The “one life” that “rolls through all things”: Nature, Philosophy, and Perception in Spinoza, Coleridge, and Wordsworth

Author: Hannah Schneider
Major: Philosophy
Approved: Spring 2017
Status: Completed

Not many people try to compare a philosopher like Spinoza, who structured his arguments mathematically, to the flowery poetry of the English romantics. This is a key part of my project — connecting these two kinds of writing that seem so far apart, but in reality, are remarkably similar. In so doing, my project will demonstrate that two very different approaches to viewing the world — mathematically or through poetry — can lead to surprisingly similar insights. This distinction project examines the indirect influence of the thinking of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza on the English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Though Spinoza’s life preceded English Romanticism by more than a century, his concept of a pantheistic universe and the influence of nature on the life of an individual are prevalent in English Romanticism. Spinoza, through his philosophical legacy, also made way for the Romantic Movement to spread to England through the pantheism controversy of 1785 and the rise of German romanticism. Especially in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, there is a clear importance put on the effect of nature on human emotions and the absence of free will: in “Tintern Abbey,” for example, Wordsworth describes how “a motion and a spirit. . .rolls through all things”; and in “The Eolian Harp,” Coleridge writes of the “one life within us and abroad.” Similarly, Spinoza, in The Ethics, claims that there is only one “sole substance”. The intellectual background of English Romanticism as we know it today is heavily influenced, if not created, by Spinoza. This distinction project explores two facets of the relationship.