CTWT ESSAY 2
To what extent was Romanticism a reaction to Enlightenment values?
Although it appears Romanticism is a complete contrast to the Enlightenment values that comes before it, such as the importance of objective thought, the necessity to think with reason and logic and more. However, upon further study of the literature and ideas that Romanticism portrays, I would argue that it is more of a development of the Enlightenment rather than an anti-thesis of it, as I believe that the issues Romanticism explores are similar to the issues explored by Enlightenment thinkers. To keep my argument concise, I will refer mainly to the literary works of William Blake, namely his songs of Innocence and Experience as background and confirmation of the points I aim to explore in this essay. I aim to provide an understanding of the nature of Romantic literature through examples of common Romantic themes, such as innocence and nature. Meanwhile, exploring the development of Romanticism further through Blake’s Songs of Experience, to show the juxtaposition of the Idealist versus the Realist and demonstrate some of the similarities between Enlightenment and Romanticism, such as the criticism of religion, to further verify that Romanticism is in fact a development of its predecessor.
The birth of Romanticism is widely regarded as a reaction to the period of Enlightenment in which ideas surrounding life, human nature, freedom and the nature of the state were developed, by thinkers such as Hobbes, Smith and Rousseau. Birthed out of the Scientific Revolution, the period of Enlightenment saw great historical events such as the American, French and Haitian revolutions, inspired by ideas such as ‘Life, Liberty and Property’ (Locke and Ward 2016) [footnoteRef:1]. Although obsessed with logic and reason, ethics and virtues, the period of Enlightenment was full of hypocrisy, bloodshed and disillusion. Romanticism is a reaction then, to this disillusionment and pretence that Enlightenment brings. An example of this would be the relevance of racism during the Enlightenment period- although focused on freedom and equality, the refusal to accept the black man into the equation proved the hypocrisy of the time. Blake explores this in ‘The Little Black Boy’ (Blake and Johnson, n.d.)[footnoteRef:2] where the protagonist wants so dearly to be loved but believes his soul must be white to find acceptance. [1: In his Two Treatise, Locke explains that every man has the right to Life Liberty and Property, as natural rights. Thomas Jefferson later took Locke’s idea when drafting the American Declaration of Independence, declaring the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Locke, John, and Lee Ward. 2016. Two Treatises Of Government. MA: Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated.] [2: “I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair, and be like him, and he will then love me” this poem proves the lengths to which the black boy must go to prove that he...