The mid 1800s was
an age of maturity for young literary America. Individuals
freed their minds into a rebirth of fresh ideas and
concepts. Writers experimented with the definition of
being American, and with a clean slate to write on,
imaginations went wild. American writers also made sure
it was different from the British literary style. Although
it is termed American Romanticism, an American Romantic
Renaissance of writing, it originated in Germany in
the first wave of the 18th century as a reaction to
the Industrial Revolution. Jean Jacques Rousseau was
a key figure in the erection of the Romantic era and
also for Social Contract, the idea that progress in
science was detrimental to humanity and that it corrupts
mankind. Rousseau and his followers reacted to the Age
of Reason and Neoclassical thinkers. This new idea of
thought reached American in the 19th century and was
termed the American Renaissance.
greatly affected American writers, despite their attempts
of being unorthodox. From the resonance of Wordsworth's
poetic enlightenment with nature, the irony and romantic
notions of Byron, the rich imagery of Keats, the transcendental
lyricism of Shelley, and the Brontë sisters. The
seed of Romanticism was planted in the wildness of American
forests, the hearts of Puritans, the fiery rhetoric
of freedom and quality; this romantic seed grew into
something of its own mind, something new. In the mid
nineteenth-century, writers exploded with talent and
eloquence. From Emerson's Representative Men,
to Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Thoreau's
experience at Walden Pond, and Whitman's Leaves
of Grass. The time was ripe indeed, an outburst
of a revolution.
The time was ripe
for the rise of Romanticism in America. The 18th century
had left a heritage of optimism about a man's possibilities
and perfectibility. There was a political battle for
greater equality for women and slaves. Economically,
the country was also on a high and affluence was spreading.
Religion was also ready for Romanticism. The dogmas
of Calvinism were melting into a more rationalistic
Unitarianism and Deism. Thus, society itself was ready
to accept new concepts.
in the innate goodness of man and favored the individual
over the group. Since they were disliked the modernization
of life, Romantics also enjoyed nature. There was a
philosophical idealism that was a goal to perfect man
in society as a whole. They were free thinking individuals
with religious mysticism; some American romantics even
rebelled against political authority. The "Five
I's" of romanticism were Imagination, Intuition,
Innocence, Inner Experience, and Inspiration from nature
and the supernatural. There were two subdivisions of
Romanticism, gothic romanticism rotted in French, German,
and English literature that was attracted to exotic
trappings of the Gothics. They contemplated the natural
world in lyrical poems, focusing on the commonplace.
The romantics were revolting against classics and formalists.
Romantics despised traditional literary forms and cherished
whimsical works with raw emotion. Good literature came
from the heart and it was not meant to be caged by rules.
separated American Romantics from others. One aspect
was their love for the natural world. Nature was an
oversoul that one could find the heart of God in. The
idea of manifest destiny was also very strong and the
boundless wilderness was waning. Romantics turned to
the artistic, metaphysical, and intellectual frontiers
to recapture the ecstasy of exploration and discovery.
Another quality worth mentioning is the act of being
whimsical. Some American Romantics were activists for
abolitionism or they promoted Jacksonian democracy.
There was the creation of a Romantic Hero. Qualities
of the Romantic Hero included his value of emotion rather
than rational thought, he often lived excluded from
society, and became one with the natural world. They
were youthful, innocent, intuitive, close to nature,
and hoplessly uneasy with women who represented civilization.
Such a character is still present in today's society
from Superman to Indiana Jones. Indeed, these writers
searched for a distinctive American voice.
The main players
in the American Renaissance included Poe, Emerson, Thoreau,
Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman. These individuals
formed a close net and heavily influenced each other.
Emerson was the most influential of the writers. His
writing was also often incredibly difficult to read.
He focused on the American psyche. People like Thoreau
often idolized him. His works were popular among the
In summation, American Romanticism occurred after a century of the British wave and it had similarities and differences with other Romantic ideas in Europe.
Woodlief, Anne. "American Romanticism (or the American Renaissance." Homepage. January 8, 2001. http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm
Litarary Romanticism. North Georgia Colle and State
University. 1997. http://www.gc.peachnet.edu/www/bstrickl/lit/amlit.htm