Romantic - The History of a Word

God Speed

The use of Romantic in English goes back to the seventeenth century when it was used to describe imagination and inventiveness in storytelling and also to characterize scenery and paintings. The word romantic, obviously, comes from the word romance. A romance originally was a type of story that was written in a romance language. That is, the languages that developed as offspring of Latin in areas that had once been Roman provinces. From these languages came French, Spanish, and Italian, among other romance languages.

Since these stories were largely written about love and adventure, the word romantic became associated with them over the years. Furthermore, since these stories were usually set in a scenic area, the phrase 'romantic spot' became associated with beautiful settings as opposed to those that were ugly or common. In modern French the word for novel is still roman, while in English a romance is a type of novel.

The word suggests love, adventure, scenic beauty, improbability, or make-believe. However, something described as romantic does not necessarily possess all of these characteristics. Scenic beauty is not improbable, and adventure is not necessarily make-believe. Another ingredient of the romances of medieval times is the all too familiar fairy-tale element.

Romantic in our current culture could be described as the opposite of logical. Romantic possesses a whimsical, creative, and imaginative approach taken by that of a dreamer, while logic adopts a more rational, calculating, and realistic world view.

Liebst du um Schönheit by Clara Schumann

The Romantic Era

friedrich_wanderer Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich (1818)
photo credit: Boston College

The word romantic is used to describe entire periods of history. In the last years of the eighteenth century in England and Germany, Romanticist designated those who were dissatisfied with the existing culture and who were enthusiastic about new forms in art and thought. But the Romantic movement in art and culture is more than a rare and isolated event in one country or another. It is a phenomenon of Western Civilization. It occurs within historic dates and possesses certain characteristics. Most historians place the most recent romanic movement between the years 1780 and 1905, with a brief resurgence in the 1960's.

Some of the most famous historical contributors to the romantic movement are Goethe, Victor Hugo, Wagner, Voltaire, and Clara Schumann. With Goethe's Faust and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables being some of the greatest achievements of the era. The most recent romantic movement had its heyday from 1780 to 1850. Then during the years from 1850 to 1905, it branched out into realism, symbolism (impressionism), and naturalism. The Romantic Era finally came to an end in 1914.

Romantic culture generally expresses and exalts mankind's energetic, creative, and expansive tendencies by recognizing that although he is a feeble creature lost in the universe, he has unpredictable powers that develop under stress of desire and risk. It implies that intellect is not enough. Intelligence and reasoning are indeed valuable, but cannot achieve alone what passion in the mind and heart can.

Possessing a wealth of talents and inventiveness, Romanticism is a phenomenon quite similar to the Renaissance.

How will this word change in the future? What evolutions might it undergo as our culture progresses?

SR-71 Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard
by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1790
photo credit: Yale University

Originally published
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

  Classic, Romantic, and Modern by
  From Dawn to Decadence by
  Society for Pure English by
  Annales de la Societe Jean-Jacques Rousseau by
  Lang's Fairy Books by

connect Twitter Follow Classic History on Facebook Instagram youtube

Sign up for email updates.

Welcome new readers!

In a hope to share any interesting historical stories I come across in the future I will be writing and posting articles whenever I can. Hopefully quite often.

I'll also be keeping you up to date on any good reads I come across in the Recommended section.

Looking for something in particular? Find it more quickly on the Search page.

And here is a complete list of all articles since the beginning.

H. G. Wells Portrate

"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."


The Discovery of the Future

 Classic Romantic and Modern
Link - Commissions Earned


Romantic - The History of a Word

    I was intrigued by Origin of Romanticism, how it changed its meaning over in a short span of time. From its lovers escapade into beautiful spots of nature to non- tangent expression of emotion and dramatism. thank you very much for this insight. grateful - sheera Betnag
  • Wake
    And wonder how it might change in the future as well. Glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for reading Sheera.
  • If you would like to leave a comment or a reply, please answer this security question: