The speaker in “Diminuendo” tells us, "How sad was my coming to the university! Where were those sweet conditions I had pictured in my boyhood? Those antique contrasts? Did I ride, one sunset, through fens on a palfrey, watching the gold reflections on Magdalen Tower? Did I ride over Magdalen Bridge and hear the consonance of eveningbells and cries from the river below? Did I rein in to wonder at the raised gates of Queen's, the twisted pillars of St. Mary's, the little shops, lighted with tapers? Did bullpups snarl at me, or dons, with bent backs, acknowledge my salute? Any one who knows the place as it is, must see that such questions are purely rhetorical. To him I need not explain the disappointment that beset me when, after being whirled in a cab from the station to a big hotel, I wandered out into the streets. On aurait dit [one would have said B.] a bit of Manchester through which Apollo had once passed; for here, among the hideous trams and the brand-new bricks — here, glared at by the electric-lights that hung from poles, screamed at by boys with the Echo and the Star — here, in a riot of vuglgarity, were remnants of beauty, as I discerned. There were only remnants." — Max Beerbohm “Diminuendo” (1896)
Remnants of beauty, religion:
(So lonely), screamed, salute
apPearance ArT and patER
Pater the father
of Decadence and Aesthetes
the minds of
guys like Wilde.
He, as one fellow academic put it, offered “a purified and elevated aestheticism not only compatible with religion but actually especially conducive to religious vision.” — Well put, David J. Delaura, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania.
Pater’s prose was evocative.
Surely a man of such a vision should be such a vision — probably along the likes of Apollo, god of the sun.
But you see,
Pater, this preacher of passion, was in fact
“a small, thick, rock-faced man,
whose top-hat and gloves of bright dog-skin
struck one of the many discords in that little city of learning or laughter.”
[ Beerbohm’s little city equals Oxford
for those who didn’t do the reading.]
Beerbohm then adds,
taking intense interest in Pater’s facial hair,
“The serried bristles of his moustachio made for him a false-military air.”
Oh “Where were those sweet conditions I had pictured in my boyhood?
Those antique contrasts?” Beerbohm and I ask.
And with that disappointment the sky turns black.
Gone is the sun. Apollo is dead.
Nay, not dead, just unappealing and average.
“Here, in a riot of vulgarity,” which I shall define
as some abstract metaphysical, mind, world, thing,
“were remnants of beauty, as [we] discerned.”
Beerbohm and I agree:
“There were only remnants.”
Last modified 23 April 2010