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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: May 2006

13 - “Pre-Romanticism” and the ends of eighteenth-century poetry


Finding satisfactory labels for the poetry of the last decades of the eighteenth century has proven particularly difficult because most existing labels carry certain value judgments that diminish the worth or specificity of this poetry. Poetry from Pope's death in 1744 to the early publications of the first generation of Romantic poets in the 1790s has occasionally been defined according to its immediate past, by calling it “post-Augustan,” but more often according to the future, by calling it “pre-Romantic.” In an important essay first published in 1956, Northrop Frye suggested that we call this period an “Age of Sensibility” rather than define it transitionally “as a period of reaction against Pope and anticipation of Wordsworth.” While the label “Poetry of Sensibility” has gained some currency among specialists, “pre- Romanticism” continues to be used for this poetry, especially by nonspecialists. Unfortunately, the label “pre-Romanticism” is seriously misleading to characterize the ends - the last poems as well as the objectives - of late-eighteenth-century poetry.