Pre Romanticism

As the century progressed, Thomson's Seasons proved to be more and more influential. Thomson's particularized descriptions derive in part from Lockean empiricism and the privileging of the sense of sight. His extraordinary expansiveness depends on his use of the same philosopher's association of ideas, whereby a landscape creates an association with a mood, a mood with a reflection, and so on. (It is an increasingly explored paradox that the philosopher of the eighteenth-century compromise was also the source of so much in Romanticism.) Thomson's whole structure of subjective associations was to become the main principle of poetry by the midcentury (Cohen 1957). It is especially apparent in what are often presented together as a group of poets in the 1740s: Thomas Gray, William Collins, and the Warton brothers, Joseph and Thomas. Collins praises Thomson in an eloquent memorial poem with the plangent line, "In yonder grave a Druid lies," and Mark Akenside would hardly have written The Pleasures of Imagination (1744) without the example of Thomson's Miltonic blank verse.

There is the sense of something genuinely new in the work of these poets, and various factors contribute to this, each of which has been presented as a partial or total explanation. The growing cult of nature in the period results from Newtonian science, Shaftesbury's celebration of the neoplatonic divine spirit, the fashion for landscape painting, and the Lockean focus on particulars. As we have seen, nature was increasingly associated with subjective moods and thus blended in with the growing interest in individual psychology and the imagination. The cult of the sublime was also linked with the concern for the expression of the passions, and the latter in turn modulated into sentiment and sensibility in this so-called Age of Reason. Blanford Parker argues for a Protestant revival at about this time, reflected in Young's Night Thoughts (1742—5), although Young's work is also striking in its more subjective emotionalism (Parker 1998: 219—30). But with Christopher Smart a true Christian sublime is attained, and later in the century William Cowper's evangelicalism takes the dual form of sensibility and criticism of his society. The passions and the sublime in Gray and Collins are secularized, however, as we have also seen with their predecessor Thomson.

The cumulative endeavor of these poets also relates to a complex of political thought in the period that stems originally from the values of the tradition of independent and thus virtuous landowners known as "civic humanism." This leads on to the idea that as a society grows more sophisticated so it is in danger of growing more alienated from the true sources of feeling and thus from the true sources of poetry. There is an inevitable reaction here, then, against the values of refinement and politeness, a reaction most famously expressed in Joseph Warton's claim that Pope's is not the greatest form of poetry (An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 1756). The same complex contributes to the new sense of the past and the quest for new sources. There is a celebration of what is presented as the naturalism of Greece, for example, and the minor poems of Milton become a central influence. The primitive British past is explored, and the romance sources of the Middle Ages. As John Sitter has argued, the fall of Walpole and the death of Pope were also major factors (Sitter 1982). There was a movement away from specific party politics and satire, although, as Christine Gerrard and Dustin Griffin have shown, there are still aspirations in Gray for the poet to fulfill a public role (Gerrard 1994; Griffin 2002). In Cowper politics and social critique return, although, interestingly, he uses the topos of retirement, like Pope, as a rhetorical vantage point. [See ch. 27, "Verse Satire."]

The idea, however, that there is a specific literary period bridging the gap between neoclassicism and Romanticism seems to have begun with French critics' perceptions of their own literature. The idea was also applied to Italian literature. The same concept was increasingly implied by late nineteenth-century critics of English literature, as a title such as W. L. Phelps's The Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) would indicate. The word "Pre-Romanticism" itself was not introduced into English until the translation of Emile Legouis and Louis Cazamian's Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1921). Occasionally used in popular literary textbooks to this day, the term has long been out of fashion among critics, as noted above, for its false teleology. Ultimately, as Robert Griffin makes clear in Wordsworth's Pope (1995), it implies a literary history judged entirely from the perspective of Romantic thought. Marshall Brown has attempted to revive the term in a major book boldly entitled Preromanticism (1991), where he argues that the prefix can be taken to mean not a prelude to something but as indicating a time before something has come into existence, since teleology implies a goal that is not yet realized. Thus these "pre-Romantic" writers, in Brown's view, differ from earlier eighteenth-century poets in that they articulate in tentative fashion a new set of problems to which they can find no answer. The Romantics proper both proposed answers and also articulated new, if analogous, problems. This is a view with much to commend it, but it is surely impossible to change the meaning of an old, misleading term single-handedly.

