As to social provenience, the two groups in both countries represent a similar mixture of upper and lower bourgeoisie and aristocracy: Byron and Shelley were noblemen, as were Novalis, Arnim and Eichendorff. Coleridge was the son of a clergyman, as were the two Schlegels. Tieck was the son of a rope-maker in Berlin. Keats's father managed a livery stable in London. It we examine the economic resources of the two groups, we are led to the conclusion that only Byron and Scott made a fortune by writing, that Wordsworth had the luck of receiving an inheritance, that Shelley lived by borrowing on his expectations as the grandson of a Baronet, that Keats drew a small annuity, and that Coleridge had a patron in the china manufacturer Thomas Wedgwood, but also fended for himself eking out a living from journalism, lecturing and some royalties. Lamb was an official of the East India Company. The situation in Germany was not so very different. August Wilhelm Schlegel was for years a member of the household of Madame de Stael and later a Professor of the University of Bonn. Friedrich Schlegel became a high official in Metternich's Austria. Novalis was a salt-mine supervisor. Arnim and Eichendorff were Prussian landowners. E.T.A. Hoffmann was a law official, though tor several years he tried to earn his living as an orchestra conductor and theater manager. It seems to me difficult to generalize with such data and easy to exaggerate the economic hardships which were suffered by a few of these writers at some time.
Politically, the outlook of both groups was necessarily deeply influenced by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. In England the distinction of two generations is obvious: Wordsworth and Coleridge were young men at the outbreak of the Revolution and were carried away by enthusiasm for it; they were disappointed by its excesses and repelled in their patriotism and therefore moved into a conservative position which later showed also as hostility to the industrial revolution fostered by the liberals. In Wordsworth particularly, the enmity toward the city and an admiration for the 'perfect republic of shepherds' in the Lakes were important factors of his politics. The younger generation—Byron, Shelley and Keats—grew to manhood in the stifling atmosphere of the Restoration and were liberals of diverse shades. Shelley was the most radical, though his radicalism remains quite Utopian in spite of his exhortation to 'The Men of England' to 'forge arms—in your defence to bear.' The Germans were politically conservative, but in different degrees. The upsurge of patriotic fervor against the French, and hence against the ideas of the Enlightenment, was shared by all. Novalis, in his essay 'Christianity or Europe' (1799) was, to quote Lukacs, the first to recommend 'the simple exchange economy of the Middle Ages, the totality of labor in arts and crafts against the rising fragmentation of capitalist economics.' Others put the conservative creed in purely political and religious terms. Friedrich Schlegel, Adam Muller and Zacharias Werner were converted to Roman Catholicism, E.T.A. Hoffmann administered somewhat reluctantly the laws persecuting the German Burschenschaften, and Eichendorff served as an official of the Prussian Ministry of Education in charge of Catholic Ecclesiastic Affairs. Thus the German Romantics believed in an alliance of conservativism and nationalism accepted only by the older English group. This is a great distinctive feature o£ German nineteenth-century history, for elsewhere, in Italy and the East European countries, nationalism and liberalism were firmly allied. The fervor of German medievalism, the passionate interest in the German past and in peasant folklore can be associated with this general revolt against the leveling and centralizing tendencies of the Enlightenment, the Revolution and Napoleon. In England we have to go to Carlyle, Ruskin and the Oxford Movement to find similar conceptions of the Middle Ages as social norm: as a realm of order, tradition and joyful handicrafts.
For the concrete literature, economic and political conditions and ideologies are less important than the relation to philosophical and religious traditions. Some of this is implied in the economic and political attitudes: obviously the Catholic conversions were also politically motivated. In England both the Enlightenment and established religious tradition were in a paradoxical combination stronger than in Germany. Blake, a nonconformist by background, was the one obvious exception. Coleridge for a time was a Unitarian, and Hazlitt was the son of a Unitarian preacher. In England, there was no parallel to the German idealistic philosophy; academically, Common Sense philosophy was in the saddle, and unofficially, the influence of Utilitarianism was spreading at that time. Thus the relation to religious and philosophical tradition was very different in the two countries. The German Romantics were confronted with the enormous prestige of the philosophy of Kant and Fichte and had a systematic philosopher and ally in Schelling. Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis were themselves engaged in technical philosophical speculation, while Kant and Fichte affected the layman by a misunderstood interpretation—as propounding either a crushing skepticism or an irresponsible solipsism. Kleist felt that Kant had taken away all certainty of knowledge, and Tieck drew from Fichte the view that 'Things are because we thought them.' In England, only Coleridge tried to speculate as a philosopher, and he drew heavily on the Germans; Shelley and Wordsworth were either confined to the British empiricist tradition or went back to Plato. In Germany, Lutheran orthodoxy had disintegrated, but there was always the alternative of Roman Catholicism which offered a refuge in uncertainty, and Friedrich Schlegel went the way to Rome. Brentano, a Catholic by birth, became fervently religious and spent years taking down the visions of a stigmatized nun, Katharina Emmerich. Only August Wilhelm Schlegel preserved an eighteenth-century skepticism,' though he had sympathized and played with all kinds of philosophies.
The distinction between the two countries is equally obvious when we look at the writers' relations to literary tradition. The Germans were confronted with the overwhelming presence of their classics; Goethe lived until 1832, producing incessantly during the heyday of Romanticism. He in particular was the great model and the great challenge. Shakespeare then came as a revelation and an intense connection was established witli the older Romance literatures; Cervantes and Calderon especially were widely known and influential. With the Spanish poetry came its meters, and the German use of the tour-beat trochee of the Spanish drama and romances has no parallel in England, The first popular example in English is Hiawatha (1855). In England there were no immediate models of great authority. The later eighteenth century, at least in poetry, seems barren, and the classicism of the age of Queen Anne was no longer a formidable foe. Spenser, Shakespeare and even Milton were remote in time, and thus they could be drawn upon very freely: the poetic antiquarianism rarely produced self-conscious pastiche if we except Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, especially in its earlier archaic version, and Keats's 'Eve of St. Mark.' Rather, the great English Romantic poets used a younger tradition which they lifted into a higher region, the Augustan Miltonic poem, or the ode of the type of Collins and Gray, or the eighteenth-century octosyllabic verse tale. The German Romantics felt much more strongly that they had to break with the Hellenic classicism of Goethe. They drew more consistently on folk forms or on forms of Romance art poetry which they often misinterpreted as popular. In prose, the Germans represent most clearly a case of 'rebarbarization:' an attempt to raise such popular genres as the Gothic novel, the fairy tale and the anecdote into the realm of higher art.