The 18th century was a time of opulence and privilege for some. Europe was dominated by the twin authority of the Church and King - but beneath the surface, new forces were gathering to challenge their absolute rule.
The French philosopher, Denis Diderot insisted that men must reason for themselves. His friend, Jean-Jacques Rousseau claimed civilization had corrupted mankind - to free themselves, men must listen to their emotions.
Rousseau's writings gave birth to a hope for a new world of liberty, equality and fraternity. These ideas would fuel the greatest social upheaval in history - the French Revolution.
In Britain, these 'Romantic' ideals would burst into the public arena in art and poetry. William Blake's engravings and poetry were howls of revolutionary anger: Blake made the liberation of the human spirit his life's work.
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote one of the most powerful revolutionary works of the time; Lyrical Ballads. This volume of poetry was considered so dangerous that even as they composed, Wordsworth and Coleridge were being followed by government spies.
This was the greatest period of sustained creativity in English literature - at a time of revolutionary change in which poets had the power to remake the world in their own image.
First broadcast: Saturday 21 Jan 2006 on BBC TWO