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Romantics’ Feel of Nature

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When you think about and see nature, what do you see? Do you think about nature from a positive view, or do you see nature and think about how the environment could be better put to use? Two movements from decades ago, the Romantic and Enlightenment Eras, both had ideas regarding nature, but in two different ways. The Romantic/Transcendental Movement occurred after the Enlightenment and shifted the theme of exploration into a theme of feelings and emotions. The theme and ideas of the Romantic Era changed the way that people viewed nature as they began to see nature beyond what the eyes could see. The Romantic/Transcendental Movement emphasized feelings and emotions, which impacted how people saw the natural world, something simple, beautiful, and worth preserving, which is unlike the Enlightenment view of nature; as a result of the Romantics’ view towards nature, the environment was impacted in a positive way by being preserved and being a symbol of pride for the Americans.

The Era of the Romantic Movement was a time when people shifted their mindset from reason to feeling, a time in which exploration of discovery became an exploration of one’s feelings. One of the major events in this era was the Industrial Revolution, which encouraged people to leave the industrialized world and get back to nature. The major ideas and movements of the time were: transcendentalism, the sublime, and primitivism. According to “Transcendentalism, An American Philosophy”, transcendentalism was the idea that each individual has knowledge about themselves and the world that goes beyond their senses. The “Intellectual Thought and the Environment Romantic Era” power point created by Dr. Gernhardt described the sublime as having perfection and greatness in all things and primitivism as finding value and inner strength in simple and unsophisticated things. In the “Early Intellectual Thought and the Environment: The Enlightenment and Romantic Movements” presentation that was also created by Dr. Gernhardt, it was noted that Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond were leaders of transcendentalism and traveled to various natural environments to draw inspiration from them. People like George Catlin, William Bartram, and William Byrd were a major part of the era thanks to their contributions to literature and art; a common theme of their literary work and artworks was that of the environment, such as Byrd’s “History of the Dividing Line”, Bartram’s drawings of plants and Catlin’s portraits of Native Americans in their native territory of the Old West. Overall, the Era of the Romantic Movement was a time in which people focused on their feelings and emotions and as a result, had an emphasis on nature and the environment.

Romanticism had an emphasis on feelings and emotions because one of the biggest ideas of that time dealt with feelings and understanding yourself and the world beyond. Henderson described in his article “American Wilderness Philosophy” that as a result of the emphasis on feelings and emotions, it impacted the way that Europeans and early Americans viewed the natural world by allowing them to see nature as something that is beautiful and where they could draw inspiration from. Since some of the movements, such as the sublime and transcendentalism, focus on understanding something beyond one’s senses, the people of the movement began to look at nature beyond just something to study or look at. The Romantic Era impacted how people saw nature as something that was transcending and beautiful, which Henderson hinted in his article “American Wilderness Philosophy”, created feelings of awe and fascination with nature. So, in a sense, the movement emphasized that nature be looked at beyond the surface and as a result, many people found it as a way to grow closer to God and understand one’s self.

The Romantic Era’s point of view of nature differed from that of the Enlightenment view of nature because the Romantics saw nature as something mysterious, beautiful, and something that allowed you to connect with and find God in. On the other hand, the Enlightenment viewed nature as something to study and use for human progression and advancement, which makes sense because the era is also commonly known as the “Age of Reason”. Two of the main events of the Enlightenment were the Lewis and Clark Exploration and Manifest Destiny. Discovering Lewis and Clark describes how the Lewis and Clark expedition was about discovering the nature and land in America’s interior, and on this trip, they were able to discover many plants, animals, geography, geology, fossils, insects and Indians. The “Manifest Destiny” page on the History website shows how the Manifest Destiny was a concept to expand U.S. territory, and that it was destined by God for them to spread democracy and capitalism. Also, Gernhardt noted in the “Early Intellectual Thought and the Environment: The Enlightenment and Romantic Movements” presentation how the Enlightenment period had the idea of “rationalizing the wilderness”. Rationalizing the wilderness, Manifest Destiny, and the Lewis and Clark expedition all dealt with knowing, exploring, and understanding nature on the surface, whereas transcendentalism, the sublime, and primitivism were more about finding appreciation, themselves, and God in nature. Overall, the Enlightenment and its events and ideas were about the exploration and discovery of the environment and nature; this means that the Europeans and early Americans wanted, in a sense, to control nature and the wilderness and to have it tamed, whereas the Romantics would have viewed nature as being free.

The impact that the Romantic/Transcendentalist view had toward nature was very positive and respectful. Since they viewed nature as something simple, sophisticated, mysterious, and beautiful, they respected nature by appreciating, preserving, and conserving it. The Romantics impacted the natural environment by not disrupting it for the gain of themselves. Instead, they left the wilderness alone and observed it, rather than try to tame and rationalize it as the Enlightenment era idealists did. According to “American Wilderness Philosophy”, the Romantic view “became a point of pride and national identity” in America (Henderson). That being said, the Americans also viewed nature as a symbol of their country and they took pride in that, and as a result, preserved and protected the natural environment that not everybody in the world had. This idea and thought still impact the United States today because there are many National Parks that preserve the beauty of the country in its natural environment. Overall, the Romantic view of nature impacted the natural environment of Early American by preserving, protecting, and respecting it.

To conclude, the Romantic Era was a movement that was characterized by the focus of one’s self and feelings, which was reflected in transcendentalism, primitivism, and the sublime. The leaders of this movement, such as Henry David Thoreau, shed new light and ideas about nature beyond the idea that it was a subject to study. The Romantic Era’s emphasis on feelings and emotions impacted how the Europeans and Early Americans saw the world by showing the true beauty of nature and that one can discover, understand and experience themselves and God through nature. Compared to the Enlightenment Era, the Romantic time period emphasized nature as something to be simple and respected, whereas the Enlightenment time period emphasized that nature was something to be explored, discovered, rationalized, and controlled. The Romantic’s view of nature impacted the environment by preserving and reserving its true beauty that Americans take pride in as a country. Evidence of the Romantic Era is still seen in our country today through the many literary works and artworks that represent nature as a way of finding yourself and God, as well as through the preservation of natural habitats and the environments in national parks throughout the country. Overall, the Romantic Era’s focus on self and feelings impacted nature in a positive way, not like how we see nature being treated in today’s world.

Works Cited

  1. Discovering Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, & National Park Service Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
  2. Gernhardt, Phyllis. “Early Intellectual Thought and the Environment: The Enlightenment and Romantic Movements.” 2009, Microsoft PowerPoint file.
  3. —. “Intellectual Thought and the Environment: The Romantic Era.” 2011, Microsoft PowerPoint file.
  4. Henderson, David. “American Wilderness Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
  5. “Manifest Destiny.” History, A&E Television Networks, 5 April 2010, Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
  6. “Transcendentalism, An American Philosophy.” U.S. Independence Hall Association, Accessed 14 February 2019.

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