"Of genius the only proof is, the act of doing well
what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before:
Of genius in the fine arts, the only infallible sign is the
widening the sphere of human sensibility, for the delight,
honor, and benefit of human nature. Genius is the introduction
of a new element into the intellectual universe" (Wordsworth,
The Romantic notion of creative production originates in
the last quarter of the eighteenth century, with poets such
as Wordsworth, Goethe, and Herder responding to the work of
Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition. In Romantic
ideology an author is perceived to be the source of original
ideas, transforming the world around him through his own genius.
Goethe expresses this view, describing writing as "the
reproduction of the world around me by means of the internal
world which takes hold of, combines, creates anew, kneads
everything and puts it down again in its own form, manner"
(Letter to Jacobi 116).
Wordsworth in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, professes
his theory of poetry, proclaiming that the poets of the eighteenth-century
distort poetry through fabricated conventions, detracting
from its natural expression. Setting himself counter to many
of the writers of the past, Wordsworth's theory sets forth
new concepts of the author, presenting the writing process
as the containment of pure emotion. The inner-self of the
author became the driving force in creative production, emphasizing
the mind and emotions of the poet.
The lyric poem, written in the first person, became the main
style of poetry. Lyric poetry written of the Romantics often
reflected their own autobiographies, as in the work of Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and others (Abrams/Stillinger,
7). This radically new conception of the author perceived
through his work, calls for a transition in reading strategies.
Interpretation of the work of the Romantic poets reformed
literary criticism, requiring autobiography to take a leading
role, in order to locate the author's intention (Woodmansee,
The natural scene and the organic growth of poetry are themes
within the theory and work of these poets. The organic metaphor,
developed by German poets such as Fichte, Herder and Goethe
and adopted by Coleridge and other English poets, presented
the creative process as organic, mirroring the growth of a plant.
An original work, "may be said to be of a vegetable
nature, it rises spontaneously from the vital root of genius;
it grows, it is not made" (quoted in Woodmansee, 446).
Romantic poetry remains synonymous to "nature poetry"
(Abrams/Stillinger, 9). These works often use landscape as
a trope for inner or spiritual worlds, nature becomeing a
means by which poets write meditative poems.
Rejecting the boundaries and constraints of rules of writing,
the Romantic poets and philosophers claimed to return to 'natural'
poetry. Subject matter played into this naturalism, glorifying
the ordinary of life, "elevating the humble and rustic
life and the plain style" (Abrams/Stillinger, 11). Wordsworth
states in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads that his goal
was "to choose incidents and situations from common life"
and to use a "selection of language really spoken by
men" (Abrams/Stillinger 10). The Romantic period was
a time of fierce individualism resulting in a revolution within
concepts of the author and the work. With the mind of the
individual elevated and the belief that the human being should
refuse to submit to limitations, the poets held lofty goals
beyond human reach. An emphasis on solitude and isolation
of the poet from society set the poets apart as singular genius
Viewing the Romantic period through a historical lens lends
us insight as to the impetus of this movement, and therefore
the necessity for authors to create the singular genius notion
of authorship, as seen in "Genius and the Copyright".
Abrams, M.H., Jack Stillinger. "The Romantic Period:
introduction". The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Ed. M.H. Abrams. Seventh Ed. Vol. 2, New York: W.W. Norton
& Co, 2000. Norton Anthology Online
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. To Jacobi, 21 August 1774. Goethes
Briefe. Vol. 1. Hamburg: Christian Wegner, 1962. 115-16. Trans.
Woodmansee, Martha. "The Genius and the Copyright: Economic
and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the Author".
Eighteenth-Century Studies. 425. (1984).
Wordsworth, William. "Essay, Supplementary to the Preface",
in Literary Criticism of William Wordsworth, 158. Ed. Paul
M. Zall, ed., 1966.
Young, Edward. "Conjectures on Original Composition.
In a letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandision"
The Complete Works. Poetry and Prose. Vol. 2. Ed. James Nichols.
Hildensheim: Georg Olms. 1968.
For Romanticism on the net.
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