Joseph Mallord William Turner, Wreckers—Coast of Northumberland, with a Steam-Boat Assisting a Ship off Shore (1833–34). Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Romanticism is like a phantom,” Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky complained in 1824. “Many people believe in it; there is a conviction that it exists, but where are its distinctive features; how can it be defined?” Two decades later, Baudelaire identified only its features: Romanticism is found “neither in choice of subjects nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” The question of definition requires the wider context, the political, scientific, and perceptual revolutions of John Stuart Mill’s “Age of Change.”...

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