Survey attitudes to the French Revolution by two writers of the period. discuss the possible influence of these writings on the literature of Romanticism.

Survey attitudes to the French Revolution by two writers of the period. discuss the possible influence of these writings on the literature of Romanticism.

Paul Catherall


Writers responding to the Revolution to be discussed (including works used in study):

Edmund Burke, 1729-1797 (Reflections On The Revolution In France, 1790.)
Thomas Paine, 1737-1809 (The Rights of Man, 1791.)

Writers of the Romantic movement to discuss in essay (including prose works used in study):

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834 (Biographia Literaria, 1817.)
Percy Bysshe Shelly, 1792-1822 (Defence of Poetry, 1821.)

The French constitutional crisis of 1789, cumulating in the siege of the Bastille prison (July 14th,) was for the followers of European constitutional and social reform, the zenith of the humanist intellectual struggle. The meeting of the Estates General in Versailles, May 5th, to settle France’s financial crisis, comprised three chambers: the First Estate represented the clergy – whose internal divisions reflected affinities with court and commons; The Second Estate comprised the nobility, whose allegiance was usually to the court, but whose lower orders were often inclined toward the more liberal outlook of radicals like Duport; the Third Estate comprised middle class representatives for the commons. The Estates General gave those concerned with social welfare, a chance to reform the constitution, and abolish the oppressive gabelle,’ and other duties which had reduced the peasants to serfdom. Decisions by the Estates required the support of two of its orders, each voting internally for a single vote. For the Third Estate, considering itself the representative of the social majority, and whose ranks were larger than both clergy and nobility, this affronted the representational rights of the nation. Similarly, the liberal nobility and clergy could not support the Third Estate in securing reform, to do this dissidents needed to unite in a single chamber, voting by proportional representation (par tete, by head.) Despite a veto by King Louis XVI, the union of the Estates was achieved on July 2nd, mainly due to the support of violent Parisian demonstrations, roused perhaps by the radical Duc d’ Orleans. The resulting chamber proclaimed itself The National Assembly.’ The Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’ on August 27th saw the first written Constitution in Europe, with its basis in Paine, Locke and Rousseau; it promised to maintain freedom of speech, religious expression, and a universal system of law.
Law is the expression of the general will… it must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes.’ (1.)

The evolution of the Assembly into a fully representative parliament, its abolition of feudalism and the supremacy of the king, sent shockwaves of hope for a more egalitarian society amongst the intellectuals and radicals of Europe.
Late Eighteenth century Britain was also a potential powder keg of dissension – mainly against the predominantly aristocratic parliament, and King, George III, whose influence could still determine the rise or fall of governments. The oppressive Corn Laws, maintaining the high price of corn for landowners, and the squalor of the industrial towns, all contributed to the ferment of radical opinion, and growth of the radical Corresponding Societies,’ whose concern was the extension of voting rights for the common people. By far the most popular movement was one that became known as Chartism,’ whose aim was for a charter of common rights, and whose members included many of the prominent radical and humanist thinkers of the day, including the philanthropist Cobett and the militant William Owen. The early Revolution contributed to a the mood of change already felt following American Independence in 1781. The voice of reform, not only for domestic and parliamentary change, but also for the abolition of slavery, seemed to promise a new consensus for change.
One of the most influential advocates for caution in the revolutionary climate, was Edmund Burk, a Whig M.P. and liberal, whose support for the Americans in 1781 had contributed to the Whigs’ exclusion from government by George III in 1783 (despite their majority in the commons.) Burke’s family were anglo-Irish landowners; he had witnessed the appalling poverty of Irish peasants as a result of oppressive British legislation, and although an Anglican himself, supported Catholic Emancipation all his life. Burke recognised the destructive potential of the French Revolution, where the authority of both the Estates and King were influenced decisively by mob violence.
Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution warns the British government against radical development in Britain; the book’s ensuing alarm contributed to the reactionary mood of the eighteenth century establishment:
…people in the upper class, who dominated parliament agreed with his views.’ (2.)

Burke asserts the innate greed and unrestrained nature of man. The Revolution exposes flaws in human nature, and illustrates the requirement, as Rousseau states (in Du Social Contract 1762,) for a subjective authority. Burke discusses the nature of the proletariat:
men… who, immersed in hopeless poverty, could regard all property.. with no other eye than envy.’ (3.)

For Burke, hierarchical structure is the fabric of social order. Burke rejects meritocracy, the basis of Whig ideology. To maintain social harmony, hereditary privilege defines the individual’s rank and occupation:
…to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle of public affections.’ (4.)

History has always been influenced for the better by Great Men,’ whose ambitions are for the nation they serve, as opposed to the selfish motives of the common man. The analogy here is William Prince of Orange and the Glorious Revolution of 1688:
…men of great civil and military talents… the ornament of their age.’ (5.)

The notion of a sanctity and divine order in the processes of history, is evoked in the aristocratic reconstruction of civil and religious structures after they have been destroyed in war:
…among their massacres, they had not slain the mind of their country. A conscious dignity, a noble pride, a generous sense of glory’ (6.)

The civilised process of war is a direct contrast to the anarchical Revolution of the undisciplined, mob:
Your present confusion… has attacked the fountain of life itself.’ (7.)

Tory paternalism is seen in the assertion, that social order depends upon the survival of class privilege, since only the privileged have the intelligence and skills to govern. Electoral reform would prelude Revolution in Britain, empowering an ill-fitted, self-seeking proletariat:
Every thing ought to be open, but not to every man.’ (8.)

Burke upholds the validity of British institutions as the guardians of a benevolent state, in which the passions of the people are kept in check by the privileges of the monarch, and authority of the landed classes:
Is our monarchy to be annihilated with all the laws, all the tribunals… Are all taxes to be voted grievances?’ (10.)

The British constitution is defined as the laws that preserve the rights of all society:
The law itself is only beneficence, acting by rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice…’ (11.)

Like Hobbes and Rousseau, Burke states that all men must relinquish some personal freedom, and conform to the laws and liberties of government. That he may secure liberty, he makes a surrender in trust to the whole.’ (12.)

Like Hobbes, Burke realises the impracticality of allowing men to live by an ethical consensus. To maintain a harmonious society, liberty is preserved through the physical repression and punishment of dissidents:
Society requires, not only that the passions of men should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body as well as in the individuals.’ (12.)

Europe is a product of the noble chivalric psyche. The loss of chivalry to a common selfishness is condoned as a result of Revolution:
It was this opinion which raised private men to be fellows with their kings.’ (14.)

Burke is sceptical of the philosophical climate which contributed to both the American and French revolutions. Although he admits the spiritual bases of mediaeval Europe were illusions, he deplores the loss of sanctity for life and beauty, resulting from the breakdown of the Ancien Regime:
All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle, and obedience liberal… are to be dissolved by this conquering new Empire of Light. ‘ (15.)

The Enlightenment, and the Empiricism of Locke and Newton, has altered views of society on its condition, and also its epistemological outlook. The offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings,’ Burke’s Darwinian condemnation of this loss of sanctity for life, also criticises the deist humanists as atheists:
Out of this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal…’ (16.)

Religion and aristocratic order are the bases of society, they have embodied British life for millennia. As the lord depends upon the peasant, so does the peasant depend upon the security and religion of lord and priest:
This European world of ours depended upon two principles… the nobility and the clergy, the one by profession, the other by patronage.’ (17.)

Learning is a product of aristocratic civilisation, and is itself threatened by the swinish multitude’:
Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hooves of a swinish multitude.’ (18.)

Harmonious British hierarchical society is both natural and Christian, the natural entrails’ of England have not yet been embowlled:
We fear God… We look up with awe to kings,’ (19.)

Duty is the responsibility of all men to embrace their natural role: through just prejudice, duty becomes part of his nature.’ (20.)

