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Literature: Romanticism

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Romanticism began in the mid-18th century and reached its height in the 19th
century. The Romantic literature of the nineteenth century holds in its topics
the ideals of the time period, concentrating on emotion, nature, and the
expression of "nothing." The Romantic era was one that focused on the
commonality of humankind and, while using emotion and nature; the poets and
their works shed light on people's universal natures. Romanticism as a movement
declined in the late 19th century and early 20th century with the growing
dominance of Realism in the literature and the rapid advancement of science and
technology. However, Romanticism was very impressionative on most individuals
during its time. Rationalism or Realism was erected during the mid 19th century.
Realism are ideas that are brought up in philosophical thinking. The realistic
movement of the late 19th century saw authors accurately depict life and it's
problems. Realists attempted to give a comprehensive picture of modern life by
presenting the entire picture. They did not try to give one view of life but
instead attempted to show the different classes, manners, and stratification of
life. The Rationalist recognizes that they must master their own destiny, using
their unique powers of reason and the scientific method to solve problems. Such
authors that represent these two eras are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David
Thoreau, William Wordsworth and Charles Darwin. Romantics believed that one
needed to understand nature to understand oneself. In other words, only through
nature could one discover who they are. Emerson shows this in his writing called
"Nature". In the exert "...man beholds somewhat as beautiful as
his own nature." This depicts Emerson's feelings toward nature; view nature
as you view yourself. If one views nature as caring and compassionate, one will
also see themselves as caring and compassionate. Similarly if you understand
nature you will know yourself better. As one gains wisdom from nature, one
begins to realize that understanding is a gate way to the divine as well as to
oneself. Other writers also agreed with this notion of nature. In the essay
"Walden" by Thoreau, Thoreau had left society to move into a shelter
outside of his town. By living on only the necessities he lived his life as
simple as he could, thus finding the divine within himself. By being separate
from society and being one with yourself are the only ways one can find the
divine. Thoreau felt by doing this society would have a harder time to mold him
into what it wanted him to think. Thoreau left a life of luxury for
"voluntary poverty". Even though he was "poorer in his outward
riches" he was wealthy in his "inward riches". A good number of
romantic views of Nature suggested using Nature as ones tool to learn. This is
evident in William Wordsworth's poem "The Tables Turned. In the poem
"The Tables Turned" Wordsworth states to "quit your books [for it
is] a dull and endless strife[;] enough of Science; close up those barren
leaves." Wordsworth believed piece that books were useless to learn from.
He believed that we should "Let Nature be [our] Teacher [for it]...may
teach you more of man [and] moral good and evil[, more] than all the sages
can." Wordsworth agreed with the previous notion that to understand the
divine and oneself, they must first start with understanding Nature. This View
of studying Nature is taken one step further by Charles Darwin. Perhaps the most
appealing quality of Darwin's work was that it accounted for phenomenon in a
purely naturalistic manner. It was the most scientific explanation yet,
completely removing the supernatural explanation, and setting him apart from the
theorists before him. The major unsettled scientific question of Darwin's Theory
was be in regards to natural selection as the mechanism for change, which became
the issue among the general public as well. It took several years for the idea
of natural selection to become accepted within the scientific community.
Darwin's work was not immediately accepted as science. In a sense, he was
revolutionary, not just for proposing an explanation of evolution that removed
the supernatural element, but also for the fact that he was able to present his
ideas to the scientific community in an unconventional manner, through
speculative thought. The essential idea in Darwinian evolutionary thought is
that species are not immutable. The prevailing assumption prior to Darwin was
that species were immutable ( i.e. fixed in their characteristics). This idea
was held in opposition to the evidence that humans had been doing selective
breeding on cattle, horses, birds, fruit and cereal crops for millennia. It was
held for perhaps two distinct reasons. The first was the fact that in spite of
centuries of breeding - cattle, horses, birds, etc. retained their 'essential'
characteristics. Cattle did not become fish and horses did not become snakes.
The characteristics which breeders could modify were seen as inessential and
incapable of transforming one species in to another.. The second reason was the
Bible. Species were equated with the kinds mentioned in Genesis and it was
simply assumed that only God could create new species. If Darwin's hypothesis
was true, then the Bible must be an unbearable fiction. Darwin's theory required
people to disbelieve the authoritative word of the Creator. Every idea of the
Holy Scriptures, from the first to the last page stood in diametrical opposition
to the Darwinian theory. Many people of the time strongly felt that the idea of
creation belongs to religion and not to natural science. The whole
superstructure of personal religion was built on the doctrine of creation. The
rationalist attitude is characterized by the importance it attaches to argument
and experience. But neither logical argument nor experience can establish the
rationalist attitude; for only those who are ready to consider argument and
experience, and who have therefore adopted this stance already are likely to be
impressed by them. In other words, a rationalist stance must first be adopted if
any argument or experience is to be effective, and it cannot therefore be based
upon argument or experience. No rational argument will have a rational effect on
somebody who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.
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