by Paul Elmer More
Whatever else one may say of Pater, however one may like or dislike him, he stands in the complex, elusive nineteenth century as a clear sign of something fixed and known. But he performs this office not as a critic, as he is commonly reckoned; indeed, of the critical mind, exactly speaking, he had little, being at once something more and something less than this. The hardest test of the critic, in the exercise of his special function, is his tact and sureness in valuing the productions of his own day. But in that tact and sureness, which come only with the last refinement of self-knowledge, Pater was never an adept. Take, for instance, his reviews of contemporary books collected under the title of Essays from the Guardian; they contain no doubt a good deal that is worth reading, but they lack discrimination and leave in the mind no sense of finely estimated values; their very language, as showing the uncertainty of the author's mental procedure, falls at times into the most awkward involutions.
Nor was his power of discrimination any firmer when dealing with the past. It is of course a perfectly legitimate, perhaps the higher, function of criticism to take the expression of life as it comes to us in literature, and to develop therefrom a philosophy and vision of the critic's own; and this was the deliberate intention of Pater. Such an aim is entirely justifiable, but it is not justifiable to misunderstand or falsify the basis on which the critic's own fabric is to be raised. If he is true critic his first concern must be the right interpretation of the documents before him, and whatever else he may have to offer must proceed from primary veracity of understanding. Just here Pater faulted, or defaulted. He has much to say that is interesting, even persuasive, about the great leaders and movements of the past, but too often his interpretation, when the spell of his manner is broken, turns out to be fundamentally wrong, springing not from a desire to see the facts and fit them into his argument, but from a purely literary ambition to illustrate and authorize a preconceived theory of life. There is, beneath much erudition and a certain surface accuracy, no search for la vraie verite, to use one of his own phrases; and this disregard of the truth passes inevitably into his own superimposed philosophy, is indeed its key-note.
This may seem a harsh judgement to pass on a writer who has been one of the main influences in later nineteenth-century literature, but it can be easily substantiated. In his three greatest works - Plato and Platonism, Marius the Epicurean, and The Renaissance - he has dealt with three spiritual crises of history; and in each case he has, gravely, though with varying degrees, falsified the reality. Plato and Platonism is a book that every student of Greek and of life should read; it is in itself a meticulously wrought work of art in which each detail is fitted into its place to create a total designed effect; but that effect, presented as an interpretation of Plato, is of a kind, it can scarcely be said too emphatically, that differs absolutely from what Plato himself meant to convey in his dialogues, and is nothing less than a betrayal of critical trust. In one of his chapters Pater gives a picture, based ostensibly on Karl Otfried Mueller, of the Doric life in Lacedaemon as the actuality which Plato had in mind when he conceived his ideal city-state. It is a picture of cool colours and deliciously subdued harmonies, an idyl beautiful in itself, and not without lessons for the youth of to-day in its insistence on the sheer loveliness and exquisite pleasures that may flow from calculated renunciation and self-suppression. It has its own wisdom, shown especially in the development of the text, suggested by Mueller, to the effect that "in a Doric State education was, on the whole, a matter of more importance than government." But it has one grave defect: it is not true to the facts. This city, as the portrait finally arranges itself, is simply not the cold, hard Sparta that lay on the banks of the Eurotas, but some glorified Auburn wafted into an Arcadia of the imagination. At the end of the chapter, after giving a brave account of the training, or askesis, by which the Lacedaemonian youth were drilled for life, Pater represents an Athenian visitor as asking: "Why this strenuous task-work, day after day; why this loyalty to a system, so costly to you individually, though it may be thought to have survived its original purpose; this laborious, endless education, which does not propose to give you anything very useful or enjoyable in itself?" The question is apt, and Pater puts the answer into the mouth of a Spartan youth: "To the end that I myself may be a perfect work of art, issuing thus into the eyes of all Greece."- The discipline of Lycurgus, that is to say, was to the end that the young men of Sparta might be "a spectacle, aesthetically, at least, very interesting" (the words are Pater's) to the rest of Greece! Really, a more complete perversion of history has not often been conceived. What the institutions of Sparta actually stood for may be known in a word from the opinion of the Lacedaemonian in Plato's Laws; they were ordered to the end that Sparta might conquer the other States in war, nothing more nor less - hoste polemo nikan tas allas poleis. Not the indulgence of vanity, however chastely controlled, but the need of self-preservation and the terrible law of the survival of the fittest made the Lacedaemonian men and women the comeliest of Hellas; they were warriors and the mothers of warriors, not aesthetes.[ A critic of this essay has accused me of misrepresenting Plato. It is true that the Athenian Stranger, who speaks for the author in the Laws, sees a higher meaning in the institution of Lycurgus than is admitted by the Lacedaemonian; but certainly, whatever may have been the bye-product, so to speak, of the Spartan constitution, self-preservation and conquest were its first and main object.]
