The Romantics

The Romantics

2006, History  -   42 Comments
Ratings: 7.75/10 from 24 users.

The RomanticsThis documentary looks at a group of visionary writers who changed the way we see the world - the Romantics - and examines stories of bloodshed, political upheaval and poetry.

Liberty. Peter Ackroyd reveals how the radical ideas of liberty that inspired the French Revolution opened up a world of possibility for great British writers such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, inspiring some of the greatest works of literature in the English language.

Their ideas are the foundations of our modern notions of freedom and their words are performed by David Tennant, Dudley Sutton and David Threlfall.

Nature. Peter Ackroyd summons the ghosts of the Romantics to tell the story of man's escape from the shackles of industry and commerce to the freedom of nature.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Britain during the late 18th Century, the Romantics embraced nature in search of sublime experience.

But this was much more than just a walk in the country; it was a groundbreaking endeavour to understand what it means to be human. They forged poetry of radical protest against a dark world that was descending upon Britain.

Eternity. Byron, Keats and Shelley lived short lives, but the radical way they lived them would change the world. At 19, Shelley wrote The Necessity of Atheism - it was banned and burned, but it freed the Romantics from religion.

Through their search for meaning in a world without God, they pioneered the notions of free love, celebrity and secular idolatry that are at the centre of modern Western culture.

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42 Comments / User Reviews

  1. AntiTheist666


    “I couldn't quote you no Dickens, Shelley or Keats
    'cause it's all been said before
    Make the best out of the bad just laugh it off
    You didn't have to come here anyway
    So remember, every picture tells a story don't it”

    When Rod was God.

    So many images, so many stories, so much fearful symmetry.

    Finding the right tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian is as delicate as tightrope walking over an abyss. That’s my monsterization of dear Friedrich. Gods and Monsters, Lambs and Tygers, it’s all the same thing. Make the best out of the bad and just Laugh it off!

    You said in an earlier post that after studying Blake there was only one way of reading him? I’m not sure if I agree entirely, his body of work covers so much I feel it would be limiting to have such a singular view but would love to hear what you think? I haven’t studied Blake but I’ve been a fan ever since I was a young boy...

    The Crucified One

    1. Philio


      Blake – Well the “The Romantics” won’t play and every other source I’ve searched for begins and ends about 30 seconds into it. The search led to a “happen-stance” within frustration.

      Blake, from his youth, would by most be called a “dreamer”, a “visionary” and a poet. The proper word would be “mystic” to intone his deep spirituality. His poetry and graphic art stem from that source. If you miss it you miss Blake and in doing so will tend to intellectualize him. The deep pain and frustration with visions of what should be and the reality of what was tore him deeply. You can hear his angst. It drips from every word and in every piece of art.

      He found the same problem within his religion. Where most fled for solace, he found contradiction. The rest is a natural course of events. Expand the study environment (reject the Imperator and the Imprimatur), remain true to the vision, define and redefine the symbols. Why symbols? Blake’s vision is within a metaphysical reality. This should sound familiar:

      “All that we See is Vision, from Generated
      Organs gone as soon as come, Permanent in
      The Imagination, Consider’d as Nothing by the
      Natural Man.”

      Stated otherwise empiric reality is just an illusion.

      W. B. Yeats leaned heavily on Blake for his philosophical, mythical, and esoteric syncretism. Yeats did, however, error (somewhat) through his assumptions. He applied his own search to be the same path as Blake’s.

      It’s like never reading Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and assuming the movie’s ending is true to the book. It Ain’t!

      There’s an essay that I’m sure you can find. “William Butler Yeats’s ‘The Symbolic System’ of William Blake” by Arianna Antonielli

      Blake has been used by violent revolutionaries and cold eyed politicians within many systems quoting him from their own philosophical motives to move the unknowing into their schemes. It’s like the The Symbionese Liberation Army quoting Martin Luther King

      When I finally find a video that’s view-able the hope is that it brings out these aspects of “The Romantics”.

