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Romanticism Notes


John S Moore




120 Benda, like Nietzsche, looking to the French seventeenth century as a model of clear intellectuality. To a classical aesthetic. What to counterbalance romanticism? Benda’s weakness.  Despite his certainty. On what is that based? On some distinctions supposed to be obvious to the discriminating. Opposing with justification the lure of pure feeling, he needs to produce an opposing conception of art and culture. Ready to hand is the French classicism still so much respected Boileau, Racine, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyere.


170 T S  Eliot. Intellectual interest of his criticism, but the element of charlatanism. He is as romantic as Rossetti, though of a far more intellectual stamp. He has his own prejudices against the 13th century. He views on mediaeval Catholicism, upon orthodoxy and the church are tendentious. He smuggles in these among all the sound stuff….. He overrates the perfection of Aquinas’ system, as found in Dante, as if it were complete and contained no tensions. This peculiar form of romanticism. He calls the 17th century Spanish mystics romantics. But they were just different.


257 Exhibition of German romantic art, Friedrich to Hodler…… Much alpine landscape. Friedrich I always liked, much of the ordinary landscape is nothing special, though it kept reminding me of  places I have been. Bocklin. Pan among the reeds.

Friedrich suggests Martin and Danby, some of the painters looks forward to the pre-Raphaelites. But some other painting looks crude as soon as you think of comparing it with the Dutch masters. You can see it had to develop.


271 The proto-romantic (mid eighteenth century) was a era of exceptionally high energy. Classical constraints build up the energy like a pressure cooker. Energy was conserved and not expended. Secret of empire, industrial and national success.

Romanticism was largely suicidal. Napoleon’s attack on Russia. Romanticism may expend itself and forget the conditions of its own achievement.




287 Nietzsche’s objection to what he called romanticism, described as the expression of the idea that it is better not to be than to be.. The Schopenhauerian art of the nineteenth century. And yet could not the Schopenhauerian experience become the Nietzschean with very little modification? Both kinds of art offer release from a certain pressure. There is a quote where he perceives life and death as one.




34 Classical v romantic. Romantic as a wilful disruption of order. Architecture that breaks the rules. To a romantic that can be delightful because of its strangeness. What the romantic taste affirms is the strange. Strangeness as a discipline of its own. A rule for strangeness is self defeating. John Martin is strange, surrealism is strange. A classical taste aims  at a peculiar precise revelation of beauty against the disorder of the ugly.


132& Chaudhuri. Thoroughly Indian as he is, there are aspects of western consciousness to which he cannot respond sympathetically. Notably to what he considers to be modern romanticism. The romanticised view of Indian civilisation he sees as just nonsense. This is unavoidable, Any of us would feel the same about a foreigner romanticising aspects of our own civilisations. Chaudhuri’s version of the Aryan myth is itself a wonderful poetic or romantic achievement, Aryans coming from Europe via Mesopotamia. A war in Iran over religious differences. The Iranians semitising religion, the India bound branch objecting to this. Greeting the rivers of India with joy, as a memory of the Danube. Yet being enervated and depressed by the climate. Romanticism is like love. He sees no wisdom in Hindu thought, why should this be? Because he has absorbed very different ideas of where wisdom comes from

Romanticism seeks inspiration, makes use of the other for its own purposes. This is legitimate. Romanticism is not folly or frivolity. In a sense it is all there is. It is not a misunderstanding, even though it is a perspective that springs form distance.

But romanticism should not be thought of as escape. It is not, and should not be thought of as forgetfulness of self. It is not looking for salvation in some alien mould as with that extremity of antinomianism that converts to another faith. It is not about handing over power to someone else.


