The Enlightenment, an intellectual movement of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, immediately preceded the time in which the Romantics were writing. In Britain, the work of Locke and Newton, who were proponents of empiricism and mechanism respectively, were central to Enlightenment philosophy.
Locke was the founder of empiricism, the belief that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience; Newton ushered in a mechanistic worldview when he formulated a mathematical description of the laws of mechanics and gravitation, which he applied to planetary and lunar motion.
In The Mirror and the Lamp M.H. Abrams notes that there was a "culmination of a tendency of the new philosophy in England, empirical in pretension and practical in orientation, to derogate poetry in comparison with science" (300).
Abrams also notes that "in his Thoughts Concerning Education, Locke (echoing the opinion of the Elizabethan Puritans that poets are wantons, as well as useless) does not disguise his contempt for the unprofitableness of a poetic career, either to the poet himself or (by implication) to others" (300).
Similarly, when Newton was asked for his judgement of poetry, he replied "I'll tell you that of Barrow:--he said, that poetry was a kind of ingenious nonsense" (Abrams 300).
Faced with this kind of attitude, poets such as Keats felt that "the matter of fact or science [was] not only the opposite, but [also] the enemy, of poetry in a war in which the victory, or even the survival, of poetry was far from certain" (303).
It is in this intellectual environment that the Romantic poets were formulating th...
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...al events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities," were shared, common experiences that bound people together as English subjects.
Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1953.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1991.
Bowra, C. M. The Romantic Imagination. London: Oxford UP, 1949.
Pyle, Forest. The Ideology of the Imagination. Standford: Standford UP, 1995.
Sherry, Charles. Wordsworth's Poetry of the Imagination. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.
Wordsworth, William. "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism: An Anthology. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 357-366.
Wordsworth, William. "Tintern Abbey." Romanticism: An Anthology. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 265-269.
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