By William Wordsworth
Between 1770 and 1850, the intellectual life of Europe came to be dominated by what historians have referred to since as the romantic mood. The doctrines it represented and the literary and artistic works it produced came to be known as romanticism. The men who partook of this temper came to be known as romantics. Wordsworth was one of these; indeed, he was one of the very first. He wrote some of the first romantic poetry. In order to appreciate his poetry fully, it is helpful to place it in the historical setting in which it was composed.
Basically, the romantic mood was a reaction to the neoclassical Age of Reason - the age of Newton and Locke in England, Leibniz and the Encyclopaedists on the Continent. The world was ripe for a great rebirth of human spirit. Romanticism came to be a new way of viewing man and his relationship to his environment.
The writers of the Enlightenment had preached human perfectibility ad nauseam; they described man as flourishing in a world which was completely rational and utterly predictable.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) is usually called the father of romanticism. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, his ideas were upon the lips of every educated person. A contemporary of the French Philosophs, he was one of the first to cry out at the stultification of the Age of Reason. To this end, he was quick to point out that invention and artifact - the proliferation of culture - had done more to hurt humanity than to benefit it. As an antidote, he saw a neo-primitive return to more natural ways for restoring the soul to humanity. He stressed naturalness in education and religion and simplicity in government, and thus attacked...