One of the most influential revolutions in Europe in the period late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century is the French revolution. The French revolution was the most dynamic revolution of its time because of the way it gained active participation from the French population. Because of this and many other factors, its impact on the nature of politics and how society interacted socially, culturally and even literally wholly transformed. The following that arose under the ideals of the French revolution demanded freedom and equality above all other things. This was along the lines of breaking the dominance of the king over the society, which in the day took a very totalitarian form of administration. The gap between the rich who were the monarchs, and the poor, who were now in resistance, was alluringly huge hence offsetting the course for resistance. Another faction that had an extravagance of resources in this period was the church. The clergy extended special privileges all the expense of the common man; hence the revolution ideals spun around these two institutions. Romanticism took root as the driving force of this struggle, and for the first time, the demands of an uprise took an abstract nature. People were demanding practical Human rights, inspired by nationalism; they also demanded citizenship and the privileges it comes with, such as fundamental freedoms. There were also ideologies of social equality, which saw to bridge the gap between the elite and non-elite in the society. Many in the society then had much to relate to the ongoing revolution. The artists in the society were deeply motivated by the cry of the society, with the poets taking the day with how they presented their plight.
The French revolution developed a series of phases. Ideology first consumed the first and second-generation romantics in society. An example of poets in the first generation is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and the influential William Wordsworth. At first, Lake District, which was the most renowned institution for poets, sympathized with the philosophy that William Godwin was trying to pass in his passages, such as the inquiry into political justice. The revolution, however, had its own set of turns and the romantics also took different appeals of writing poetry, most of whom turned conservative after the revolution erupted, claiming lives, some of which brutally. An example of such a poet was Wordsworth. The contribution of such a writer should not be downplayed, as his contemporary work played a very vital role in amassing the so-called common man into the heart of the matter, which kept the revolution alive amidst the bloody suppression. Woodsworth and Coleridge used principles such as equality in what is now called ‘the language of the common man.’ By addressing the low subject matters in great works such as Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth brought down the barriers that existed in poetry. Such restrictions were created by focusing such art on appeasing the elite in the society, but now great work revolved around the common man hence planting the notions of equality.
The French revolution is a classic example of the great extent to which progressively developed ideology as motivated by cultural perceptions can go to offset the status quo of power and control of such a society. When it comes to the political arena, such ideals have a more significant appeal to the common man, who often is in the lower class of many societies. This is because such an individual’s life is keener on following traditionalism and the norms that have been passed down to them. Such then becomes a nerve point for idealists and exploiting it creates the wave of Romanticism as expressed in the French Revolution.
It is clear that the 19th-century Romantic movements were influenced by the French revolution to a great extent. That said, the 18th-century poets not only had to deal with external influences but also the revolution occurring in France. Poetry reflected the social turmoil sweeping across Europe as well as the wishes and worries of the poets. To show the relationship between poetry and the French revolution, we examine three prolific English Romantics: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, as well as their involvement in the revolution and how it was presented in their poems.
Wordsworth’s political and social life is shared in the poem “Tintern Abby”, where he recollects the experiences he had in France after he had revisited the region in 1791. His perception changed after he became friends with Beaupuis and came across a hungry and sick girl who was starving because of the country’s status quo. This encounter saddened Wordsworth’s heart and changed his political ideas. He became an active advocate for the revolution and emitted a lot of energy and enthusiasm but forgot to account for the abstract principle of human rights. His attention shifted, and he became more interested in politics and government as he had never before in England. This is attributable to his connection to the French cause and the people. However, as the revolution progressed, Wordsworth became depressed and disillusioned, and he fell short of his expectations.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge is another example of poet who was affected by the French revolution in the 18th century. He was not physically involved in the revolution, but just like his colleague Wordsworth, he was a thinker of the imaginative and the emotional as opposed to the ratiocinative order. In most cases, these two poets are often grouped, but Coleridge was more welcoming to ideas about human affairs. Both Coleridge and Wordsworth portrayed enthusiasm and emotions, but the former did so from a religious perspective.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley is the third poet who was affected by the French revolution. He viewed the revolution as an unrestrained indictment of the past which embraced tyrannical forms of government in the form of priests and kings. The revolution would shape the future with its perfected humanity. Shelley was fascinated by the changes the revolution would bring, and he decided to share his excitement through his poetry. He often used his emotions to express his point. The poem “Queen Mab” is an excellent example of how Shelley employs feelings of anger to express his political ideas.
From the precedent, everyone in Europe suffered the effects of the French revolution; the only question is to what extent it affected the lives of particular individuals. By exploring the works of eighteenth-century poets, it is clear that revolution was an idea even in different countries. Being romance writers, the poets had to react to everything happening around them, and one of these was the French Revolution. The revolution involved a vast scope than had ever been seen and there were many complaints. Since the revolution was all about change, talking, complaining and writing were necessary or else the revolution could not have taken place. Poetry and writing were important forms of expressing emotional and political ideas, and as such, they were as crucial to the French Revolution as the revolution was essential for eighteenth-century writers. Indeed, words and communication media mattered in the French Revolution to an unprecedented degree.