    2. AntiTheist666

      Yes what a tragedy this won’t play. Never mind, we three know it has to be this way of course? I totally agree about him being an angst ridden mystic prophet metaphysician. Visionary artist and poet as well of course, his religious nature I find ambiguous and can accommodate several perspectives. Thanks, I’ve found the essay and will read it later.


      Cosmology, fall, mysticism, mythology, magic, occultism, symbolism, vision.

      SLA quoting MLK LOL.

      I’ll get back to you on the essay.

    3. AntiTheist666


      I really am laughing as I write, I just had a small disaster, I exaggerate of course it was just a minor tragedy. No no, it wasn’t that either. It was just a mental dance that didn’t quite turn out as expected. That which it was is now nothing but a memory but I’m still smiling.

      I laughed because I have lost a rather lengthy reply to you about the essay that contained notes and references and some of my observations. Oh well it’s probably for the best as I could tell straight away that I am out of my depth here. I know less about Yeats than I do about Blake which is not much and I am unfamiliar with many of the titles referred to.

      From the abstract

      “...I concentrated on Yeats’s and Ellis’s numerous analyses dedicated to Blake’s mythological and symbolical corpus and, in particular, I examined the last chapter of the first volume of the Quaritch edition. This chapter, entitled “The Symbolic System”, constitutes an unquestionable link between Yeats the reader and scholar of Blake, and Yeats the poet and follower of Blake.”

      I am missing something here? I’m tempted to say what a surprise.

      What a nice way to start the essay though

      Grant me an old man’s frenzy.
      Myself must I remake
      Till I am […] William Blake
      Who beat upon the wall
      Till Truth obeyed his call;

      (W. B. Yeats, An Acre of Grass)

      You mentioned in your post that Yeats made an error in some way but I think you meant to use the word err? Not that it makes any difference on this occasion but I wondered if I should point out any slightly dyslexic words even if I know what you mean?

      On pages 12/13 she refers to “The Works of William Blake”

      “Fundamental in its presentation of Blake’s system explained by Yeats and the conspicuous part of Yeats’s system borrowed by Blake, this chapter constitutes, as I am going to illustrate here, an unquestionable link between Yeats the reader and scholar of Blake, and Yeats the poet and follower of Blake.”

      Arianna Antonielli has taken Yeats on Blake and just cut it in half...surely at least one more cut is necessary?

      This in his own words from the preface.

      “The reader must not expect to find in this account of Blake's myth, or this explanation of his symbolic writings, a substitute for Blake's own works. A paraphrase is given of most of the more difficult poems, but no single thread of interpretation can fully guide the explorer through the intricate paths of a symbolism where most of the figures of speech have a two-fold meaning, and some are employed systematically in a three-fold, or even a four-fold sense. 'Allegory addressed to the intellectual powers while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal understanding is my definition', writes Blake, 'of the most sublime poetry'.”

      Which sort of makes my point of not having a singular predominant view.

      From page 15

      “Blake’s system is rich in symbolic and imaginary elements, often perceived by the ‘natural reader’ as nonsense. Actually, as the two editors never fail to illustrate, every contradiction or paradox may only be overcome through symbolism.”

      What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence said Wittgenstein but it doesn’t mean we can’t intuit something even though there aren’t words to describe it. Those that attempt to are often described as insane though.

      I’m going to stop here for now as this post is already getting long and I‘m getting lost, I’ll come back to it soon.

      In the meantime, slightly off Piste, but I’d like to ask a question. If you were asked “What is Divine in Man” What would be your answer if you had to use a short quotation by anyone you like? You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine ;-)

      The Crucified One

    4. Philio


      “I am missing something here?” Yeats searched through participation in various “Cult” expressions. He assumed that of Blake. Blake’s metaphysics were unique to him. He studied Jacob Boehm (depressing fellow), Cabbala and more but not a cultist.

      “What is Divine in Man” What a question to ask on a Friday evening? This may disappoint you but I have none. Quotes generally miss the whole.

      “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Col. 1:27, this I would normally choose as answer but in a mixed positional group of graduated pros and cons their statements would only reveal their beliefs. The statement is unambiguous and each comment would miss the point.