And this same misrepresentation runs through much of Pater's direct analysis of Platonism. Pater saw, as all who study Plato are forced to see, that the heart of Plato's doctrine lay in his conception of ideas, in his use and enforcement of dialectic or the process of passing intellectually from particulars to generals. But Pater could not help feeling also that there was something in this dialectical procedure that did not accord with his particular notion of aesthetics, and he was bound if he accepted Platonism - as it was his desire to assimilate all the great movements of history - to interpret Platonic ideas in his own way. The result is a striking passage in the chapter on The Doctrine of Plato:
To that gaudy tangle of what gardens, after all, are meant to produce, in the decay of time, as we may think at first sight, the systematic, logical gardener put his meddlesome hand, and straightway all ran to seed; to genus and species and differentia, into formal classes, under general notions, and with - yes! with written labels fluttering on the stalks, instead of blossoms - a botanic or "physic" garden, as they used to say, instead of our flower-garden and orchard. And yet (it must be confessed on the other hand) what we actually see, see and hear, is more interesting than ever....Now in criticizing this apology of Pater for Plato's dialectic I would not fall, as some have fallen, into the opposite and no less erroneous extreme. To represent Plato as an enemy of the decent and comely things of life, as an iconoclast of art and poetry and music in themselves, would be to forget some of the great passages in his Republic and other dialogues, in which the practical effect of beautiful things upon conduct is largely recognized, and in which beauty in the abstract is placed by the side of the true and the good in the supreme trinity of ideas. I would even admit that much of what Pater says in regard to Plato's conception of beauty is sound and worthy of emphasis. He has done well in drawing out the element of discipline in the Platonic aesthetics - the value of the capacity for correction, of patience, of crafty reserve, of intellectual astringency, which Plato demanded of the poet and the musician and of every true citizen of the ideal Republic. Plato, as Pater rightly observes, was of all men faithful to the old Greek saying, Beauty is hard to attain. These aspects of art and of beautiful living never more than to-day needed to be recognized and inculcated. But withal Pater's final interpretation of Plato in these matters is fundamentally wrong, and ends in a creed which Plato would have rejected with utter indignation. To recommend the pursuit of ideas for the sake of lending piquancy to the phenomenal, to use the intellectual apparatus in order to enhance the significance of the particular object, to undergo philosophical discipline for the purpose of adding zest to sensuous pleasure, in a word to make truth the servant of beauty, and goodness the servant of the body, is to uphold a doctrine essentially and uncompromisingly the contrary of everything that Plato believed and held sacred. To follow such a course, however purely and austerely beauty may be conceived, is, as Plato says, to be etton ton kalon, the subject of beautiful things and not their master. Plato taught that the perception of beauty in the particular object was one of the means by which a man might rise to contemplation of the idea of beauty in the intellectual world, and wherever he saw the danger of inverting this order, as Pater and many other self-styled Platonists have inverted it, he could speak of art with all the austerity of a Puritan. There is no sentence in the dialogues that cuts more deeply into the heart of his philosophy than the foreboding exclamation: "When any one prefers beauty to virtue, what is this but the real and utter dishonour of the soul?"
