Politically the Romantic period was characterized firstly by the American Revolution and the French revolution; both have trust of the liberation and freeing of the human beings and therefore the human spirits from efforts to control it or limit it. It was a period when imaginations free to roam unhindered, unlike in the preceding Augustan period when the imagination was limited by norms and habits and practices. There was a sense that expressed itself in both the subject matter and the language and structure of poetry stylized or formatted like Augustan poetry no were feelings controlled and restrained to what was considered acceptable. Emotion and feeling began to come into the language of literature in a much wider and deeper sense than it did for the Augustans.
The second feature of the Romantic period was the change in the social structure. In Britain the new system of industrial production brought about by the steam engine replaced the old crafts and the craftsmen, and most productions led to a shift of population of the countryside to new industrial town with conquest overcrowding scholar and degradation both in standard living and standard of morals. At the same time industry trade and commerce began to develop on a mass scale and assume importance in society. Hither to wealth had been measured in terms of precious matters. New technological development repeated this with industry trade and commerce. The emerging industrial society broke up the existing harmonious of structure of countries life into hostile groups of haves and have nots. Wordsworth wrote in 1817 “I see clearly that the principle ties which kept the different classes of the society in a vital and harmonious dependence upon each other have, within these thirty years, either being greatly in impaired or holly dissolved everything has to being put up to market and sold for the hired price it could buy.”
The 18th century of Pope, Addison and Johnson had a self contained area of normalcy with a small range of interest and sentiments. Good sense and decency and social propriety were norms and the boundaries were conventional morality. Several areas of human experience and interest had been excluded most importantly the less controlled areas and extent of emotions. This is another way of saying that in Augustan literature: feelings were controlled within socially accepted norms. Contrasting ways of life, the fate of poor social classes, and the rural areas were not acceptable subjects for literature. No were the ranges of emotional experience as depicted in say, Jane Eyre.
The conflicts in the intellectual life of the Romantic period centered on the claim of the individual of defy on the canons and expectations of conventional society. The poets were moving away from the expectations and limitations of the conventional society to a far wider field that embraced every aspect of the human life including its ordinary day today experiences and every feeling and emotion of ordinary human beings. In the Augustan period and in Augustan poetry and emotions and feelings were not allowed free expressions but were contained within socially accepted norms and controlled within them. The romantic period broke through these circumstances and took the “spontaneous overflowing of powerful feeling” as an acceptable norm of poetic expression as well as a part of human existence. As Blake put it “men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed and governed their Passions or have no Passions, but because they have Cultivated their Understandings. The Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passions, but realities of Intellect, from which all Passions Emanate Uncurbed their Eternal Glory” [from “A vision of the Last Judgment”]
The romantic period is then characterized by, on the one hand, social upheaval where the former established stable structure of rural society was destroyed by the industrial revolution, trade and commerce, and on the other, the Augustan control of emotions and their display within the boundaries of accepted social norms and confines was loosened and emotive expressions became an accepted norm of poetic and other literary forms of expressions, such as novels. Definitions on Romanticism
- "Romanticism is the return to nature" - Jean Jacques Rousseau
- "Romanticism is an effort to escape from actuality" - Watenhouse
- "Romanticism is sentimental melancholy" - Phelps
- "Romanticism is emotions rather than reasons; the heart opposed to the head" - George Sand
- "Romanticism is the addition of strangeness to beauty" - Pater