We all feel we know what “romantic” means: the word conveys notions of sentiment and sentimentality, of a visionary, idealistic lack of realism, of fantasy and fiction. It has been associated with distant places and times—the island of Bali, the world of the Arabian Nights, the age of the troubadours. Advertising links it with the effects of lipstick, perfumes, and soap. Such a range of implication causes little trouble in common parlance, but scholars have been quarreling over the meaning of “Romanticism” for nearly 150 years. The editor of a volume of documents illustrating such a subject cannot avoid implicitly imposing his definition upon his choice of documents. I will seek in this Introduction to suggest some of the considerations which have guided my choices, indicating thereby my view of Romanticism. I feel definition should serve as a heuristic device, and hence, for a variety of purposes, a variety of definitions of Romanticism might prove most illuminating. In the present instance, my concern is to exemplify major aspects of an era in the intellectual life of Europe. Therefore it does not seem to me particularly useful to follow some leading scholars in identifying Romanticism as one of the two, or one of the very few, permanent dispositions of the human spirit and “Romantic eras” as those wherein that disposition became dominant.
KeywordsEighteenth Century French Revolution Historical Writing Historical Thought Natural Virtue
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