British Romanticism vs. German Romanticism

While our class is concerned primarily with British Romantic writers, I think it is important to note that the British conception of Romanticism is not the only conception of this movement, and there are, in fact, some big differences between British Romantic philosophy and German Romantic philosophy. Romanticism, as a broad term, means a lot of things, and, in some cases, the opposite of those things.

Let’s consider the major similarities between British Romanticism and German Romanticism. Firstly, both movements were a form of revolt against the neoclassical tradition. Secondly, both movements were inspired, in part, by an ardent admiration of Shakespeare. Thirdly, both movements hail the artist’s independence from rules.

The differences between the movements are vast and nuanced. Firstly, the German Romantics, who referred to themselves as the “Moderns,” did not place Nature above Art in terms of importance or idealization. The Germans didn’t believe in the necessity of going back to Nature, of reverting to a primitivism, like the British Romantics did. The German Romantic consciousness was informed largely by a Christian tradition, and as such, German Romantic writers often incorporated the theme of ethical dualism, or the warring consciousness, into their works. This idealistic sense of moving towards something better, of attaining perfection, coupled with the human incapability of achieving this perfection, is characteristic of German Romantic writings. This ties into the German Romantic idea of Art, which is that Art is always in progress, always in the process of becoming. Thus, the German Romantics were after unending Art.

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