed on a dead body’ (Jackson, p. 207).  Hazlitt had heard or read the poem before from manuscript; in this review he recalls(?) a line not otherwise recorded among the variants of Christabel: ‘Behold her bosom and half her side – / Hideous, deform, and pale of hue.’

[44] Wain, pp. 157 f. Shelley used romantic thrice in his prefaces.  (a) to The Cenci (Complete Poetical Works, ed. T. Hutchinson, Oxford, 1934, p. 276).  Shelley found that whenever the story of the Cenci was mentioned in Italian society ‘the feelings of the company never failed to incline to a romantic pity for the wrongs, and a passionate exculpation of the horrible deed to which they urged her ...’  (b) Advertisement to Epipsychidion (p. 411): ‘His life was singular; less on account of the romantic vicissitudes which diversified it [he had bought and “fitted up the ruins of an old building” on “one of the wildest of the Sporades”], than the ideal tinge which it received from his own character and feelings.’  The sentence had already received final form in Draft III (p. 425); but in Draft II the ‘old building’ was ‘a Saracenic castle.’  In Draft I this sentence occurs in germinal form, and romantic is drawn into the context: ‘The circumstances to which the poem allude[s], may easily be understood by those to whom [the] spirit of the poem is intelligible: a detail of facts, sufficiently romantic in their combinations.’  (c) Preface to Adonais (pp. 430-1): ‘John Keats died at Rome ... and was buried in the romantic and lonely cemetery of the Protestants in that city, under the pyramid which is the tomb of Cestius, and the massy walls and towers, now mouldering and desolate, which formed the circuit of ancient Rome ... It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.’

[45] ‘Esoteric’ in Edinburgh Review, but ‘exoteric’ must be intended, the wrong word having been carried over from the earlier phrase ‘a few esoteric disciples.’

[46] Edinburgh Review (June 1831), pp. 553, 560, 562-3, 565.  That Byron was ‘touched by’ the Lake Poets is noticed in the Edinburgh Review (December 1816) pp. 277-8, 304-5 (influenced by Wordsworth and Southey); and in Quarterly Review (October 1816), pp. 203-4 (influenced by Coleridge).

[47] Macaulay in his 1831 essay on Byron said: ‘We cannot conceive him, like Milton or Wordsworth, defying the criticism in his contemporaries, retorting their scorn, and labouring on a poem in the full assurance that it would be unpopular, and in the full assurance that it would be immortal’ (pp. 563-4).  Coleridge’s critique of Wordsworth’s poetry in Chapter 22 of Biographia Literaria is unsurpassed for its directness, precision, and rightness.

[48] Browning, Colombe’s Birthday (1844), ACT V:

            MELCHIOR       Yet, all the same, proceed my way,

            Though to your ends; so shall you prosper best!

            The lady, – to be won for selfish ends, –

            Will be won easier my unselfish ... call it,

            Romantic way.

Melchior’s ‘romantic way’ is that Prince Berthold should gain the duchy by wooing the Duchess Colombe, although he insists that ‘I am past that now.  As the Duchess enters, Melchior tries to reinforce Berthold’s resolution by saying: ‘You’ll keep, then, to the lover, to the man?’  In Red Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873) Browning uses romantic with the same generally erotic reference:

            As to the womankind – renounce from those

            The hope of getting a companion-tinge

            First faint touch promising romantic fault!

(The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Browning (New York, 1907), p. 327, II.  59-63; p. 977, II. 49-4).  Cf. Arnold’s use in note, p. 239 below.

            The following extract from Hallam Tennyson’s Memoir (1897, II: 222) for the years 1875-82, printed in TLS for 16 October 1969, shows a more pertinent usage.  On an occasion when Ruskin came to lunch, and he and Tennyson agreed that ‘Everything bad is to be found in London and other large cities’ and both ‘deprecated in the strongest possible language the proposed Channel Tunnel,’ Tennyson said to Ruskin as he was leaving: ‘“Do you know that most romantic of lyrics?

            He turn’d his charger as he spake,

                        Upon the river shore,

            He gave his bridle-reins a shake,

                        Said Adieu for evermore,

                                    My love!

            And adieu for evermore.”

“Do I not?” said Ruskin, “I am so glad you like it, Tennyson; I place it among the best things ever done by anyone.”’  (David Daiches identifies this as Scott’s version, in Rokeby, of the third stanza of Burns’s reworking of an old Chapbook ballad ‘Mally Stewart.’)

[49] Carlyle Essays, I: 45-6.  At ‘as such wars must ever do,’ Carlyle adds a footnote stating that the movement ‘began in Schiller’s Musenalmanach for 1797’ with the ‘series of philosophic epigrams jointly by Schiller and Goethe.’  ‘The agitation,’ he continues, ‘was extreme; scarcely since the age of Luther has there been such a stir and strife in the intellect of Germany; indeed, scarcely since that age has there been a controversy, if we consider its ultimate bearings on the best and noblest interests of mankind, so important as this, which, for the time, seemed only to turn on metaphysical subtleties, and matters of mere elegance.  Its farther applications became apparent by degrees.’

