William H. Harris 
Department of English, University of Tennessee
October 1998
Fixed Eyes and Moving Minds:
Berkeley's New Theory of Vision and Romantic Poetry
George Berkeley's Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision signified monumental progress in the enlightenment-era investigation of visual perception, and his work resonates in modern-day philosophical and psychological studies of sight-mind relationships.  My paper demonstrates the influence of eighteenth-century developments in the science of perception (especially by Berkeley) on the early poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth.  While many are aware of the influence of Berkeley's idealism/immaterialism on Coleridge and Wordsworth, little attention has been given to the correspondence between Romantic poetry and Berkeley's revolutionary claims about the dynamics of human perception.

Inspired by Coleridge's declaration that Berkeley's Essay was "a masterpiece of analytical reasoning," my study focuses on Berkeley's assertions that sight perception depends on the brain's memories of past experience, particularly experience of moving through space.  The paper argues that these new insights helped to direct the poetic technique of Wordsworth and Coleridge.  Specifically, developments in perception theory partially account for the thorough and detailed awareness of motion and sight-lines that distinguishes much Romantic poetry.

Will Harris is a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee, where he also teaches.  Presently he is working on his dissertation, which focuses on the representations and significance of time in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge.