Difference Between Enlightenment and Romanticism

9 September 2016

Difference Between Enlightenment and Romanticism Enlightenment and Romanticism are two aspects of literature in which the thinkers contributed according to their school of thought. Writers that contributed to romanticism are called as romantics. On the other hand, writers that contributed to enlightenment are called as enlightenment thinkers. Romantics gave more importance to intense emotion in their works. On the other hand, the enlightenment thinkers did not give that much importance to intense emotion in their works. Instead, they valued tradition the more.

This is a significant difference between enlightenment and romanticism. As a matter of fact, you can see that romanticism is laden with works wherein characteristics were overdone. On the other hand, enlightenment thinkers never overdid the characteristics. This is another key difference between enlightenment and romanticism. One of the most prominent differences between the two schools of thought is that while enlightenment thinkers showed more importance and concern towards reason in their writings and speeches, the romanticism thinkers showed a lot of concern and significance to imagination.

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It can be said that romantics valued imagination more than anything else did, and hence they depended more on enjoyment in their works. During the age of Enlightenment, the philosophes believed that reason could be used to explain everything. The philosophes believed that people could make the world a better place to live in. Voltaire is against such optimism. Ian Bell Says “The ‘optimist’ argument then, was complex and sophisticated, but like all ironists Voltaire chose to simplify it to the extent that it seemed complacent and absurd, and he went on to cast doubt on our chances of ever securing ‘eternal happiness'”(1-2).

According to Voltaire true happiness can only be experienced in an unreal world. The multitudes of disasters that Candide endures after leaving Eldorado culminate in his eventual abandonment of optimism. Candide loses four of his sheep laden with priceless jewels due to natural causes, and then sees his two remaining sheep stolen, and the local magistrate indifferent to the theft. “Certainly, [says Candide,] if everything goes well, it is in Eldorado and not in the rest of the world” (42). Candide goes a step further, “Oh Pangloss, cried Candide, you have no notion of these abominations!

I’m through, I must give up your optimism after all. What’s optimism? said Cacambo. Alas, said Candide, it is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell” (40). Candide’s enthusiastic view of life is contrasted with, and challenged by suffering that he endures throughout the book. Hence, Voltaire uses the book to satirize the foolishness of optimism. Voltaire also satirizes religion. According to him the extremely pious and the clergy are willing to turn their back on their fellow man, but those who have not even been baptized are willing to lend a helping hand.

Candide, shortly after the battle, asks many religious individuals for alms, but they all, including one who had just lectured on charity, refused to aid him. Finally Jacques the Anabaptist takes pity on his fellow human, a “featherless biped possessing a soul” (6). Voltaire attacks not only the blanket optimism of Dr. Pangloss, but also the religious notion of providence, the idea that there is a divine will guiding earthly events. The fact that good and bad alike suffer and die seems to be evidence that God is not in charge.

Voltaire believed that God had abandoned the world. Robert Adams adds, “Perhaps Voltaire, like many other unbelievers, especially those with Jesuit training, continued to respect the logic of the church in which he no longer believed” (183). The hypocrisy of religion, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church, is recurrent in Candide. Underlying the satire of religious practices is Voltaire’s outrage at all forms of fanaticism and intolerance. Voltaire claims that religious leaders blame “the fall of man [as the system] we put on all these individual maladies”.

Voltaire adds, “it is clear that the system undermines the very foundations of the Christian religion, and explains nothing at all” (88) O. Wade says “Voltaire destroys the philosophy of optimism by graphically describing the tragic miseries of humanity: Candide offers us the saddest themes disguised under the merriest of jokes, the joking being of that philosophical variety which is peculiar to M. de Voltaire, [… ] he makes the all is well system, upheld by so many philosophers, look completely ridiculous” (146).

Despite attacking the optimists, Voltaire offers no solution to the problems. Wade writes Voltaire’s “attitude towards optimism is difficult to trace because of the ambiguity of his position” (150) According to Voltaire, “we must cultivate our gardens”, “it’s the only way of rendering life bearable” (75). He says since true happiness is hard to find, hard work is the only way one can live in contentment. Voltaire makes Candide an interesting and entertaining book, but also uses it to ridicules the optimism of the enlightenment. Otherwise, William Blake is a romantic poet.

The sparks of romanticism are vividly marked on his poetry. The question arises what is Romanticism? The answer is that it is a phenomenon characterized by reliance on the imagination and subjectivity of approach, freedom of thought and expression, and an idealization of nature. It was Schelling who first defined romanticism as ‘liberalism in literature’. Though romanticism officially started by the Lyrical Ballads jointly penned by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1830, poets like William Blake made cracks to classicism towards the end of the18th century.

In Romanticism, a piece of work could become, as Blake described, “an embodiment of the poet’s imagination and vision. ” Many of the writers of the Romantic period were highly influenced by the war between England and France and the French Revolution. In the midst of all these changes, Blake too was inspired to write against these ancient ideas. ‘All Religions Are One’, and ‘There is No Natural Religion’ were composed in hopes of bringing change to the public’s spiritual life. Blake felt that, unlike most people, his spiritual life was varied, free and dramatic.

Blake’s poetry features many characteristics of the romantic spirit. The romanticism of Blake consists in the importance he attached to imagination, in his mysticism and symbolism, in his love of liberty, in his humanitarian sympathies, in his idealization of childhood, in the pastoral setting of many of his poems, and in his lyricism. Researchers on the two schools of thought firmly believe that Romanticism is nothing but a reaction against Enlightenment. It is said that romantics depended heavily on the creativity of individuals, and as a consequence, they did not follow any other rule.

On the other hand, the enlightenment thinkers followed so many rules regarding life and hence they paid a lot of attention to reason. Finally, it can be said with authority that most fine arts were influenced deeply only during the Romantic period. Painting, music, and poetry were all influenced by the Romantic period. On the other hand, philosophical thinking was influenced by the enlightenment period. These are the main differences between enlightenment and romanticism.

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Difference Between Enlightenment and Romanticism. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved August 22, 2019, from https://newyorkessays.com/essay-difference-between-enlightenment-and-romanticism/
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