[50] Arnold, Essays III: 107: ‘Heinrich Heine’ (1863).  ‘Mr Carlyle attaches ... too much importance to the romantic school of Germany – Tieck, Novalis, Jean Paul Richter ... Far more in Heine’s work flows this main current.’  But, Arnold adds, Carlyle ‘– man of genius as he is ... has, for the functions of the critic, a little too much of the self-will and eccentricity of a genuine son of Great Britain.’  Was Arnold perhaps irritated that the ‘Heyne’ Carlyle wrote an essay on in 1828 was Christian Gottlob Heyne, the classical scholar?

[51] Wellek, Concepts, p. 149.  See, for example, Carlyle, Essays I: 30, 189, 222; III: 217-21.  Taine thought so too: ‘... two currents from France and Germany at this moment swept into England.  The dykes there were so strong, they could hardly force their way, entering more slowly than elsewhere, but entering nevertheless.  They made themselves a new course between the ancient barriers, and widened without bursting them, by a peaceful and slow transformation which continues till this day’ (Tr. H. van Laun, Edinburgh, 1871, II: 227-8).

[52] Heine’s Die romantische Schule was published in German in 1836, but had previously appeared in French as De l’Allemagne in 1835; it seems to have had no currency in English until almost the end of the century, if then.  Arnold praises Guérin’s incisive (and rancorous) criticism of the immaturity of ‘the romantic school’ (Arnold, Essays, p. 21) and of ‘the French romantic school’ (p. 29).  In the Heine essay he rebukes Carlyle for ignoring Heine (pp. 107-8; and see note, p. 239 above).  The whole ‘Heine’ essay is of peculiar interest; and see p. 119 – ‘the mystic and romantic school of Germany lost itself in the Middle Ages.’

[53] One of the matters to be discussed was ‘the origin of what is called the “romantic” sentiments about women, which the Germans quite falsely are fond of giving themselves the credit of originating’ (letter of December 1860, in Arnold, Essays, p. 491).  He was then reading Renan in preparation for the Celtic lectures.

[54] ‘A Southern Night,’ written on the French Mediterranean coast in 1861 in memory of his brother, who had died at Gibraltar in April 1859 on his way home from India.

            But you – a grave for Girl, or Sage,

                        Romantic, solitary, still,

            Oh, spent ones of a work-day age!

                        Befits you ill.

The figures elliptically recalled through the ‘Girl or Sage’ appear earlier in the poem: Sage, Knight, Troubadour, the Pirate-Lover’s Girl.  All are imagined to have come to their deaths ‘by these Waters of Romance.’

[55] In his first annual report as school inspector (1 January 1853), Arnold said that ‘the difference between Wales and England will probably be effaced’ and added: ‘they are not the true friends of the Welsh people, who, from a romantic interest in their manners and traditions, would impede an event which is socially and politically so desirable for them’ – by insisting upon the study of the Welsh language.  I wonder whether Charles Prince of Wales has come upon this observation of Arnold’s.

[56] F. T. Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language was first published in London in 1861.  Arnold did not find Palgrave’s critical judgment impeccable, and considered the inclusion of 22 Shelley poems – outnumbered only by Wordsworth and Shakespeare – strange (Arnold, Essays III: 34, 252-5).

[57] As late as 1886, writing his Encyclopaedia Britannia article on Sainte-Beuve, Arnold again avoided general discussion of the literary-critical upheaval in which Sainte-Beuve had played a powerful if not decisive role.  Arnold, who regarded Sainte-Beuve as ‘a perfect critic – a critic of measure, not exuberant; of the centre, not provincial,’ knew Sainte-Beuve’s early deliberately Wordsworthian poems and his championing of romanticism; yet he will venture no farther than the technical phrase ‘the romantic school in France.’  See Five Uncollected Essays of Matthew Arnold, ed. K. Allott (Liverpool, 1953), pp. 74, 72.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica article, written for the 9th ed., still survives, unidentified and in savagely butchered form, in the current (14th) ed.  For another Arnold essay on Sainte-Beuve, see Essays, Letters, and Reviews of Matthew Arnold, ed. F. Neiman (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), pp. 164-8.

[58] Philip Stanhope Worsley (1835-66) published his translation of the Odyssey in 1861.  His translation of Iliad I-XII appeared in 1865.  Chap. 32 of Andrew Lang’s History of English Literature (1912) opens: ‘The Romantic Movement begins with Coleridge’; it includes Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Landor.

[59] The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins (vol. I, to Robert Bridges: vol. II, to Richard Watson Dixon), ed. C. C. Abbott (Oxford, 1935), II: 11-12 (hereafter cited as Hopkins, Letters) – thereby anticipating by more than sixty years George H. Ford in Keats and the Victorians (New Haven, 1944).

