Category Archives: Romanticism

G.W.F. Hegel


Today is Hegel‘s birthday (1770-1831).  He is simultaneously one of the most influential, widely cited philosophers and also one of the most daunting.  Frye says in an interview with Imre Salusinszky in Criticism in Society that he enjoyed reading Hegel and was quite moved by the experience.  He doesn’t mention that he first read (and seems to have wholly absorbed) Hegel at the age of 20.  Here are a couple of selections on Hegel from Frye’s student essays written in the early 1930s:

The connection of Hegel with romanticism rests chiefly on Hegel’s own conception of the Zeitgeist as symbolic of the inner unity of the time-problem.  He disliked romanticism because its idealism did not press forward into reality.  His own chief interest, as well as his interest for posterity, centres on the strong impulse to unify and cohere to the spiritual side of life into a conception sufficiently clear to be recognized as the driving force of material.  He wanted the idea to penetrate the innermost interstices of reality; and in this he revolted against romanticism because he attempted what they desired but shirked.  He started out with Schelling, attacking earlier critical philosophers, notably Kant and Fichte, because their approach had destroyed the systematization resultant from the matching of subject with object.  Like the romantics, he was necessarily a subjectivist critic; yet he hated subjectivity because he faced out to the world-as-idea and was bent on its idealistic conquest, a process easily ruined by introspection.  Then he broke with Schelling because of the arbitrary and formalized schemata of that philosopher, which represented to him an immature and hasty jumping at conclusions.  He wanted to realize idealism and idealize reality, and no one can attempt this without in some measure being answerable to the charge, when the approach is made from the ideal side, of having butchered facts to make a theorist’s holiday. (“Romanticism,” CW 3, 41-2)

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An extended excerpt from Abel Gance‘s restored 1927 masterpiece, Napoleon

On this date in 1799 Napoleon left Egypt en route to seize power in France.

Frye in “The Drunken Boat”:

The self-identifying admiration that so many Romantics expressed for Napoleon has much to do with the expression of natural force, creative power, and revolutionary outbreak.  As Carlyle says, in an uncharacteristically cautious assessment of Napoleon: “What Napoleon did will in the long-run amount to what he did justly; what Nature with her laws will sanction.” (The Stubborn Structure, 209)

And here he is in one of the late notebooks on the same quote:

Carlyle said that what Napoleon did will ultimately become what he did justly: people like Napoleon never really do anything, certainly not justly.  They’re thunderstorms in the hell-world.  (CW 6, 672)

Samuel Coleridge


On this date Samuel Coleridge died (1772-1834).

Frye in “Rencontre: the General Editor’s Introduction”

Coleridge took over from Spinoza the distinction between natura naturata, nature as structure or system, and natura naturans, nature as creative process, and all his philosophy turns on the superiority and priority of the latter.  The importance of this for literature is mainly in the new status given to the poet, or the artist or creative person generally, as a result.  As long as it is assumed, in Sir Thomas Browne’s phrase, “Nature is the art of God,” the poet cannot be more than an imitator of nature at one remove, and of God at two removes.  Man’s creative power is at best a faint shadow of the power that made the realities of the world.  But for Coleridge, and increasingly for Romantic writers, man’s creative power does not imitate a structure of things out there, but participates in the organic structure of nature.  The poet creates, first, because he is alive and participates in the being of God (primary imagination), and second, because creation is the highest effort of conscious life. (CW , 121) L&S