      Examine three words Christ, hope and glory. Hope is universally understood as wished for or desired but yet to be. Glory, in this case, is an achievement. Christ is not a name it’s a position after a chrism is applied. The Hebrew root word is “??????, mashach”, anoint. Anointment is the application of a foreign or outside something or substance.

      Its most generality missed that the writer Paul makes a distinction between the personage and the condition. He says Christ and everyone hears Jesus. It’s the same with Buddha. Neither word is a last name. To be anointed one must, at minimum, be in position to receive the chrism.

      I presented the Lacoon for a reason. So mine would be a piece of art perceived and not phrases. The artist is not one but three from the island of Rhodes Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. (That in itself is an historical allegory.)

      The allegories:

      Laocoon (Latin), from Greek Laukoun, from laos "people" (but as an adj.) + koeo "I mark or perceive." (a quality)

      Antiphantes (think phantasies) as an example, sycophant from the Greek suko-phantes “fig-blabbers” (as in politicians) this gives us Anti-phantes “against-blabbers” or “oppose-allusions”, idol mind chatter.

      Thymbraeus (the name invokes Tiber and the Trojan river Thymbris) allegorizes an identification that lies in the future and attest one that lies in the past.

      So I see the hope of clear perception fighting the ego (helpful and hindering snakes), pointless chatter and histories. So is there anything Divine in man? Is seer the eye that cannot see itself?
      Another would be the Buddhist Wheel of Life with the Buddha detached and pointing to the Moon. (Christ ascended to the Tabernacle not made of hands [not struck].)

    5. AntiTheist666


      Thanks for such a beautiful answer. When I said I am missing something here, I should have said I am missing an awful lot here. Blake and Yeats, I’ve re looked over a fair bit of their work and schematics for few days now and still feel my ability to understand it is poor. There may be a prejudice creeping in here because for many years I had them both down as being slightly mad and of course wrong. Whenever I see grand philosophies I think of Nietzsche.

      “The will to a system shows a lack of integrity”

      I knew this to be true even as a young boy. The art of the Dark Destroyer who has to create anew something Harder. I wish I could offer something meaningful about the essay but my knowledge of magic and occultism is also terribly lacking and while I enjoyed it I don’t like being out of my depth. I’ve bookmarked it and may go back to later.

      Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

      Polydorus = many gifts, multi-talented. I know someone else like that.

      What is Divine in Man?

      “The union of those who love in service of those who suffer”

      The Crucified One

  2. AntiTheist666


    This doc is not working, it keeps saying an error occurred please try later. Any chance of getting it fixed?
    Edit: Oh and huge thanks for a wonderful site.

  3. StevenLJones

    All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

    1. Mario Solorzano Garcia

      that makes no sense whatsoever

    2. StevenLJones

      Mario the quote is from George Orwell's Animal farm. We are taught that Animal farm was about the Russian revolution except it has a pig named Napoleon. I think its about all revolutions. The quote simply means that while we may toss words like equality about they really mean nothing. A new elite will emerge who have more rights, thus they are more equal. At least that's the idea behind Animal farm.

    3. Declan_Walsh

      "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

      Isn't there a huge oxymoron in there somewhere? lol

  4. Winston Smith

    A Wonderful series! Thank you for uploading.
    Blake (of which Ackroyd has written an excellent biography) was more of a mystical visionary and symbolist (believing in Platonic and Gnostic concepts, like the demiurgos for example. All of these men were brilliant poets and progressives ahead of their time. Blake was also an artist and engraver (See The William Blake Archive online) It is sad that Keats and Shelley died so young. I didnt know Shelley had a book of Keats' Poems iin his pocket when he drowned. I thought I read somewhere he didn't care too much for his work,, or vice-versa.
    Whatever girders of the mind were loosened by the drug I wouldn't call opium with the 'source' of Kubla Khan but to Coleridge's poetic genius and brilliant mind. *Read The Pains of Sleep for a beautifully written description of anguish opium withdrawal. (words being wholly inadequate to describe such torments, not really. The withdrawal is perhaps not the worst of it but the slavery and emotional impact of being without it.) Though the final two lines stand out rather strangely. It's clear he felt 'such punishments' were for his having sinned (used opium). In the end it sapped his genius and ability to write./
    (see: STC: A Bondage to Opium by Lefebure) -He is still among my few (along/w Poe and Blake) favorite poets. He was among the most intelligent men of his day. It is difficult to imagine what might have been had he not become an addict.