[60] Book IV is entitled L’Age Moderne; within that book, ch. I, Sect. 4 opens: ‘Now appeared the English romantic school.’  Sect. 5, mostly on Wordsworth, opens: ‘Side by side with this development there was another, and with history philosophy entered into literature, in order to widen and modify it.’  ‘The philosophical spirit,’ represented in Europe by Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Beethoven, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, de Musset, was ‘constrained to transform itself and become Anglican, or to deform itself and become revolutionary; and, in place of a Schiller and Goethe, to produce a Wordsworth, a Byron, a Shelley’ (tr. van Laun, II: 259-60).  The whole of ch. II is devoted to Byron – ‘One alone, Byron, attains the summit’ – and Shelley receives short shrift in the middle of Sect. 5.  For Dowden on Taine, see pp. 252-3 below.

[61] Smiths edition of Shaw, perhaps because it was alone in the field as a book ‘with a special view to the requirements of Students,’ was very widely used (1st ed., 1864; 2nd ed., 1865; 4th ed. 1868; 13th ed., 1881; 16th ed., 1887).  There were also several American editions; the New York 1868 copy held by Queen’s University (original price $1.75) has an added ‘Sketch of American Literature’ by H. T. Tuckerman.

Shaw, son of an eminent architect, was born in London, spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, was ‘a favourite pupil’ of Samuel Butler at Shrewsbury, took his degree at St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1836, went to Russia in 1840 after working as a tutor, and settled in St. Petersburg in 1841.  He translated much Greek and Latin verse and at least one novel from the Russian. 

Whether Shaw or his editor Smith was responsible for the uses of the word romantic that follow cannot be established without reference to the posthumous Shaw MS that Smith was working from.  Differences between the Outlines and the History suggest that Smith, not Shaw, was responsible for the emphasis on the word romantic, and that the pervasiveness of the term was not established by Shaw in Russia, where (he admits) he ‘could have no access to an English library of reference.’  In his preface to the Outlines, Shaw mentions ‘the romantic school of fiction’ and ‘Byronism.’  In ch. 16 (p. 356) he asks: ‘What is the distinction between the tone of the eighteenth and that of the nineteenth century? ... The full and complete daylight of this new era is to be found in Scott, in Byron, in Shelley, in Wordsworth.’  He speaks of Scott’s Minstrelsy as the best preparation for ‘the future triumphs of the romantic poet and novelist of Scotland’ – the romancer, that is (p. 390).  He was acute enough to find in Southey’s poems ‘a most painful air of laxity and want of intellectual bone and muscle’ (p. 418) – a phrase that happily survives in Smith’s version.  He speaks of Scott as ‘the type, sign or measure of the first step in literature towards romanticism, or rather of the first step made in modern times from classicism – from the regular, the correct, the established’ (p. 423).  Byron he considered ‘the most extraordinary man of his age, and perhaps the most extraordinary person in the modern history of Europe’ (p. 431); a shoulder-note marks a group of Byron’s ‘Romantic Poems’ (p. 434) and Shaw refers to Childe Harold, in comparison with Spenser, as ‘a tale of romantic chivalrous adventure.’  Under the heading of ‘Modern Romantic Drama’ he discusses principally Joanna Baillie, Sheridan Knowles, T. N. Talfourd, and Henry Taylor (p. 503).  Then in his closing chapter (21), Shaw makes a very curious observation on ‘Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the New Poetry’: ‘The throne of English poetry, left vacant by the early death of Byron, is now unquestionably filled by Wordsworth’; the current that had set from ‘the old classicism ... has carried us insensibly, but irresistibly, first through Romanticism, and has now brought us to a species of metaphysical quietism’ (p. 518).  In Smith’s version all these passages are reworked (except the comment on Southey), the dominant admiration for Byron is diminished, and the account of the ‘Romantic Poets’ is thrown into the entirely different pattern outlined in the text following.

[62] The text then discusses Beattie, Blair, Thomson, Collins, Gray, the Wartons, Cowper, Falconer, Erasmus Darwin; the Ossian, Chatterton, and Ireland forgeries; Crabbe, Burns, ‘Peter Pindar,’ and the comic drama of the eighteenth century.

[63] Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies (Everyman, 1911, 1916), II: 227 (1856); I: 103-6.  (These ‘Studies’ were all reviews.)  At the second elision, Bagehot quotes the opening stanza of the ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn,’ remarking without disapproval: ‘No ancient poet would have dreamed of writing thus’ (I: 104-5).  Keats, he says, is ‘the most essentially modern of recent poets’; and after quoting from ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and from Shelley’s ‘Skylark,’ he concludes: ‘We can hear that the poetry of Keats is a rich, composite, voluptuous harmony: that of Shelley a clear single ring of penetrating melody’ (I: 104 108).

[64] Ibid., II: 307.  Cf. 317: ‘elementary criticism, if an evil, is a necessarily evil; a little while spent among the simple principles of art is the first condition, the absolute pre-requisite, for surely apprehending and wisely judging the complete embodiments and miscellaneous forms of actual literature.’

[65] Fortnightly (September 1889), in Edward Dowden, New Studies in Literature (1895), pp. 313-14.  Swinburne had ‘admirably compared’ Coleridge to a footless bird of paradise, plucking the image out of ‘The Eolian Harp.’

[66] Edward Dowden, New Studies in Literature (1895), pp. 410, 411, 414.  Dowden felt that ‘the Romantic movement’ had speedily exhausted itself because ‘it consisted of an endless series of confessions,’ and that ‘that movement of our own day which has assumed the title of naturalism or realism’ arose from its search for the inexhaustible riches to be found in ‘the study of outward things and of social life’ (p. 414).  Dowden ascribes to Brunetière a laudable unwillingness to accept ‘the ingenious paradox that every classic was in his own day a romantic’ (p. 406).

[67] Yeats’s Celtic Twilight was published in 1893.  In his essay ‘The Celtic Element in Literature’ (1897) he discusses Arnold’s essays on this subject and their source in Renan: see W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (London, 1961), pp. 173-88.  He singles out the passage quoted at p. 241 above and reaches a conclusion rather different from Arnold’s (p. 177-8).  ‘Certainly the descriptions of nature made in what Matthew Arnold calls “the faithful way,” or in what he calls “the Greek way,” would have lost nothing if all the meadow fountains or paved fountains were but what they seemed.  When Keats wrote, in the Greek way, which adds lightness and brightness to nature ... when Shakespeare wrote in the Greek way ... when Virgil wrote in the Greek way ... they looked at nature without ecstasy ... in the modern way, the way of people who are poetical, but are more interested in one another than in a nature which has faded to be but friendly and pleasant, the way of people who have forgotten the ancient religion.’

[68] C. L. Eastlake, author of A History of the Gothic Revival (1891), considered that the Gothic Revival in architecture had been finally established by the laying of the foundation of the new Parliament Houses in 1840.  The revival however had become self-conscious with Horace Walpole’s reconstruction of Strawberry Hill beginning in 1747.  The phrase ‘Romantic Revival’ is curiously ambivalent through confusion of the (implied) subjective and objective genitive.  (a) = revival of romance (romantic values); (b) = revival by way of (or through) the romantick (or romanticism).

[69] Walter Raleigh, On Writing and Writers, being extracts from his notebooks, ed. George Gordon (London, 1926), pp. 187-214.  Gordon writes in his Preface: ‘Of the two courses on nineteenth century topics here anthologised, the earlier, on Romanticism, dates from the summer and late autumn of 1904.  “The thesis,” he then wrote, “is that the seeds of subsequent extravagance and decay were in the early poets – indeed, the purpose is mainly anti-Romantic.”  These lectures were to contain his “real creed, up-to-date ... the Classic creed, with trimmings.”  This, and the other course on Lamb, Hazlitt, and the rest, were combined for delivery at Cambridge in 1910-11, and were offered as alternatives when he was invited [by Emile Legouis], in 1913, to lecture at the Sorbonne.’  In ‘A Note on Criticism’ (ibid. [1910-11], p. 216) Raleigh attacks a Crocean lecture of Spingarn’s entitled ‘The New Criticism,’ saying: ‘This new freedom and antinomianism has been produced, without doubt, by the Romantic Revival.’  In his History of Criticism (1903) George Saintsbury decided to use the term Modern rather than Romantic in referring to the early nineteenth century: ‘Some would call this criticism “Romantic”; but that term, in addition to a certain vagueness, has the drawback both of question-begging and of provocation’ (III: 3).  For his account of the romantic-classical debate, see Interchapter VIII, ‘Summary of the Revolt’ (III: 408-28).

[70] Walter Raleigh, Romance (Princeton & Oxford, 1916), pp. 1-3, 8, 33.  Cf. p. 36: ‘If I had to choose a single characteristic of Romance as the most noteworthy, I think I should choose Distance, and should call Romance the magic of Distance.’

[i] See The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas (London, 1935), I: 37 (hereafter cited as Lamb, Letters); Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs (Oxford, 1956, 1959), I; 438, 565-6 (hereafter cited as Coleridge, Letters); The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London and New York, 1957, 1961), I: 340 and n. (hereafter cited as Coleridge, Notebooks).  For Wordsworth on Bürger, see The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (Oxford, 1940-49), II: 422 (hereafter cited as Wordsworth, Poems).  William Taylor also published translations of Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (1791) and of Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1793).  In 1829-30 he collected his various publications on German literary topics into a 3-volume Historic Survey of German Poetry, but by then his views were seriously out of date, and Carlyle handled this ‘General Jail-delivery of all Publications and Manuscripts, original or translated, composed or borrowed, on the Subject of German Poetry’ very roughly indeed in the Edinburgh Review.