From the consideration of Plato and Platonism we turn naturally to the greatest of Pater's works, Marius the Epicurean, and here again we are confronted by a false interpretation of one of the critical moments of history. The theme of Marius, I need scarcely say, is the life of a young Italian who, in the age of Marcus Aurelius, is searching for some principle of conduct amid the dissolution of all traditional laws, for the peace which his troubled heart craves and cannot discern. He sees the world about him, the world at least that has outgrown the ancestral belief in the gods and has not sunk into frivolity or sullen scepticism, divided between the two sects of the Epicureans and the Stoics, and the larger part of the story is really a disquisition on the effect of these opposed philosophies upon the human soul. Much of this is subtly conceived, and especially the adaptation of the legend of Cupid and Psyche from the Golden Book of Apuleius, and the long discourse of Marcus Aurelius contrived with delicate adjustment from the Meditations, are among the rare things of literature; although even here there is a certain taint, an insinuating betrayal of the truth, in the factitious charms lent to these philosophies. Apuleius may have been, in a sense, decadent, but he was not languorous as Pater presents him in translation, and Marcus Aurelius is in expression crabbed and scholastic and very far from the smooth periods of his imitator. In his hesitancy between these two philosophies Marius is revolted by the indifference of the Emperor to the sufferings of the world, and leans towards a kind of sentimental and chastened Epicureanism. At the last, however, he is introduced into the home of a Christian family living outside of Rome, is fascinated by the purity and decorum of their lives, and is himself in the way of conversion, when, after the manner of romantic heroes, he fades out of existence:
The people around his bed were praying fervently - Abi! Abi! Anima Christiana! In the moments of his extreme helplessness their mystic bread had been placed, had descended like a snow-flake from the sky, between his lips. Gentle fingers had applied to hands and feet, to ail those old passage-ways of the senses, through which the world had come and gone for him, now so dim and obstructed, a medicinable oil.So he dies the death of the soul that is naturally Christian, finding in the grace of these tender ministrations the peace so long desired and missed. In this choice of Epicureanism instead of the harsher Stoic creed as a preparation for Christian faith, Pater, I think, shows a true knowledge of the human heart. Pascal, it will be remembered, found himself fifteen centuries later face to face with the same contrasted tenets of Epicurus and Zeno which were dividing the minds of Europe, which are indeed the expression of the two main tendencies not of one time but of all times of those who attempt to stop in a religious philosophy just short of religion; and Pascal, too, saw that the step from Epicureanism to Christianity was easier than from Stoicism. For the mind that craves unity and the resting-place of some eventual calm may be deceived by the naturalistic pantheism of the Stoic creed and, so to speak, benumbed into a dull acquiescence, whereas from the desolation of the Epicurean flux it is more likely to be driven into the supernatural unity of religion, while holding the world as a place of illusory mutation. So far Pater, in his account of the relation of the Pagan philosophies and Christianity, was psychologically right; but his portrayal of Christianity itself one is compelled to condemn in the same terms as his portrayal of Platonism. Read the story of Marius at the home of the Christian Cecilia and at the celebration of the mass, and you will feel that here is no picture of a militant faith in preparation for the conquest of the world, of a sect at death grips with a whole civilization and girding itself for moral regeneration, but the report of a pleasant scene where the eye is charmed and the ear soothed by the same chaste and languid loveliness that seemed to Pater to rule in Sparta and the ideal city of Plato. "Some transforming spirit was at work," he writes of the Christian life, "to harmonize contrasts, to deepen expression - a spirit which, in its dealing with the elements of ancient life, was guided by a wonderful tact of selection, exclusion, juxtaposition, begetting thereby a unique effect of freshness, a grave yet wholesome beauty." And in his dreams Marius is represented as conjuring up the "nights of the beautiful house of Cecilia, its lights and flowers, of Cecilia herself moving among the lilies." No doubt it would be false, as Pater asserts it would be, to set over "against that divine urbanity and moderation the old error of Montanus" (Montanism, it may be observed by the way, was at that date quite young, but no matter, in the romantic convention everything must be "old") - it would be false, I say, to set up as the complete Christian ideal the "fanatical revolt" of Montanus, "sour, falsely anti-mundane, ever with an air of ascetic affectation, and a bigoted distaste in particular for all the peculiar graces of womanhood." It is well to avoid extremes in either direction. Yet if choice had to be made between the sweet voluptuousness of religion as it appeared to Marius and the moral rigour of Tertullian, the great Montanist preacher who was contemporary with Marius, it would not be hard to say on which side lay the real Christianity of the second century. Against Pater's "elegance of sanctity," as he calls it, a Christian might exclaim with Tertullian that "truth is not on the surface but in the inmost heart (non in superficie est sed in medullis)." Pater, borrowing the phrase from Tertullian, describes the death of Marius as that of a soul naturally Christian. Beside that picture of a soul daintily dreaming itself into eternity it is enlightening to set the original apostrophe of Tertullian himself to the anima naturaliter Christiana:
But I summon thee, not such as when formed in schools, trained in libraries, fed in Attic academies and porches, thou blurtest forth wisdom - I address thee simple, and rude, and uncultured, and untaught, such as they possess who possess thee and nothing else; the bare soul from the road, the street, the weaver's shop.The simple fact is that in Marius we have no real conversion from Epicureanism to religion, no Christianity at all as it would have been recognized by St. Paul or St. Augustine, but only another manifestation of that aestheticism which Pater sucked from the romantic school of his century and disguised in the phraseology of ancient faith. To write thus was to betray Christianity with a kiss.