322 Russia succeeded wonderfully in the age of romanticism because Russia was a very romantic place. Its educated class was west European in culture and mentality . Yet from their perspective it found itself in a wonderfully exotic position. Not only among common people profoundly different in culture and religion, for the west Europeans a people strange to west European culture and therefore ripe for exploration and discovery, but he could feel that his very own roots his own identity and being lay with this strangeness which was to a romantic something very exciting. He could project Rousseauite dreams of innate virtue and goodness into his own peasants. Dissolve in emotion at the immensity of this


330 Mundanity of the ordinary to extent that the here and now can come to seem the mundane, devoid of value, and that only escape from the mundane can seem to have any value. Romanticism reversal of homesickness. That life in modern England can seem to be utterly futile. Art is needed to redeem it. Art or literature to create some form of memory of affirmation and how it can be attained.


In the exotic is affirmation. As in travel; Guatemala, Zanzibar. The pressure is so great that overcoming it seems to be the only joy. And vice versa. Any joy is an overcoming of oppression. Art is the whole meaning of life. An aggressive reaction against depression.

The struggle is everything. 




58 Danby, Martin, Turner. In romantic art one looks less for the painterly qualities than for the emotional effect of a real landscape.


93 Swinburne and Burton. Access to a greater power and freedom, deepened by romanticism. Deep understanding of other cultures, led by German scholars.


113 The present age is not romantic. Socialism has killed romanticism.

Romanticism is escape into a free world of unlimited meaning. The unromantic is the forcing of a single meaning, a single interpretation on us all.

326 Early Pink Floyd, not to be described as romanticism. It imitates romantic imagery, toys with romantic clichés. Romanticism is of another time and place. It has a fictional quality. What we see in the Floyd is a kind of incipient Buddhism. Rejection, cynicism about ordinary ideals. If ordinary ideals are worthless, the normal ideals available within the culture despised, then happiness is something strange, predicated on the overcoming of the clichés that seem universal and insurmountable, Early Floyd expressed Dionysian ecstasy. Clearly this is life affirmation, but it is a precious plant. Easy to slip back into the most atrocious pessimism. Which is what happened.



105& Pink Floyd not romanticism. Exaltation of the childish and the banal is not romanticism.


109 Bypassing Faustian man. Faust ultimate romantic, taking himself very seriously. Bathos enemy of romanticism.


112 More on bathos. Alice in Wonderland not romantic


364& Russell on romanticism. Seeing it as egoistic, anarchistic, sadistic, completely amoral. …Romanticism as Russell saw it something having very broad implications. See it as something of religious significance. The European response to the death of relgion. A way of making life exciting once more, as it was on the plains of Africa. Existentialism is merely one of the most modern of romantic positions. Authentic and inauthentic existence.


374 History of romanticism. A clamour for that kind of escape, the happiness promised. What is really sought is happiness. Could there not be a technique for getting it? I am trying to think of something beyond romanticism. Romanticism as series of liberating experiences. The greater sense of life that it succeeds in transmitting for a while particularly by the vehicle of hero worship. Yet what it produces is not permanent; little remains, we stay frustrated. The messages contained, It is not altogether the message that is liberating, Hero worship.




10 Smoking hashish regularly one comes to see that the romantics were not really stretching reality at all. People who write dull books about what they imagine to be real life just show themselves to be dull people. Ordinary life can be full to the brim with horrors and ecstasies. Poe’s Ligeia describes a perfectly feasible occurrence. Gide said that Celine did not paint reality but the hallucinations reality provokes, But this is reality. Describing a state of mind is just as much portraying reality as is painting the back of a chair.




14 Homo democraticus socialismus. His pride in his embodied self, His anti-romanticism. The type of the anti-romantic. E M Forster as an anti-romantic. The fear of fascism. The fear of emotional intensity as leading to fascism. Not the anti-romanticism of the eighteenth century rationalist with his fanatical commitment to an ideal of reason.

An anti-romanticism born of inhibition and mediocrity. Poetry of here and now, of the average, which is overwhelmingly preponderant in this age.