[ii] See The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. H. Coleridge (Oxford, 1912), I: 72 (hereafter cited as Coleridge, Poems); and Coleridge, Letters I: 122.

[iii] See my ‘Bristol Library Borrowings of Southey and Coleridge, 1795-98,’ The Library, 5th series, IV (1949); and ‘Coleridge and Southey in Bristol, 1795,’ Review of English Studies I (1950).

[iv] I am grateful to Dr. Hanes Eichner for drawing this passage to my attention.

[v] Haydon’s account is reprinted in Lamb, Letters II: 222-3n.  Haydon was at the time working on ‘Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem,’ which includes the faces of Keats and Wordsworth.

[vi] W. Wordsworth, The Prelude, ed. E. de Selincourt, revised by Helen Darbishire (Oxford, 1959) (hereafter cited as Prelude) prints the 1805-6 and 1850 texts on facing pages.

[vii] Wordsworth, Poems III: 168.

[viii] Ibid., II: 99.

[ix] Ibid., IV: 54.

[x] Prelude, pp. 12, 13; cf. Wordsworth, Poems III: 168; IV: 54.

[xi] For Byron on ‘romantic Spain,’ see p. 195 below.

[xii] Wordsworth, Poems IV: 278.

[xiii] Ibid., IV: 198.

[xiv] Ibid., V: 324.

[xv] Ibid., I: 58.

[xvi] Ibid., I: 324.

[xvii] Ibid., IV: 460.

[xviii] Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt (London 1952) (hereafter cited as Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals) I:15.

[xix] Ibid., I: 223-4.  This episode is discussed further at p. 183 below.

[xx] Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals I: 174-5.

[xxi] Ibid., I: 207.

[xxii] Ibid., I: 234.

[xxiii] Ibid., I: 278.

[xxiv] Ibid., I: 286.

[xxv] Wordsworth, Poems II: 435.  Coleridge wrote in July 1816 that he had on his shelves ‘long original poems, epic, and romantic, full of images and incidents and mother-and-child Sentiments and sensibilities’ none of which impressed him, as Frere’s poems did, with ‘that sense of inventive and constructive power’ (Coleridge, Letters IV: 647).

[xxvi] Lamb, Letters I: 223-4.

[xxvii] Ibid., I: 241.

[xxviii] Ibid., I: 244; cf. 251.

[xxix] Ibid., I: 357.

[xxx] Ibid., I: 312.

[xxxi] Ibid., I: 315-16.

[xxxii] Coleridge, Poems I: 156.

[xxxiii] Coleridge, Poems I: 315; cf. Coleridge, Letters I: 501, 504-5, and Coleridge, Notebooks I: 411, 412.  The kidling and goats seem to have been ‘cattle’ in actual life.  See also p. 184 below.

[xxxiv] Coleridge, Poems I: 92.

[xxxv] Ibid., I: 118.

[xxxvi] For the 1816 version, see Coleridge, Poems I: 297-8.  The Crewe manuscript, now British Museum Add MS 50847, is reproduced in full in British Museum Quarterly XXVI (1963), plates XXX, XXXI.

[xxxvii] Coleridge, Notebooks I: 220; see also Coleridge, Letters I: 394, 737; and J. L. Lowes, The Road to Xanadu (Boston, 1930), 364-70.

[xxxviii] Joseph Hucks, Coleridge’s companion, published an account of the walk: A Pedestrian Tour through North Wales in a series of Letters (1795).  On the ‘shocking’ quality of the North Wales landscape, perhaps because of its human emptiness, see Inquiring Spirit, p. 193. 

[xxxix] Geoffrey Grigson, Cornhill (Spring 1947).

[xl] See note p. 179 above, and my letter to TLS (21 June 1947).

[xli] Coleridge, Poems I: 95.

[xlii] Ibid., I: 104.

[xliii] Ibid., I: 480.

[xliv] Biographia Literaria II: 226.

[xlv] Coleridge, Notebooks I: 411.

[xlvi] Coleridge, Notebooks I: 1211.

[xlvii] Ibid., I: 1225.

[xlviii] Ibid., II: 2691.

[xlix] Ibid., II: 2757.

[l] Ibid., II: 2848.  Wordsworth in ‘Tintern Abbey’ noticed ‘these steep and lofty cliffs’ and the ‘wild secluded scene’ of the Wye Valley (Wordsworth, Poems II: 259).

[li] Ibid., II: 2515.  Cf. Coleridge, Friend, ed. B. Rooke (London & Princeton, 1969), I: 439: ‘The restless spirit of republican ambition, engendered by their [i.e., the Athenians’] success in a just war, and by the romantic character of that success, had already formed a close alliance with luxury in its early and most vigorous state, when it acts as an appetite to enkindle, and before it has exhausted and dulled the vital energies by the habit of enjoyment.’

