Enlightenment and Romanticism Movements: Analytical Essay

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During the 18th century and 19th century, much of Western civilization went through many cultural, intellectual, social, and political changes. The main two movements that caused many of these changes during the 18th century and 19th century were the Enlightenment and Romanticism movements. From individualism to governing ethics, both movements caused changes in Western civilization. The Enlightenment movement took place from the late 17th century to the middle of the 18th century, and heavily influenced the French Revolution of the 18th century. While the Romanticism movement was during the late 18th century to early 19th century. Both movements share some of the same ideals and intellectual ideas such as individualism and rebellious nature, however, they also have different main focuses and views on the Church and religion. Despite the differences, both the Enlightenment and Romanticism movements emphasized individualism for everyone and rebelling against the status quo and past traditions. Most of the ideas of each movement are conveyed through the art, literature, and music of the time. Therefore, Enlightenment and Romanticism movements share some areas of intellectual continuity such as individualism and rebellious nature, however, both movements have also had intellectual change from each other like view on religion and the main focus of the movements.

Both Enlightenment and Romanticism shared the intellectual idea of focusing on individualism, however, they looked at individualism on two different levels. On one hand, the Enlightenment movement focused on the individual based on personal reasoning, while on the other hand, Romanticism focused on the individual feelings of people. Despite these differences, both movements emphasize everyone's right to be their own person. During the time before each movement the common people were exploited and lacked individual freedom. For example, during the Industrial Revolution right before the Romanticism movement, most of the common people worked day in and day out at the factory and lacked time and resources to be themselves. As for the Enlightenment movement, the common man lived their life working for nobles and lacked the land and resources to live a life outside of the Feudalism system. Because of the exploitation of the common man before the movement, both of the movements focused on individualism and granting the right for everyone to find and be themselves. Voltaire expresses his and Enlightenment view on the importance of individualism through free-thinking and free speech in his book the Idées républicaines. Much like Voltaire, Rousseau and Romanticism believe people should be individuals and be free-thinking and free feeling. In Rousseau's novel, The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right, he talks and focuses on the importance of free-thinking and free feeling in relation to individualism.1 Therefore, a common area of interest that both movements focused on was individualism.

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Ultimately the main focus of each movement was to rebel against past traditions. Voltaire and Rousseau convoy a lot of the rebellious nature towards past traditions through their literature. In Voltaire’s writing, it is seen that the Enlightenment was a rebellion against the religion of the past and the governing ethics of the past. An example, of Voltaire’s rebellious writing, is his Letters on the English, in the writing he criticizes and mocks the French system of government.2 Voltaire writes in Letters on the English:

“In France the title of marquis is given gratis to any one who will accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from the midst of the most remote provinces with money in his purse, and a name terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, and cry, ‘Such a man as I! A man of my rank and figure!’ and may look down upon a trader with sovereign contempt;”.3

Voltaire in Letters on the English novel criticized the power of money in France along with other parts French government. The French government saw the novel as an attack, as a result, the French government had the book suppressed. However, this did not stop Voltaire from continuing to criticize and rebel against past traditions. Much

like Voltaire, Rousseau criticized and rebelled against past traditions through his writing. However, the main focus of Rousseau's writing and the Romanticism movement was a rebellion against the ideas of the Enlightenment. Emile, or On Education was one of Rousseau's earlier writings that judges the education systems of the time and the nature of man.4 In a 20th century publication of Emile, or On Education, the publisher says in the appendix, “Due to a section of the book entitled ‘Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar’, Emile was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762, the year of its first publication.”.5 Most of Rousseau's other writings also judge and mock political and social problems such as science and philosophy. Because of the Enlightenment movement, many people looked up to science, and Rousseau's judgment of science was criticized at first. What makes Emile, or On Education and other books Rousseau wrote fit in so well during the Romanticism movement was that he stressed the importance of nature in everyday life and wanted people to rebel against science. Although Rousseau and other writers during the Romanticism criticized the ideas of the Enlightenment, they share the rebellious nature against past tradition that Voltaire and the other writers of the Enlightenment possessed.