  5. alans

    So which country has more freedom, France, UK OR US? Which is the best to move to?

    1. Sad_Panda_99

      France, in my opinion. The biggest difference i find is that in France the people have all the power, and the government are fearful of the them. Though i don't think any of them have gone far enough being the libertarian that i am.

  6. Edward Richtofen

    England has caused more missery suffering and environmental tragedy. Ask what is more important human health or industry?

    1. Sad_Panda_99

      I'm pretty sure the USA is one of the biggest polluters and users of fossil fuels in the world by far, and they are the only country to use a nuclear bomb on a country. Even at the height of the British empire we didn't do things on the scale they are done now. Also i think in some ways you want to be thankful that the British empire was the most successful, I honestly believe the world would be a lot worse off if say for example, the Spanish empire was the biggest power of that period.

    2. Winston Smith

      whose health and whose industry? is how this is answered in the real world.

  7. Sad_Panda_99

    I'm not a Royalist Brit btw, quite the opposite i hate the fact the Britain still has a monarchy, and dont even live in the country anymore, actually live in France now, I just get a bit annoyed when ppl seem to gloss over what the British did actually do to go through to get the freedom we have now.

    1. wald0

      I am well aware of the English bill of rights of 1689. My point was to explain to Mark that America was NOT first, re-read my comments. We did not discuss the English bill of rights because it had nothing to do with the discussion we were having, French revolution vrs. American revolution. Besides, the English did not follow through, France did and inspired the rest of Europe and the world to follow. You are of course entitled to your own opinion, but it is not the prevailing opinion of historians. England still has a monarchy, even if it is a figure head devoid of much power, so to say they inspired a break from monarchy and heridtary rule just doesn't hold water.

    2. Sad_Panda_99

      my comment on your post was actually in agreement with you, I was just talking about the english one aswell. Also, the fact that we still have a monarchy now is much the same reason as it was returned back then, that being there is a large amount of the british population that actually wants the monarchy, so its kinda the fairest way. Let the royalists have their little figure heads, but not let them actually hold any real power over the peoples law. I dont know for certain but I would think if more than 80 percent of Britain wanted the monarchy gone they would be gone. But as it is i think most Brits are loyalists, well most the older generations anyway, but they're the only ones who vote anyway.

    3. Earthwinger

      I absolutely agree with you, Sad-Panda, and I think it's also worth reminding people about Magna Carta which passed into English law in 1225, and is arguably the foundation on which all constitutional law in the English speaking world, is based.

      Granted it was mostly symbolic, but none the less, it's importance shouldn't be understated.

    4. Sad_Panda_99

      lol, yeah i was gonna go back to the Magna Carta, but thought I might be pushing it a bit.
      I just think we shouldn't be made out to be the complete monsters and enemies of personal freedoms that some documentaries make the British Empire out to be.

    5. wald0

      I have always respected and liked England and, most of the English peoples I have met. Colonialism didn't make you guys very popular with much of the world, but I am from the U.S. so what can i say about it, we were/are guilty of it as well we just called it something else. I suppose it is because I am from America that I understand plainly how a government can do something horrible and still have conpassionate, decent, responsible, hard working citizens. I am also a chemist and an atheist, so I suppose it is natural for me to like Europe and be disgusted with America right now. After all you guys don't seem to have a problem with christian fundamentalism tryng to destroy or discredit science and, I hear atheist live normal non-paranoid lives in your country. I live in the bible belt, southeastern US, its like going back in time to one of the most predjudice, ignor@nt, backward places on earth- no joke. Anyway, you are right, the Magna Carta was one of the first steps this world took toward real freedom, constitutional rule, etc. England is not by any means a "monster or enemy to personal freedom". Englands history is full of things to be very proud of, things that advanced the human species as a whole. Of course some Americans will always hold a grudge, and vice versa, but not us intelligent folk. Merry xmas Panda man, cheer up!!

