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- What features
of the prophecies of the last days in the Book
of Revelation make it an appropriate
scenario for a political revolution? What
features, if any, stand in the way of such
- What phrases
and images, as well as conception of history,
are shared in the millennial early poetry
of Blake, Wordsworth,
- It has been
suggested that the spirit of Romanticism
owed less to the millenarian hopes excited
by the French Revolution than to the disappointment
and disillusionment which followed. As Thomas
Noon Talfourd wrote in 1815, horror at
the excesses of the Revolution had served "to
raise and darken the imagination." To
what extent is Talfourd's analysis of
the genesis of Romanticism persuasive? Does
it apply equally to all members of the "first
generation" of major Romantic poets?
What evidence do you find in the careers
of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, respectively,
of the process Talfourd describes?
often linked with the question of revolution,
has deep roots in British political thought
and continues to play a powerful role in
the late twentieth century.
- Compare the fourteenth-century poet John Gower's account of the Uprising
of 1381 with the texts gathered in this topic. How does Gower make
use of apocalyptic imagery in his account of the rebellion, and how
does his use of such imagery sort with the fact that Gower is deeply
hostile to the rebels and their aims?
- Based on what you discover in the Twentieth
Century section of Norton Topics Online, to what extent have the "apocalyptic
expectations" engendered by the French Revolution continued to
resonate in English thought about politics, history, and the future?
- Is it more accurate to characterize apocalyptic thought, from the thirteenth
century to the present, as a continuous tradition with innate characteristics,
or as a textual resource which different groups in different historical
periods have drawn upon to meet their specific needs?
- Finally, you may wish to consider and analyze the role of apocalyptic
themes and images in your own thinking about society and its future in
the next millennium. How, if at all, do the texts gathered here help
you to "historicize" your own ideas and impressions?
- The Civil
Wars in seventeenth-century England aroused
fervent expectations of imminent apocalypse
among radical sects, expectations shared
to some extent by such leading figures as
Oliver Cromwell and John Milton.
- What is the role of millenarian thought in texts by seventeenth-century
English radicals such as Gerrard Winstanley's The True Levelers' Standard
Advanced and Abiezer Coppe's A Fiery
Flying Roll? How do these writings compare
to the apocalyptic expectations of the Romantics?
- The Unitarian ministers Richard Price and Joseph
Priestley belonged to the tradition of Protestant dissent, which
traced itself back to the parliamentary side in the Civil Wars. How
do the responses of Price and Priestley to the French Revolution suggest
a link or continuity between millenarian thought in the mid-seventeenth
century and in the late eighteenth?
- While the
Romantic poets greeted the French Revolution
in language suggestive of universal liberation,
Karl Marx, writing in the mid-nineteenth
century, saw it as a bourgeois revolution
which overthrew the antiquated trappings
of feudalism to make way for capitalist society.
At the same time, as Marx noted in The
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,
the revolutionaries "needed to conceal
from themselves the bourgeois-limited content
of their struggles and to keep their passion
on the high plane of great historic tragedy."
- To what extent does Marx's analysis of the French Revolution, and
of the self-deception practiced by its adherents, apply to the early
poetry of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge?
- To what extent do the revolutionary visions of Shelley, in Queen Mab and in his later verse, differ from those
of the older Romantics?
- The element
of fire plays a prominent role in the prophecies
of the Book of Revelation, and in contemporary
English responses to the French Revolution. Richard
Price hailed the revolution as "a
blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms
and illuminates Europe!" The image of
fire, real or metaphysical, external or internal,
figures prominently in Blake's America and A
Song of Liberty (NAEL 8, 2.121),
and in Wordsworth's Descriptive
Sketches and The
- What roles does fire play in these texts? What are its properties and
- How does the Romantic image of fire as an element associated with revolution
compare with its significance in Revelation?
is often associated with radical individualism,
and much Romantic poetry focuses on the struggles
of the individual will to break or transcend
its social and metaphysical bonds. Millenarianism,
on the other hand, consists of the expectation
of the fulfilment of God's providential
design, in which the place left for individual
human agency is limited if not nonexistent.
The French Revolution could thus be viewed
either as the work of heroic individuals
struggling for liberty or as an act of God.
What is the role of the individual in poems
such as Coleridge's Religious
Musings, Blake's America,
and Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches, and Shelley's Queen
Mab? How does the vision of history
and the individual's role in these works
compare with the later writings of these
Romantic poets? What might explain this?
- Another source
of the expectations that a blissful outcome
of history was at hand — in addition
to biblical apocalypses — was the Roman
poet Virgil's prophecy, in his fourth
Eclogue, of the return of a lost golden
- What themes and images of Virgil's poem are taken over in the millennial
passages of Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches?
- Are there Virgilian echoes in other poets' millennial responses
to the French Revolution?
- What does Virgil's prophecy have in common with biblical apocalypses?
In what ways does it differ?
- Percy Bysshe
Shelley was born in 1792, the year of the
deposition of Louis XVI and the September
massacres in Paris. Like those of the first
generation of Romantic poets, Shelley's
views were shaped by the French Revolution
and its aftermath, but he came to maturity
in a very different political climate.
- In what ways does Shelley's early poem Queen
Mab repeat the millenarian view of history expressed by the
first generation of Romantic poets in the early years of the French
- How do the poems which Shelley addressed to the English working class, A
Song: "Men of England" (NAEL 8, 2.770), England
in 1819 (NAEL 8, 2.771), and To Sidmouth and Castlereagh (NAEL
8, 2.771), compare, in their vision of history and of social
struggle, to Shelley's earlier Queen Mab and to the works
of the first generation of Romantic poets?
- Prose writers
contemporary with the Romantic poets were
also deeply affected by the French Revolution.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication
of the Rights of Men (1790) in response
to Edmund Burke's hostile Reflections
on the Revolution in France and lived
in France in the climactic years from 1793
to 1794. William Hazlitt saw the revolution
as the source of The Spirit of the Age (1825).
The prose of Thomas Carlyle, historian of
the revolution, epitomized this turbulent
spirit. Consider the explicit or implicit
significance of the French Revolution and
apocalyptic expectations in one of the following:
- Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (NAEL
- William Hazlitt's Mr. Wordsworth from The Spirit of the
- Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (NAEL 8, 2.1005)
and The French Revolution.