1902 Encyclopedia > History > Romantic Movement: Appreciation of Past Eras (e.g. Middle Ages)

History
(Part 11)




Romantic Movement: Appreciation of Past Eras (e.g. Middle Ages)

But a change was near -- a change in feeling and a change in knowledge. That singular modulation of key in the moral life of Europe, often called, for want of a better terms, the Romantic movement, which arrested and surprised the attention of the latter half of the 18th century, was felt in relation to history as well as to philosophy, politics, and religion.

Whether represented by the fierce rebellion of Rousseau in France, or a milder literary reform in England and Germany, it essentially consisted in a weariness of and disenchantment with the present ant the recent past, in a vague feeling after ideas and emotions outside the conventional circle in which men had been contented to live for several generations.

The tastes and the tempers of men changed with a strange rapidity. The 18th century philosophy, as it is called, lately so high and apparently secure, was cast out with contumely. The recent idols -- Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Diderot -- were smitten down, and others needless to name were put in their place. The whole movement is now seen to have been retrograde, and finally abortive, though temporarily successful. But it had its raison d’être and even its uses, as all social phenomena have. Among its uses was the service it rendered to history.





As it was first principle with the Romantics to burn what their predecessors had worshipped and the converse, the past which had been recently an object of contempt was put in the place of honour. Especially the Middle Age, so unjustly despised, seemed to rise of its grave as a lovely vision full of knights and chivalry, troubadour song, and Gothic architecture, the later just beginning to be appreciated. Where men had only recently seen barbarism, superstition, and ignorance, they and their sons saw an enchanted land of beauty, piety, and grace.

Then came Sir Walter Scott, who turned a current already flowing fat into a headlong torrent. The Middle Age was studied eagerly, sympathetically, perhaps a little too much so; zeal never is according to knowledge.

But the bringing of the Middle Age into the circle of serious historic study had an influence beyond its immediate object. When men had brought themselves to study and understand 11th century popes and emperors, monasticism, feudalism, scholasticism, they became bold and capable of further adventures in historical enterprise. After the heroic ages of Christendom, the heroic ages of Greece were opened to explorers. And soon all exclusiveness disappeared. The whole past history of man was felt to be worthy of man’s study, -- a wide field into which many labourers entered. So much for the change in feeling.






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