Burke’s critique of the radical perspective, and support of traditional Tory social philosophy, contrasts with the radical views of The rights of Man and the Citizen’ by Thomas Paine (1737-1809.)
Paine was born into a Norfolk working class family, and received only a rudimentary education. He fought with the American colonists for independence; it was at this time Paine began to write, publishing his American Revolutionary vindication, Common Sense’ in 1787. In 1791, he began The Rights of Man,’ in support for the French Revolution, and in response to Burke’s Reflections’. Outlawed by the British government in 1792 for his radical pamphlets, he fled to France, becoming a deputy for the National Assembly under the Girondins. Paine was widely regarded as a founder of the American Constitution; both Thomas Jefferson and Washington were influenced by Paine’s early writings. Similarly, the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man,’ had been modelled on the works of Paine and the American model.
Despite his outlawment by the British government, Paine’s literature sold in the millions amongst the British public. Paine was also known amongst the country’s radicals, including William Godwin and the poet William Blake.
The Rights Of Man’ criticises the whole concept of divine right, and praises the new forms of philosophical enquiry, as evinced by Locke and the humanists. Paine rejects conventional social doctrine, and argues for social equality. In particular, the divine rights of the heiarchial system are exposed as an opresive restraint upon free will:
Governments… set up an idol which they called Divine Right, and..twisted itself into an idol of another shape, called the church and state… the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention.’ (22.)

Like Jean Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778,) Paine beleives that the basis of government is in the consensus of the community:
the fact must be, that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government…’ (23.)

Paine maintains that a national constitution, defining the rights and privillage of citizens is essential to any government. Unlike Burke’s consensus constitution, based upon duty, Paine defines the constitution as a concrete, documental policy:
It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and contains the principles on which governments are established… a constitution is therefore a government.’ (24.)

Heiearchial governments are not driven by virtue, but by motives of greed and the desire for power. For Paine, oligarchic society is the product of conquest, the child of a cyclic selfish tradiiton:
The English government is one which arose out of a conquest, and not out of society.’ (25.)

Ideal government is a constant by which society is maintained, the right to reform government should reside in the hands of the people it serves:
A government… cannot have the right of altering itself.’ (26.)

Universal suffrage is essential for the ordinary man to influence the reform and running of the nation. Paine attacks rotten boroughs, and the disparity between electoral registers in Britain:
The town of old Sarum, which contains not three houses sends two members; and the town of Manchester, which contains upwards of sixty thousand souls, is not admitted to send any.’ (27.)

Paine pleads for the nations of Europe to rise against their oppressive governments:
When the people of England come to reflect upon these injustices, they will, like France, annihilate those badges of ancient oppression.’ (29.)

Paine is particularly concerned with education – his own inadequate schooling, and struggle to express his political views, reflect a concern for the ignorant, and therefore indifferent condition of the masses. Education must be made available for the common people:
Reason and ignorance, the great opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of Government goes easily on. ‘ (30.)

Constitutional Monarchy is also attacked; Paine exposes the hypocrisies of the British parliamentary system – in which the king decides which party will form government, regardless of any majority, and in which M.P.s are elected out of patronage, rather than universal suffrage. The myth of the rights of parliament, and Constitution of 1688 are all criticised:
A mixed government is an imperfect everything, cementing and soldering the discordant parts together by corruption.’ (32.)

The power of the eighteenth century monarch, which in Europe was generally absolute, and in Britain still very powerful, is also condemned as an affront on both equality and the accountability of government:
A king can do no wrong… it places him in a state of similar security to idiots, and responsibility is out of the question with respect to himself. ‘ (33.)

Paine attacks the sanctity of the hereditary system. The epistemology of Burke is based upon a belief in hierarchical concord, with a basis in a spirituality he himself admits is illusory. For Paine, truth is obtainable only through reason, through an empirical rationale on the causes and remedy of society’s problems:
The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.’ (34.)

Paine criticises European war as the product of aristocratic ambition. He discusses attempts to bring the peoples of Europe together:
War, from its productiveness… becomes a principle part of the system of old governments.’ (35.)