Marshall Brown's formulation, for all his protestations, also seems to continue the pattern of thinking about these poets mainly in the context of what is to come. Perhaps this remains unavoidable, but, as I have said, it fails to do justice to some very individual poets writing over a period of about fifty years, some of whom, like Smart, are very difficult to fit into such a narrative. John Sitter is among those who have proposed the term "Post-Augustan" instead (Sitter 1982). Logically speaking, that might seem to be open to the opposite danger of seeing these "midcentury" poets as a footnote to the Augustan period, but in practice this is not the effect, and the term has the advantage of not exaggerating discontinuity. Patricia Spacks, for example, has written a cogent essay on the conventional eighteenth-century elements in Collins's work (Spacks 1983). Samuel Johnson was a great opponent of many of the new trends in poetry, but he warmly praised what we might regard as the Augustan centrality of Gray's famous Elegy, and it is surely true that the newer elements in the poem come in more obliquely than we might expect. Smart and Chatterton both write excellently in conventional Augustan modes, the latter returning to satire before his death. Edward Young wrote Popean satires as well as the Night Thoughts, and Cowper's The Task (1785) is both the epitome of new sensibility, even subjectivism, and yet conversational and mock-heroic. But "Post-Augustan" is very limiting as a definition too. It has to lump together poets such as Gray, Collins, the Warton brothers, and Akenside (who each in their own way at least make grand gestures toward something new) with poets such as Johnson,

Goldsmith, George Crabbe, and Charles Churchill, who remain more selfconsciously old-fashioned. We come up against the limitations of chronology once more. It is appropriate to call Johnson a "late Augustan," in part because of his deliberate critical attack on the new modes in the Lives of the Poets and his great defense of Pope: "If Pope be not a poet, then where is poetry to be found?" (Johnson 1905: vol. 3, 251). Yet there is also a lesser sense in which he is "Post-Augustan" in his movement toward a high seriousness of tone and in his more strenuous Christianity. Goldsmith and Crabbe have more elements of what is new: the partly subjective nostalgia of the former, the interest in extreme states in the latter. But "Post-Augustan" seems to fit these particular poets better than it does the wider category to which Sitter refers.

A very exciting recent reassessment of the "Pre-Romantic" poets is signaled in the new label "Early Romantics," as used in Robert Griffin's Wordsworth's Pope. This term really grasps the nettle, emphasizing these writers' radicalism while refusing to patronize them or treat them as subordinate to the canonical Romantics. The argument is also associated with David Fairer's work on the Warton brothers and the claim that their linkage of new poetic impulses to the rediscovery of romance sources is a defining moment (Fairer 2003: 156). A recent collection of essays entitled Early Romantics (Woodman 1998) combines studies of poets once called "Pre-Romantic" with new approaches to women poets such as Ann Yearsley, who displays a remarkable privileging of untutored "genius" and imaginative inspiration — qualities which merit the title "Early Romantic" if any of these writers do.

Doubts about this terminology remain, however. If the Wartons undoubtedly had a coherent strategy, their actual poetic achievement remains small. Thomas Warton remains notoriously ambivalent, as evidenced by his "Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's Painted Window at New-College Oxford," which reluctantly rejects gothic (Warton 1782). Even if Gray and Collins (with his dismissal of Waller) can usefully be seen as part of the same broad program, this is hardly the case with (say) Smart. Furthermore, although "romantic" is a perfectly legitimate usage to convey an interest in romance sources, it is not the primary sense of the word as it used for the canonical Romantics, who did not make massive use of medievalism. "Early Romantics," despite all the advantages of the term, thus remain confusingly different from "Later Romantics."

The basic point, perhaps, is that there is a very distinctive difference between such "Early Romantics" and "Later Romantics," even though the earlier poets certainly influence the later and deal in part with similar issues. Another highly relevant development in eighteenth-century studies in recent years has been the growing recognition of the importance of sentiment and sensibility in the period, and the readiness to take this development more on its own terms and see it less through the eyes of its opponents and satirists [see ch. 9, "Poetry, Sentiment, and Sensibility"]. Northrop Frye's essay "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility" (1956) was an important harbinger of this approach, and it also suggested a different label for the poetry of this transitional age. Frye's terminology has the advantages of linking the poetry of the period with the prose and of seeing it as equally distinct from both what precedes and what follows. Wordsworth, for example, is as clearly writing in reaction against some aspects of sensibility, just as he is also opposed to polite classicism. His own attitudes toward both nature and the poor are self-consciously differentiated from the cult of sensibility, although it certainly influenced him.