Romanticism is considered escapism, but the supra romanticism of Crowley would be considered foolishness and  insanity. The force of the average, in this age of the common man, is felt to be so overwhelming that even the poets cannot challenge it. They speak of the consciousness of most. To go out on  limb as much as any of the anti-democrats of the past would have done, is considered insane.

To feel the pain of the pressure of mediocrity is to fight against it The modern poet explores this consciousness, the reconciled, acquiesced, anti-Nietzsche consciousness. He has an angst of his own no doubt, but it is not ours. And he has a lot in common with a lot of other people presumably trying to come to terms with themselves in the modern world.


37 Psychedelics is like magic, one is an experienced magician. There is joy in this, the thought itself. One is there and one has psychedelic or mystical understanding. The assertion of mystical insight is not romanticism Larkin got the Beatles wrong. Theirs was no mere romanticism.




122 Reading T S Eliot’s Sacred Wood, thoughts of Eliot the con man, the charlatan. Think of him as like Wittgenstein in managing to secure the uncritical adulation of a section of the English establishment and then to exert vast influence. Take what he says about Dante, Milton and Blake. Consider his Catholic aestheticism. The value he claims to set upon philosophies, ideas.

The Protestantism and gnosticism of Milton and Blake is something he refuses to set any store by. There is an element of fraud and pose here. His own roots are romantic enough. His claim to speak as a pure poet, poetic craftsman, conceals an ideology of pure aestheticism. This is a way of disvaluing ideas. But the mainsprings of this lie in an unadmitted late romanticism.

Why should one value philosophies and ideas purely in terms of their formal qualities? Is this not nihilistic? Is it not a form of dandyism?

But from this point of view, Milton Blake and Swinburne must all be rejected. The inner necessity goes out of their outlooks, the blood is drained by the sado masochistic vampire of orthodoxy.

Eliot’s anti-romanticism is a sham. His orthodoxy is sado masochistic, in the style of fin de siecle decadence. His aestheticism has cruel implications, because it denies value to the romantic sense of inner necessity. In fact it denies all passion, all rebellion or heresy.

People have taken Eliot much too seriously. When he criticises Also Sprach Zarathustra, one could say he is making a joke. This bland bloodlessness is surely not meant seriously . but is has been taken as such. The result could be the ruin of art.

No man is a prophet in his own country. Eliot, Wittgenstein.

What are dandyism, aestheticism, but expressions of the will to power?

Neither Eliot nor Wittgenstein would acknowledge this directly.

If one were to consider Nietzsche as a romantic, yet his ideas can explain the personalities of Eliot in a way that Eliot’s ideas cannot.

To abandon Nietzsche, to abandon romanticism even, for this cold classicism is wilful obscurantism

There is much of the comic in Eliot. This is in the transparency of his selfguruising ploy.

I would say much of his authority is specious, largely because he comes to deny the mainsprings of his own inspiration, ie he recommends something different, namely his own authority.

The repudiation of romanticism. Now what is meant by romanticism?

I would suggest that romanticism is actually the core of our distinctive western civilisation, what Spengler called ‘Faustian man’.

I would find it in Protestantism and also in gothic Christianity and gothic Christianity derived it from the impact of Islam

I would say Nietzsche is the supreme explicator of this impulse, which we call the will to power.

Romanticism is not just the search for the strange and exotic, it involves the need to explore these things. It is related to the imperialistic impulse. There is a drivenness about it, an inner imperative, quite the antithesis of a playful dilettantism.

How people use the romantic impulse to overcome romanticism & people profoundly affected by Nietzsche are led to reject Nietzsche almost in his own name. Sanine throwing down Zarathustra in disgust as too hysterical. Tyrannical impulse. Romantic impulse to a perfection of self conscious enlightenment.

 Eliot’s aestheticism prefiguring Mcluhan’s The Medium is the Message. For Eliot’s philosophy makes aesthetic form absolutely central. It amounts to a denial of content, of inner necessity. An apparent denial of the will to power motive, leading ultimately to a mere fascination with formal patterns, art aspiring to the condition of music.