In his Conclusion’ to The Rights Of Man,’ Paine pleads with the nations of Europe to reform themselves, before they are overtaken by bloody revolution. Paine is no anarchist, but an advocate of moderation and reason:
Governments by representation are making their way in Europe, it would be an act of wizdom to anticipate their approach.’ (36.)

The influence of the two writers was mixed. The vast majority of politicians in Britain, mainly of aristocratic origins, would have cited Burke as both a prophet and saviour of the British Establishment. Britain’s literate public, and radically-inclined intellectuals, would however, have embraced Paine’s theories of equality, personal and social freedom. For writers such as Blake and Godwin, Burke represented a reactionary establishment, whose interets lay in the maintainence of the old, hereditary system.

The focal point for intellectual London radicals in the last decade of the Eighteenth century, was an informal society at the premisis of Joseph Johnson, the contraversial printer, who had published many radical writers. Influential amongst this group, was the whig M.P. William Godwin, (1756-1836,) whose Enquiry Concerning political Justice,’ 1793, proved one of the most influential radical critiques of contemporary society. William Blake (1757-1827) was also influential in this group, and certainly knew all the major radical writers in contact with Jophnson. Blake was particularly close to Godwin’s wife, Mary Wollstoncraft (1759-1797,) whose early femminist writings influenced his Songs Of Innocence and Experience (1789-92.) Before his conviction for sedition, Thomas Paine was also well known to this informal society.
The Romantic movement was certainly influenced by the Johnson group, and both Coleridge and Wordsworth knew most of the writers and intellectuals through eitherJohnsonor the highly influential Godwin:
Coleridge, and to a lesser extent, Wordsworth, were at the margins of this group.’ (37.)

Coleridge and his associates often felt, that although they sought to speak for an oppressed, disenfranchised people, they were actually isolated from this section of society, due to their social position as members of the comfortable, educated upper classes.
. Coleridge’s early optimism with the radical fervour of the early 1790’s, alongside other influential radicals and intellectuals, is reflected in his attempt to establish a Pantisocracy’ in Pennsylvania, where colonists would co-exist harmoniously in true Lockean tradition. Coleridge’s desire for Britain’s’ transition into an ideal, rural society is reflected in his early Conversation poems, which although not overtly political, suggest the poet’s desire for a contemplative Platonic existence, far removed from the inhibitions and squalor of contemporary British society.
Coleridge’s poem, Frost at Midnight,’ 1798, affirms an harmonious natural order, reflected in the poet’s contemplation of the innocent environment of his youth and son. The poet seems to draw psychological comfort from images in nature that reflect a vitality and living unity in the natural world. The ministry’ of nature is a divine process within which mankind is embraced by a benevolent cosmic order:
The frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind.’ (38.)

The fluttering film of soot evokes a companionable spirituality for the poet:
Methinks its motion is the hush of nature. ‘ (39.)

The dreams of the school-boy Coleridge evoke a desire to experience the vitality of life, outside the ethical pretensions of study:
Save if the door, half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up…’ (40.)

Nature itself is an instructive force on the human mind. As discussed by Shelly in his Defence of Poetry,’ The harmony and rhythm of natural form and sound, adds a sanctity and sense of order to the world of perception:
Great Universal teacher! He shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving, make it ask.’ (41.)

Coleridge links his theories on imagination with the radical perspective; for Coleridge and Wordsworth, the processes of the imagination are a vindication on original thought. Like Paine, Coleridge’s early poems stress the importance of sense perception over inherited doctrine or ethics. Coleridge defines the imagination in two parts. The Primary Imagination, or Fancy is a passive capacity to perceive the world through sense impressions, and to make rational deductions based upon sensory understanding. This process, an attribute which defines our sentiency is Descartes’ Ergo est cognitas sum,’ (I think therefore I am,) the basis of scientific logic in the Enlightenment. Empiricism was virtually invented by Rene Des Cartes (1596-1650,) who maintained that all effects have a corresponding cause. Cartesian Causality would influence the humanist Deists, accommodating natural moral order alongside a cursory atheism (Agnosticism.) This objective, sense-based process cannot explain spirituality, but for Coleridge, the ability to reason is itself godly:
A repetition in the infinite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I am. (42.)