    6. An Oldfool

      True...anything in the way of freedom in UK was hard won against very entrenched interests

  8. Sad_Panda_99

    Please guys look into the English bill of rights of 1689, before you think that the american bill of rights was something completely new when it was written, in many ways they are much the same, British people always had much more freedom than the French up until the French revolution.

  9. Roan7995

    This man's speech impediment almost kills it.

  10. Fouad Aissani

    I almost cried... great film

  11. Mark Stouffer

    "escape from the shackles of industry and commerce". This is a baazzar phrase to describe revolutions against statist governments, the most notorious constrictors of industry and commerce. How can the TDF copywriter claim that Thomas Paine's opposition to taxes is an escape from the shackles of commerce? The British, or at least TDF, have still not discovered the essence of the American Revolution.

    1. Vlatko

      @Mark Stouffer

      "...escape from the shackles of industry and commerce"

      That is from the official BBC description for this documentary.

    2. Mark Stouffer

      That makes perfect sense then. The BBC has not yet learned of the American Revolution.

    3. wald0

      They were not rebelling against statist governments, they were rebelling against heriditary rule, monarchy, class divisions,etc. The romantics pushed the idea of every person having certain "god given" rights, the idea of nationhood and citzens being involved in governance, the idea of constitutional rule, the idea of religious tolerance and sepration of church and state, etc. Of course they helped inspire the American and French revolutions, they premoted the very ideas central to these revolutions.

      They also premoted a return to nature and spirituality and challenged the prevailing veiw of the scientific revolution that had just ended, the mechanistic veiw of the world. I am sure this is what the BBC writer was referring to when he said they longed to break free of industry and commerce. Remember that the romantic period follows the scientific revolution that took place during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. During this time a mechanistic veiw of the world and human beings was developed to replace the overly superstitious and religious views of the dark ages, and industry began to use this mechasnistic view to exploit the environment for profit. Romantics were trying to say that we needed to return to nature and instead of veiwing it as a machine, or as a collection of resources to exploit, let it inspire our passions and emotions.

    4. Mark Stouffer

      "They were not rebelling against statist governments, they were rebelling against heriditary rule, monarchy"

      In both these cases it is still a matter of the state justifying the existence of the individual. The only change was that instead of a mystical god being the source of the law it was a mystical group of men, a collective, or vox populi or volksgiest. Even after the French revolution the individuals had no rights. A woman could be executed for mourning the death of her executed husband, as Dickens noted.

      The only essential change happened when individual rights were established in the US. At that point the state was justified by the individual instead of the other way around.

      That is why the British academic intellectuals at the BBC still ignore the American Revolution: The change has not happened in their minds yet. They, the BBC, are still justified by the state.

    5. wald0

      I will agree with you that the US was a bigger departure from the norm than France after the revolution, I never said otherwise. I also never said that women had equal rights in France after the revolution, in fact you didn't really address any of the points I made other than to say that monarchy and heriditary rule was the same thing as statist governments, which I disagree with as well. The concept of the state didn't even exist at this point, and would not truly take off until right before ww1. I explained the predominate philosophy of the romantic movement and asserted that they did premote the ideals that were at the very center of the American and French revolutions, thats all.

      As far as your comment about women in France not having equal rights after the revolution, I would remind you that it was a British colony in New Zealand during 1893 that first allowed women full voting priviledges, a right they would not fully gain in the US until 1920, and then only because they pointed out that blacks were allowed to vote and yet were not covered by the language of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the constitution, an arguement I am not sure I agree with. I would also remind you that the origins of the modern womens right movement is considered to be 18th century France. Besides that, just because women didn't get full rights doesn't mean that unalienable rights were not a huge part of the French revolution. Read The Rights of Man and of the Citizen, ratified in France during August, 1789. It clearly lays out the principles of unalienable rights, among other concepts, generally thought to be products of the American revolution, mostly by Americans of course.

