Romanticism AN ANTHOLOGY Fourth Edition
When Lyrical Ballads first appeared in 1798 the word ‘Romantic’ was no compliment. It meant ‘fanciful’, ‘light’, even ‘inconsequential’.1 Wordsworth and Coleridge would have resisted its application; twenty years later, the new generation of writers would recognize it only as the counter in a debate conducted among European intellectuals, barely relevant to what they were doing. And that, after all, is the nature of theoretical discourse: even when conducted by practitioners, it may not bear greatly on the creative process. Romance was originally a descriptive term, used to refer to the verse epics of Tasso and Ariosto. Eighteenth-century critics like Thomas Warton used it in relation to fiction, often European, and in that context Novalis applied it to German literature. The idea didn’t take flight until August Wilhelm Schlegel used it in a lecture course at Berlin, 1801–4, when he made the distinction mentioned by Byron. Romantic literature, he argued, appeared in the Middle Ages with the work of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio; in reaction to Classicism it was identified with progressive and Christian views.
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