The Secondary Imagination concerns the concept of original thought, an attack on the primacy of the mimetic nature of art, as evinced by Plato and Aristotle, and maintained through philosophers such as Hartley until the late eighteenth century. True imagination is the process of idealising and unifying.’ Imagination is not a mechanical process, but a spiritual one, infusing the primary imagination with the emotions and spirituality of the soul:
The union of deep feeling with profound thought; the fine balance of truth in observing, with the imaginative faculty… the objects observed; and above all the original gift of spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height of the ideal world around forms, incidents and situations. (43.)

Coleridge’s conception of the imagination is therefore a direct influence of the radical psyche as seen in both the political and intellectual movement of the late Eighteenth century. The Romantics’ interest in the the processes of maturity and innocence, and in the unity of natural and moral order, all reflect an interest in the new epistemological outlooks of the Radicals, who condemned the influences of an oppressive regime on the development of the human mind. William Blake’s Tyger,’ is more than an epitome of the dehumanised Enlightenment, it also symbolises the corruptive and brutalising forces of the industrial age on the common man:
What the hammer, what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain?’ (44.)

Like Blake, Coleridge discusses an innate innocence in man, corrupted by the influence of experienc in the sqolur of contemporary Britain. The early Conversation poems,’ often concerning children in an idyllic environment, suggest this ideal view of humanity. Coleridges early poetry is often ambiguous on the subject of practical reform, but reflects the radical concern with freedom, in the presentation of typical Romantic images – of natural landscpes, personal liberty and childhood. This is seen in Frost at Midnight,’ where the idustrial town is the seat of corruption, as opoosed to the child’s benign country childhood:
My babe so beautiful! It thrills my heart…
And think thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim…’ (45.)

Coleridge’s early embrace of the French Revolution is seen in several poems celebrating the constitutionl reforms of 1789. The poem Destruction of the Bastile,’ written soon after the momentous eppisode, reflects the idealisation of the Revolution by the early Romantics:
Go tyrrant! beneath some monstrous sky
Thy terros lost and ruin’d power deplore!’ (46.)

The poet calls for other nations in Europe to follow the example of Revolutionary France:
Shall France alone a despot spurn? (47.)

Coleridge’s attack on William Pitt’s 1783 government is also a damning criticism of the pre-reformed establishment of Britain. Some of the chief concerns of the Romantics at this stage were censorship and Catholic Emancipation. Pit’s opposition to France in the early years of the Revolution is also condemned:
then fix’d her on the cross of deep distress,
And at safe distance, marks the thirsty lance.’ (48.)

Coleridge’s Poem To William Godwin,’ praises the accalimed anarchist, whose views on civil liberty and personal freedom were influential in Coleridge’s Pantasocracy project:
Nor will I not thy holy guidance bless,
And hymn thee, GODWIN! with an ardent lay. ‘ (49.)

The influence of the Revolution, and radicals like Paine, with their stress on civil and personal liberties had a great influence on Coleridge and the early Romantic Movement.
Their enthusiasm would not last long, however. The Revolution’s long term effects on Britain incurred an upsurge of government oppression, involving brutal reaction, and a new nationalism to direct public anger away from domestic problems. This dual process was seen in the administration of Lord Liverpool, (1812-1827,) who used war with France to dissipate public anger, and direct it against the French. The polarisation of opinion against France after the royal executions of 1793, and influence of the success of popular nationalism is evoked in Coleridge’s France an Ode’:
Britain had joined the dire array…
Had swol’n the patriot emotion.’ (54.)