[lii] The essay was first published in 1805, issued twice again in 1806, 9th ed., 1830.  The passage quoted here is from the 1813 ed., pp. 167-245.

[liii] Coleridge, Notebooks III: 4397, f. 53 (10 March 1818); variatim in Literary Remains I: 225, and Biographia Literaria II: 259.

[liv] The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, first published in Lyrical Ballads (1798), was extensively revised for Lyrical Ballads (1800).  The 1798 version can be found in Coleridge, Poems II: 1030-48, and is printed facing the last version in the Nonesuch edition, ed. Stephen Potter.  The marginal gloss was added – not quite complete in all details – in Sibylline Leaves (1817).

[lv] See, for example, Inquiring Spirit, pp. 190-1.

[lvi] Wordsworth, Poems III: 91n.

[lvii] Coleridge, Notebooks III: 3240.  Cf. Hopkins use of keeping, p. 245 below.

[lviii] Lamb, Letters II: 153.

[lix] The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years, ed. E. de Selincourt (Oxford, 1939) I: 308 (hereafter cited as Letters of Wordsworth: Later Years).  A telescoped account of these proceedings is given in Wordsworth, Poems III: 447-8.

[lx] Biographia Literaria II: 101.

[lxi] Cf. Wordsworth on the twisted thorn tree which, long familiar, suddenly became compelling and symbolic (note, p. 179 above).

[lxii] Biographia Literaria II: 5.

[lxiii] Ibid., II: 303.

[lxiv] Ibid., II: 121.

[lxv] Keats, Letters I: 360.

[lxvi] Ibid., II: 125.

[lxvii] Ian Jack, Keats and the Mirror of Art (Oxford, 1967), p. 141.

[lxviii] The London Magazine for April 1820 recognizes all four of these painters in Endymion.

[lxix] The Works of Lord Byron, ed. R. E. Prothero and E. H. Coleridge (London, 1898-1904), XVI: 123 (hereafter cited as Byron, Works).

[lxx] Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine (1846).

[lxxi] Ian Jack, English Literature 1815-1832 (Oxford, 1963), pp. 408-10.

[lxxii] The following group of references to Hazlitt is to the Nonesuch edition, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (1930), giving date of composition followed by page reference.  Corresponding references to The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe (London, 1933) (hereafter cited as Hazlitt, Works) are given in n. 73.

[lxxiii] Nonesuch, p. 46 = Hazlitt, Works XII: 224; 82 = VIII: 189; 164 = VIII: 325; 254 = XII: 135; 343 = XVII: 243; 534 = XVII: 130; 733 = XI: 34; 502 = XVII: 108.

[lxxiv] Hazlitt, Works XVI: 27; XII: 343.

[lxxv] See, for example, Coleridge, Notebooks I: 452, 1412.  Cf. ibid., II: 1973: ‘A complex Ship to Vandervelt was completely one Thing, one abstract, as an Egg or one of its ropes to an ordinary Artist.  Sir G. Beaumont found great advantage in learning to draw from Nature thro’ Gause Spectacles.’

[lxxvi] Hazlitt, Works XII: 289’ See also XX: 217, for his statement that Coleridge preferred Salvator Rosa to Claude.

[lxxvii] Coleridge, Letters IV: 831.

[lxxviii] Coleridge, Notebooks I: 1255.

[lxxix] Coleridge, Notebooks II: 2546.

[lxxx] Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers, ed. E. J. Morley (London, 1938): I: 63, 11 February 1811 (hereafter cited as Robinson, Books); cf. entries for 29 January and 6 November 1811.

[lxxxi] René Wellek, ‘The Concept of “Romanticism” in Literary History,’ in his Concepts of Criticism (New Haven, 1963), pp. 128-98 (hereafter cited as Wellek, Concepts).  See especially pp. 145-6.  This article was first published in Comparative Literature I (1949).

[lxxxii] In Literary Remains, ed. H. N. Coleridge, I, II (1836); and in Coleridge’s Shakespearean Criticism, ed. T. M. Raysor (1930), the 2nd (‘Everyman’) ed. of which in 1960 was the occasion of Orsini’s article on Coleridge and Schlegel.

[lxxxiii] Robinson, Books I: 135; but cf. p. 178.  Henry Nelson Coleridge draws an incisive contrast between Coleridge and Mackintosh in the essay quoted on p. 232 below. (Jackson, p. 623).

[lxxxiv] For example, Robinson, Books I: 21, 123, 200, 208, 307.  Edith J. Morley (H. C. Robinson, Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, &c, London, 1922, p. xiv) states that Robinson, ‘who, as a student at Jena, had been introduced to Goethe, had heard Schelling lecture upon Methodology, and had successfully impersonated Fichte, ... never forgot to sing the praises of Kant, to magnify the Schlegels, and to spread the gospel of transcendentalism,’ also provided Mme de Staël with ‘most of the information which resulted in her De l’Allemagne: she summoned him to Berlin in 1804 ... that he might help her to acquire some notion of German philosophy.’  For Schlegel’s confirmation of this statement, see Robinson, Books I: 298-9; and for a meeting of Robinson, Mme de Staël, and A. W. Schlegel in 1814, ibid., I: 149.