Yet "sensibility" seems too broad a term to cover the work of so many different poets. Frye intends to apply it to the later eighteenth century, and there is certainly a link between humanitarian interests and sensibility at that time as well as a special interest in female poetry of sensibility, as in Charlotte Smith's Elegiac Sonnets (1784) and the poetry of Helen Maria Williams. Marlon Ross has seen this "feminising" of literary culture as characteristic of the whole later period (Ross 1989). The poets of the 1740s likewise cultivate a new emotionalism, but the attempt to revive a poetry of sublimity and passion, as in Collins's "The Passions. An Ode for Music," is rather different from sensibility, even though in practice the two may overlap ("He gave to Misery all he had, a tear," writes Gray in the Elegy [l. 123]). The rather rhetorical Christian passion of the Night Thoughts is different from sensibility, and so, certainly, is Smart's Christian enthusiasm. Cowper's Christian feeling, on the other hand, does seem to overlap with what we might consider sensibility.

So perhaps there is no entirely appropriate term or category for this mid- to later eighteenth-century poetry. Every such candidate, as we have seen, runs the danger of lumping together very different poets and very different eras. In the 1740s, a group of poets sharing similar concerns - notably Gray, Collins, the Warton brothers - struck out in new directions (although it is easy to exaggerate their originality), and their new aspirations were backed up by criticism and scholarly endeavors. Poets of the later century seem more isolated figures, although naturally enough influenced by the poets who precede them, both the Augustans and the new poets of the 1740s. Some of these later poets go further in directions already indicated by their predecessors: in the imitation and development of earlier British sources, for example, which takes radical form in the case of Chatterton and Macpherson, or in the cultivation of subjective emotion. As Marshall Brown has shown, this foregrounding of subjective consciousness and the subjective self is the primary and distinctive achievement of this poetry of the later eighteenth century, and this is to be found in the apparently more conservative Oliver Goldsmith as well as in the more obviously "Pre-Romantic" Cowper (Brown 1991).

The problematics of the subjective self also appear to coalesce with one theme that these later poets do have strikingly in common with Gray and Collins: the self-image and role of the poet. Gray's "The Bard" and "The Progress of Poesy," and Collins's "Ode on the Poetical Character," evoke and yet at the same time disclaim the status of an inspired prophetic poet. It has been pointed out that, like Gray in "The Bard," the later poets seem to be able to claim that mantle only through acquiring the voice of a past poet - Ossian or Thomas Rowley, for example. Smart once again is different here, although he may not at first seem so. In assimilating his voice to that of the prophet-poet King David, Smart makes use of Christian typology in which the believer actually becomes that which is imaged.

It is perhaps better, then, simply to speak of mid-eighteenth-century poets and later eighteenth-century poets, since there is no one obvious generic term that serves at the same time both to differentiate and yet link the two, let alone avoid overgeneralizing about the individual poets in either broad chronological category. It is much the same with the relationship of either or both with Romanticism. These poets show different levels of awareness of and engagement with many of the broad and complex, and now increasingly controversial, elements usually seen as part of the definition of Romanticism. They are also differentiated from them in other respects. Their styles, for example, often retain an allusive, and hence rather elaborate, classicism. The aspiration to the sublime in their work may involve gestures toward a more traditional high style than is usual with either the Augustans or the Romantics. For Gray, the "language of the age is never the language of poetry" (letter to Richard West, 1742, in Gray 1971: vol. 1, 192). As with the Augustans, however, even when these poets write more plainly, a certain elite politeness may remain, and there is some degree either of condescension or of self-conscious sentimentality when they deal with lower-class subjects. Each of these poets has a subtly different sense of nature, of the imagination, and of the interrelationship between the two. None, however, sees nature either as divine in and of itself or alternatively as being brought forth in all its glory by the human creative imagination.

Robert Burns and William Blake are late eighteenth-century poets themselves, and they are much influenced by their predecessors and contemporaries, but their work nevertheless constitutes a radical difference. As we have seen, poets in the eighteenth century felt an increasing desire for spontaneity and genuineness of emotion in a sophisticated society; but Schiller makes a brilliant distinction between what he calls naive (i.e. genuinely primitive and thus authentic) literature and the sentimental or self-conscious mode (1795, cited in McGann 1996: 119—20). Both Burns and Blake speak out of a different class perspective from most of their predecessors and yet with no feeling whatsoever of inferiority. Both Burns's popular poems and Blake's Songs mark a deep inversion of traditional norms in this respect, and show that genuine simplicity still remains an option. Blake, of course, an "Early Romantic" in the fullest sense, goes much further in creating, as Wallace Jackson has indicated (1978: 89—121), a radical mythic structure that is able to link the visionary with the ordinary, to bring the transcendent back together again with the real and the human. Wordsworth's myth of nature achieves a similar purpose. Only Smart, among the poets discussed earlier in the chapter, with his remarkably realized re-presentation of a more orthodox Christianity, was able to bring about anything quite like this.