In the third of Pater's major works, The Renaissance, there is again a reading of Paterism into the past, but without the perversion of spirit and without the offensiveness that some may feel in his treatment of Platonism and Christianity. Not a little of the romanticism from which Pater drew his philosophy may be traced back to the Italy of Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci; but the tone, the energy, the ethos, are changed. The nature of the change cannot be better displayed than in the famous description of La Gioconda, which, if it may seem too familiar for quotation, is too characteristic of Pater to be omitted; as indeed the whole essay on Leonardo may be taken as the subtlest expression of his genius:
La Gioconda [he writes of the portrait now, alas, lost] is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's masterpiece.... We all know the face and hands of the figure, set in its marble chair, in that circle of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea.... The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.Now I shall not criticize this famous passage for its treatment of plain facts. Any one who cares to see how far Pater has departed from the inconveniences of history may consult the monograph of M. Salomon Reinach in Number 2 of the Bulletin des Musees de France for 1909. And after all Pater was not dealing with facts, but with emotions; as a "lover of strange souls," to use his own phrase, he was analyzing the impression made upon him by this picture, and trying to reach through it a definition of the chief elements of Leonardo's genius. Yet viewed even in that light the description rings false - not so false as his interpretations of Platonism and Christianity, but still subtly perversive of the truth. It may be true in a way that the genius of Leonardo, as Goethe said, had "thought itself weary (muede sich gedacht)"; but the deadly and deliberate languor that trails through the lines of Pater - not, I admit, without its own ambiguous and troubling beauty - is something essentially different from even the most ambiguous forms of Leonardo's art. And whatever may have been the sins of Leonardo in the flesh, and whatever may have been his intellectual wanderings or indifferences, I doubt if he would have understood that strange and frequent identification among the romantics of the soul and disease. Into the face of Mona Lisa, says Pater, "the soul with all its maladies has passed!" as if health were incompatible with the possession of a soul. One suspects that the maladies which Pater had in mind - and he echoes the repeated boasting of his school that their weakness and impotence were a sign of spiritual preeminence - one suspects that these romantic maladies had quite another source than excess of soul. This again is Paterism masquerading under a great name of the past.
The simple truth is that Pater was in no proper sense of the word a critic. He did not on the one hand from his own fixed point of view judge the great movements of history and the great artists in their reality; nor on the other hand did he show any dexterity in changing his own point of view and entering sympathetically into other moods than his own. To him history was only an extension of his own Ego, and he saw himself whithersoever he turned his eyes. The result may be something greater than criticism - though this I should myself deny - it is certainly something different from criticism. To form any just estimate of Pater's work, then, we must forget the critical form in which so much of his writing is couched and regard the substance of his own philosophy apart from any apparent relation to the period or person to which it is transferred. And here we are aided by the singular consistency of his nature. There is no need with Pater, as happens with most other men, especially with those who treat their themes historically, to distinguish between what is his own and what he has taken up from other sources; nor is the problem complicated by any change in point of view as he passed from one period of his career to another or from influence to influence. All is of a piece, and all is the perfectly logical outgrowth of a single attitude towards the world.
