When Blake says that in paradise lost “Milton was at devil’s party without knowing it” the romantic age enters in criticism. Then Wordsworth gave us Preface to Lyrical Ballads wherein, at least two places; he points out: “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” to this statement, however, Wordsworth has added that: “It takes its origin from the emotion recollected in tranquility”.
Reacting against the neoclassical theory of literature, the pioneers of the romantic movement challenged the concepts of “poetic diction—“decorum, imitation and wit”—and pronounced the substitute terms of “imagination” in place of “wit”, “creation” in place of “imitation”, and used the democratic weapon of equality for destroying the tyranny of decorum by asserting “that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition,” Thus, Wordsworth’s the preface gave the critical manifesto of the romantic theory for the language of the poetry and the function of the poet.
The most elaborate and highly articulated criticism appears in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria or Sketches Of My Literary Life And Opinions (1817),—the most prestigious critical document of the Romantic Movement—that transferred in English criticism the key concept of imagination which: “reveals itself in the balance of reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with concrete; the idea with the image.”
Continuing the debate on imagination as the primary and the principal agency pf poetic creation, Shelley, in A Defence Of Poetry (1821), gives a further turn to the role of the poet, who become the “unacknowledged legislators of society,” so the: “poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the author of language and of music…they are the legislator of laws, and the founders of the civil society, and the inventor of the fine arts of life.”
Beside theoretical writings, the romantic poets and essayists also produced a large body of practical criticism in the form of lectures and essays, particularly on drama. Coleridge’s Seven Lectures On Shakespeare And Milton (1808), Hazlitt’s lectures on English poets (1818), Lectures On English Comic Poets (1819), Character Of Shakespeare’s Plays, and Dramatic Literature of Elizabethan age (1820); Lamb’s Character Of Dramatic Writes Contemporary With Shakespeare (1808); DeQuincey’s Knocking At The Gate In Macbeth; and The Letters of John keas (1816-20) are the most notable critical writings which are highly valued even by the critics on our non-romantic age of criticism.
In this age, literary criticism became firmly establishment by the appearance of such magazines as Francis’s Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review (1802), John Wilson (or Christopher North) the Quarterly (1808), john Gibson’s Blackwood (1817), Lockhart’s Westminster review (1824) violently abused Keats and the Lake poets in the name of criticism.
Thus, the romantics made great contribution to the development of literary criticism as a serious and complementary branch of literature, which not only made available to the writers the necessary knowledge about the art of writing but also enumerated and judged it for the common reader.