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When the french revolution broke out, in 1789, english public opinion reacted favorably to it, because it was

seen as a blow to the royal absolutism and the beginning of a liberal process of political changes. Ather the

jacobin terror some symphatizers changed their minds and turned to ultra-conservatism. The abeas corpus act

was repealed and people were kept in prison without a trial. England declared war on france in 1783, when the

french army invaded the austrian netherlands and was about to invade Holland. The danger became more evident

with the beginning of the expansions of Napoleon all over Europe. England was continously at war with france,

and had 2 important naval victories with the Admiral Nelson, until Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

Meanwhile the social and political organization of england was being transformed by the Industrial Revolution,

a change from hand-work done at home to work done by machines in the factories. It began with some invenctions:

the steam engine, invented by James Watt, and the spinning jenny, in the textile industry, so people with large

capitals began to build factories in which people worked. These factories were built in the north, in south

Wales and in the Midland, which were called the 'black lands' because they were rich in coal and iron. Public

lands were enclosed to be exploited and the little farmers lost the lands where they kept their animals and

they used to collect wood. During the Industrial Revolution the theory of the 'laissez faire' prevailed,

influenced by Adam Smith's 'worth of nations'. He thought that the less the state interferred with economic

activity, the better it was for everybody, because the individual would attain the best results from free

unregulated competition. Hours, conditions and wages of work were totally unregulated, men worked up to 16

hours a day, even women and children, the factories were surrounded by slums where those workers lived in

terrible conditions of life. All this caused the Luddite Riots, some revolts against the machines. Any kind of

association was forbidden by the combination acts, this brought to the Peterloo Massacre, in which 11 people

were killed by soldiers during a demonstration of cotton workers which asked for menhood suffrage. With George

IV some liberal measures began to be taken, the Cobination Act was repealed so trade unions became legal. Then,

with the Catholic Emancipation Bill, political and social discrimination against catholics and dissenters ended.


During this period a cultural and artistic movement was born. It's based on individual sensitivity, so human

feelings and instincts. It's a reaction against intellectualism and the powers of reason. Against the values of

organized community life are set the values of a natural and primitive life. The topics of movement are death,

dark, sadness, melancholy, night, ruins. These topics bear witness to the pessimistic concept of life in contrast

of the former optimism. These topics were brought by the bloodshed in Paris, the repression during the Napoleonic

Wars, the expoitment and abuses of the industrial revolution. So the artist flees from reality, he enstranges

himself. There is a re-discovery of nature and also a re-discovery of english folklore. Imagination comes to be

considered the only valid form of knowledge. The scientist can see only appearences while the artist can

penetrate into the innermost dephts of life.


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