But the original impulse of his aestheticism is a kind of romantic hedonism. This is to say the motive is will to power, the Gnostic impulse, rebellion against unnecessary irrational restraint, which is perceived as oppressive.


Etc etc



108 "This malady was due, not so much to a breaking away from a traditional faith, as to the difficulty of really appropriating to oneself and living the new faith, which to be lived and put into action demanded courage and a virile attitude, also certain renunciations of bygone causes of self satisfaction and comfort which had ceased to exist.; it demanded also in order to be understood discussed and defended, experience culture and a trained mind. This may have been feasible to robust intellects and characters who were able to trace back the genetic process of the new faith without being overthrown by it, and through inner conflicts to reach their haven and was also feasible in a different way to simple clear minds and straightforward natures who immediately understood adopted and practised its conclusions captivated by the light of their goodness; but it was not within reach of feminine impressionable sentimental incoherent fickle minds, which stimulated and excited doubts and difficulties in themselves and then could not get the better of them and which liked and sought out dangers and then perished in them". (Croce)


132 That so familiar theme in literature, hatred of the Jesuits, the Inquisition and the whole counterreformation, with its Machiavellianism as distillation of fascinating evil. Spain as the Evil Empire, as Reagan called the Soviet. Spain suggesting a totalitarianism as bad as the Soviet.


193 Rousseau, Wordsworth and the emotional sensitising of the romantic. An emotional sensitivity emotional sensitivity like being in love. Revealing so much more of the world and its organic patterns.

Wordsworth’s sublimity.


197 The child is subject to so much coercion. It could be a sign of real health to resist this. They want you to be honest, upright, openhearted. These are admittedly admirable qualities in the right context, as natural qualities. But insofar as they are promoted by coercive pressure, held up as an ideal by people one dislikes, into which one is expected to grow. One may shy away from them and appear different. There are deviations which spring from deficiency and those which spring from superabundance.

This can be the trouble with romantic sentimentalism, as with socialism. What is natural is good, but try to force nature and the truly strong nature will take a perverse path,


328 When I look back to the culture of the 1890s, it seems to me in some respects that we are now living in a kind of cultural desert. Even relatively lowbrow culture had a relation to major artistic interests that is quite different today.

I just need to look at Black’s Guide to Kent, with all the richness of its historical and poetic reference, and compare it with an equivalent modern guidebook.

Symbolists, pre-Raphaelites etc. Strand magazine. A relation to the concerns of late romanticism, ie a relation to  and a sort of understanding of, the experiences and ideas of major artists The short story, ghost or mystery stories, popular genre of the time, incorporating various romantic themes.


333 I could imagine a society which provided a certain imaginative satisfaction. Like the 1890s. Insofar as our society and abandoned romanticism it has not adopted anything better. Coercive authority and moral despotism. To become successful one is expected to compromise.

Romantic images can hardly be generated any more because people are expected to be satisfied with far less. There is not the drive, the discontent, to create a depth culture only a surface one.


372  Disneyland is a phase of human culture that has superseded romanticism.




136 Romanticism a reaction against 18th century rationalism. In a sense it presupposes it as it reasserts the material left over by that system


224 Kant's idea of rational moral freedom, the ‘exhilarating sense of freedom', a wrong twist, a false path. Seeming escape from enlightenment determinism. Romantic objection thereto and expressivism. Hegel's attempting to reconcile this with reason. Attempt to show this present feeling as inevitable. Hegelianism as a romantic philosophy.




157 Exhibition The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790-1990. The concept of romanticism seems too extensive and could seem to cover most German art. Why Schwitters, Baselitz, Beuys, Ernst, Kandinsky? I can understand the point of inducing Nolde. Some of his landscapes suggest the kind of mood painting to which Friedrich aspired has reached a new mastery.