As a result of these events, the radical movement was stunted, with the military suppression of demonstrations, and mass transportation of dissidents. The degeneration of the French Revolution into the brutal despotism of Maximillian Robespierre, and Napoleon’s imperialist crusade – a mixture of militant republicanism and personal ambition, also contributed to the early reversal of popular opinion against Revolutionary France. The atrocities of the 1792-’94 Terror, in which innocents were indiscriminately massacred, signalled an end for the dream of reform in Britain, and a condemnation for early Revolutionary sympathisers in Britain, whose disappointment was accentuated by the ensuing militancy of conservative opinion.
For the Romantics, the wave of euphoria between 1789-91 gave way to a bitter disillusion with the prospect of reform. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge were cited as dangerous radicals by leading Tory ministers; they were forced out of London during the Revolutionary wars, and found themselves subject to increased alienation from their former readership:
The negative side of Coleridge’s social experience can be discerned in… isolation, the consequences of unwitting transgression, the desperate need for an audience and a meaningful relation to the community…’ (50.)

The pressures of social alienation, and the rise of feeling against France, led Coleridge and Wordsworth to withdraw into a personal reconciliation with the establishment. Rather than political reform, they sought to embrace an inner, spiritual freedom – seen in the Coleridge’s later Conversation poems,’ such as The Picture’ (1802):
Through weeds and thorns, and matted underwood
I force my way; now climb, and now descend…
The scared snake rustles. Onward still I toil,
I know not, ask now whither! A new joy…
Beckons me on…’ (81.)

Following the September Massacres of 1794, Coleridge wrote a poem called Burke,’ in which he recants his former pro-revolutionary position, embracing the liberties of Burke’s constitution:
Yet never Burke! thou drank’st corruption’s bowl!’ (51.)

In Fire, famine and slaughter, (1798,) Coleridge has rejected the anarchy of popular revolt; his three daughters of war resemble the three sisters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The poem is set in La Vendee, the scene of brutal counter-Revolution by the Parisian army in 1794. The conviction in the bloody results of revolution reflect Burke’s similar assertion:
Thanks sister! the men have bled,
their wives and their children faint for bread (52.)

The prospect of bloody revolution in Britain is condemned by Coleridge in the threats of the sisters. These demonic forces, perhaps represent the Three Estates, whose folly in demanding reform, influenced the emergence of Burke’s swinish multitude’ on the National Assembly:
I’ll gnaw the multitude, till the cup of rage oer’brim. ‘ (53.)

In France, an Ode,’ (1798,) Coleridge recants his earlier optimism for the Revolution, stressing the need for the preservation of traditional English liberties, as espoused by Burke:
O France, that mockest Heaven, adulterous, blind,
And patriot only in pernicious toils! ‘ (55.)

Like Burke, Coleridge sees the Revolution as a selfish struggle between individuals for personal wealth:
To insult the shrine of liberty with spoils,
From freemen torn; to tempt and to betray?’ (56.)

The disillusion of the early Romantics, following the failure of the Revolution, and resulting social alienation, resulted in fundamental changes in their principles. Coleridge, who lectured on literature at the Universities, commented that:
French freedom, is the beacon which if it guides us to equality, should show us likewise, th adangers along the road.’. (57.)

Similarly, the influenceof Burke can be seen in Coleridge’s defense of Tory paternalism as an important aspect of social welfare:
The paternal and filial duties discipline the heart and prepare it for the love of all mankind.’ (58.)

In the aftermath of 1815, and the brutal reactionary Govrnment of Lord Liverpool, Britain found itself again at peace, and with increased social and domestic problems. The population had doubled since 1760, and unemployment, as a result of a slump in trade, with 2000,000 discharged servicemen back on British soil, seemed to promise renewed dissatisfaction with internal affirs in Britain. Popular discontent rose, under Chartism, (a campaign for a new people’s Magna Carter,’) particularly active in the industrial centres of South Wales. The government’s repressive response to protest was illustrated in the St. Peter’s Fields Rally of 1816, and the 1817 Derbyshire March, both peaceful demonstrations that became bloodbaths at the hands of the military.

