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(2) First Wave of Romanticism.

(Concepts of Nature, Imagination, Fancy, Influence of French Revolution, and the Lake Poets: S. T. Coleridge, W. Wordsworth, and R. Southey).


T h e  B r i t i s h  R o m a n t i c  P e r i o d  (1785 - 1830)

[See "Background for Topics 2-5..."]


S a m u e l  T a y l o r  C o l e r i d g e  ( 1 7 7 2 – 1 8 3 4 )

L i f e :

- a lifelong friendship with Charles Lamb (1775 – 1834) = addressee of “This Lime-tree Bower my Prison”

- friendship with Robert Southey:

(a) collab. on the historical drama The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama (1794)

(b) both intended to establ. an ideal democratic community in Am. = ‘Pantisocracy’ x but: failed

- youth.: sympathetic with the republican experiment in Fr. x middle age: conservative in both politics and relig. (Anglican)

- a lifelong friendship with W. Wordsworth:

(a) collab. on the Lyrical Ballads (1798)

(b) together spent some time in Ger. to study Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) and the post-Kantian Ger. philos.

(c) both settled in the Lake District

- rheumatism > taking laudanum (= opium dissolved in alcohol) > a drug addict => estranged from his wife, suffered from nightmares and agonies of remorse, quarrelled bitterly with W.: “Dejection: An Ode” (1802)

- last y.: reconciled with both his wife and W.

W o r k :

- great in promise x but: not in performance:

(a) adapted or adopted passages from oth. writers => repeatedly charged with plagiarism

(b) ambitious works unfinished or made up of brilliant sections eked out with filler: Biographia Literaria (1817)

P o e t r y :

= associated with the ‘Lake Poets’

Religious Musings (1796):

- poetised his political, relig., and philos. beliefs

- conc. with the Fr. Rev. = a period of violence necessary for an earthly millennium accord. to the Book of Revelation

- in the elaborate rhetoric, allegorical tactics and contorted syntax of the 18th c. ‘sublime ode’ x but: soon rejected this mode in favour of the relaxed style of heightened conversation: “Frost at Midnight”, & oth.

Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798) = Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800, 2nd ed.)

- in collab. with W. Wordsworth

- opened with his “Ancient Mariner” > concl. with W.’s “Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”

- the Preface to the 2nd ed. = stated the principles of the new criticism for the new poetry = ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquillity’

Biographia Literaria (1817):

= a loosely shaped series of meditations on poetry, poets, and the nature of the poetic imagination

< both orig. and plagiaristic, prophetic and indebted to tradition

<=> like W. Blake recognised the contraries and complementary states of being x but: unlike him argued for interdependency

- ‘fancy’ = juxtaposes images and impressions without fusing them x ‘imagination’ = actively moulds and transforms them into unity

- ‘primary imagination’ = reflects of the working mind of the Creator x ‘secondary imagination’ = creatively selects and shapes the stimuli of nature into new wholes

(a) Conversation poems = interrelate description and meditation in blank verse:

“Frost at Midnight”:

= a fireside meditation on a larger world beyond the cottage

- his painful schoolboy memories: town x country, rural companionship x urban isolation, etc.

- concl.: the prospect of his son blessed by nature’s benevolence

“This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison”:

= an address to C. Lamb

- on the unity of human affection and natural world = transcends both separation and temporary confinement

“Dejection: An Ode”:

= his last conversation poem and a farewell to health, happiness, and poetic creativity

(b) Poems of mystery and demonism, or visionary poems:

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

- on the voyage of discovery, both literally and figuratively, and the guilt and expiation of a Cain-like figure = the arbitrary ‘murderer’ of an albatross

- concl.: discovers not only the consequences of breaking taboos, but: the existence of the interdependency of life

< indebted to the traditional ballad form in terms of metre / language

“Kubla Khan or, a Vision in a Dream: A Fragment”:

- began after awaking from a ‘profound sleep’ x but: interrupted by a caller => a fragment

< read mythology, history, and comparative relig.

< read the story of Kubla Khan before falling asleep


= a fragment of a ‘Gothic’ poem

- on the attempted penetration of Christabel’s psyche by the demonic force = Geraldine

< indebted to old ballads

D r a m a :

The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama (1794): a radical historical play in collab. with R. Southey

Remorse, A Tragedy, in Five Acts (1813)

N o n - f i c t i o n :

- lectured on various lit. and philos. topics, wrote for nwsps, founded the short-lasting periodical The Friend (1809 – 10)

Lectures on Shakespeare (1808): one of his most observant and provocative critics: acknowledged qualities x yet: allowed for shortcomings

The Constitution of Church and State (1829): attempted to free Christianity from fundamentalism

Also wrote: Zapolya: A Christmas Tale (1817), a prose book


W i l l i a m  W o r d s w o r t h  ( 1 7 7 0 – 1 8 5 0 )

L i f e :

- a lifelong friendship with S. T. Coleridge: collab. on the Lyrical Ballads (1798)

- a lifelong attachment to his sister Dorothy = his confidante, inspirer, and secretary

- youth: radial x middle age: conservative in both politics and relig.

- during his life: increasing prosperity and reputation (Poet Laureate, 1843) x but: personal disasters (death of his brother, death of 2 of his 5 children, the quarrel with C., and the physical and mental decline of D.)

