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Daily Notes

9/29

September 29-October 1

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Some More Detailed Notes on Background to Romanticism

Some ways of characterizing pre-Romanticism:

  1. AGE OF EXPLORATION
    1. culminates with Captain Cook's voyage to Australia and New Zealand in 1768
    2. "blank" spaces on the map filled-in with well-defined places all populated by different societies with different customs
    3. Craze for travel narratives—why?
      1. commercial interests, such as the present interest in books about China, etc.
      2. new cultures provide windows on new societies and potentially superior ways of living (and provide the opportunity to critique our present society)
        1. think More's Utopia, Don Quixote, The Tempest, Gulliver's Travels, Candide, and Johnson's Rasselas
  2. AGE OF EMERGING CAPITALISM
    1. lawless world of economic exploitation
    2. natural resource exploitation
    3. trading in artefacts, objects, humans
    4. possession of land and dispossession of cultures
    5. laissez-faire—emergence of capitalism and philosophy of the marketplace—"All that's golden is good."
  3. AGE OF EMPIRICISM/REASON/SCIENCE
    1. Descartes' Discourse on Method (1637) and Bacon's Novum Organum (1620)
      1. We can understand the world equipped with only our perceptions and our Reason
      2. the World is ultimately knowable (not mysterious)
      3. Nature is divine revelation equivalent to scripture—so being able to read Nature is equivalent to being able to read scripture (More on Nature in a moment)
    2. Great public and intellectual interest in scientific discoveries
      1. scientists were not professionals (i.e. anyone could be a scientist)
      2. The optics revolution
        1. the microscope
        2. the telescope
      3. "I saw new worlds beneath the water lie,
        New people, and another sky." (Thomas Traherne)

Eighteenth Century Enlightenment

  1. NATURE
    1. Nature—a contested term
      1. but in 18th C not so unclear
        1. natural world subjected to laws
        2. human nature as divine revelation
        3. human reason as a means of discovering both
    2. Nature contrasted with the supernatural
  2. REVELATION
    1. Religion had rested on "revelation"
      1. what God has revealed to humans through
        1. the Bible
        2. history
        3. Jesus and his life
    2. Now it rested also on Nature
      1. the natural world reclaimed as a system of visible signs
  3. THIS SHIFT PRODUCED BY
    1. The Scientific movement of the 16th and 17th centuries
    2. Religious conflicts following the Reformation
    3. These two forces produced a climate where supernatural and occult explanations ceased to satisfy. The universe moved from the mysterious and unknowable mind of God to the "Great Machine" working rigidly by natural laws and set in motion and kept running by God, the "Divine Mechanic"
  4. SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT
    1. BEFORE WORLD SEEN AS FALLEN
      1. the fallen world
      2. the mundane shell
      3. mountains themselves seen as horrible scars upon the earth
      4. the domain of Satan and dark spirits
        1. science in the Middle Ages linked to black magic
        2. Nature full of pagan divinities
        3. think of Faust legend
    2. BY 1620 SCIENCE OR NATURAL PHILOSOPHY COULD SUGGEST NATURE WAS DIVINE REVELATION
      1. in the 1620s, Bacon could write that God provided two channels of revelation
        1. Scripture (the traditional source
        2. Nature itself
      2. Up to well into the 18th C, Science and Theology proceeded together
        1. What had science revealed?
          1. Where humans previously saw chaos, now they saw order, design, law
          2. The very great visible through the telescope and the very small visible through the microscope obeyed these laws
          3. All was organized "according to the Ordainer of order and mystical mathematics of the city of heaven" (Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Religio Medici)
  5. RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS
    1. How did they lead to the growth of natural religion?
      1. by calling into doubt all the points of faith and reducing them to mere controversy
      2. Faith based on revelations but what had been revealed?
        1. No one could agree so the Bible as revelation had fallen into controversy
        2. What should we do?
      3. Turn to the other source of revelation
        1. Nature—natural world and human nature
        2. The God without AND the God within
          1. Natural Religion reaches God not only through the starry heavens above, but also through the moral law within: through Nature as well as through Reason
            1. And what would you find when you looked within? not the specters of psychoanalysis (which didn't exist yet), but the laws of God and Nature written on the heart
              1. Available to All
              2. Optimistic View—divine both within and without
  6. THIS SENSE OF GOODNESS WITHOUT AND WITHIN PRODUCED A NEW OPTIMISM
    1. In short, we see a decline in what has been called the "tragic sense of life"
      1. we are miserable offenders
      2. we are fallen and depraved
      3. jealous and offended God
      4. we are full of sin
    2. Replaced by
      1. A loving and tender God
      2. Perfectable humans in the image of the divine
  7. EVIDENCE OF THIS "NATURAL MORALITY"
    1. Noble savage—Pigafetta (who traveled with Magellan) wrote that Brazilians followed Nature, wore no clothes, lived to be 140 years old and were free of the vices of civilization
    2. Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals" describes the conduct of three "savages" at court and declares that their manners surpassed all the pictures with which the poets had adorned the golden age
    3. Even Jesuit missionaries praised the virtues of unspoilt natural humans
    4. These accounts frequently noted the absence from "savage" societies of
      1. property
      2. coercive governments
      3. institutional church
    5. Saw primitives living in a paradise
    6. This contrasted to European society which was seen as degraded
      1. civilization as fallen
      2. Rousseau—"Man is born free and yet everywhere he is in chains"

Helen Maria Williams, from Letters from France, 1796 (Longman 135)

Edmund Burke, from Reflections (Longman 113)

This king, to say no more of him, and this queen, and their infant children, (who once would have been the pride and hope of a great and generous people,) were then forced to abandon the sanctuary of the most splendid palace in the world, which they left swimming in blood, polluted by massacre, and strewed with scattered limbs and mutilated carcases. Thence they were conducted into the capital of their kingdom. Two had been selected from the unprovoked, unresisted, promiscuous slaughter, which was made of the gentlemen of birth and family who composed the king’s body guard. These two gentlemen, with all the parade of an execution of justice, were cruelly and publicly dragged to the block, and beheaded in the great court of the palace. Their heads were stuck upon spears, and led the procession; whilst the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly moved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell, in the abused shape of the vilest of women.

Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Men (Longman 126)

Arthur Young, Travels in France

See Longman, p. 161

Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

[Plate 1]

[Plate 2]

[Plate 3]

[Plate 4]

[Plate 5]

[Plate 20]

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