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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The term “romantic” emerges in the second half of
the seventeenth century both in England and France.
Its meaning in the phrase “as in romances” denotes,
e.g., medieval romances or the epics of Ariosto and
Tasso or, most frequently, the sprawling romances of
intrigue and adventure composed in France by the
Scudérys and La Calprenède. It was originally a pejo-
rative term for anything “unreal,” “marvelous,” “ex-
travagantly fanciful,” or “sentimental.” By many
metaphorical shifts, largely during the eighteenth cen-
tury, the term was also applied to landscapes. It be-
came an alternative term for “picturesque,” either of
the idyllic kind or, in almost total contrast, to a wild
and disorderly nature. This complex history with its
proliferations and ramifications has been studied very
fully, most recently by François Jost (1968).

The term, however, preserved throughout its early
history its clear literary reference to medieval ro-
mances and to the verse epics of Ariosto and Tasso
from which their themes and “machinery” were
derived. It occurs in this sense in France in 1669, in
England in 1674. (Jean Chapelain speaks of l'épique
romanesque, genre de poésie sans art
in 1667. In 1669
he contrasts poésie romanesque and poésie héroïque.
René Rapin refers to poésie romanesque du Pulci, du
Boiardo, et de l'Arioste
in 1673. Thomas Rymer trans-
lates this as “Romantick Poetry of Pulci, Bojardo, and
Ariosto” a year later.) Thomas Warton understood it
to have this meaning when he wrote his introductory
dissertation to his History of English Poetry (1774),
“The Origin of Romantic Fiction in Europe.” In
Warton's writings and those of several of his contem-
poraries a contrast is implied between this “romantic”
literature, both medieval and Renaissance, and the
whole tradition of literary art as it came down from
classical antiquity. The composition and “machinery”
of Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser are defended against the
charges of neo-classical criticism with arguments which
derive from the Renaissance defenders of Ariosto and
Tasso. (For the antecedents of Warton's and Hurd's
arguments, see Odell Shepard's review of Clarissa
Rinaker's Thomas Warton in Journal of English and
German Philology,
16 [1917], 153.) An attempt is made
to justify a special taste for such “romantic” fiction
and its noncompliance with classical standards and
rules. The dichotomy implied has obvious analogues
in other contrasts common in the eighteenth century:
between the ancients and moderns, between artificial
and popular poetry, the “natural” poetry of Shake-
speare unconfined by rules and that of French classical
tragedy. A definite juxtaposition of “Gothic” and
“classical” occurs in Bishop Richard Hurd and Thomas
Warton. Hurd speaks of Tasso as “trimming between
the Gothic and the Classic,” and of the Faerie Queene
as a “Gothic, not a classical poem.” Warton calls
Dante's Divine Comedy a “wonderful compound of
classical and romantic fancy.” Here the two famous
words meet, possibly for the first time, but Warton
probably meant little more than that Dante used both
classical mythology and chivalric motifs.

This use of the term “romantic” penetrated into
Germany. In 1766 Heinrich Wilhelm Gerstenberg
reviewed Warton's Observations on the Fairy Queen,
and Herder used the learning, information, and termi-
nology of Warton and his English contemporaries. He
distinguished sometimes between the “romantic”
(chivalric) and the “Gothic” (Nordic) taste, but mostly
the words “Gothic” and “romantic” were used by him
interchangeably. This usage then penetrated into the
first handbooks of general history of literature: into
Eichhorn's Literärgeschichte (1799) and into the first


volumes, devoted to Italian and Spanish literature, of
Friedrich Bouterwek's monumental Geschichte der
Poesie und Beredsamkeit seit dem Ende des dreizehnten
(1801-05). There the term romantisch is
used in all combinations: style, manners, characters,
poetry are called romantisch. Sometimes Bouterwek
uses the term altromantisch to refer to the Middle Ages,
and neuromantisch to refer to what we would call the
Renaissance. This usage is substantially identical with
Warton's except that its scope has been expanded more
and more: not only medieval literature and Ariosto and
Tasso but also Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Calderón
are called “romantic.” It simply means all poetry writ-
ten in a tradition differing from that descended from
classical antiquity. This broad historical conception was
later combined with a new meaning: the typological,
which is based on an elaboration of the contrast be-
tween “classical” and “romantic” due to the Schlegels.
Goethe, in a conversation with Eckermann in 1830
(March 21), said that Schiller invented the distinction
“naive and sentimental” and that the Schlegels merely
renamed it “classical and romantic.” But this is not
accurate history. Schiller's Über naive und senti-
mentalische Dichtung
was a statement of a typology
of styles which did influence Friedrich Schlegel's turn
towards modernism from his earlier Hellenism. The
best analysis is in A. O. Lovejoy's “Schiller and the
Genesis of German Romanticism,” Modern Language
35 (1920), 1-10, 136-46; reprinted in Essays in
the History of Ideas
(Baltimore, 1948), pp. 207-27. But
Schiller's contrast is not identical with that of the
Schlegels, as is obvious from the mere fact that Shake-
speare is naiv in Schiller and romantisch in Schlegel.

Much attention has, comprehensibly, been paid to
the exact usage of these terms by the Schlegels and
their close associates (Lovejoy [1916], pp. 385-96, and
[1917], pp. 65-77; reprinted, Essays... [1948], pp.
183-206). But, if we look at the history of the word
“romantic” from a wide European perspective, many
of these uses must be considered purely idiosyncratic,
since they had no influence on the further history of
the term and did not even determine the most influen-
tial statement formulated by August Wilhelm Schlegel
in the Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature
(1809-11), which has rightly been called the “Message
of German Romanticism to Europe.” (Josef Körner, Die
Botschaft der deutschen Romantik an Europa,
burg [1929], is a sketch of the reception of A. W.
Schlegel's lectures outside Germany.)

The terms Romantik and Romantiker as nouns were
apparently inventions of Novalis in 1798-99. But, with
Novalis, a Romantiker is a writer of romances and fairy
tales of his own peculiar type, Romantik is a synonym
of Romankunst in this sense. (See Schriften, ed.
Samuel-Kluckhohn, 3, 263; “Romantik,” 3, 74-75, 88.
These passages date from 1798-99, but only the first
was printed in the 1802 edition of Novalis' Schriften,
ed. F. Schlegel and L. Tieck, 2, 311.) Also the famous
fragment, No. 116, of the Athenaeum (1798) by
Friedrich Schlegel, which defines “romantic poetry”
as “progressive Universalpoesie” connects it with the
idea of such a romantic novel. In the later “Gespräch
über die Poesie” (1800), however, the term assumed
again its concrete historical meaning: Shakespeare is
characterized as laying the foundation of romantic
drama and the romantic is found also in Cervantes,
in Italian poetry, “in the age of chivalry, love, and
fairy tales, whence the thing and the word are de-
rived.” Friedrich Schlegel, at this time, does not con-
sider his own age romantic, since he singles out the
novels of Jean Paul as the “only romantic product of
an unromantic age.” He uses the term also quite
vaguely and extravagantly as an element of all poetry
and claims that all poetry must be romantic. (Reprinted
in Friedrich Schlegel's Jugendschriften, ed. J. Minor,
Vienna [1882], 2, 220-21, 365, 372.)

