The Romantic Dichotomy

  • Philip Hobsbaum


The critics show none of their usual caution in defining the romanticism of Romantic poets. On the contrary, we are liable to be overwhelmed by the consensus about the links that bind together poets as seemingly disparate as Blake, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. ‘The internal made external’ says M. H. Abrams (The Mirror and the Lamp, 1953) following not so far behind A. W. Schlegel’s definition of 1801 (Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur). It was, said Logan Pearsall Smith, a new conception of the artist as genius, above the law and given to strange fits of passion (Words and Idioms, 1921). By the time Edmund Wilson came to write Axel’s Castle in 1931 the definition had become generally accepted: ‘Romanticism, as everyone has heard, was a revolt of the individual.’ But definitions have continued to pour in, monotonous in their congruity:

The romantic principle asserts that form is an organic event, proceeding from the intuitive experience of the artist

(Herbert Read, The True Voice of Feeling, 1953)

For the Romantics … belief in the imagination was part of the contemporary belief in the individual self

(Maurice Bowra, The Romantic Imagination, 1950)

The whole nature of ‘romanticism’ itself was determined by a stress on the individuality, the uniqueness, of an individual poet himself. (W. W. Robson, Critical Essays, 1967)


Green Star English Poetry Romantic Poet Intuitive Experience Romantic Imagination 
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© Philip Hobsbaum 1979

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  • Philip Hobsbaum

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