Sunday, 6 December 2015


At the November Stockport meeting David Seddon spoke on Romanticism in his usual enthusiastic way. We heard how the word “Romanticism” came from Roman as did “Romance” as in the Romance Languages (French, Italian and Spanish).

The classical literature of the Romance stories written in Old French, Spanish and Italian were characterised by: a hero who fights evil, a lady for whom he is fighting, and a grateful Lord. One can think of our own Arthurian legends. Chaucer was deeply influenced by this literature.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Romantic Movement was born. The Brothers Schlegel in Germany were early exponents, responsible for the naming of the movement.

Before the romantic period there was a development in music reflected in the culture of the day. Under a strong hereditary system of Government, answerable to King and God, Bach, Handel and Haydn obeyed rules and wrote in a very disciplined way; at the same time producing wonderful music. Bach wrote music to order for the church. Handel’s patron and friend was George III for whom he wrote pieces like the Water Music and the Fireworks on request. Haydn invented the symphony and was commissioned by the King to write 106 of them.

There were rules in literature too. Alexander Pope thought that as well as rhyming and scansion we should be limited to big themes. John Milton also wrote very formal verse. Things begin to shift with Jean Jacques Rousseau who, not liking to be ruled by time, had no clocks. His political philosophy influenced the enlightenment in France.

The American War of Independence 1776-1781 heralded an era in which people were regarded as important for the first time: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among  these are Life, 
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

The French Revolution followed in 1798 resulting in the execution of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. The French acquired a romantic hero in the form of the charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte, whilst the British romantic hero was Admiral Lord Nelson rather than the Duke of Wellington.

Musically Beethoven characterised the start of the romantic era. His freer form music now needed a conductor. He wanted to say something personal and wrote only nine symphonies. Later composers, such as Brahms, wrote only a few symphonies compared with the 106 of Haydn. Franz Schubert had a publisher rather than a patron making it easier to write the music he wanted.

In the year (1770) that Beethoven was born, William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth. After being schooled in Hawkshead he went to Cambridge and in 1798 he went to Paris to witness the French Revolution in action. Disillusioned, he returned to London then to the Lake District with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two men wrote Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems first published in 1798 and generally considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature.

Romanticism in art was aided by advances in paint technology that enabled Turner to produce his paintings without having to manufacture his paints every day.

In Literature Feminism began to make its mark. Jane Austen put heroines centre stage instead of heroes and highlighted women’s’ issues.  The Bronte sisters also wrote from a woman’s point of view as did Mary Evans (George Eliot) and Mrs Gaskell. Mary Wollstonecraft had written A Vindication of the Rights of Men in response to Edmund Burke's conservative critique of the French Revolution,  Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790); and she followed this with A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

Unfortunately Feminists took a step backwards in the Victorian era.

In the area of Human rights, the first British slave to be emancipated was freed in 1772. The antislavery movement got under way in 1783 and  the slave trade was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1807. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished slavery in most of the British Empire.

The meeting ended with a Q and A session.

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