But the descriptions and pronouncements which
were influential, both in Germany and abroad, were
those of the older brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel.
In the lectures on aesthetics, given at Jena in 1798,
the contrast of classical and romantic is not yet drawn
explicitly. But it is implied in the lengthy discussion
of modern genres, which include the romantic novel
culminating in the “perfect masterwork of higher ro-
mantic art,” Don Quixote, the romantic drama of
Shakespeare, Calderón, and Goethe, and the romantic
folk poetry of the Spanish romances and Scottish
ballads (Vorlesungen über philosophische Kunstlehre,
ed. W. A. Wünsche, Leipzig [1911], pp. 214, 217, 221).

In the Berlin lectures, given from 1801 to 1804,
though not published until 1884 (Vorlesungen über
schöne Literatur und Kunst,
ed. J. Minor, 3 vols.,
Heilbronn [1884]; see especially 1, 22). Schlegel
formulated the contrast, classical and romantic, as that
between the poetry of antiquity and modern poetry,
associating romantic with the progressive and Chris-
tian. He sketched a history of romantic literature which
starts with a discussion of the mythology of the Middle
Ages and closes with a review of the Italian poetry
of what we would today call the Renaissance. Dante,
Petrarch, and Boccaccio are described as the founders
of modern romantic literature, though Schlegel, of
course, knew that they admired antiquity. But he
argued that their form and expression were totally
unclassical. They did not dream of preserving the forms
of antiquity in structure and composition. “Romantic”
includes the German heroic poems such as the
Nibelungen, the cycle of Arthur, the Charlemagne ro-


mances, and Spanish literature from El Cid to Don
The lectures were well attended and from
them these conceptions penetrated into print in the
writings of other men. They are found in the unpub-
lished lectures of Schelling on Philosophie der Kunst
(1802-03), printed only in Sämtliche Werke, 1st. sec.,
5 (Suttgart, 1859). Schelling had read the MS of
Schlegel's Berlin lectures. In Jean Paul's Vorschule der
(1804), and in Friedrich Ast's System der
(1805) we find the contrast elaborated. Ast
had attended A. W. Schlegel's lectures at Jena in
1798. His very imperfect transcript was published in
1911. But the most important formulation was in the
Lectures of A. W. Schlegel delivered at Vienna in
1808-09 and published in 1809-11. There romantic-
classical is associated with the antithesis of organic-
mechanical and plastic-picturesque. There clearly the
literature of antiquity and that of neo-classicism
(mainly French) is contrasted with the romantic drama
of Shakespeare and Calderón, the poetry of perfection
with the poetry of infinite desire.

It is easy to see how this typological and historical
usage could pass into the designation of the contem-
porary movement, since the Schlegels were obviously
strongly anticlassicist at that time and were appealing
to the ancestry and models of the literature they had
designated as romantic. But the process was surpris-
ingly slow and hesitant. The designation of contem-
porary literature as romantic was apparently due only
to the enemies of the Heidelberg group which today
we are accustomed to call the Second Romantic School.
Johann Heinrich Voss attacked the group for their
reactionary Catholic views in 1808 and published a
parodistic Klingklingelalmanach with the subtitle: Ein
Taschenbuch für vollendete Romantiker und angehende
The Zeitschrift für Einsiedler, the organ of
Arnim and Brentano, adopted the term with alacrity.
In the Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Kunst (1808),
the merit of unsere Romantiker seems to be praised
for the first time. The first historical account of Die
neue literarische Partei der sogenannten Romantiker

can be found only in the eleventh volume (1819) of
Bouterwek's monumental Geschichte, where the Jena
group and Brentano are discussed together (Ullmann
and Gotthard [1927], pp. 70ff.). Heine's much later
Romantische Schule (1833) included Fouqué, Uhland,
Werner, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Rudolf Haym's standard
work, Die romantische Schule (1870) is limited to the
first Jena group: the Schlegels, Novalis, and Tieck.
Thus, in German literary history, the original broad
historical meaning of the term has been abandoned and
Romantik is used for a group of writers who did not
call themselves Romantiker.

The broad meaning of the term as used by August
Wilhelm Schlegel, however, spread abroad from
Germany in all directions.

In the Latin world, and in England as well as in
America, the intermediary role of Madame de Staël
was decisive. For France it can be shown, however,
that she was anticipated by others, though far less
effectively. Warton's usage of the term was apparently
rare in France, though it occurs in Chateaubriand's
Essai sur les révolutions (1797), a book written in
England, where the word is coupled with Gothique
and tudesque, and spelled in the English way (Balden-
sperger [1937], p. 90). But with the exception of such
small traces, the word is not used in a literary context
until the German influence was felt directly. It occurs
in a letter by Charles Villers, a French emigrant in
Germany and one of the first expounders of Kant,
published in the Magasin encyclopédique in 1810.
Dante and Shakespeare are spoken of as “sustaining
la Romantique” and the new spiritual sect in Germany
is praised because it favors “la Romantique.” (Re-
printed in Edmond Eggli and Pierre Martino, Le débat
romantique en France,
Paris [1933], I, 26-30.) Villers'
article was hardly noticed: a translation of Bouterwek's
Geschichte der spanischen Literatur by Philippe-Albert
Stapfer, in 1812, also elicited no interest, though it was
reviewed by the young Guizot. The decisive year was
1813: then Sismondi's De la littérature du midi de
was published in May and June. In October
1813, Madame de Staël's De l'Allemagne was finally
published in London, though it had been ready for
print in 1810. In December 1813, A. W. Schlegel's
Cours de littérature dramatique appeared in a transla-
tion by Madame Necker de Saussure, a cousin of Ma-
dame de Staël. Most importantly, De l'Allemagne was
reprinted in Paris in May 1814. All these works radiate
from one center, Coppet, Madame de Staël's château
near Geneva, and Sismondi, Bouterwek, and Madame
de Staël are, as far as the concept of “romantic” is
concerned, definitely dependent on Schlegel.

The exposition of classical-romantic in Chapter 11
of De l'Allemagne, including its parallel of classical and
sculpturesque, romantic and picturesque, the contrast
between Greek drama of event and modern drama of
character, the poetry of Fate versus the poetry of
Providence, the poetry of perfection versus the poetry
of progress, clearly derive from Schlegel. Sismondi
disliked Schlegel personally and was shocked by many
of his “reactionary” views. In details, he may have
drawn much more from Bouterwek than from Schlegel,
but his view that the Romance literatures are essen-
tially romantic in spirit, and that French literature
forms an exception among them, is derived from
Schlegel, as are his descriptions of the contrast between
Spanish and Italian drama. (Best accounts of these


relationships are by Carlo Pellegrini, Il Sismondi e la
storia delle letterature dell'Europa meridionale,
[1926], Comtesse Jean de Pange, Auguste-Guillaume
Schlegel et Madame de Staël,
Paris [1938], and Jean-R.
de Salis, Sismondi, 1773-1842, Paris [1932].)