See also chs. 4, "Poetry and Religion"; 5, "Poetic Enthusiasm"; 9, "Poetry, Sentiment, and Sensibility"; 33, "The Classical Inheritance"; 35, "Recovering the Past: Shakespeare, Spenser, and British Poetic Tradition"; 37, "The Sublime."

References and Further Reading

Brown, Laura (1985). Alexander Pope. Oxford: Blackwell.

Brown, Marshall (1991). Preromanticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Clark, J. C. D. (1985). English Society, 1688-1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Régime. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, Ralph (1957). "Association of Ideas and Poetic Unity." Philological Quarterly 36: 4, 465-74.

Cohen, Ralph (1967). "The Augustan Mode in English Poetry." Eighteenth-Century Studies 1, 3-32.

Doody, Margaret Anne (1985). The Daring Muse: Augustan Poetry Reconsidered. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dryden, John (1956-2000). The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. E. N. Hooker, H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., et al. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Erskine-Hill, Howard (1983). The Augustan Idea in English Literature. London: Edward Arnold.

Fairer, David (2003). English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789. London: Longman.

Frye, Northrop (1956). "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility." ELH 23: 2, 144-52.

Gerrard, Christine (1994). The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725-1742. Oxford: Clarendon.

Gray, Thomas (1971). Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols., ed. Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Star. Oxford: Clarendon.

Greene, Donald (1970). The Age of Exuberance: Backgrounds to Eighteenth-Century English Literature. New York: Random House.

Griffin, Dustin (2002). Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth Century Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Griffin, Robert J. (1995). Wordsworth's Pope: A Study in Literary Historiography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hammond, Brean S. (1997). Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: "Hackney for Bread." Oxford: Clarendon.

Jackson, Wallace (1978). The Probable and the

Marvellous: Blake, Wordsworth and the Eighteenth-Century Critical Tradition. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Johnson, Samuel (1905). Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols., ed. G. Birkbeck Hill. Oxford: Clarendon.

Keith, Jennifer (2001). " 'Pre-Romanticism' and the Ends of Eighteenth-Century Poetry." In John Sitter (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 271-90. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lonsdale, Roger, ed. (1969). The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. London and New York: Longman.

Lonsdale, Roger, ed. (1984). The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lonsdale, Roger, ed. (1989). Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGann, Jerome (1996). The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style. Oxford: Clarendon.

Nokes, David (1990). "Augustanism." In M. Coyle, P. Garside, M. Kelsall, and J. Peck (eds.), Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism, 93-105. London: Routledge.

Parker, Blanford (1998). The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pope, Alexander (1950). The Twickenham Edition of the Works of Alexander Pope, vol. 3, i: The Essay on Man, ed. Maynard Mack. London: Methuen.

Ross, Marlon (1989). The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sambrook, A. J. (1990). " 'Augustan' Poetry." In M. Coyle, P. Garside, M. Kelsall, and J. Peck (eds.), Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism, 253-64. London: Routledge.

Scouten, Arthur (1987). "The Warton Forgeries and the Concept of Preromanticism in English Literature." Études Anglaises 40: 4, 434-47.

Sitter, John (1982). Literary Loneliness in Mid-Eighteenth-Century England. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer (1983)."The Eighteenth-Century Collins." Modern Language Quarterly 44: 1, 3-22.

Sutherland, James (1948). A Preface to Eighteenth-

Century Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon. Warton, Thomas (1782). Verses on Sir Joshua Reynolds's Painted Window at New-College Oxford. London: J. Dodsley. Weinbrot, Howard D. (1978). Augustus Caesar in "Augustan" England: The Decline of a Classical Norm. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Williams, Abigail (2005). Poetry and the Creation of a Whig Literary Culture, 1681—1714. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Woodman, Thomas, ed. (1998). Early Romantics: Perspectives in British Poetry from Pope to Wordsworth. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

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