English Romanticism was not so much a "movement" of unified ideals and artistic tendencies as it was a shared spirit of exciting new beginnings—of dramatic new departure from the rigidity and order of the past, a spirit of Reaction and Revolution. In a sense, the Romantic spirit heralded the dawning of modern times: we have inherited and still believe today more of the Romantics' ideas and concepts than we often realize. We tend not to follow the classical concepts of universality, harmony, order, and decorum, but rather the Romantics' heightened awareness of diversity, individuality, and individual passion and imagination.
"The Romantic Era"
Though the dates of the Romantic Era are somewhat arbitrary (and under dispute), convention has the period begin in 1798 and end in 1832:
1798 - year of the first publication of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, which as outlined in Wordsworth's 1800 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, tried to concentrate on the lower classes of society, everyday happenings, and the real language of real people.
1832 - the year the first Reform Bill passed in the British Parliament: the beginning of modern democracy in Britain by extension of the vote to men who held title to small property (at least 5-10 pounds annual rent). Too, Blake, Scott, and all the major "2nd generation Romantics"—Byron, Shelley, and Keats—were dead by this time.
General Features of Romanticism
Emphasis on nature: not objective description but subjective interactionnature as the outward expression of the poet's inner perception or feeling. Some of the Romantics saw nature as a living, organic, spiritual "presence," permitting communication between sensitive people (poets, e.g.) and a sort of "divinity" in nature.
Personal expressionself-revelation, expression of strong personal emotion; self-assertion or rebellion, breaking rules or creating new ones.
The power of imaginationthe image-making power of the individual mind analogous to God's creative power: originality, personal vision more important than "reason"; subjectivity more important than objectivity, privileging life of the imagination over life in the physical senses, tending to the visionary and mystical.
Democraticconcerned with common subjects, common people, and common language.
Personal symbolism, not only the traditionalBlake, for instance, set up an entire system of mythical symbolism.
The "Byronic hero" is the stereotype of the antisocial, alienated, eccentric Romantic poet, possibly amoral or immoral. Poetry itself became something very personal, private, almost incomprehensibleas in Blake, Byron and Shelley.