These three books, Sismondi's, Madame de Staël's,
and Schlegel's, were reviewed and discussed very
heatedly in France. M. Edmond Eggli has collected
a whole volume of almost five hundred pages of these
polemics, covering only the years 1813-16. The reac-
tion to the scholarly Sismondi was fairly mild, to the
foreign Schlegel violent, and to Madame de Staël it
was mixed and frequently baffled. In all of these
polemics, the enemies are called les romantiques, but
it is not clear what recent literature is referred to
except these three books. When Benjamin Constant
published his novel Adolphe (1816), he was attacked
as strengthening le genre romantique. The melodrama
also was called contemptuously by this name and
German drama identified with it.

But up to 1816 there was to Frenchman who called
himself a romantic nor was the term romantisme known
in France. Its history is still obscure: Romantismus is
used as a synonym of bad rhyming and empty lyricism
in a letter written by Clemens Brentano to Achim von
Arnim in 1803, but this form had no future in Germany
(Reinhold Steig, Achim von Arnim und die ihm nahe
Stuttgart [1894], 1, 102. Letter, Oct. 12, 1803).
In 1804 Sénancour refers to romantisme des sites
(Obermann, letter 87, quoted by Eggli, p. 11),
using it thus as a noun corresponding to the use of
“romantic” as “picturesque.” But, in literary contexts,
it does not seem to occur before 1816 and then it is
used vaguely and jocularly. There is a letter in the
Constitutionnel, supposedly written by a man residing
near the Swiss frontier, within sight of Madame de
Staël's château, who complains of his wife's enthusiasm
for the “romantic” and tells of a poet who cultivates
le genre tudesque and has read to them des morceaux
pleins de
romantisme, les purs mystères du baiser, la
sympathie primitive et l'ondoyante mélancolie des
(July 19, 1816, reprinted in Eggli, pp. 472-73).
Shortly afterwards, Stendhal, then at Milan, who had
read Schlegel's lectures immediately after the publica-
tion of the French translation, complained that, in
France, they attack Schlegel and think that they have
defeated le Romantisme (Letters to Louis Crozet, Sept.
28, Oct. 1, and Oct. 21, 1816, in Correspondence, ed.
Divan, Paris [1934], 4, 371, 389, and 5, 14-15).
Stendhal seems to have been the first Frenchman who
delcared himself a romantic: Je suis un romantique
furieux c'est-à-dire, je suis pour Shakespeare contre
Racine et pour Lord Byron contre Boileau
(Letter to
Baron de Mareste, April 14, 1818, Correspondance,
5, 137).

But that was in 1818 when Stendhal was voicing
his adherence to the Italian romantic movement. Thus
Italy enters importantly into the history of the term
since it was the first Latin country to have a romantic
movement which called itself romantic. There the
controversy had penetrated also in the wake of Ma-
dame de Staël's De l'Allemagne, which was translated
as early as 1814. H. Jay's violently antiromantic
Discours sur le genre romantique en littérature, pub-
lished in 1814, appeared immediately in an Italian
translation. (It appeared first in Le Spectateur, no. 24
[1814], 3, 145; reprinted in Eggli, pp. 243-56; in Italian
in Lo Spettatore, no. 24, 3, 145.) Madame de Staël's
article on translations from German and English
elicited Lodovico di Breme's defense, but he refers,
however, to the whole dispute as a French affair, and
obviously thinks of “romantic” in terms which would
have been comprehensible to Herder or even Warton.
He quotes Gravina's arguments in favor of the compo-
sition of Ariosto's Orlando furioso and sees that the
same criteria apply to Romantici settentrionali, Shake-
speare e Schiller,
in tragedy. (“Intorno all'ingiustizia di
alcuni giudizi letterari italiani” [1816], in Polemiche,
ed. Carlo Calcaterra, Turin [1923], pp. 36-38). Gio-
vanni Berchet's Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo, with
its translations from Bürger's ballads, is usually con-
sidered the manifesto of the Italian romantic move-
ment; but Berchet does not use the noun nor does
he speak of an Italian romantic movement. Tasso is
one of the poets called romantici, and Berchet also
suggests the famous contrast between classical poetry
and romantic poetry as that between the poetry of the
dead and the living (Giovanni Berchet, Opere, ed. E.
Bellorini, Bari [1912], 2, 19-21). He anticipates the
peculiarly “contemporaneous,” and political character
of the Italian romantic movement. In 1817, Schlegel's
Lectures were translated by Giovanni Gherardini, but
the great outburst of pamphlets—a whole battle—
did not break out till 1818, when the term romanti-
was used first by antiromantic pamphleteers,
Francesco Pezzi, Camillo Piciarelli, and Conte Falletti
di Barolo, who wrote Della romanticomachia, and there
drew the distinction between genere romantico and il
(Discussioni e polemiche sul romanti-
[1816-26], ed. Egidio Bellorini, Bari [1943], 1,
252, 358-59, 363). Berchet, in his ironical comments,
professes not to understand the distinction (Il Con-
no. 17 [Oct. 29, 1818], pp. 65-66). Ermes
Visconti, in his formal articles on the term, uses shortly
afterwards only romantismo (“Idee elementari sulla
poesia romantica,” in Il Conciliatore, no. 27 [Dec. 3,
1818], p. 105). But “romanticismo” seems to have been
well established by 1819, when D. M. Dalla used it
in the title of his translation of the thirtieth chapter
of Sismondi's Literature of the South, as Vera


Definizione del Romanticismo, though the French
original shows no trace of the term. Stendhal, who had
used the term romantisme, and continued to use it, was
now temporarily converted to romanticisme, obviously
suggested by the Italian term.

But, in the meantime, romantisme seems to have
become general in France. François Mignet used it in
1822, Villemain and Lacretelle in the following years
(Courier français [Oct. 19, 1822], quoted by P. Martino,
L'Époque romantique en France, Paris [1944], p. 27.
Lacretelle, in Annales de la littérature et des arts, 13
[1823], 415, calls Schlegel le Quintilien du romantisme;
quoted in C. M. Des Granges, Le romantisme et la
Paris [1907], p. 207). The spread and accept-
ance of the term was assured when Louis S. Auger,
director of the French Academy, launched a Discours
sur le romantisme,
condemning the new heresy in a
solemn session of the Academy on April 24, 1824. In
the second edition of Racine et Shakespeare (1825),
Stendhal himself gave up his earlier form romanticisme
in favor of the new romantisme. As in Italy, a broadly
typological and historical term, introduced by Madame
de Staël, became the battle cry of a group of writers
who found it a convenient label to express their oppo-
sition to the ideals of neo-classicism. With Hugo's
preface to Cromwell (1827) and his play Hernani (1830)
a French romantic movement was established under
that name.

