Joseph Smith, as I think historians readily recognize, has much to commend him as a Romantic thinker. Personal freedom was as sacred to him as to the young Schiller, his emphasis on individualism invites comparison with Byron and Emerson, his view of restoration as inspired syncretism is the religious equivalent of Friedrich Schlegel's "progressive universal poetry," his hostility to dogma and creeds evokes Blake's cry, "I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man's," and his celebration of human innocence and human potential transform into theology what Rousseau and Goethe had merely plumbed through the novel and the drama. Even his teachings on preexistence were in line with kindred views of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Goethe - all of whose meditations on preexistence can be seen as variations of what philosopher Charles Taylor considers Romanticism's great moral innovation: "We are called to live up to our originality," because each being is "capable of [radical] self-articulation." But true human authenticity, of course, must be grounded in an existence that is uncreated and eternal, which is why Joseph, like the Romantics, found the necessary basis of human originality and self-articulation in premortal life. Only thereby could Joseph the Romantic affirm humans as one of what he called "the three independent principles" of the universe.
Copyright © 2012, Mormon History Association. This article first appeared in Journal of Mormon History 38:3 (2012), 148-162.
Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.
Givens, Terryl. "Joseph Smith, Romanticism, and Tragic Creation." Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (2012): 148-62.