The second generation of Roamantic poets, including John Keats (1795-1821,) Lord Byron (1788-1824,) and Percy Bysshe Shelly, saw the rejection of radicalism by Coleridge, and Wordsworth as a betrayal of the poetic ethics seen in their early works:
By the end of the Napoleonic wars, these poets, and especially Wordsworth, represented for a new generation the most craven and disreputable apostasy. Keats, Shelly and Byron could look back to the still quite recent spectacle of the Revolution, and find its principles a continuing source of political idealism and inspiration. They had not, however experienced the vicious backlash of the 1790s and the war; their democratic values had not been called upon to withstand that kind of shock.’ (59.)

Shelly was the heir to a baronetcy, but never lived to inherit either the social prestige or substantial fortune it would have bequeathed. Like Byron and Keats, Selly died young, and so we cannot compare their consistency with the development of first generation of Romantics. Although a member of the aristocratic class, Shelly spent his life fighting against the establishment for common rights. At the age of nineteen, he was expelled from Oxford for writing a vindictive pamphlet on atheism, and between 1811-12 visited Wales in support of protest over the land question, which comprised unfair evictions, high rents, and tithes – the payment of a tenth of wages to the Anglican church.
Shelly’s poetical theories are illustrated in his Defence of Poetry,’ 1821, in which he maintains Coleridge’s radical definition of the imagination, whereby the Primary Imagination is the reasoning power, and the Secondary, the capacity to infuse sense perception with a non-material, expressive process:
Reason is to the imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance. (60.)

Primitive man’s absorption of the rhythm and harmony of the natural world, as seen in Coleridge’s early poems, is reflected in Pain’s discussion on the inner, reasoning capacity of man, and of the natural consensus politics of early societies. Primitive man’s entire social and artistic expression is a result of his observing order in the forms of both the natural world, and his own inner morality:
The social sympathies, or those laws from which as from its elements society results, begins to develop themselves from the moment that two human beings coexist… the will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social.’ (61.)

for Shelly, the artistic aspect of this harmony with the environment, and inner organic rhythms of the poet (a feature of the modern sculptress Barbara Hepworth,) is symbolised in the Aeolean lyre’:
Man is an instrument, over which a series of external and internal expressions are drive, like the alternations of an ever changing wind over an Aeolean lyre.’ (62.)

This expression of natural, inner harmony is supported in the discussion on the rhythm of language:
Language itself is poetry. (63.)

Shelly, a self-confessed atheist, reflects Paine’s rejection of Religion as a cornerstone of society; for Shelly, religion is the institutionalised remnant of poetic myth:
Hence, all original religions are allegorical.’ (64.)

For Shelly, the poet is a broad definition for any visionary orator or writer who has influenced history, or philosophy through the exposition of views based upon reason and the inner nature of the poet. Like Paine himself, great philosophers find inspiration in their own inner spiritual convictions:
They are the institutors of laws, and founders of civil society … For he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of the latest time.’ (65.)

Like Paine, Shelly pleads for social equality. The Romantic empathy with nature, allows a more empathetic outlook on fellow men:
The poet… must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination. (66.)

Shelly defines poetry as the voice of truth – the visionary condemnation of a corrupt establishment. Poetry is also an appeal to the inner emotional and spiritual wisdom of man:
Poetry… is ever still the light of life, the source of whatever of beautiful or generous, or true can have place in an evil time. ‘ (67.)

Shelly condemns the Whig administration of North for supporting the development of industry. The Whigs claim to support the liberties of the people, but instead institute a selfish capitalism:
The rich have become richer, and the poor, poorer. ‘ (68.)

Shelly’s radical views are illustrated in several of his most politically overt poems. Shelly’s verse, due to censorship and social pressures, often fell short of the social criticism he would have liked to communicate to his readership. In The Masque of Anarchy’ (1819,) Shelly envisions the mindless political dance of the British government. Castlereagh, the Speaker and Foreign secretary is a murderer – representative of the reactionary policy that had resulted in the Peterloo Massacre at St. Peter’s fields in1819. Seven bloodhounds represent other reactionary European states:
I met a murder on the way, he had a mask like Castlereagh… ‘ (69.)

