Romanticism was a movement that disregarded tradition
of and defined itself in opposition to the Enlightenment. For the artists and
philosophers of the Enlightenment, the ideal life was one governed by reason.
Artists and poets strived for ideas of harmony, symmetry, and order, valuing
craftsmanship and tradition. The ideas of the period included a faith in human
reason to understand the universe and resolve the problems. The Romantic
movement emphasized the individual self and sentiment as opposed to reason.
Rather than valuing symmetry and harmony, the Romantics valued individuality,
surprise, intensity of emotion, and expressiveness. The ideals of these two
intellectual movements were very different from one another.
(1685-1815), sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason, was the merging of
ideas and activities that took place throughout the eighteenth century.
Scientific rationalism, exemplified by the scientific method, was the
“hallmark” of everything related to the Enlightenment. Similar to the
Renaissance, Enlightenment thinkers believed that the advances of science and
industry heralded a new age of equalness and progress for humankind. More goods
were being produced for less money, people were traveling more, and standards
of life were significantly improving. At the same time, many voices were
expressing sharp criticism of some time-honored cultural traditions. The
Church, in particular, was singled out as preventing source the forward
movement of human reason. Many intellectuals of the Enlightenment period
practiced the rejection of organized, doctrinal religion in order to move to a
more favorable belief of a more personal and spiritual kind of faith. The
Enlightenment thinkers believed very strongly in rationality and science. They
believed that the natural world and even human behavior could be explained
scientifically. They even felt that they could use the scientific method to
improve human society.
Works like “Sinner in the
Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards perfectly summed up this
period. It emphasized human sinfulness and God’s free gift of grace, by which
he saves those whom he deems worthy. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”
the work for which Edwards is best remembered for today, presents one of the
most memorable images of the relationship between God and man: “The God that
holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome
insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards
you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be
cast into the fire . . . you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes,
as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.” The terror and harshness
of Edwards’ sermon had profound emotional impact on congregations. This work by
Edwards was produced near the height of the Enlightenment itself, but Edwards
continued to examine the question of the role of religion in reason. Science
and reason were placed over religion because now there was real evidence to
support things rather than simply saying it is God’s will.
By contrast, the Romantics
rejected the whole idea of reason and science. They felt that a scientific
worldview was cold and sterile. They felt that science and material progress
would rob people of their humanity. In place of reason, the Romantics exalted
feelings and emotions. They felt that intuition and emotions were important
sources of knowledge. Thus, the ideals of the Romantics and the thinkers of the
Enlightenment were very much opposed to one another. Romanticism stresses on
self-expression and individual uniqueness that does not lend itself to precise
definition. Romantics believed that men and women ought to be guided by warm
emotions rather than the cold abstract rules and rituals. To be extreme,
flamboyant, unusual, and violent even at the risk of becoming repulsive was the
desire of every “romantic”. The Romantics were those who were trying to escape
from their own shadows. Expressing things unapologetically with no regard for
reason, just pure moving emotion. The Romantic association of nature and spirit
expressed itself in one of two ways. The landscape was, on one hand regarded as
an extension of the human personality, capable of sympathy with man’s emotional
state. On other hand, nature was regarded as a vehicle for spirit; the breath
of God fills both man and the earth. Conteness in scenery and in the innocent
life was a popular in this literary theme. Often combined with this feeling
pure life is a generalized romantic melancholy, a sense that change is
impending and that a way of life is being threatened.
The Romanticism period was also characterized by its darkness.
Just as emotions of life could be expressed so could emotions of death and
darkness. Edgar Allen Poe more expressed these darker parts of Romanticism. He
strays away from the happiness of life but more so magnifies the truth of life;
through birth and death. The dark part of Poe was recognized as a “dark
romantic” due to this style of writing. Dark romantic reflects on irrational
situation of insanity, sinful, and unrealistic ideas and symbols. Edgar Allen
Poe uses this literary skill often and does is very symbolically. Poe is known
for having very dark short stories the talk about the unexplained and forces
the reader to think. Along with this Poe was particularly known for his very
tortured and unbalanced mind. In Poe’s short story, The Black Cat, the
narrator tries persuades his innocence about his experience between his wife
and pets. ” …it was now, I say, the image of a hideous — of a ghastly thing —
of the GALLOWS! — oh, mournful and terrible engine of horror and of crime —
of agony and death!” Like many of Poe’s stories it is shown that there are
emotions. Thought these emotions may be dark, you are able to identify that
this comes from the Romantic era.
As these two periods share similar views they are not the same.
One being extremely focused on reason and scientific reason; everything has an
explanation and can be explained scientifically. God made it and withdrew,
leaving it to run itself. The other being extremely emotional based and
expresses the feelings of human life in the simplest forms. Enlightenment
captured the strict reasoning and tradition in life, whereas Romanticism
explored the spiritual portion of life.