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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

The pallid female forms of Ossian


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER III POETRY OF THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL

I

The eighteenth century did homage to the reason; it sought for general truths, scientific, social, political; its art was in the main an inheritance, diminished with lapse of time, from the classical art of the preceding century. With Rousseau came an outburst of the personal element in literature, an overflow of sensibility, an enfranchisement of the passions, and of imagination as connected with the passions; his eloquence has in it the lyrical note. The romantic movement was an assertion of freedom for the imagination, and an assertion of the rights of individuality. Love, wonder, hope, measureless desire, strange fears, infinite sadness, the sentiment of nature, aspiration towards God, were born anew. Imagination, claiming authority, refused to submit to the rules of classic art. Why should the several literary species be impounded each in its separate paddock? Let them mingle at the pleasure of the artist's genius; let the epic and the drama catch what they can of the lyric cry; let tragedy and comedy meet and mix. Why remain in servitude to the models of Greece and Rome? Let all epochs and every clime contribute to the enrichment of art. The primitive age was above all others the age of poetry. The great Christian centuries were the centuries of miracle and marvel, of spiritual exaltation and transcendent passion. Honour, therefore,

to our mediaeval forefathers! It is the part of reason to trust the imagination in the imaginative sphere. Through what is most personal and intimate we reach the truths of the universal heart of man. An image may at the same time be a symbol; behind a historical tableau may lie a philosophical idea.

At first the romantic movement was Christian and monarchical. Its assertion of freedom, its claims on behalf of the _ego_, its licence of the imagination, were in reality revolutionary. The intellect is more aristocratic than the passions. The great spectacle of modern democracy deploying its forces is more moving than any pallid ideals of the past; it has the grandeur and breadth of the large phenomena of nature; it is wide as a sunrise; its advance is as the onset of the sea, and has like rumours of victory and defeat. The romantic movement, with no infidelity to its central principle, became modern and democratic.

Foreign life and literatures lent their aid to the romantic movement in France--the passion and mystery of the East; the struggle for freedom in Greece; the old ballads of Spain; the mists, the solitudes, the young heroes, the pallid female forms of Ossian; the feudal splendours of Scott; the melancholy Harold; the mysterious Manfred; Goethe's champion of freedom, his victim of sensibility, his seeker for the fountains of living knowledge; Schiller's revolters against social law, and his adventurers of the court and camp.

With the renewal of imagination and sentiment came a renewal of language


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