Something more is shown of the great richness of German culture before 1945. Some critics have said there should be more exploration of the nazi period, How the explicit romantic themes turned into that. But the Germans cannot face that. The leaflet says the nazis abused and perverted the romantic tradition. Kiefer is interesting. He confronts the problem squarely.


171 In travel, the exotic, always to some degree the unpleasant. The lure of what one hates, always to some degree attractive. Disturbingness promoting intellectual challenges. English romanticism is for the strange, the exotic. This restlessness and resistance to modernity. To a possibly decadent modernity.


255 Protestantism. Like the mission to rid civilisation of superstition, And then after that, comes romanticism. ‘No Popery’ is a fight to clear the state of present danger. What no longer threatens may be romantically enjoyed.




32  Neo-classicism was a form of romanticism, ie fiction.


168& Nietzsche wrote that nearly all nineteenth century music was romantic and inferior. Surely the same must apply to twentieth century music? Have we managed to arrive at a ‘spirit of the times’ that transcends romanticism? Existentialism is hardly an advance on romanticism it is a variety of it.




44 RS Thomas and his Welsh nationalism. His poems and the emotional intensity they contain. The idea of vast emotional possibility that is repressed. This nation, which in some ways cannot but appal us by its narrowness, yet seems to express in that a suppressed possibility of some tremendous achievement. But what is the real response to this? ‘So what?’ we say. The reality is what is, what is now and that reality is far more than anyone likes to admit, something of England. It is a form of English romanticism. There are those who wish to turn art into something else, something that directly gratifies their own will.




158 Dr Johnson’s opinions, sometimes cited as typical of the pre-romantic, were controversial and individual, anything that made such an outlook impossible would be a retrograde step. And as for the idea, repeated by Russell that Rousseau invented the romantic taste in landscape, what about Salvator Rosa?


223 Symbolism, a rationalisation of the escapist element in romanticism. There exists another world, another plane of consciousness, more satisfying and pleasurable than mundane reality.




20 See how the element of sentimentality in romanticism leads it away from individualism into the realm of black and white fables. Moral oversimplifications that lead to modern socialism.

It is good occasionally to read the bad literature of the past as well as the good. Otherwise how compare other eras with our own? What do we have today instead of romanticism? Life has become fragmented, our popular literature appeals to particular lusts, the part man.

Popular romanticism obviously and naturally could not sustain the note of grand egoism. Romanticism had in it a strain of moral self indulgence which easily led  to sentimentality, originally egoistic, but which ends up as a straightforward coarsening of ordinary morality.


101 The romantic movement, Byron, Shelley, as a revolt against the principle of authority, against Urizen, parallels with the Gnostic movement,.

The Jews were interesting to the ancient world as providing the one alternative to the classical consensus. They were regarded mostly with abhorrence. Gnosticism expresses both this interest and this abhorrence. With romanticism there is a certain relation to the Catholic culture of the south, of all the elements, of all the elements which enlightenment culture ignored. The abhorrence of authority.


228 The romantic movement as a pagan revival. Consider a poem like Gray’s Hymn to Adversity. Inspired by Aeschylus ‘A man must suffer to be wise’. The poem is entirely lacking in all tragic sense., it is complacent because it takes too much for granted, it presupposes the protection of refined civilisation, it confronts neither fear not suffering.

Nothing taken seriously anymore, fundamental problems have ceased to exist, a polite culture has so to speak ‘solved them’. Ovid, Lord Chesterfield. But this kind of culture flourishes best under a despotism, as Augustan Rome or Bourbon France. Freedom breeds problems and an art to tackle the, as Milton


302 Romanticism and decadence had a kind of philosophic base. They stood for an attitude to life at least. Then what happened after the first war? Joyce, Eliot and others brought about what was in some respects a serious regression, albeit that certain excesses needed to be counteracted and satirised. The focus went right away from the higher fulfilment of the individual towards the neo Kantian ethic that prevails in universities. In effect the elite were preparing themselves for socialism, vasectomising their higher selves. … reaction against the entire romantic movement, yet not back into pre romantic enlightenment synthesis, certainly not to the proto romantic renaissance ideal, rather to something earlier and more repellent, something of the atmosphere of the mediaeval cloister. One of the elements in this movement was  elitism, a desire to preserve the sense of being a cultural elite, …




189 Degree to which Goethe was anti Christian and anti-romantic.. Anti romantic in that he believed in the wisdom of age, the different viewpoint that comes with authority.