[lxxxv] Robinson, Books I: 132; cf. p. 17.

[lxxxvi] See Coleridge, Notebooks I: 1705 and n.

[lxxxvii] Printed in Inquiring Spirit, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London, 1951), pp. 151-2.  See also Raysor I: 5: ‘Whence the harmony that strikes us in the wildest natural landscapes, – in the relative shapes of rocks, the harmony of colors in the heath ferns, and lichens, the leaves of the beech and oak, the stems and ripe choc[ol]ate branches of the birch and other mountain trees, varying from verging autumn to returning spring ... The [landscapes] are effected by a single energy, modified ab intra in each component part.’

[lxxxviii] Printed in Raysor I: 175-6; variatim in Literary Remains II: 32-6.

[lxxxix] Printed in Raysor II: 199-200; a more discursive version by Coleridge in Coleridge, Letters III: 418-19.

[xc] Robinson, Books I: 84, 85, 88.

[xci] See, for example, Raysor II: 216.

[xcii] Ibid., II: 242.

[xciii] Literary Remains I: 188.

[xciv] Inquiring Spirit, p. 192.  For a parody of Gothick romance-writing, see Coleridge’s letter on Scott’s Lady of the Lake (Coleridge, Letters III: 291-5).

[xcv] Raysor II: 255.  Cf. II: 252, 257.

[xcvi] Coleridge, Letters IV: 839.  The claim to have anticipated Schlegel in the distinction between judgment and genius is also found in Biographia Literaria I: 22n and 102-3.

[xcvii] A. W. Schlegel was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and read a three-part paper on 4 and 18 December 1833 and 23 April 1834.

[xcviii] Hazlitt, Works XVI: 61-6: also quoted in Weisinger.

[xcix] Hazlitt, Works XVI: 123.

[c] De Quincey, Collected Writings, ed. D. Masson (Edinburgh, 1889-90), II: 72-4; also quoted more fully in Weisinger.

[ci] See Weisinger, pp. 485-7.

[cii] Byron, Works V: 104.  For other comments by Byron, see Wellek, Concepts, p. 148, n. 58.

[ciii] Ibid., V: 554n.

[civ] Contemporary Reviews of Romantic Poetry, ed. John Wain (London, 1953), p. 84 (hereafter cited as Wain).  This collection offers an interesting small group of reviews of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson; the text in some cases is abbreviated.  For a comprehensive group of reviews of Coleridge, see Coleridge: The Critical Heritage, ed. J. R. de J. Jackson (London an New York, 1960) (hereafter cited as Jackson).  Thomas Love Peacock, in The Four Ages of Poetry (1820), saw Wordsworth as leader of a school of poets in ‘The Age of Brass.’  James Montgomery, Lectures on General Literature (1833), described the age since Cowper as the third era of modern literature, and called Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge the ‘three pioneers, if not the absolute founders, of the existing style of English literature’ (Wellek, Concepts, p. 155).

[cv] Jackson, p. 469.  HNC was writing in the Etonian; see p. 231 and note.

[cvi] Edinburgh Review (November 1812), noticing a parody of Lyrical Ballads in James and Horace Smith’s anonymous Rejected Addresses: E. Smith, p. 128.

[cvii] Biographia Literaria I: 52.

[cviii] Blackwoods,’ May 1820: E. Smith, p. 318.

[cix] See p. 234 below.

[cx] Critical Review on Coleridge’s Wallenstein translation: Jackson p. 64.

[cxi] Edinburgh Review (October 1807): E. Smith, p. 76.

[cxii] Wain, pp. 54-5, 53.

[cxiii] Edinburgh Review (November 1814, October 1815): Wain, pp. 71, 60.

[cxiv] Edinburgh Review (September 1816): Jackson, pp. 234-5.

[cxv] Blackwood’s (October 1817): Wain, p. 183.

[cxvi] Quoted on p. 217 above; see n. 104.  For a sustained contrast with ‘all the other great living Poets’ to Coleridge’s discredit, see Jackson, pp. 330-3.

[cxvii] Blackwood’s (July 1818): Wain, p. 64.

[cxviii] Wordsworth, Poems II: 385.

[cxix] Coleridge, Letters I: 602; Wordsworth, Letters: Early Years (2nd ed.), p. 263.

[cxx] Coleridge, Letters I: 123, 631; cf. Dorothy Wordsworth Journal I: 63-4 (4-6 October 1800).

[cxxi] Ibid., I: 627: II: 830.

[cxxii] Leigh Hunt, Foliage (1818): E. Smith, pp. 276-7.  See also ibid., p. 127, ‘great captain’; p. 216, ‘founder’; p. 273, ‘head’.

