- Scott Phillips
A slim volume of poetry was published in 1798; it was Lyrical Ballads, by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The formal language of verse was gone; the subject matter changed. The effect was similar to when punk rock burst on the rock scene in the 20th century. No more gods, nymphs, or royalty; beggars, the mad, wretches, and convicts peopled Romantic poetry. Revolution was in the air, with the recent overthrow of the monarchy in France and the establishment of Swiss and Italian republics. Coleridge wrote so enthusiastically about the onset of liberty in France and elsewhere the authorities took notice, and he was watched for many years by officers of the state. Radical personal lives and politics gave their words power not seen in previous formalistic poetry. This first generation grew more conservative as they grew older, especially Wordsworth; in 1810, he and Coleridge had a falling out. A second generation of Romantic poets were beginning to write, more radical in their outlook and writings.
Mary Wollstonecraft's seminal work, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published in 1792, becoming a base document for modern feminism. Wollstonecraft's formidable genes were passed along to her daughter Mary Godwin, known as Mary Shelley after her marriage to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She became the centerpiece of the second generation of Romantics, writing what arguably is the first work of science fiction, Frankenstein. The novel has an interesting story behind it.
The poetry and prose from the Romantic era retains its strength for people who want to read about nature, liberty, and, yes, sometimes the supernatural. The core of this list consists of the works themselves; I have also included biographies and science books to show that these poets did not practice their craft in a vacuum. They influenced others down to the present and were influenced by events and scientific progress in their time.