In Spain the terms “classical” and “romantic” oc-
curred in newspapers as early as 1818, once with a
specific reference to Schlegel. But apparently an Italian
exile, Luigi Monteggia, who came to Spain in 1821,
was the first to write elaborately on romanticismo in
Europeo (1823), where shortly afterward López Soler
analyzed the debate between románticos y clasicistas.
The group of Spanish writers who called themselves
románticos was, however, victorious only around 1838
and it soon disintegrated as a coherent “school” (E.
Allison Peers, “The Term Romanticism in Spain,”
Revue Hispanique, 81 [1933], 411-18. Monteggia's
article is reprinted in Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 8
[1931], 144-49. For the later history, see E. Allison
Peers, A History of the Romantic Movement in Spain,
2 vols., Cambridge [1940], and Guillermo Díaz-Plaja,
Introducción al estudio del romanticismo español,
Madrid [1942]).

Among Portuguese poets, Almeida Garrett seems to
have been the first to refer to nos romanticos in his
poem, Camões, written in 1823 in Le Havre during
his French exile (see Theophilo Braga, Historia do
Romantismo em Portugal,
Lisbon [1880], p. 175).

The Slavic countries received the term at about the
same time as the countries of the Romance languages.
In Bohemia the adjective romantický in connection
with a poem occurs as early as 1805, the noun
romantismus in 1819, the noun romantika, a formation
from the German, in 1820, the noun romantik (meaning
romanticist) only in 1835. (These dates come from the
very complete collections of the Dictionary of the
Czech Academy.) But there never was a formal ro-
mantic school.

In Poland, Casimir Brodzinski wrote a dissertation
concerning classicism and romanticism in 1818.
Mickiewicz wrote a long preface to his Ballady i
(1822) in which he expounded the contrast
of classical and romantic, referring to Schlegel,
Bouterwek, and Eberhard, the author of one of the
many German works on aesthetics of the time. The
collection contains a poem, “Romantyczność,” a ballad
on the theme of Bürger's Lenore (Poezie, ed. J. Kallen-
bach, Kraków [1930], pp. 45, 51).

In Russia, Pushkin spoke of his Prisoner from the
as a “romantic poem” in 1821, and Prince
Vyazemsky, reviewing the poem during the next year,
was apparently the first to discuss the contrast between
the new romantic poetry and the poetry still adhering
to the rules (N. V. Bogoslovsky, ed., Pushkin o literature,
Moscow and Leningrad [1934], pp. 15, 35, 41, etc.
Vyazemsky's review in Syn otechestva (1822) was
reprinted in Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii, 1, St. Peters-
burg [1878], 73-78).

We have left the English story, the most unusual
development, for the conclusion. After Warton there
had begun in England an extensive study of medieval
romances and of “romantic fiction,” but there is no
instance of a juxtaposition of “classical” and “roman-
tic,” nor any awareness that the new literature inaugu-
rated by the Lyrical Ballads could be called romantic.
Walter Scott, in his edition of Sir Tristram, published
in Edinburgh in 1804 calls his text “the first classical
English romance.” An essay by John Foster, “On the
Application of the Epithet Romantic” (Essays in a
Series of Letters,
London [1805]), is merely a common-
place discussion of the relation between imagination
and judgment with no hint of a literary application
except to chivalrous romances.

The distinction of classical-romantic occurs for the
first time in Coleridge's lectures, given in 1811, and
is there clearly derived from Schlegel, since the dis-
tinction is associated with that of organic and mechan-
ical, painterly and sculpturesque, in close verbal
adherence to Schlegel's phrasing. (See Coleridge's
Shakespearean Criticism, ed. Thomas M. Raysor,
Cambridge, Mass. [1930], 1, 196-98, 2, 265, and Mis-
cellaneous Criticism,
ed. T. M. Raysor, Cambridge,
Mass. [1936], pp. 7, 148. Coleridge himself says that
he received a copy of Schlegel's Lectures on Dec. 12,
1811; see Coleridge's Unpublished Letters, ed. Earl L.
Griggs, London [1932], 2, 61-67.) But these lectures
were not published at that time, and thus the distinc-


tion was popularized in England only through Madame
de Staël, who made Schlegel and Sismondi known in
England. De l'Allemagne, first published in French in
London, appeared almost simultaneously in an English
translation. Two reviews, by Sir James Mackintosh and
William Taylor of Norwich, reproduce the distinction
between classical and romantic, and Taylor mentions
Schlegel and knows of Madame de Staël's indebtedness
to him (Edinburgh Review, 22 [Oct. 1813], 198-238;
Monthly Review, 72 [1813], 421-26, 73 [1814], 63-68,
352-65, especially 364). Schlegel was in the company
of Madame de Staël in England in 1814. The French
translation of Schlegel's Lectures was very favorably
reviewed in the Quarterly Review (20 [Jan. 1814],
355-409), and in 1815 John Black, an Edinburgh
journalist, published his English translation. This was
also very well received. Some reviews reproduce
Schlegel's distinction quite extensively: for instance,
Hazlitt's in the Edinburgh Review of February 1816
(reprinted in Complete Works, ed. Howe, 16, 57-99).
Schlegel's distinction and views on many aspects of
Shakespeare were used and quoted by Hazlitt, by
Nathan Drake in his Shakespeare (1817), by Scott in
his Essay on Drama (1819), and in Ollier's Literary
(1820), which contains a translation of
Schlegel's old essay on Romeo and Juliet.

The usual impression that the classical-romantic
distinction was little known in England seems not quite
correct. There is further evidence in Herbert Weis-
inger's “English Treatment of the Classical-Romantic
Problem,” in Modern Language Quarterly (7 [1946],
477-88). It is discussed in Thomas Campbell's Essay
on Poetry
(1819), though Campbell finds Schlegel's
defense of Shakespeare's irregularities on “romantic
principles” “too romantic for his conception.” In Sir
Edgerton Brydges' Gnomica and Sylvan Wanderer
there is striking praise of romantic medieval poetry
and its derivations in Tasso and Ariosto in contrast to
the classical abstract poetry of the eighteenth century
(issues dated Apr. 20, 1819, and Oct. 23, 1818). We
find only a few uses of these terms at that time: Samuel
Singer, in his introduction to Marlowe's Hero and
(London, 1821), says that “Musaeus is more
classical, Hunt more romantic.” He defends Marlowe's
extravagances which might excite the ridicule of
French critics: “but here in England their reign is
over and thanks to the Germans, with the Schlegels
at their head, a truer philosophical method of judg-
ing is beginning to obtain among us” (p. lvii). De
Quincey in 1835 attempted a more original elaboration
of the dichotomy by stressing the role of Christianity
and the difference in the attitudes toward death; but
even these ideas are all derived from the Germans.

