The Romantic Period And Robert Burns Essay

, Research Paper At the end of the eighteenth century a new literature arose in England. It was called, Romanticism, and it opposed most of the ideas held earlier in the century. Romanticism had its roots

, Research Paper

At the end of the eighteenth century a new literature arose

in England. It was called, Romanticism, and it opposed most of

the ideas held earlier in the century. Romanticism had its roots

in a changed attitude toward mankind.The forerunners

of the Romanticists argued that men are naturally good; society

makes them bad. If the social world could be changed, all men

might be happier. Many reforms were suggested: better treatment

of people in prisons and almshouses; fewer death penalties for

minor crimes; and an increase in charitable institutions.

Romanticism was a powerful reaction against Neoclassicism in

liberation of the imagination and rediscovery of nature. English

romantic writers tended to turn their backs upon cities and

centers of culture for their inspiration, and to seek subjects

and settings for their poems in mountains and valleys, forests,

meadows and brooks. Romanticism made much of freedom and

imagination. Some ideas that came with the romantic movement are

that humble life is best, and another was that people should live

close to nature. Thus the Romantic movement was essentially

anti-progress, if progress meant industrialization. Because of

this concern for nature and the simple folk, authors began to

take an interest in old legends, folk ballads, and rustic

characters. Many writers started to give more play to their

senses and to their imagination. Their pictures of nature became

livelier and more realistic. They loved to describe rural scenes,

graveyards, majestic mountains and roaring waterfalls.

With this Romanticism grew, but it can not be accurately

defined. It was a group of ideas, a web of beliefs. No one

Romantic writer expressed all these ideas, but each believed

enough of them to set him apart from earlier writers. The

Romanticist was emotional and imaginative. He acted through

inspiration and intuition, believed in democracy, humanity, and

the possibility of achieving a better world.

Some of the first great romanticists included, William

Blake. He not only wrote books, but he also illustrated and

printed them. Many of his conservative contemporaries thought he

was insane because his ideas were so unusual. Among those

“insane” ideas was his devotion to freedom and universal love. He

was interested in children and animals.

Another significant author of the Romantic period is Samuel

Taylor Coleridge. No one had put more wonder and mystery into

beautiful melodic verse than he did. His strange,

haunting supernaturalism of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and

‘Christabel’ have universal and irresistible appeal. A friend of

Coleridge’s for many years was William Wordsworth. Together they

wrote a volume of verse, ‘Lyrical Ballads’, which sounded the new

note in poetry. This book really signaled the beginning of

English Romanticism. Coleridge found beauty in the unreal,

Wordsworth found it in the realities of nature. From nature

Wordsworth learned that life may be a continuous development

toward goodness. He believed that if man heeds the lessons of

nature he will grow in character and moral worth.

But before the Romantic movement burst into full expression

there were beginners, or experimenters. Some of them are great

names in English literature, one would be, Robert Burns. He was

born on January 25,1759 in Alloway, Ayshire, in a home like he

described in his poem ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’. His father,

William Burness was a Scottish tenant farmer and his mother was

Agnes Brown Burness, Robert was the eldest of seven.

As a young boy he worked long hours on his father’s farm,

which was not successful. But in spite of his poverty he was

extremely well read at the insistence of his father , who

employed a tutor for Robert and younger brother Gilbert. Watching

his father suffer, Robert began to rebel against the social

conventions of his time, and the seeds of his poetry’s satire

were sown. At 15 Robert was the principal worker on the farm and

this prompted him to start writing in an attempt to find “some

kind of counterpoise for his circumstances.” It was at this

tender age he penned his first verse, “My Handsome Nell”, which

was an ode to the other subjects that dominated his life, namely

scotch and women.

When William Burness died in 1784, Robert and his brother

became partners in the farm. He worked hard, wrote poetry and had

several love affairs. His farm was not profitable and Burns was

restless and unhappy, he was more interested in the romantic

nature of poetry than farming. His rebellion against the

Calvinist religion of his community led the parents of Jean

Armour to forbid her marriage to Burns, even though he was

pregnant with his child. Soon after Burns turned to a new

relationship with Mary Campbell, who is featured in his poem

‘Highland Mary’. Because of Burns’ open support of the French

Revolution it had upset the establishment and branded him a

dangerous radical.

He had

invited Mary Campbell to immigrate with him to Jamaica, but she

died before they could leave. In 1786 Burns published ‘Poems

Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’ in nearby Kilmarnock. It was an

instant success, and he soon forgot about Jamaica. The poetry in

the volume highlights the lives of Scottish peasants. ‘To a

Mouse’ presents the world from the point of view of a field mouse

dug up by a plow. Some of the work is satiric, such as the

dramatic monologue ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, which revealed the

hypocrisy Burns saw in Calvinism.

Once his works were published, they received much critical

acclaim. This and the fact that he had children made him stay in

Scotland. After his season of fame, he reconciled with Jean

Armour and her family , married her in 1788. They leased a farm

in Ellisland, and then moved to Dumfries, where Burns was

employed as a tax inspector. While collecting taxes, Burns had

met up with James Johnston who he had met in Edinburgh. Johnston

had asked Burns for help rewriting songs for his ‘Scots Musical

Museum’. Burns proved himself to be a gifted and prolific

songwriter, both in writing new lyrics and in rewriting new

lyrics for old Scottish tunes. Burns considered the work to be

in the service of his country and refused payment. Burns revealed

many of his interests in his songs. His patriotism rings in such

verses as ‘Scots Wha Hae wi’ Wallace Bled’, though it was first

written anonymously, it was nothing less than a cry for liberty

and independence for Scotland. His romantic self is expressed in

his love songs, ‘My Jean’, ‘A Red,Red Rose’ and ‘The Banks o’

Doon’. The last years of Burns’ life were dedicated to his

greatest works such as ‘The Lea Rig’, ‘Tam O’Shanter’ and ‘A

Red,Red Rose’. He died when he was thirty seven years old on July

21,1796 the same day Jean gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.

Robert Burns was a man before his time. His style of writing

had distinct characteristics of the Romantic Period, though he

was twenty years early. It showed emotions instead of reason,

imagination instead of logic and creativity rather than

intuition. Burns paved the way for future Romanticists, showing

them that individualism rather than conformity can be accepted.

It would be okay if their imagination longed to dwell on far-off,

exotic lands. Unlike the Neoclassicists who had been interested

exclusively in their own times and contemporary society.