And this we see in his life itself as clearly as in his writings. Walter Horatio Pater was born at Shadwell, between Wapping and Stepney, in 1839. His father, a physician who had been born in America, died while Walter was a young child, and the family moved to an old house with a large garden at Enfield - the pleasant suburb where just a few years earlier the Clarkes describe "the most enchanting walks" which Charles and Mary Lamb used to take with them "in all directions of the lovely neighbourhood," but where Lamb called himself whimsically "a stubborn Eloisa in this detestable paraclete." There is a delicately wrought study of Pater's, called The Child in the House, which shows, if we may accept it as partly autobiographical, the influences that surrounded these years and the temperament of the man already marked in the boy. He speaks of the rapid growth in him "of a certain capacity of fascination by bright colour and choice form - the sweet curvings, for instance, of the lips of those who seemed to him comely persons, modulated in such delicate unison to the things they said or sang,- marking early the activity in him of a more than customary sensuousness, 'the lust of the eye,' as the Preacher says, which might lead him, one day, how far!" All these impressions are subdued in his memory to a passive alertness, and such they no doubt were actually in the boy's experience. "So he yielded himself to these things, to be played upon by them like a musical instrument, and began to note with deepening watchfulness, but always with some puzzled, unutterable longing in his enjoyment, the phases of the seasons and of the growing or waning day, down even to the shadowy changes wrought on bare wall or ceiling." The rapture of the elusive moment, the economical indulgence of the senses, the feeling and thought finely responsive to the fair things of the world, were, it should seem, born in him; and in the end these were his deliberate philosophy.
In 1858 Pater went up to Oxford, and at Oxford, except for a period of eight years in London, he resided until his death in 1894. He first entered Queen's College, but in 1864 was elected to a Fellowship at Brasenose, with which college he was henceforth identified, although he had also a home outside of the collegiate walls. His existence now took on the colour it was to maintain until the end. Brasenose itself is described by Mr. A. C. Benson, from whom I have taken most of these details of Pater's life, as "one of the sternest and severest in aspect of Oxford colleges":
It has no grove or pleasaunce to frame its sombre antiquity in a setting of colour and tender freshness. Its black and blistered front looks out on a little piazza occupied by the stately mouldering dome of the Radcliffe Library; beyond is the solid front of Hertford, and the quaint pseudo-Gothic court of All Souls. To the north lies a dark lane, over the venerable wall of which looms the huge chestnut of Exeter, full in spring of stiff white spires of heavy-scented bloom. To the south a dignified modern wing, built long after Pater's election, overlooks the bustling High Street. To the west the college lies back to back with the gloomy and austere courts of Lincoln. There is no sense of space, of leisureliness, of ornament, about the place; it rather looks like a fortress of study.Something of the austere character of the college passed into Pater's own ways of living. His rooms were small and furnished with a taste that might be called parsimoniously aesthetic. They were "painted in greenish white, and hung with three or four line-engravings." A few Greek coins were his chief delight, and he used also to keep before him a vase of dried rose-leaves for their colour and scent. His habits were singularly quiet and regular. Although he was always easily approached, and to greet a guest would rise from the midst of one of his most complicated sentences without the least irritation, yet he mixed little in general society and took small part in the college routine. As tutor and lecturer he performed his duties punctiliously, but with personal reserve and without enthusiasm. So far as he shared in the discipline of the institution he was strict and even excitable, and the story is told that once, having to quell a bit of under-graduate rowdyism, he turned the hose into the offender's bedroom to such good effect that he had afterwards to allow the inmate to sleep out of bounds. With strangers he was precise and reserved, not without a leaven of paradox in his conversation which often led to misunderstandings; but it may be observed here emphatically that the rumours of his morbid immorality are entirely unfounded. In the society of intimate friends he showed a sense of humour and an interest in trivial things which would not be expected from his manner of writing. Blithe is one of his favourite words, and those who knew him well speak of a certain blitheness - "blitheness and repose" - in his manner; yet withal the last impression he seems to have made was that of a man a little fatigued. "Could he have foreseen the weariness of the way!" he said of one of his heroes, and that feeling of weariness, of futility in the hopes and acquisitions of life, lay always, one thinks, at the bottom of his heart. "The only attitude I ever observed in Pater," wrote a friend, "the only mood I saw him in, was a sort of weary courtesy with which he used to treat me, with somehow a deep kindness shining through." This, too, was the picture he presented to those who saw him walking, with bowed head and, in later years, a slight hesitation in his steps. He is said to have had the appearance of a retired military officer, but his complexion is described as having the pallor of old ivory.