Although both movements share some intellectual ideas, each movement has its own focus that differs from each other. Enlightenment focused on human reason and the importance of science. While Romanticism focused on nature, human emotions, and human moods. Art and Literature of each movement display the different focuses of each movement. For example, many writings of Voltaire convoy human reason and the importance of science, such as Idées républicaines which puts importance on human reason. Through, Voltaire and other pieces of literature at the time it is conveyed the Enlightenment Movement’s main focus was human thought and reason. William Burn says in his novel Science in the Enlightenment, “Many Enlightenment writers and thinkers had backgrounds in the sciences and associated scientific advancement with the overthrow of religion and traditional authority in favour of the development of free speech and thought.”.6 Many writers during the Enlightenment wrote about science because their background in science made them realise the importance of science to everyone. Just as William Burn says, many Enlightenment writers throughout scientific advancements would help to overthrow past traditions and lead the way for free thought and speech, which Enlightenment writers associated with human reason. Writers were not the only advocates for human reason during the Enlightenment Movement, painters used an art style called Neoclassical to convey the importance of human reason. The Neoclassical art style put one clean strong looking person as the focus of the art piece. Neoclassical much like the Enlightenment movement put human thought and reason as the main focus of everything. An art piece titled A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery as described by “In this picture Wright depicts a contemporary scene of a scientific lecture. A red-gowned philosopher demonstrates the workings of the solar system using a clockwork model known as an Orrery”.7 The artwork puts the focus of the piece on the Orrery and the kids around it that are learning. Much like this piece and other artwork during the Enlightenment, humans and science together at the center of the piece conveying the importance of science and human reason. On the other hand, the Romanticism style of literature, art, and music focused on human emotions and moods such as spirituality, imagination, mystery, and fervor. The Romanticism movement fueled this style by reviving fairy tales and putting the main focus of art in the foreground which usually was nature. In regards to the artwork called Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog which a writer from The Art Story describes as:

“An aristocratic man steps out upon a rocky crag as he surveys the landscape before him, with his back turned toward the viewer. Out of swirling clouds of fog, tall pinnacles of rocks loom, and a majestic peak on the left and a rock formation on the right fill the horizon”.8

In the art piece as described by The Art Story has the main focus of the piece in the background were the sea and other nature is found. Many art pieces of Romanticism movement made nature and human looking upon nature the focus. The difference between the two styles of art and literature during the times perfectly displays the ideas of each movement.

During both movements, the Church and religion played a huge role. For the Enlightenment movement, the Church was seen as too powerful and Catholicism was the main religion for everyone. The Romanticism movement on the other hand supported the Church and saw Protestantism as the main relgion. In the History Today article the writer talks about Clathloic church during the Enlightenment:

“The Enlightenment quest to promote reason as the basis for legitimacy and progress found little to praise in the Church. While the philosophes appreciated the value of religion in promoting moral and social order, the Church itself was condemned for its power and influence.”

The Church’s counter view to Enlightenment caused many writers and activists of the movement to view the Church but not religion as hostile. Letters Concerning the English Nation and Idées républicaines perfectly convoy Voltaire and other Enlightenment activities hostile view towards the Catholic Church. In Idées républicaines, Voltaire writes, “Magistrates alone should have the power to allow or prohibit work on feast days because it is not the business of priests to forbid men to cultivate their fields.”. Voltaire’s thoughts on the Church as soon though his writings were that they had to much power. Romanticism had a different view on the Church and religion than Enlightenment because it had a different focus than Enlightenment. Due to the Romanticism’s focus on human emotion and nature, many Romanticism activists believed that without religion there was no purpose. So during the Romanticism movement many people became apart of the Protestantan and Catholic church. The movement back to religion and the Church during the Romanticism caused many people to side with the Church and their view that the ways of the Enlightenment movement were wrong and incorrect. The movement away from the church during the Enlightenment and the shift back to the church during the Romanticism is a major integral change from the Enlightenment movement to Romanticism.

The Enlightenment and Romanticism movements were two movements that caused huge changes in Western Civilizations. One of the biggest similarities between the two movements was their emphasis on individualism. Both movements advocated for the right for everyone to be themselves. The movements also share the fact that they rebelled against past traditions and the status quo. For example, the Enlightenment rebelled against the religion and Church of the past, the governing ethics of the past, and the traditions of the past age. While the Romanticism movement rebelled against the ideas of the Enlightenment. Along with Romanticism rebelling against Enlightenment ideals, Romanticism and Enlightenment focus on different intecutal ideas and views on the primary religions in Western Civilizations such as Protestantism and Catholicism. Both movements had different main focuses, for example, the Enlightenment focus on human reason and science while Romanticism placed importance on nature and human emotions. Therefore, Enlightenment and Romanticism movements share some of the same intellectual ideas, however, there are some transitions and differences between the two movements.

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