But none of the English poets recognized himself
as a romanticist or recognized the relevance of the
debate to his own time and country. Neither Coleridge
nor Hazlitt, who used Schlegel's Lectures, made such
an application. Byron definitely rejects it. Though he
knew (and disliked) Schlegel personally, had read
De l'Allemagne, and even tried to read Friedrich
Schlegel's Lectures, he considered the distinction
“romantic-classical” as merely a Continental debate.
In a dedication of Marino Falieri (1820) to Goethe
Byron refers to “the great struggle, in Germany, as well
as in Italy, about what they call 'classical' and 'roman-
tic'—terms which were not subjects of classification in
England, at least when I left it four or five years ago.”
Byron contemptuously says of the enemies of Pope in
the Bowles-Byron controversy, “nobody thought them
worth making a sect of.” “Perhaps there may be some-
thing of the kind sprung up latterly, but I have not
heard of much about it, and it would be such bad taste
that I shall be very sorry to believe it.” Still, during
the next year, Byron used the concepts in what seems
to be a plea for the relativity of poetic taste. He argues
that there are no invariable principles of poetry, that
reputations are bound to fluctuate. “This does not
depend upon the merits [of the poets] but upon the
ordinary vicissitudes of human opinion. Schlegel and
Mme de Staël have endeavoured also to reduce poetry
to two systems, classical and romantic. The effect is
only beginning.”

But there is no consciousness in Byron that he be-
longs to the romantics. An Austrian police spy in Italy
knew better. He reported that Byron belongs to the
Romantici and “had written and continues to write
poetry of this new school.” (For Madame de Staël
sending Schlegel's Lectures to Byron, see Byron's Let-
ters and Journals,
ed. Lord Prothero [1901], 2, 343.
On Friedrich Schlegel's Lectures, cf. Letters, 5, 191-93.
The dedication of Marino Falieri, dated Oct. 17, 1820,
ibid., 5, 100-04. The letter to Murray on Bowles, Feb.
7, 1821, ibid., 5, 553-54n. The police spy story, Sept.
10, 1819, quoted ibid., 4, 462.)

The actual application of the term “romantic” to
English literature of the early nineteenth century is
much later. Also the terms, “a romantic,” “a romanti-
cist,” “romanticism,” are very late in English and occur
first in reports or notes on Continental phenomena. An
article in English by Stendhal in 1823 reviews his own
book, Racine et Shakespeare, singling out the section
on “Romanticism” for special praise (New Monthly
3 [1823], 522-28, signed Y. I. See Doris
Gunnell, Stendhal et l'Angleterre, Paris [1909], pp.
162-63). Carlyle entered in his notebook in 1827 that
“Grossi is a Romantic and Manzoni a romanticist.” In
his “State of German Literature” (1827) he speaks of
the German “Romanticists.” “Romanticism” occurs in


his article on Schiller (1831), where he says com-
placently that “we are troubled with no controversies
on Romanticism and Classicism, the Bowles contro-
versy on Pope having long since evaporated without
result” (Two Note Books, ed. C. E. Norton, New York
[1898], p. 111. Miscellanies, London [1890], 1, 45, and
3, 71. Cf. also 2, 276).

Similarly Edward Bulwer-Lytton referred to the
“good people in France who divert themselves with
disputing the several merits of the Classical School,
and the Romantic. The English have not disputed on
the matter” and “have quietly united the two schools.”
Byron and Shelley are at once classical and romantic
(England and the English [1833], Book IV. Ch. iv). As
late a book as Mrs. Oliphant's Literary History of
England in the End of the Eighteenth and Beginning
of the Nineteenth Century
(1882) shows no trace of
the term and its derivatives. She speaks merely of the
Lake School, the Satanic School, and the Cockney
Group. W. Bagehot used “romantic” with “classical”
in a way which shows that they were not associated
in his mind with a definite, established period of
English literature: he speaks of Shelley's “classical
imagination” (1856) and in 1864 contrasts the “clas-
sical” Wordsworth with the “romantic” Tennyson and
the “grotesque” Browning (Literary Studies, ed. R. H.
Hutton, London [1905], 1, 231 and 2, 341).

But this does not seem to be the entire story. Among
the handbooks of English literature, Thomas Shaw's
Outlines of English Literature (1849) is the earliest
exception. He speaks of Scott as the “first stage in
literature towards romanticism” and calls Byron the
“greatest of romanticists,” but separates Wordsworth
for his “metaphysical quietism” (new ed., Complete
ed. William Smith, New York [1867], pp.
290ff., 316, 341, 348, 415). It may be significant that
Shaw compiled his handbook originally for his classes
at the Lyceum in St. Petersburg, where by that time,
as everywhere on the Continent, the terms were estab-
lished and expected.

In David Macbeth Moir's Sketches of the Poetical
Literature of the Past Half Century
(1852), Matthew
Gregory Lewis is set down as the leader of the “purely
romantic school” of which Scott, Coleridge, Southey,
and Hogg are listed as disciples, while Wordsworth is
treated independently. Scott is treated under the head-
ing “The Revival of the Romantic School,” though the
term is not used in the text of the chapter (2nd ed.,
Edinburgh [1852]; six lectures delivered in 1850-51;
cf. pp. 17, 117, 213). W. Rushton's Afternoon Lectures
on English Literature
(1863) given in Dublin, discusses
the “Classical and Romantic School of English Litera-
ture as represented by Spenser, Dryden, Pope, Scott
and Wordsworth.” The further spread and establish
ment of the term for English literature of the early
nineteenth century is probably due to Alois Brandl's
Coleridge und die romantische Schule in England,
translated by Lady Eastlake (1887), and to the vogue
of Pater's discussion of “Romanticism” in Appreciations
(1889); it is finally established in books such as those
of W. L. Phelps' The Beginnings of the English Ro-
mantic Movement
(1893) and Henry A. Beers' A History
of English Romanticism in the 18th Century

We have to conclude that the self-designation of
writers and poets as “romantic” varies in the different
countries considerably; many examples are late and
short-lived. If we take self-designation as the basic
criterion for modern use, there would be no romantic
movement in Germany before 1808, none in France
before 1818 or (since the 1818 example was an isolated
instance, Stendhal) before 1824, and none at all in
England. If we take the use of the word “romantic”
for any kind of literature (at first medieval romances,
Tasso, and Ariosto) as our criterion, we are thrown back
to 1669 in France, 1673 in England, 1698 in Germany.
If we insist on taking the contrast between the terms
“classical and romantic” as decisive, we arrive at the
dates 1801 for Germany, 1810 for France, 1811 for
England, 1816 for Italy, etc. If we think that the noun
“romanticism” is particularly important, we would find
the term Romantik in Germany in 1802, romantisme
in France in 1816, romanticismo in Italy in 1818, and
romanticism in England in 1823. All these facts point
to the conclusion that the history of the term and its
introduction cannot regulate the usage of the modern
historian, since he would be forced to recognize
milestones in his history which are not justified by the
actual state of the literatures in question. The great
changes happened, independently of the introduction
of these terms, either before or after them and only
rarely approximately at the same time.

On the other hand, the conclusion drawn from ex-
aminations of the history of the words, viz., that they
are used in contradictory senses, seems exaggerated.
One must grant that many German aestheticians juggle
the terms in extravagant and personal ways, nor can
one deny that the emphasis on different aspects of their
meaning shifts from writer to writer and sometimes
from nation to nation, but on the whole there was no
misunderstanding about the meaning of “romanticism”
as a new designation for poetry, opposed to the poetry
of neo-classicism, and drawing its inspiration and
models from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The
term was understood in this sense all over Europe, and
everywhere we find references to August Wilhelm
Schlegel or Madame de Staël and their particular for-
mulas contrasting “classical” and “romantic.”