He was not a laborious scholar; he was not even a great reader of books, and in later years he confined himself almost exclusively to Plato and the Bible and the few other masterpieces which gave him the intellectual and artistic sustenance he craved. His own writing was slow and painful; it was his habit to write on alternate lines of ruled paper, leaving space for revision, and often copying out a composition more than once and even having it privately set up in type so that he might judge better its effect. His work in fact was only one aspect or expression of that art of life which he seems to have practised from youth, whether it was in its origin a deliberate mental choice or, more likely, the instinctive prompting of his temperament which was afterwards reinforced by reading and observation - an art made up of timidity and persistence and lucid self-interrogation, seeking its exquisite satisfactions more in what it renounced than in what it appropriated from the world's ambiguous gifts and pleasures.
If we search for the sources of his philosophy, apart from the original character of the man himself, we shall find them without difficulty. He was one of those on whom Goethe's ideal of an artistically rounded culture early imposed itself, and to this model he later added the enthusiasm and the "divinatory power over the Hellenic world" of Goethe's master, Winckelmann. Among English writers he himself would probably have ascribed the chief influence upon him to Ruskin, but as a matter of fact I suspect that the more dominating personal influence came from another and more insinuating mind- from one who meets us at every turn as we attempt to trace the artistic impulses of the later nineteenth century, and who was, perhaps, the most perfect type that England has known of the romantic temperament turned purely to art. I do not certainly know that Pater ever met Rossetti in the flesh, but he recognized that great and sad genius as one of his teachers. William Sharp ("Fiona Macleod") knew Rossetti as well as he knew Pater, and he once wrote to Pater in regard to these subtle relationships:
Years ago, in Oxford, how often we talked these matters over! I have often recalled one evening, in particular, often recollected certain words of yours: and never more keenly than when I have associated them with the early work of Rossetti, in both arts, but pre-eminently in painting: "To my mind Rossetti is the most significant man among us. More torches will be lit from his flame - or torches lit at his flame - than perhaps even enthusiasts like yourself imagine."But however Pater may seem to have lighted his torch at Rossetti's flame, we must not overlook the strong impersonal influence that emanated from the memories and the very stones of Oxford. We all know Matthew Arnold's apostrophe to the "home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties"; to the dream- city that "lies, spreading her gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Ages." The call of Oxford is, as her lover says, to beauty and to higher ideals; but there is an aspect of her appeal which is not without its fascinating danger. From the beginning she has been the home of secluded causes as well as lost causes; she has stood always as a protest against the coarse and ephemeral changes of civilization, but she has maintained this centre of calm too much by a withdrawal from life rather than by strong control. Hers at her origin was the ideal of monasticism and of faith fleeing the world; her loyalty to the king was strongest when loyalty meant a separation from the great powers of political expansion; her religious revival in the nineteenth century not only was the desire of resuscitating an impossible past, but sought also to sever the forms of worship entirely from the influence of the State and of the people. Certainly much good has come out of this pride of seclusion and waves of spiritual force have continually emanated from this reservoir of memory; but it is true also that these influences have sometimes ended in sterility or have tended to widen rather than close up the unfortunate gap between the utilitarian and the sentimental phases of English life. In a word, they have been too often a reinforcement to the romantic ideal of the imagination as a worship of beauty isolated from, and in the end despised by, the real interests of life, and too seldom a reinforcement of the classical ideal of the imagination as an active power in life itself. The very contrast of the enchanted towers of Oxford with the hideous chimneys of one of England's great manufacturing towns seems to give to the university an atmosphere of aesthetic unreality. Ideas do not circulate here as they do in a university like that of Paris, situated at the heart of the national life, and in too many of the books that now come from Oxford one feels the breath of a fine traditional culture that has somehow every excellent quality except vitality. And so it was not strange to see the Oxford Movement, especially so-called, depart further and further from practical and intellectual realities and lose itself in an empty and stubborn ritualism. Thought is the greatest marrer of good looks, said Oscar Wilde, and that is why there are so many good-looking young curates in England. The aestheticism of William Morals and Burne-Jones was a conscious revolt from the vapidity of the later stages of the Oxford Movement to a pure and Pagan sensuousness. Rossetti gave body and passion to the revolt, and Pater, following in their steps, lent a scholastic authority to their artistic achievements. Paterism might without great injustice be defined as the quintessential spirit of Oxford emptied of the wholesome intrusions of the world - its pride of isolation reduced to sterile self-absorption, its enchantment of beauty alembicated into a faint Epicureanism, its discipline of learning changed into a voluptuous economy of sensations, its golden calm stagnated into languid elegance.
