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Saturday, May 09, 2020

The Impact of the French Revolution on English Prose and Poetry

The French Revolution is a world event rather than a domestic event of France. The French revolution exerted a profound influence not only on the political destiny of  European nations but also impinged forcefully on the intellectual literary and political spheres throughout Europe.

The Impact of the French Revolution
The Impact of the French Revolution

The French Revolution opened a new epoch in all fields of human activities. It produced a tremendous effect particularly effect particularly on the Romantic Movement in England.


French Revolution - Impact on the English Literature

William Wordsworth was under the powerful influence of the French Revolution and it was under this powerful influence of the French Revolution that he came out with his epoch making work in collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in "The Lyrical Ballads" published in 1798. It was a trumpet which heralded the dawn of a new era by making the prophesy that poetry is an unlimited art of expressing man's inner and deep rooted pleasures and pains. 

The Lyrical Ballads led a revolt against the artificial sentiments and mechanical style of the eighteenth century. It also established the truth that poetry must express the feelings, joys and fears of common men and women. 

William Wordsworth's poem "The French Revolution" vividly expresses the poets thoughts about the revolution. Wordsworth was full of hope for humanity he says,

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 
But to be young was very heaven."

The French Revolution had a great impact on Samuel Taylor Coleridge  and Goethe also. Whereas William Wordsworth found solace and consolation in Nature, Coleridge sought to forget his discontentment and despondency with abstract philosophy and intellectual idealism.

Lord Gordon Byron was himself a revolutionary and an iconoclast who was against all social evils, conventions and institutions. In his poetry, Byron championed the cause of social and political liberty. Byron was excited by the imposing personality of Napoleon. 

William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Sir Walter Scott were the others who were greatly influenced by the French revolution. 

Percy Bysshe Shelley was an idealist and a dreamer with high passion and revolutionary zeal. The three principles of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity captivated the spirit of the whole world. 

It affected the politics of Great Britain. The revolution was the revolt against oppression and exploitation. The humanity was deemed as a universal brotherhood. The imagination of the romantic poets was set ablaze by the French Revolution. 

The romantic poets felt as if they were living in the twilight of a new dawn of human history. William Wordsworth considered himself and his generation to to be very lucky because they were young at the time of the French revolution. 

Rousseau and Voltaire are regarded as the most French of all the men of letters. Rousseau gave a blow to the divine right theory. He emphasized the right of the people and advocated the theory of sovereignty of the people. His "Social Contract" has been described as the 'Bible of the Revolution'. His epoch-making remark is "man is born free and everywhere he is in chains."

These doctrines and the French revolution affected the English poets to a great extent. The old world which Dr. Johnson regarded as permanent world of static social order was now breathing up. 

The Romantic Revival in English literature is not in small ways due to the ideas of French revolution. The revolutions of the Classicism were too shifting for the poets who had drunk deep at the idea of the liberty. William CowperRobert Burns besides Wordsworth and Coleridge were influenced by this great event. Like Wordsworth most of them regarded a bliss it was in that age to live and to be young was very heaven. 

Sir Walter Scott, the English poet, a great novelist was fired by the idea of liberty, equality and fraternity. He accepted the principle of revolution with joy. But soon, he was disgusted with the reign of terror and tyranny of Napoleon. 

The French Revolution was criticised by Burke in strong terms in his book "Reflections on the French Revolution". Burke's prose writing is an indirect result of the French revolution that exerted powerful influence on English literature. 

Impact of French Revolution on English Poetry and Prose


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