55 Aleister Crowley is the consummation of a certain phase of romanticism. His apparent absurdity is like that of the physical element in Christianity, or of the psychedelic hallucination. The triumph over the transcendent is the supreme exemplification of the law of Thelema. It is the attainment of the impossible, the miraculous.. Crowley grudgingly commends Cardinal Newman for writing how as a child he used to wish the Arabian Nights were true, and himself asserts in one of his most serious statements, that this wish is fully attainable.


From this viewpoint, Crowley's masterpiece is his Magick in Theory and Practice. As he writes in the introduction, this book is 'for all', that is to say it is not directed at any specialised public. This sober description of how to fulfil the wildest, most extravagant ambitions is one of the great books of the twentieth century, a romantic masterpiece superseding Eliphas Levi’s nineteenth century equally romantic popularisation of the magical tradition. Popularisation bestows an entirely new dimension on the subject. Magic as an esoteric pursuit on the farthermost fringes of the public creed, is a very different matter from magic publicly proclaimed as a contribution to the mainstream higher culture of the day.






1 Reading De Profunidis was disconcerting. It reveals just how differently one of the main practitioners regarded the decadence. Late romanticism. All romanticism I see as springing from a kind of necessity. De Sade and Schopenhauer are different sides of the same coin. But I suspect how little I am understood. People can admire the same literature and get something different out of it. How is De Profundis compatible with A Rebours?

The appalling Ruskin. The national religion, sentimental Christianity Of course the same thing is in Blake, where it seems more tolerable. Victorian religiosity, Sunday School etc seems just suffocating and ugly.




123 Rousseau, too, a man of the mountains. This ultra romanticism, for which Nietzsche is recruited, a crude meaningless titanic romanticism of skyscrapers and new horizons, as if all we need is not already here with us,




83 The power of America. For all its vulgarity, see its usefulness to Britain. This untamed force. Experimental laboratory. Must be counterbalanced from outside.

Romanticism. The two sides of romanticism. The exotic, only so in its contrast with the ‘home’ with ‘selfhood’. The experience is the important thing, not the loss of the self into some form of otherness. Called going native. For all that one resists in America, part of it is home, like normality, us. Partly what one hates is what is too familiar. Like the foundations of what one is.




29 There is indeed a levelling version of romanticism (as in Sue), the tendency is to develop black and white fables, the ‘enemies of the people’ being presented as evil and devilish. There is a tendency for such art to become sophisticated as evil becomes interesting and ultimately there develops an intense interest in character for its own sake & genuine moral issues, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky.


36& The psychedelic is not a romantic. The romantic takes on romantic gestures, lives a romantic style. The psychedelic is a kind of holy fool or madman, not particularly concerned with appearances.


172 Payne Knight’s alternative conception of the perennial philosophy (Essay on the Worship of Priapus). His ideas are extremely attractive.

It was the romantics who really lost for us the ancient esoteric, neoplatonic tradition. In presupposing enlightenment, albeit reacting against it, they lost immediate access to a lot of past thought forms.


 Its deliberate exclusion of itself from the rationalist schemes merely gives it freedom, it does not delimit it in any way.


57 The romantic reaction was repeated several times over in the course of the next century as rationalism went through successive stages of popularisation and inevitable vulgarisation. But a reaction in itself creates nothing, it only provides a convention a form within which a deeper form of art can operate.


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