Barfield's abiding passion for the Romantic movement in literature and philosophy dates back at least as early as his Oxford days prior to World War I. Most interested in the work of the German romantic Goethe and the Englishman Samuel Taylor Coleridge (about whom he wrote a book--What Coleridge Thought--as well as several essays1), his writings contain numerous references as well to most of the other major British romantics and to the German romantic philosophers as well (especially Schelling).

For Barfield, Romanticism represents a rebirth of the "perennial philosophy" (Huxley), of ideas that had Oriental equivalents2 and had been around in the West since the ancient Greeks, as he made clear as early as History in English Words.

Slowly the divers of the Romantic expedition brought up to the surface of consciousness that vast new cosmos which had so long been blindly forming in the depths. It was a cosmos in which the spirit and spontaneity of life had moved out of Nature and into man. The magic of Persia, the Muses of Greece, the witches and fairies and charms and enchantments or Romance--all these had been locked safely in man's bosom, there to sleep until the trumpet of Romanticism sounded its call to imagination to give back their teeming life to Nature. . . . this re-animation of Nature was possible because the imagination was felt as creative in the full religious sense of the word. It had itself assisted in creating the natural forms which the senses were now contemplating. It had moved upon the face of the waters. For it was the "repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation"--the Word made human. (212)

But Romanticism gave these ideas a new, more "natural" emphasis; indeed, Romanticism equated imagination and nature.

For there is no doubt [for the Romantics] about where the life in an invented or fictitious image comes from. There can be no "pathetic fallacy" there,3 What is peculiar to the Romantic Movement--as, indeed, its very name recalls--is the further reaction of this enthusiasm for fictitious and fabulous representations on the phenomena--on Nature herself. This is also what took the Romantic conception of art, properly understood, a step beyond the Neo-Platonic theory. . . . The Neo-Platonic theory holds that man the artist is, in some measure, a creator. The Romantic conception agrees--but goes further and returns him, in this capacity, to Nature herself. (SA 129)

Barfield chose to call a collection of occasional writings and lectures published during World War II (his first published book since Poetic Diction [1928]) Romanticism Comes of Age--a title which referred to a central Barfield thesis: that the thought of Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, could become, if accepted and fully realized, the mature fruition of Romantic thought. This thesis is developed in the three representative passages quoted below, all from Romanticism Comes of Age:
  • A young man may be considered as fully come of age only when he has discovered two things: firstly his identity and secondly his vocation. . . . the young man called the Romantic Impulse appears to have gone a long way . . . toward discovering his identity, but . . . I see little sign as yet of his having discovered his vocation. (22)
  • To make Romanticism into a self-sufficient organic being, able to stand on its own legs and face the rest of the world, there ought to have been added to the new concept, beauty, the renewed conception of freedom, a new idea also of the nature of truth. (28)
  • In the legend of Parsifal tragic consequences follow the failure of the hero to ask the crucial question at the crucial moment. The question he should have asked when he saw the Holy Grail was "Of what is it served?" The same question should have been asked by the Romantic Movement, when it saw the visionary Grail of the human imagination. But it was not asked   . . . except by Coleridge. . . . And in the state of Romanticism, as it exists today, we see the tragic consequences that followed. The charm faded. The mirror cracked from side to side. Just as Coleridge, who had indeed had a vision of imagination as the vessel by which the divinity passes down into humanity--just as he fell back from this kind of imagination into the fantastic dreams of the opium slave; so the metaphysic of Romanticism has gradually fallen sick, lost faith in itself. Imagination is still accepted, but it is accepted for the most part as a kind of conscious make-believe or personal masquerade. (29)
Twenty three years later, Barfield seemed less optimistic that Romanticism had, in fact, grown up. In Saving the Appearances (1957) he seems to have less faith that his prediction will come true: "The tremendous impulse underlying the Romantic movement has never grown to maturity;" he concedes there, "and after adolescence, the alternative to maturity is puerility" (130-31).
See in particular What Coleridge Thought, passim, Romanticism Comes of Age, passim.
1Barfield was likewise editor of a volume--Coleridge's philosophical letters--in the still-yet-to-be-published definitive edition of Coleridge's collected writings.
2The Romantic imagination, Barfield concedes, "represents "the emergence in the West . . . of an experience which the East had cultivated for ages" (quoted in BAR 18).
3John Ruskin's post-Romantic, Victorian-era term, coined to expose and condemn the tendency to project human emotions into nature.