The fact that the convenient terms were introduced


sometimes much later than the time when actual
repudiation of the neo-classical tradition was accom-
plished does not, of course, prove that the changes were
not noticed at that time.

The mere use of the terms “romantic” and
“romanticism” must not be overrated. English writers
early had a clear consciousness that there was a move-
ment which rejected the critical concepts and poetic
practice of the eighteenth century, that it formed a
unity, and had its parallels on the Continent, especially
in Germany. Without the term “romantic” we can
trace, within a short period, the shift from the earlier
conception of the history of English poetry as one of
a uniform progress from Waller and Denham to
Dryden and Pope, still accepted in Johnson's Lives of
the Poets,
to Southey's opposite view in 1807, that the
“time which elapsed from the days of Dryden to those
of Pope is the dark age of English poetry.” The refor-
mation began with Thomson and the Wartons. The real
turning point was Percy's Reliques, “the great literary
epocha of the present reign” (Introduction to Speci-
mens of the Later English Poets,
ed. R. Southey, London
[1807], pp. xxix and xxxii). Shortly afterwards, in Leigh
Hunt's Feast of the Poets (1814) Wordsworth is con-
sidered “capable of being at the head of a new and
great age of poetry; and in point of fact, I do not deny
that he is so already, as the greatest poet of the pres-
ent” (p. 83). In Wordsworth's own postscript to the
1815 edition of the Poems, the role of Percy's Reliques
is again emphasized: “The poetry of the age has been
absolutely redeemed by it” (Wordsworth, Prose Works,
ed. Grosart, 2, 118, 124). In 1816 Lord Jeffrey ac-
knowledged that the “wits of Queen Anne's time have
been gradually brought down from the supremacy
which they had enjoyed, without competition, for the
best part of a century.” He recognized that the “pres-
ent revolution in literature” was due to the “French
revolution—the genius of Burke—the impression of the
new literature of Germany, evidently the original of
our Lake School of poetry” (review of Scott's edition
of Swift, in Edinburgh Review [Sept. 1816]; reprinted
in Contributions to Edinburgh Review, 2nd ed., London
[1846], 1, 158, 167). In Hazlitt's Lectures on the English
(1818) a new age dominated by Wordsworth is
described quite clearly, with its sources in the French
revolution, in German literature, and its opposition to
the mechanical conventions of the followers of Pope
and the old French school of poetry. Scott uses Schlegel
extensively and describes the general change as a “fresh
turning up of the soil” due to the Germans and neces-
sitated by the “wearing out” of the French models
(“Essay on Drama,” contributed to Encyclopaedia
Supplement, Vol. 3 [1819]; also in Miscel-
laneous Prose Works,
Edinburgh [1834], 6, 380). Carlyle
in his introduction to selections from Ludwig Tieck
draws the English-German parallel quite explicitly:

Neither can the change be said to have originated with
Schiller and Goethe; for it is a change originating not in
individuals, but in universal circumstances, and belongs not
to Germany, but to Europe. Among ourselves, for instance,
within the last thirty years, who has not lifted up his voice
with double vigour in praise of Shakespeare and Nature,
and vituperation of French taste and French philosophy?
Who has not heard of the glories of old English literature;
the wealth of Queen Elizabeth's age; the penury of Queen
Anne's; and the inquiry whether Pope was a poet? A similar
temper is breaking out in France itself, hermetically sealed
as that country seemed to be against all foreign influences;
and doubts are beginning to be entertained, and even
expressed, about Corneille and the Three Unities. It seems
to be substantially the same thing which has occurred in
Germany... only that the revolution, which is here pro-
ceeding, and in France commencing, appears in Germany
to be completed

(Works, Centenary ed., London [1899],
German Romance, 1, 261).

Scott, in a retrospective “Essay on Imitations of the
Ancient Ballads” (1830), also stressed the role of Percy
and the Germans in the revival. “As far back as 1788
a new species of literature began to be introduced into
the country. Germany... was then for the first time
heard of as the cradle of a style of poetry and literature
much more analogous to that of Britain than either
the French, Spanish or Italian schools” (in a new edi-
tion of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border [1830], ed. T.
Henderson, New York [1931], pp. 535-62, especially
pp. 549-50).

Probably the most widely read of these pronounce-
ments was T. B. Macaulay's account in his review of
Moore's Life of Byron. There the period of 1750-80
is called the “most deplorable part of our literary
history.” The revival of Shakespeare, the ballads,
Chatterton's forgeries, and Cowper are mentioned as
the main agents of change. Byron and Scott are singled
out as great names. Most significantly, Macaulay real-
izes that “Byron, though always sneering at Mr.
Wordsworth, was yet, though, perhaps unconsciously,
the interpreter between Mr. Wordsworth and the mul-
titude.... Lord Byron founded what may be called
an exoteric Lake School—what Mr. Wordsworth had
said like a recluse, Lord Byron said like a man of the
world” (Edinburgh Review [June 1831]. Reprinted in
Critical and Historical Essays, Everyman ed., 2,
634-35). Macaulay thus, long before he knew a term
for it, recognized the unity of the English romantic

James Montgomery, in his Lectures on General Lit-
(1833), given in 1830-31, described the age
since Cowper as the third era of modern literature.


Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge are called the
“three pioneers, if not the absolute founders, of the
existing style of English literature.”

The most boldly formulated definition of the new
view is again in Southey, in the “Sketches of the
Progress of English Poetry from Chaucer to Cowper”
(1833). There the “age from Dryden to Pope” is called
“the worst age of English poetry: the age of Pope
was the pinchbeck age of poetry.” “If Pope closed
the door against poetry, Cowper opened it” (The Works
of Cowper,
ed. R. Southey, 3, 109, 142). The same view,
though less sharply expressed, can be found with in-
creasing frequency even then in textbooks, such as
Robert Chambers' History of the English Language and
(1836), in De Quincey's writings, and R. H.
Horne's New Spirit of the Age (1844).

None of these publications use the term “romantic,”
but in all of them we hear that there is a new age
of poetry which has a new style inimical to that of
Pope. The emphasis and selections of examples vary,
but in combination they say that the German influence,
the revival of the ballads and the Elizabethans, and
the French Revolution were the decisive influences
which brought about the change. Thomson, Burns,
Cowper, Gray, Collins, and Chatterton are honored
as precursors, Percy and the Wartons as initiators. The
trio, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, are recog-
nized as the founders and, as time progressed, Byron,
Shelley, and Keats were added in spite of the fact that
this new group of poets denounced the older for politi-
cal reasons.