In judging Pater, then, we must not come to him for interpretive or constructive criticism, constructive, that is, as based on a correct insight into the material he pretends to use, but for his own philosophy of life. And in this judgement two things are to be taken into account: on the one hand, how consistent and clear he was in the expression of this philosophy of life, and on the other hand, what the value of this philosophy is in itself. For the first the answer is all in his favour. From the beginning to the end, as we have seen, there is scarcely a discordant note in his writing; whether he was posing as an interpreter of Plato or early Christianity or the Renaissance, he was in reality exhibiting only himself. It is true that in his essays on Wordsworth and one or two other modern writers he seems for a while to escape from the magic circle of himself, but the escape is more apparent than real. So much for his consistency, and his clearness is no less complete. More than once he gives direct expression to his philosophy, nowhere else so explicitly as in the conclusion to his volume on The Renaissance. The motto of that chapter is the famous saying of Heracleitus, All things are in a state of flux and nothing abides, and the chapter itself is but a brief exhortation to make the most of our human life amidst this endless and ceaseless mutation of which we are ourselves an ever-changing element:
The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation. Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us,- for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to be seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?That is the sum of Pater's philosophy as it is everywhere implicitly expressed in critical essay or fiction: the admonition to train our body and mind to the highest point of acuteness so as to catch, as it were, each fleeting glimpse of beauty on the wing, and by the intensity of our participation to compensate for the insecurity of the world's gifts; in a word, the admonition to make of life itself an art. Now we ought, I think, to be grateful first of all to any one who recalls to us and utters in manifold ways this lesson of grace within answering to grace without. Perhaps no other philosophy to-day has so completely passed out of the general range of vision as this doctrine of the art of living, which has been one of the guiding principles of the greatest ages of the past. This is not to say that our lives are therefore necessarily aimless. Exacting ambitions and high purposes we may follow with unflagging zeal; it is possible that never before in history has the individual man striven more keenly for some goal which he saw clearly at the end of his path - some possession of wealth or power or learning or virtue - but how rarely in our society one meets the man who to his other purposes adds the design of making his life itself a rounded work of art, ordering his acts and manners and thoughts and emotions to this conscious and noble end! We are too hurried for this, a little too unbalanced between egotism and a sentimental humanitarianism, a little too uncertain, despite much optimistic brag, of any real and immediate values in life. And so I repeat that we owe gratitude to Pater for recalling us, if we will listen, to this lost ideal. And there is much also to commend in the method he proposes. If he teaches that the art of life is to train our emotional nature, like a well-trimmed lamp, to burn always with a hard, gem-like flame, he also endlessly reiterates the lesson that this joy of eager observation and swift response can be made habitual in us only by a severe self-discipline and moderation. Only when the senses have been purified and sharpened by a certain chastity of use, only when the mind has been exercised by a certain rigidity of application, do we become fit instruments to record the delicate impacts of evanescent beauty. In his essay on Raphael, one of the soundest of his critical estimates, Pater refers to the saying that the true artist is known best by what he omits; and this, he adds, is "because the whole question of good taste is involved precisely in such jealous omission." No one has seen more clearly than Pater that virtue is not acquired by a rebound from excess, but is the exquisite flower of the habit of moderation; and in this sense the words that he puts into the mouth of Raphael might be applied to himself: "I am utterly purposed that I will not offend."
