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The Neo-classic period in England spans the 140 years or so after the restoration (1616) extended up to 150 years and the Romantic period is usually too said to have begun in 1789 with the outbreak of the French Revolution or alternatively, in 1790 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge. It is said to have entered in 1832. The year in which Sir Walter Scott died and the passage of the reformed will; signalled the political preoccupations of the Victorian Era. Classicism is usually opposed to romanticism and any discussion of their characteristics will involve a certain amount of schematic over simplification since both are not found in an absolutely pure state. It can be said that classicism is formal, social, static and intellectual, whereas, romanticism is individually informal dynamic and emotional. In that its emphasis is on the qualities that men have in common rather than their individual differences. As a result, the characters of classicism are likely to be basic human types rather than unique eccentrics. Again, the classical emphasis is on conformity to establish social norms and subordination to the general good, whereas the typical romantic hero-as popularised by Byron for example – is the rebel when Alexander Pope in the heart of the Augustan Age set out to write a philosophical poem, he wrote an Essay on Man, on man, in general.
When Wordsworth at the beginning of the next stage wished to do so he wrote The Growth of a Poet’s Mind – meaning the growth of his own mind, his personal development. Conformity leads naturally to a certain amount of formality, to the acceptance of pre-determined standards and patterns of conduct so Classicism accepts conventions like the unities of time, place, and action in the theatre, and the triumph of romantic drama is marked by the overthrow of these conventions. Similarly, English Neo-classical poetry perfects and uses almost exclusively the heroic couplet, but English romantic poetry has a building variety of forms. A classical craftsman is expected to be fully conscious of every detail of his work and in complete control of it. Emotion is always consciously controlled and kept subordinate to the writers general purpose, whereas, with the romantic writers, the display of emotion may become the primary purpose and the assumption is that the emotion which is uncontrolled must be very strong and hence admirable.
“Oh for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!” exclaimed Keats in one of his letters. Wordsworth defined poetry, as the spontaneous overflow of ones emotions. There is also an opposition between the static and the dynamic, as found in the classical and romantic works respectively. The classical writer is more likely to be concerned with permanent aspects of things, while the romantic tries to catch transcend aspects or moods. Although, the qualities of both are found in every work of art. The contrasts are based actually on matters of emphasis. So, the period after the restoration till the publication of the Lyrical Ballads is regarded as the Neo-classical period and the period after that till the death of Walter Scott is regarded as the romantic period.