This general scheme has been then elaborated by
English and American scholarship of the late nine-
teenth and early twentieth century. It emphasized the
revolt against the principles of neo-classical criticism,
the rediscovery of older English literature, the turn
toward subjectivity and the worship of external nature
slowly prepared during the eighteenth century and
stated boldly in Wordsworth and Shelley. On the whole
academic scholarship was sympathetic to the general
outlook of the romantics until, first with the American
neo-humanists (Irving Babbitt in particular) and with
T. S. Eliot and his followers, and later with F. R. Leavis
in England and the New Critics in the United States,
an antiromantic reaction set in, which on various
grounds, moral, political, and aesthetic, considered the
romantic movement a deplorable break with the great
humanist and Christian tradition. In Irving Babbitt's
Rousseau and Romanticism (1919) the objections are
largely directed against romantic morality, its concep-
tion of love and passion, its theories of genius and
inspiration, its worship of nature, and its philosophical
monism. With Eliot and his followers the criticism is,
at least in part, aesthetic; particularly Shelley was
attacked as monotonous, imprecise and vague but also
as ethically immature and politically dangerous.

Meanwhile the prevailing conception of the coher-
ence and unity of romanticism was subjected to a
critical examination by A. O. Lovejoy. In his paper
“On the Discrimination of Romanticisms” (1924)
Lovejoy argued that the word “romantic has come to
mean so many things that by itself, it means nothing.
It has ceased to perform the function of a verbal sign.”
Lovejoy proposed to remedy “this scandal of literary
history and criticism” by showing that the “Romanti-
cism of one country may have little in common with
that of another, that there is, in fact, a plurality of
Romanticisms, of possibly quite distinct thought-
complexes.” He asserts that even “the romantic ideas
were in large part heterogeneous, logically inde-
pendent, and sometimes essentially antithetic to one
another in their implications.” Lovejoy's examples from
Joseph Warton, Friedrich Schlegel, and René de
Chateaubriand demonstrate great divergences in the
views of nature, politics, imagination, and intellect in
the three main countries. Lovejoy's nominalistic disin-
tegration of the concept was pushed then much further
by some scholars both in England and the United
States. R. S. Crane objected in particular to the simpli-
fied view of a struggle between romanticism and
classicism in the English eighteenth century and went
so far as to speak of “the fairytales about neoclassicism
and romanticism” (Philological Quarterly, 22 [1943],
143). George Sherburn managed to write a history of
English eighteenth-century literature (a section of
Literary History of England, ed. A. C. Baugh, New York
[1948]), without using the term and two new volumes
of the Oxford History of English Literature (by W. L.
Renwick and Ian Jack) either avoid the term altogether
or discuss it as “a bed of Procrustes on which to stretch
the English literature of the time” (Ian Jack, English
Literature 1818-1832,
Oxford [1963], p. 420). Mr. Jack
and many others agree with the view that “the English
are notoriously lazy about general ideas and problems
of historiography” and are proud of it.

In recent decades, however, new attempts were
made to redefine romanticism and even to reassert its
unity on a European scale. René Wellek, in “The
Concept of Romanticism in Literary History” (Com-
parative Literature,
1 [1949], 1-23, 147-73), tried to
show that Lovejoy's disintegration of the concept has
gone too far and that it is possible to describe the
common elements of all European romanticisms; he
tried to show that identical or very similar views of
nature, of the imagination and of symbol and myth
pervade all European literature (also the minor ones)
of that time and that these ideas have a profound
coherence and mutual implication. Wellek also tried


to show that the rejection of preromanticism (while
justified against simple views of a struggle between
classicism and romanticism in the eighteenth century)
cannot be upheld: even George Sherburn has to de-
scribe the same phenomena under the name of
“accentuated tendencies” toward the end of the eight-
eenth century. A new age was being prepared and the
preparation can be traced under whatever name.
Wellek's article elicited much discussion. Morse
Peckham in “Toward a Theory of Romanticism”
(PMLA, 56 [1951], 5-23) wanted, he says, “to reconcile
Lovejoy and Wellek” by singling out the criterion of
organic dynamism as the definition of romanticism. He
accepts the concept of nature and imagination as cen-
tral but drops the concern for symbol and myth.
Peckham introduced a new term “negative romanti-
cism,” that is, despairing, nihilistic romanticism. He
argues that “positive romanticism” does not fit a figure
such as Byron. Other books have elaborated on these
themes particularly Meyer Abrams' The Mirror and the
(New York, 1953) which emphasizes the shift
from imitation theory to theory of expression, from the
mirror to the lamp; or rather, from the mechanistic
metaphorical analogies of neo-classical theory to the
biological imagery of the romantic critics. In a great
number of books and articles, often widely divergent
in the evaluation of romanticism, from Frank
Kermode's Romantic Image (1957) which considers
romanticism and its descendant symbolism a “great and
in some ways noxious historical myth” to Harold
Bloom's exaltation of The Visionary Company (1961)
of the English romantics, a wide agreement has been
reached that romanticism centers on a concern for the
reconciliation of subject and object, man and nature,
consciousness and unconsciousness. E. D. Hirsch, in
Wordsworth and Schelling (New Haven, 1960) de-
scribed, e.g., the convergence of these very different
figures in a whole spectrum of ideas: the way of recon-
ciling time and eternity, the immanent theism, the
dialectic which favors what Hirsch calls “both/and
thinking,” the fear of alienation, the concept of living
nature, and the role of the imagination which makes
explicit the implicit unity of all things. H. H. H. Remak
in “Western European Romanticism: Definition and
Scope” (Comparative Literature: Method and Perspec-
ed. Newton P. Stallknecht and Horst Frenz,
Carbondale, Ill. [1961]) reaches the conclusion that
“the evidence pointing to the existence in Western
Europe of a widespread, distinct, and fairly simulta-
neous pattern of thought, attitudes, and beliefs associ-
ated with the connotation 'Romanticism' is over-

In France the debate about romanticism was largely
determined by political considerations. Romanticism
was, according to a famous dictum of Victor Hugo,
identified with liberalism, with the heritage of the
revolution and its supposed initiator Rousseau, and thus
became the target of the conservative reaction, partic-
ularly during the Dreyfus affair. The arguments, which
in English are familiar mainly from Babbitt's books,
were actually formulated in France by Désiré Nisard
and Ferdinand Brunetière in the nineteenth century
and were elaborated particularly by Pierre Lasserre,
in Le romantisme français (1907). Romanticism, he
argues, is “the total corruption of the higher parts of
human nature,” “the usurpation by sensibility and
imagination of the right rule of intelligence and rea-
son,” “the decomposition of art because it is the
decomposition of man.” The romantic worship of na-
ture and progress leads to pantheism, to a cheap opti-
mism and belief in progress. Antiromanticism was a
slogan of the Action française and many, early in the
twentieth century, believed in a revival of classicism
including André Gide and Paul Valéry. In the mean-
time academic research went its even way also in
France; Paul Van Tieghem in a learned compendium
covering all European literatures, Le romantisme dans
la littérature européenne
(1948), came to the meager
conclusion that “the suppression of the mythological
style is probably the most universal trait of formal
romanticism.” But also in France in recent decades a
new synthetic view was formulated. Albert Béguin's
L'âme romantique et le rêve (Marseilles, 1939) sees the
greatness of romanticism in its “having recognized and
affirmed the profound resemblance of poetic states and
the revelations of a religious order.” Romanticism, for
Béguin centers on myth which it discovers in dreams
and the unconscious. Béguin traces the role of dream
in the German romantic theorists, philosophers, and
doctors of the unconscious and studies it in writers such
as Jean Paul, Novalis, Brentano, Arnim, and E. T. A.
Hoffmann sympathetically. He sees Nerval, Baudelaire,
Rimbaud, Mallarmé, and Proust as their immediate
successors. Georges Poulet, the most eminent of the
new French critics, has come to conclusions not far
removed from those of the recent English and Ameri-
can defenders and definers of the concept. In a chapter
of Les métamorphoses du cercle (Paris, 1961) he
generalizes about romanticism boldly: it is a con-
sciousness of the fundamentally subjective nature of
the mind, a withdrawal from reality to the center of
the self, which serves as starting point of a return to
nature. Poulet draws his examples mainly from French
sources but also from Coleridge and Shelley, using
insistently the figure of the circle and circumference.
His conclusion corroborates the view of romanticism
as an effort to overcome the opposition of subject and
object in a personal experience.


