Crusoe vs. Barbauld; The Enlightenment vs. Romanticism

I noticed an over whelming percentage of posts about Crusoe and Shelley; this makes a lot of sense, and was my original plan. I find it far easier to compare fiction with fiction than fiction with poetry, but in an effort to add a sense of differentiation to the first few posts in this blog, I will discuss Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Barbauld’s “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.”

The first thing I noticed inthe excerpt of Crusoe was the amount of observation. He “observed” this and he “observed” that, and he made decisions on what to do based on these observations. He had no place to eat or write, and so he made a table and a chair. He had no place to put his things, so he expanded his cave. A problem was found, it was analyzed, and a solution was formed and implemented. This is the normal progression of any narrative, though very little is explained in terms of how our main character, Robinson Crusoe, feels about the problems and the solutions. Yes, he wants the table to eat and write, and he says these things bring “so much pleasure,” but not that they bring him pleasure.

This is certainly in contrast to Barbauld’s poem. Romantic poetry is often characterized by the individual, the way they react to the world around them, and particularly how they feel. The narrator is speaking to the country of Britain, and discussing the problems it faces, has faced, and will face in the year eighteen hundred and eleven. There is a strong sense of nationalism in the poem, especially in the fifth stanza, lines 61-112. The narrator assures the country of Britain that, even though “Commerce leaves they shore… / Leaves thee, perhaps, to visit distant lands, / And deal the gifts of Heaven with equal hands” [lines 62-66], its legacy will live on in the land of America, where “Thy stores of knowledge the new states shall know” [line 87]. Perhaps the most important part of mentioning this is that the narrator seems to be remorseful about what is happening. Unlike in Crusoe, the narrator expresses some emotion for what is happening in the poem.

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One thought on “Crusoe vs. Barbauld; The Enlightenment vs. Romanticism

  1. Barbauld’s poem is a kind of emotional, satirical essay. But let’s think about the role of emotion here. How does she use it? Why does she use it? If you’re familiar with Enlightenment satire (think Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or “A Tale of a Tub”), which is overly rational and dry, what does Barbauld’s approach mean in the bigger picture?

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