Domestic injustices are condemned in Shelly’s radical critique of ministers; Eldon had been responsible for the devastating corn laws:
Next came fraud, and he had on, like Lord Eldon, an ermine gown…
And the little children, who round his feet played to and fro…
Had their brains knocked out by them. ‘ (70.)

The skeleton of anarchy is Lord Liverpool, whose responsibility for brutal repression and injustices in Britain and Ireland have resulted in the suffering of millions:
And anarchy, the skeleton, bowed and grinned to everyone. ‘ (71.)

Shelly, like Paine, calls for the people of England to rise against the oppressors:
Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number…
ye are many, they are few.’ (72.)

Other, less overt poems seem to suggest the poet’s criticism of contemporary government, and, of European imperialism itself; this was the age of Greek and Balkan struggle for independence against Ottoman Imperial rule. In Ozymandias,’ Shelly describes the shattered visage of an oppressive government. The sculptor-artist of the poem is compelled to reproduce the art of convention, but like Shelly, used his art to convey at least the truth of the tyrant’s oppression:
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read… ‘ (73.)

Shelly implies, that like the ruin, his monument to tyranny will rest in his literature:
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things…’ (74.)

Nature itself pulverises the unjust remnants of a corrupt civilisation, under the processes of erosion and time:
‘The lone and level sands stretch far away.’ (75.)

The transience of earthly glory of oppressive empires is a process innate in nature, man must emerge from oppression through his own instinct to express inner conviction.

In England 1819,’ Shelly attacks the British institutions of King and Parliament. The corruption of the Ancien Regime of Britain is symbolised in the senile George III, whose frequent dismissal of governments in parliament earned the disgust of the people:
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king –
Princes, the dregs of their dull race…’ (76.)

The Tory administration is described as a self-seeking organisation, whose policies are for the preservation of their own landed interests, as in the Corn Laws of 1815:
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fading country cling,’ (77.)

The deprivation of common land from the people, as a result of widespread enclosure, and brutal reaction against agricultural protest is evoked, particularly seen in the Irish land problem:
A people stabbed and starved in the untilled field.’ (78.)

The army is an instrument of bloody repression, the church, one of soulless indoctrination and psychological restraint:
An army which liberticide and prey…
Religion – a book sealed. ‘ (79.)

The promise of revolution is a hope for reform of this brutal system:
…a glorious phantom, may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.’ (80.)

The works of the first and second generation of the romantic poets, represented in Coleridge in the former, and Shelly in the latter, were all influenced in some measure by the French Revolution and the writings that ensued following the events of 1789. In Coleridge, the early optimism for social and parliamentary reform subsided with the backlash against the French cause in Britain. Coleridge, like Wordsworth became disillusioned with the pursuit of change, and instead retreated into the meditative exploration of the imagination, and an inner spiritual freedom. For Shelly, who died before his opinions had a chance to substantially develop, we have only his unrecanted critique of the British establishment, where the poet often supports contemporary radicalism. Shelly was a radical in the true sense of the word, a friend of William Lovett the national leader of Chartism, and intellectual intimate of the less radical, but politically outspoken Byron.
what is obvious from examining the careers of the poets, is that their differing social climates contributed enormously to their political and social opinions. For Coleridge, the threat of denouncement by North’s ministry was a real threat, for which he could be transported. Shelly himself had to leave Britain on several occasions due to social pressures resulting from his writings. The influence of Burke on Coleridge is also clear, as seen in his poetic vindications of the Whig politician, although we do have the impression that social pressure was the main determinant in Coleridge’s recantion, rather than the degeneration of the Revolution. Coleridge still felt regret that reform had not been possible. For Shelly, the influence of Paine is almost certain, although he is rarely mentioned in Shelly’s writings. More influential perhaps were the theories of Godwin, whose daughter, Mary eloped with Shelly in 1814, although the influence of Paine and Locke on Godwin himself asserts this view.
The writings anteceding the French Revolution did therefore seem to influence the Romantics writings of both generations.