W o r k :

= associated with the ‘Lake Poets’

- conc.: ‘humble and rustic life’ where ‘the essential passions of the heart find a better soil’ and ‘speak a plainer and more emphatic language’

- sensitive to wild nature and to the co-operative workings of humankind and nature

- aware of the acute distinctions btw urban x rural civilisation

< his childhood in the E Lake District

< R. Burns > “To the Sons of Burns after visiting their Father’s Grave”

Descriptive Sketches (1793): a rather conventional verse account of his tour through Fr. and the Alps during the celebration of the 1st anniversary of the fall of the Bastille; the Fr. Rev. = a millennial hope

Salisbury Plain (1793): expressed his radical opinions against unnecessary suffering, injustice, incomprehension, and inhumanity => rejected for publ.

An Evening Walk (1793)

Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798):

[see also: S. T. Coleridge]

> “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, a conversation poem, expressed his intense love to nature and its teachings, and inaugurated his myth of nature = a stimulus to thinking: the interaction btw his mind and the outer world made his mind grow to maturity

> “The Ruined Cottage”, a powerful tragic poem, gradually revised to delete the revolutionary aspects

> “Michael”

Poems, in Two Volumes (1807).:

> “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, a delicate poem of occasional observation

> “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”, a poem of precise recall of sight and sound

> also incl.: “My Heart Leaps up”, “The Solitary Reaper”, “The World is too much with us”, & oth.

Poetic decline (mid-1810s+): W. = the poet of the remembrance of things past > conc. with ‘two consciousnesses’ = himself as he is now x himself as he once was => not an inexhaustible resource for poetry

The Excursion (1814):

- set in an ugly manufacturing district of northern En.

= the 2nd part of the intended long philos. poem in 3 parts, The Recluse x but: its 1st and 3rd parts left unfinished and fragmentary

Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822 – 45):

= his most obvious public declaration in poetry

- in a consciously Miltonic tone: J. Milton = the embodiment of the spirit of E liberty x as opposed to the Fr. revolutionary liberty

The Prelude; or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind (1850, posthum.):

= the ‘Prospectus’ (= prologue) to The Recluse

< the title chosen by his widow, himself referred to it as the ‘poem to Coleridge’ or the ‘poem on the growth of my own mind’

= his autobiog. masterpiece: attempted to shape certain crucial incidents in his life into an ideal pattern of self-repres.

- turned from books to nature = the teacher and the giver of an impulse > emphasised the morally educative infl. of nature, and the interrelationship of a love of nature and a love of humanity

- described his literal journeys (his tour in the Alps [< Descriptive Sketches], love to a Fr. woman, estrangement during the war btw E x F => agonies of guilt, divided loyalties btw E x F, disillusion with the Rev., etc.) x but: interpreted them in retrospect as metaphors for a spiritual journey

- his persistent metaphor of life = a circular journey whose end is ‘to arrive where we started / And know that place for the first time’

Also wrote following poems of distinction:

“Sonnets dedicated to Liberty”: a series of poems of public declarations

“Surprised by Joy”: a moving sonnet on his abrupt realisation of time having gradually diminished the grief at the death of his children

“Extempore Effusion”: an elegy on the poets he outlived


R o b e r t  S o u t h e y  ( 1 7 7 4 – 1 8 4 3 )

L i f e :

- friendship with S. T. Coleridge:

(a) collab. on the historical drama The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama (1794)

(b) both intended to establ. an ideal democratic community in Am. = ‘Pantisocracy’ x but: failed, S. = the 1st to reject the ideal as unworkable

(c) married the sister of C.’s wife, settled at Greta Hall (Keswick, the Lake District), and shared the house with the Coleridges

- youth: radical

(a) expelled from school for writing a magazine article condemning flogging

(b) experimented with a writing partnership with S. T. Coleridge

- middle age: conservative

(a) contrib. to a Tory magazine

(b) received an annual allowance granted by the Tory government

(c) appointed Poet Laureate (1813)

> criticized by George Gordon Byron and William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) for betraying political principles for money

W o r k :

= associated with the ‘Lake Poets’

- once: admired for a radical plainness and frankness of style x now: criticized for narrative dullness and flatness of expression

D r a m a :

The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama (1794): a radical historical play in collab. with S. T. Coleridge

Wat Tyler (1817): a radical republican play, publ. much to his embarrassment 20 y. after it has been written

P o e t r y :

Joan of Arc (1795):

= a radical pro-revolutionary epic poem

- written in his short-lived radical phase (like S. T. Coleridge and W. Wordsworth disillusioned by the progress of the Fr. Rev. > the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte [1769 – 1821])

Thalaba the Destroyer (1801): a long oriental verse epic based on a Mohamedan legend

The Curse of Kehama (1810): an ambitious long poem based on Hindu mythology

A Vision of Judgement (1821): a toadying poem on the death of George III (1738 – 1820, reign 1760 – 1820), mocked devastatingly by G. G. Byron’s The Vision of Judgement (1822)

“The Inchcape Rock” and “The Battle of Blenheim”: successful ballad poems, once much loved by reciters, and now still read by schoolchildren; the latter being possibly one of the earliest anti-war poems

N o n - f i c t i o n :

The Book of the Church (1825) and Sir Thomas More (1829): on the relationship btw history and the present, btw precedent and development

Also wrote: lit. criticism, author of biographies of John Bunyan (1628 – 88, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress), John Wesley (1703 – 91, leader in the Methodist movement, responsible for the emancipation of all slaves in the Br. Empire [1833]), & oth.


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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