    6. Mark Stouffer

      Yes. Sorry. I rushed through your interesting comments.

      They went from monarchy to a kind of popularchy. But as the video points out everyone in Europe, accept for a few nobles, had no rights and were guided by duty. In the French revolution, with the growth of reason (science still lives!) the duty was no longer to the crown but to the state, or the people. Again, this is a change but it is only like a shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic. The divine right of kings could not hold sway when European minds were now guided by science and reason.

      "the scientific revolution that had just ended, the mechanistic veiw of the world." Science was not ready to die yet. What was dying was a naive materialism that viewed man as a collection of chemicals, a predetermined cue-ball rolling into other cue-balls. The idea was that he had no mind of his own, or a mind whose thoughts were predetermined from before he was born.

      Unfortunately the response to the body-without-a-soul view of man was that man could only escape the Calvinistic determinism through: irrationalism.

      My point isn't to say that the Founding Fathers were prior to all other thinkers of the time, but that they were distant enough from Europe's toxic philosophers to not be intellectually subdivided into the warring factions of the body/soul dichotomy.

  12. Mark Stouffer

    It still surprises me that the British still view the French Revolution as more profound a change than the American.

    1. fonbindelhofas

      there is nothing profound about slavers fighting for profits... i see it as first comercial war not revolution.

    2. Mark Stouffer

      The distinguishing characteristic of the early US is that the freed their "citizens" from being "subjects" and therefore initiated the subsequent release of slaves from the divine kings all over the world.

      Everyone works for profits. The capitalists for their own profits, the statists for the plundered profits of others.

    3. wald0

      Wrong again, man you need to read some modern history books. France was the first country to establish unalienable rights (The Rights of Man and of the Citizen ratified 1789), the first country to introduce womens rights (Women's March on Versailles Oct., 5th 1789), the first country to over throw monarchy and introduce a constitution (drafted at the National Constituent Asembly 1791), the first country to have a represenative legistlative branch (Legistlative Assembly 1791-1792), the country that inspired the American revolution and continued to inspire revolt against heriditary rule and monarchy all over the world, especially Europe. Yes, America also inspired many countries to draft a constitution and adopt represenative democracy, but you seem to think we were the first and changed the world all on our own, not so. We owe much to France and the peoples there that had the courage to stand up for the principles that eventually spread across the channel, then across the Atlantic to become the U.S. The people they stood up to were not across an ocean either, they were right there in the country with them, already in control and set up to squash any opposition, very different from the American experience.

    4. Mark Stouffer

      The Bill of Rights was signed in March 1789. The French one was not completed until August of that year. And have you read the French one? Do you really think it compares?

    5. wald0

      Third strike Mark, your out (just a joke). However, the bill of rights was adopted by the house of represenatives on August 21, 1789, jointly preposed by congress in Sep. 1789, and finally ratified into the constitution December 15, 1791. So, the French were first. That said they had what was called a constitutional monarchy, mostly just a name. Lois did retain veto powers and sit in as a figure head for a short time after the revolution. This didn't last long though and they are still the foundation of the experiment that became America. I hold a degree in western civics so, yes I have read "the French one" which I, along with most historians, feel lays the foundations for our bill of rights and constitution. You and I should agree to dsagree I suppose. You seem a nice enough guy so I am sorry if I came off rude or anything, have a great xmas Mark.

    6. Sad_Panda_99

      the English civil wars took place well over 100 years before the french revolution, and saw the execution of the monarch king Charles I, which led to such constitutional documents the petition of rights in 1628, and then later bill of rights in 1689. Though obviously we got a monarchy back (mainly because Oliver Cromwell turned out to be a massive twat, but the french got that too, after their revolution with Napoleon) and didn't go as far on liberty, it does lay down certain rights like freedom of speech and requirements of regular elections of parliament, and is still pretty much the same constitution that is in force in England to this day.

    7. greyspoppa

      Do your research, America is still part of the British Empire. That's why it's not considered as a profound change.