[cxxiii] Edinburgh Review (August 1817): Jackson, p. 302.  My Italics.  Cf. Hazlitt (Nonesuch ed.), p. 744: ‘His [Wordsworth’s] later philosophic productions ... are classical and courtly.’

[cxxiv] See, e.g., E. Smith, pp. 99, 163, 187-9, 262, 333, 336, 360, and Jackson, p. 386.  Hazlitt referred to The Excursion as ‘a scholastic romance’ (London Magazine (May 1814): Hazlitt, Works XIX: 44).

[cxxv] Biographia Literaria I: 50-1.  Cf. Coleridge, Letters III: 433.

[cxxvi] Monthly Review (January 1819): Jackson, p. 411.

[cxxvii] July 1819: E. Smith, p. 310.

[cxxviii] New Monthly Magazine (October 1820), ? by T. N. Talfourd: E. Smith, pp. 359-60, 360-1.

[cxxix] E. Smith, pp. 6, 237.

[cxxx] Blackwood’s (October 1819): Jackson, pp. 450-1.  At p. 447 he praises particularly Love, The Ancient Mariner, and Christabel, and thought that if Christabel were completed it would be ‘the most splendid of the three.’

[cxxxi] Coleridge, Letters, I: 631.

[cxxxii] Jackson, p. 606.

[cxxxiii] Biographia Literaria I; 50.

[cxxxiv] Quarterly Review (October 1814), p. 90.

[cxxxv] Matthew Arnold, Lectures and Essays in Criticism, ed. R. H. Super (Ann Arbor, 1962), III: 107: ‘Heinrich Heine’ (1863) (hereafter cited as Arnold, Essays).

[cxxxvi] Two Notebooks of Thomas Carlyle, ed. C. E. Norton (New York, 1898), p. 111; cited in Wellek, Concepts.

[cxxxvii] Carlyle, Essays III: 218: ‘Historic Survey of German Poetry’ (1831), for which see also n. 144 below.

[cxxxviii] Ibid., V: 134 (1837)

[cxxxix] Ibid., I: 141, 170 (1828).

[cxl] Ibid., VI: 249: ‘Ludwig Tieck’ (1827).

[cxli] Ibid., II: 276.

[cxlii] Ibid., I: 246.  Cf., for example, I: 46, 101; II: 197; III: 235.

[cxliii] Ibid., III: 71.

[cxliv] Ibid., III: 249.  Carlyle had the concept from Goethe.

[cxlv] Arnold, Essays III: 361.  Originally delivered in four lectures at Oxford, ‘On the Study of Celtic Literature’ was later provided with an introduction and later again divided into six sections.  The 4th lecture opened at the beginning of what was later section vi.  For Coleridge’s notice of Celtic influence, see p. 206 above.

[cxlvi] Arnold, Essays, III: 290.  Ruskin, in Modern Painters, (1843) and The Stones of Venice (1853), finds the ‘essence of modern romance’ in Scott, notes its weaknesses, and decides that Romance ‘depends for its force on the existence of ruins and traditions ... The instinct to which it appeals can hardly be felt in America’ (‘Library Ed.,’ 1906, XI: 224, V: 335-7, 369).  In 1854 he declares that ‘this [romantic] feeling ... is one of the holiest parts of your being ... true affection is romantic – true religion is romantic’ (ibid., XII: 53 ff.).  In 1873 he says that the work of ‘Romantic writers and painters ... however brilliant or lovely, remains imperfect, and without authority’ (ibid., XXIII: 122; cf. 119, 124).  In 1883 (Oxford lectures) he says: ‘I use the word “romantic” always in a noble sense; meaning the habit of regarding the external and real world as a singer of Romaunts would have regarded it in the Mid Ages, and as Scott, Burns, Byron, and Tennyson have regarded it’; and ‘I do not use the word Romantic as opposed to Classic, but as opposed to the prosaic characters of selfishness and stupidity, in all times, and among all nations’ (ibid., XXXIII: 269, 374; cf. 291-2).

[cxlvii] The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Humphry House and Graham Storey (Oxford, 1959), pp. 53, 56, 137.

[cxlviii] Hopkins, Letters I: 172.

[cxlix] Ibid., II: 98-9.

[cl] Welleck, Concepts, p. 150.  Although I have not considered romantic as a musical-critical term in England, I note its frequency in the translation of Schumann’s 2-vol. Music and Musicians by the American Fanny R. Ritter (London, [? 1876, 1880].  In 1853 Schumann collected his periodical writings for 1834-44.

[cli] Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies (Everyman, 1911, 1916), II: 317, 332, 337.

[clii] Edward Dowden, Studies in Literature 1789-1877 (1878), p. 25

[cliii] Ibid., pp. 336-8.

[cliv] Ibid., p. 405.

[clv] Leslie Stephen, Studies of a Biographer (London, 1898-1902), II: 142: cited in OED.