In Germany, Rudolf Haym's Romantische Schule
(1870) was the standard work which defined romanti-
cism very narrowly in terms of the first romantic
school: in practice, the thought of the Schlegels and
Tieck. Haym's concern was mainly historical and
descriptive. Only with the dominance of “neo-
romantic” tendencies in German literature around the
turn of the century did a sympathetic interest in the
romantic movement revive. Ricarda Huch's Blütezeit
der Romantik
(1899) was the decisive work, while the
researchers of Oskar Walzel, who published many letters
and set the movement into a context of intellectual
history, gave the revival a scholarly basis. In the early
twenties a whole series of books was devoted specific-
ally to definitions of the nature or essence of romanti-
cism. They operate with dichotomies, thesis and
antithesis, vast contrasts such as idea and form, idea
and experience, rationalism and irrationalism, etc. Max
Deutschbein, in Das Wesen des Romantischen (Leipzig,
1921) stressed the reconciling, synthetic imagination
as the common denominator of romanticism drawing
quotations from English and German sources.

A scheme of contrast is the result of Fritz Strich's
Deutsche Klassik und Romantik: oder Vollendung und
(Munich, 1922). There Strich transfers
Wölfflin's Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (1915) to
literature. Man searches for permanence or eternity;
and the history of man oscillates between the two poles
of perfection and infinitude. Romanticism is dynamic,
has open form, is symbolic, yearns for the infinite
always in opposition to classicism documented by the
classical stage of Goethe and Schiller. All these writings
are surveyed in Julius Petersen's Wesensbestimmung
der deutschen Romantik
(1926). German scholarship
was largely geistesgeschichtlich but there was also a
trend which before the event of Nazism tried to explain
romanticism by a kind of racial history.

Josef Nadler in Die Berliner Romantik (1921) argued
the curious thesis that romanticism is purely a matter
of the Germanized Slavs in Eastern Germany who
wanted to revive the Teutonic Middle Ages while
German classicism is the attempt of the West Germans
to revive the Roman antiquity of their distant past.
The West Germans in the romantic movement
(Brentano, Görres, etc.) are explained away as belong-
ing to a separate movement, called “The Restoration.”
Similar nationalistic theories which look at romanti-
cism as a purely German affair were expounded during
and after the Nazi period by serious scholars such as
Richard Benz (Die deutsche Romantik, 1937), who seek
the essence of romanticism in German music and the
spirit of music. Since the second World War interest
in geistesgeschichtlich speculation declined and German
literary scholarship turned toward textual inter
pretation. There are exceptions such as Adolf Grimme's
Vom Wesen der Romantik (1947) which has defined
romanticism as a breakthrough of what he calls “the
vegetative strata of the soul”: the preconscious rather
than the subconscious. The preconscious includes the
imagination which is raised to consciousness in
romanticism. Grimme argues for a phenomenological
method. The aim of a verbal definition is illusory. We
can only point to what is romantic as we can only
point to the color red.

But we need not conclude on such an irrationalistic
note. The variety of interpretations, the divergence and
multiplicity of definition need not lead to despair. One
can describe the rise, dominance, and decline of a
system of ideas and poetic practices which will have
their anticipations and survivals. Periods and move-
ments are not general terms of which every individual
work or figure would be merely an example. They are
neither mere linguistic labels nor metaphysical entities
but regulative ideas, historiographical tools. Agreement
on the meaning of romanticism in all the main
countries has, in spite of the spate of writings on the
topic, grown rather than diminished in recent decades.
Romanticism clearly preserves its value as a term for
a period in Western literature.


Carla Apollonio, Romantico: storia e fortuna di una parola
(Florence, 1958). Fernand Baldensperger, “Romantique—ses
analogues et équivalents,” in Harvard Studies and Notes in
Philology and Literature,
14 (1937), 13-105. François Jost,
“Romantique: la leçon d'un mot,” in Essais de littérature
(Fribourg, 1968), II, 181-258. A. O. Lovejoy, “The
Meaning of 'Romantic' in Early German Romanticism,” in
modern Language Notes, 21 (1916), 385-96, and 22 (1917),
65-77; reprinted in Essays in the History of Ideas (Balti-
more, 1948), pp. 183-206; idem, “On the Discrimination
of Romanticisms,” in PMLA, 39 (1924), 229-53; reprinted
in Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore, 1948), pp.
228-53. Morse Peckham, “Toward a Theory of Romanti-
cism,” in PMLA, 66 (1951), 5-23; idem, “Toward a Theory
of Romanticism II. Reconsiderations,” in Studies in Roman-
1 (1961), 1-6. Julius Petersen, Die Wesensbestimmung
der deutschen Romantik
(Berlin, 1926). H. H. H. Remak,
“West European Romanticism: Definition and Scope,” in
Comparative Literature: Method and Perspective, ed. New-
ton P. Stallknecht and Horst Frenz (Carbondale, Ill., 1961),
pp. 123-59. Franz Schultz, “Romantik und Romantisch als
literaturgeschichtliche Terminologie und Begriffsbildung,”
in Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und
2 (1924), 349-66. Logan P. Smith, Four
Words: Romantic, Originality, Creative, Genius,
Society for
Pure English, Tract No. 17 (Oxford, 1924); reprinted in
Words and Idioms (Boston, 1925). Richard Ullmann and
Helene Gotthard, Geschichte des Begriffs 'Romantisch' in


Deutschland (Berlin, 1927). René Wellek, “The Concept of
Romanticism in Literary Scholarship,” in Comparative Lit-
1 (1949), 1-23, 147-72; reprinted in Concepts of
(New Haven, 1963), pp. 128-98; idem, “Romanti-
cism Re-examined,” in Concepts of Criticism (New Haven,
1963), pp. 199-221.


[See also Classicism in Literature; Gothic; Organicism;
Romanticism; Zeitgeist.]