Yet withal the account with Pater cannot stop here, nor, if we consider the fruit of his teaching in such men as Oscar Wilde, can we admit that it was altogether without offence. His error was not that he inculcated the art of life at all seasons, but that his sense of values was finally wrong; his philosophy from beginning to end might be called by a rhetorician a kind of hysteron-proteron. And this was manifest in his attitude to the three great moments of history. Thus in his interpretation of Plato we have seen how he falsified Plato's theory and use of facts by raising beauty, or aesthetic pleasure, above truth as the goal to be kept in sight. Now this may seem a slight sin, when in extolling the one nothing is intentionally taken away from the honour of the other. Pater would even say that as truth and beauty are the same it makes no difference which of them you set before your gaze; and in this he would have the authority of many eminent predecessors. Are we not all fond of quoting the great words of Keats?
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is allPerhaps in some high philosophical realm that is the case; but it happens that in practice in this mundane sphere the ways of truth and beauty are by no means always identical, and it makes a world of difference where you come out according as you take this or the other for your guide. I have been struck by a passage in one of the recently published Japanese letters of Lafcadio Hearn - certainly no foe to romantic beauty. "They all [the romanticists] sowed a crop of dragon's teeth," he says. "Preaching without qualification the gospel of beauty - that beauty is truth - provoked the horrible modern answer of Zolaism: 'Then truth must be beauty!'" Hearn was right: the sure end of this innocent-seeming theory was decadence; the inevitable follower of Pater was Oscar Wilde. In misinterpreting Plato, Pater also misinterpreted life.
In like manner, when Pater in his treatment of Christianity placed emotional satisfaction before religious duty, he really missed the goal of happiness he was aiming at. The old Scotch preacher Blair pronounced the sure answer to such an error many years before Paterism existed: "To aim at a constant succession of high and vivid sensations of pleasure, is an idea of happiness altogether chimerical.... Instead of those fallacious hopes of perpetual festivity, with which the world would allure us, religion confers upon us a cheerful tranquillity." Nor was Pater's fault in regard to the Renaissance essentially different in its consequences; it may even be that here where his temperament would seem to be most at home, his subtle inversion of the facts, in making beauty and pleasure the purpose of life instead of holding them the reward or efflorescence of right living, is the most instructive of all. Read Pater's exquisitely refined pages on Leonardo da Vinci, with their constant implication that beauty is a kind of malady of the soul, and then recall the strong young soul of the Renaissance as it speaks, for instance, in the ringing lines of Chapman:
Give me a spirit that on this life's rough searecall the whole magnificent passage, and you will see why Pater's philosophy leads on inevitably to weariness, and satiety, and impotence.
This exaltation of beauty above truth, and emotional grace above duty, and fine perception above action, this insinuating hedonism which would so bravely embrace the joy of the moment, forgets to stay itself on any fixed principle outside of itself, and, forgetting this, it somehow misses the enduring joy of the world and empties life of true values. It springs, at least as we see it manifest in these latter years, from the sense of an exasperated personality submerged in the ceaseless ebb and flow of things, and striving desperately to cling to the shadows as they speed by and thus to win for itself an emotion of power and importance. In Platonism and Christianity and, to a certain extent, in the Renaissance, the beauty and joy of the flux of nature were held subordinate to an ideal above nature, the everlasting Spirit that moves and is not moved. Because Pater had lost from his soul this vision of the infinite, and sought to deify in its place the intense realization of the flux itself as the end of life, for that reason he failed to comprehend the inner meaning of those great epochs, and became instead one of the leaders of romantic aestheticism. Thus it is that we cannot finally accept Pater's philosophy of the art of life, notwithstanding all that may be said in its favour; that even his lesson of moderation and self-restraint, much as that lesson is needed to-day and always, seems at last to proceed from some deep-seated taint of decaying vitality rather than from conscious strength. So intimately are good and evil mingled together in human ideals.
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