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Introduction: English Romanticism and the French Revolution

Author(s): Robert M. Maniquis


Source: Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 28, No. 3, English Romanticism and the French
Revolution (Fall, 1989), pp. 343-344
Published by: Boston University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25600788
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Introduction: English
Romanticism and the

French Revolution

books and
thousands
of articles
on the
French
Inmany
thishundreds
year ofof 1989,
two
hundred
years
after
the fall of the Bastille,

Revolution are being published. Few of them assume that the French
Revolution is a thing of the past. Even those historians who insist that
the Revolution is or should be "finie" are minority voices in a crowd of
fascinated scholars, artists, journalists, politicians, and readers.

Historians of romanticism can never be finished with the French

Revolution. No political event has ever been so tendentiously tied in so


many ways to an aesthetic mode as the Revolution has been to roman
ticism. No aesthetic mode has ever been charged with as much historical
causality or collective guilt as romanticism at work in the Revolution.
Both more and less than an aesthetic mode, romanticism mixed with
the Revolution has taken on the form of many different ghosts in the

historical machine. Conceived as a beneficent and mighty bourgeois


force, it is praised in its shaping of a psychological self, without which
the concept of the political individual would be empty. Condemned as
the source of most modern political perversities, romanticism becomes
the nefarious spirit within all revolutionary collectivizing, all glorifying
of mass violence, all banality of evil.
None of these or many other extreme generalities are cultivated in
this special issue on English romantic writing and the French Revolution.

We have tried simply to follow a few zigzagging paths through the


romantic maze of contradictions, conflicts, and fragile ideals delicately

balanced in an age of profound ideological conflict. Marilyn Butler


writes against our contemporary critical demotion of the ideological
story to show its intricate purpose and the ways in which the Revolution
was assimilated to scientific and literary narrative. My own essay em
phasizes those moments when some romantic poets, in reacting to the
Terror, cannot help but mark disintegration in their language of bor
rowed sacramental and sublimated meaning. Robert Sayre returns to
SiR, 28 (Fall 1989)

343

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INTRODUCTION

344

Coleridge's utopianism to show how it was concretely linked to a w


historical event and not simply an episode in youthful fantasy. Bu
Coleridge's radicalism was more complex than is often thought, so

his later conservative writing, as Julie Ellison demonstrates in her readin

of The Friend, in which political, sexual, and cultural preoccupations


tightly entwined. Peter Thorslev discusses the continuity of revolut
ary ?lan and liberal reasonableness in the second generation of Eng
romantics. Finally, Jon Klancher conducts a broad survey of how t
connection between romanticism and the French Revolution has bec

a pivot upon which ideological positions in literary history and criti


have constantly turned.
These essays can only touch upon a few of the connections betwe
English romantic writers and events in France in the 1790s?events t
changed the world and set down, for better or worse, principles of

modern state. Our essays do, however, come at these relations

several paths not yet fully explored. Though we are never to be fini
with the French Revolution and romanticism, we are not obliged alw
to pursue the same old ghosts.
It has been a pleasure to collaborate with the authors and review
who agreed to participate in this special issue, which of course wou
never have appeared without the imagination and hard work of Da
Wagenknecht and Deborah Swedberg. They have been constantly kin
and unusually patient with me, their sometimes tardy guest editor
this bustling bicentennial year. To them I extend my deepest gratit

Robert M. Maniquis

University of California, Los Angeles

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