Historical Background– George III of Hannover reigned over Britain from 1760 to 1820. From 1811 his son George exercised the function of Prince Regent because of the king’s permanent insanity.
It was a period of great changes:
– England underwent a radical change that transformed its economy from basically agricoltural to mainly industrial. This happened thanks to the technical inventions in the mining and textile fields and to the increased demand of goods due to the growth of the population.
– In 1775 George Washington started a fight against the British troops in the American colonies. In 1776, July 4 the Declaration of Independence was issued in Philadelphia. In 1783 the British had to sign the treaty of Versailles that recognised the independence of the thirteen ex British colonies.
– After 1793, with the end of the French revolution, the British army was engaged in the fight against Napoleon Bonaparte till 1815, when the French emperor was defeated in the battle of Waterloo.
– In the course of the century England consolidated her power in India.
– The XVIII century was dominated by the figure of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). He wrote dramas, novels, issues, but, in particular, he became well known for his critical works and his Dictionary of the English Language (1775).
– O. Goldsmith (1730-1774) and R. B. Sheridan (1751-1816) were famous for their prose writings and dramas.
Novel: After The mouthpieces of the rise of the novel, D. Defoe, S. Richardson and H. Fielding, other writers approached the genre:
– T. Smollet (1721-1771) wrote about life on ships and social scenes in England and Scotland (Roderick Random; Humphrey Clinker)
– F. Burney (1752-1840) wrote humoristic and realistic novels such as Eveline; Cecilia and Camilla.
– L. Sterne (1715-1768) evoked the rules of language with a flux of thoughts in his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
– H. Walpole (1717-1791); A. Radcliff (1764-1833) and M. G. Lewis (1775-1818) started writing stories full of mystery and imagination, the so called Gothic novels based on supernatural events and emotional characters.
– Sir W. Scott (1771-1832) wrote novels based on Scottish folklore and tradition (Waverly; Rob Roy) and on England’s past (Ivanhoe)
Poetry: Poets shifted their focus from reason to emotions and imaginations; they dealt with
individual and nature, basing their form on more popular patterns and their language on common words for a larger public.
–The Graveyard School: E. Young, W. Collins and T. Gray’s poems are about melancholy thoughts and desolate landscapes, ruins and tombs.
– The Antiquary School: J. Macpherson’s The Works of Ossian (1765), T. Percy and T. Chatterton shared the same enthusiasm for Celtic studies and Norse literature and popularised poems and legends of barbaric ages.
– The Pre-Romantics: R. Burns’s lyrics speak of genuine feeling and the beauty of nature. W. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience stress the contrast between the innate goodness of man and the corruption of society, with a simple and imaginative language with new symbols and energetic creative power.
– The Romantic Poets: W. Wordsworth (1770-1850) and S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834) published the Lyrical Ballads (1798), the manifesto of Romanticism that stressed the importance of imagination and of nature and described the poet as a prophet.
– Second generation of Romantic poets: P. B. Shelley, Lord Byron, and J. Keats start writing their poems in which they declare their love for remote stories, events and forms of art, their individualism and stress the role of the poet as a prophet.
Reaction against Augustan age
Organic growth of a poem
Middle ages: a romantic interest in
Agony: suffering and death
Individual, revolutionary ideals
Man, language and simple life