Essays have variable shapes and therefore, it is understandable that though numerous attempts have been made to give a definition to the essay, yet none has met with complete success.
Most of such attempts succeeded in covering only a part of the compositions which commonly go under the label of the essay.
A comprehensive definition which would cover essays as different as those of Bacon, Addison, Lamb etc. is yet to come. Dr Johnson’s famous definition of the essay is- “The essay is a loose sally (witty) of mind, an irregular, indigested piece, not a regular and orderly composition.”
This definition touches only one aspect- though a very important aspect of the essay. Many other writers too, tried to define essay, but they too could explain only one or two aspects of the essay. A definition that covers a vast proportion of essay is-
“An essay is a short, incomplete, informal, light, subjective literary composition in prose.”
This definition is not rigid but practical.
Though Romantic Age is essentially the age of poetry prose also saw significant development. Though essay and criticism, both were not new, criticism had been practised before by Dryden, Addison, Johnson and Goldsmith; and the personal essay or essay proper, derived from Montaigne (Father of Essay), had attracted Cowley, Addison, Steele, and Goldsmith.
Romantic Prose is not based on love stories though some of the novels do have a romantic element. Romantic Prose refers to the prose written in the Romantic Period. Following are the main characteristic features of the essay of Romantic Age.
Departure From Reason
The Romantic Period came after the Age of Enlightenment, which really had a focus on logic, reason and science and the Romantic Period was a deviation from that. In Romantic literature, we see an emphasis on emotions, imaginations and intuitions-elements of humanity that can defy reason.
Focus on Nature
In Neo-classical Prose, the main focus was on realism, morality and reason, whereas the essay writers of Romantic Age, like Romantic Poets focussed on connecting with the natural world. Thus they tried to escape from troubles of world and quest for the peace of mind in nature.
Elements of Supernaturalism
To further separate itself from the Age of Enlightenment, from logic and reason, there is really no better place to turn than the supernaturalism.
A lot of works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre contain elements that require the reader to suspend his disbelief to accept what they are reading and go along with something that will defy logic and reason.
Transcendentalist Movement was a reaction against the 18th-century rationalism. The movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul was thought to be the world. Thus individual soul was identified with God.
Focus on Individual
A lot of works talked about the rights and freedoms of an individual and their ability to exert their will even against which might necessarily be logical.
A lot of these novels have themes of rebellion in the face of oppression. Characters do things that might seem irrational because it is really what they want to do.
Like Romantic poets, the Essayists of Romantic Age too showed interest in the common man. The essays of Romantic Age, too like poetry, reflect the feelings of Humanitarianism.
Interest in Past, Primitive and Medieval
Writers of the Neo-classical Age created their works on the basis of reason and morality. The writers of Romantic Age, on contrary to them, drew inspirations from the past and justified their statements by experiences of primitive and medieval ages.
Idea of Revolution
Essays of Romantic Age exhibit the idea of Revolution and change.
Elements of Melancholy
Romantic poets showed interest and included elements of melancholy in their works.
Romantic Prose Writers
Charles Lamb gave English Essay, the same kind of turn that Wordsworth gave to English poetry. Unlike Addison and Steele, who largely devoted the essay to instruct on social morals and manners, Lamb concentrated on emotions rather than ideas or morals and manners. His important essays are “Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago”. “The Two Races of Man”, New Year’s Eve”, “My Relations”
He was no less popular than Lamb but was more intellectual than emotional. He was both essayist and critic. His longer prose writings were perhaps more famous than his essays. His work “The Spirit of the Age”; or “Contemporary Portraits” is generally considered his best work.
Thomas De Quincey
He was also one of the most important prose writers of the Romantic Age. His reputation still rests on his autobiographical writings. He translated German ideas and literature for his age. His important works are “The English Mail-Coach”, “Confessions”, “Essays”.
She was a novelist of her age. Her major novels are “Sense of Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Emma”, “Persuasion”