o a large extent Pater's dissatisfaction with realism determined the figures that came into Pater's life in the post-Renaissance years, for they usually came motivated by similar disaffection with realist aesthetics. His closest friends were of the ranks of essayists and poets that history has left behind: Charles Shadwell, with whom he went to university, Edmund Gosse, man of letters and tireless literary socialite, minor poets and critic William Shadwell and Mary Ward, a critic and wife of a Fellow at Oxford. In addition, Pater befriended many young writers, most notably, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons and "Vernon Lee." When he was appointed to his teaching fellowship at Oxford he soon gained a reputation as a kindly and willing source of advice. Others who sent him their manuscripts included Coventry Patmore, Lionel Johnson, Richard Le Gallienne, Gerard Manley Hopkins and "Michael Field'.
The nature of these friendships tended to be ephemeral and homo-social. Indeed, there is more than an element of Socratic friendship in Pater's relationships. Mark Pattison describes a tea party at Pater's house:
[Another guest] conversed in the corner with four feminine looking youths, "paw-dandling" there in our presence [ . . . ] Presently, Walter Pater, who, I had been told, was "upstairs "appeared, attended by two more youths of similar appearance. [Donoghue 38]
Whatever Pater's sexuality, though, there is no further evidence that his motives for befriending young writers were anything other than a penchant to help those who respected his opinion.
His most famous literary associate was Oscar Wilde, whom he met as Wilde began his final year at Magdalen College in 1877. In the spirit of self-promotion he perfected, Wilde sent Pater a copy of his first published article by way of introduction and expressed his great admiration for The Renaissance. Pater's (by now) fragile ego was flattered. He invited Wilde to call on his return to Oxford. In that academic year they met often for tea or a walk and when Wilde left Oxford they continued to meet on occasion. Yet, whilst they became more than mere acquaintances they were never quite friends. It was generally known that each privately criticized the other, increasingly so in the late-1880s. Wilde's biographer Richard Ellmann argues that "Pater disliked Wilde personally while admiring his cleverness'; in turn Wilde said, "Dear Pater was always frightened of my propaganda" (81).
Regardless, there is no denying the influence that Pater had on Wilde's aesthetics: it is palpable on every page Wilde wrote. In Wilde's hands, Pater's meditations on aesthetics are transposed into witticisms and aphorisms: "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." Wilde's typically blasé attitude to imitation is illustrated spectacularly here in this aphorism that encapsulates Pater's view on the relationship between art and its subject. His gift for communication and his wit meant that he was able to express Pater's dense prose into a more palatable idiom. At the same time, as Wilde recognizes, the essential difference between them is that Pater was simply too "frightened "of asserting his views on art. In contrast, he revelled in the media circus of his own creation; he became the parody of the media's parody of Walter Pater.
As Wilde plundered Pater's aesthetic in his own work in the late-1880s the dynamic of their relationship began to change. Initially, this took shape as a role-reversal when Wilde wrote a complimentary review of Imaginary Portraits. Echoing the gratitude and admiration of Wilde's first letters to him, Pater wrote, "How friendly of you to have given so much care and time to my book, in the midst of your own work in that prose of which you have become so successful a writer" (Letters 109). In the following year he solicited Wilde to write a review of Appreciations, which was equally complimentary. Even so, Pater cruelly distanced himself from Wilde with his review of Dorian Gray. Here he argued that Wilde fails to capture the Epicurean spirit which, in his opinion, it aims at through the character of Lord Henry. The review sounded the death-knell for their friendship; they never met again. Pater's perennial fear of moral reproach is likely to be behind his disavowal of Wilde. He would have been well aware of Wilde's dangerous flirtations in his private life, especially after Wilde introduced him to Alfred "Bosie" Douglas in 1890. The controversy around The Picture of Dorian Gray was perhaps one step too far, exacerbated by its reminiscence of his painful experience over The Renaissance.
The beginning of Pater's friendship with Arthur Symons, another figure in the "aestheticism movement," paralleled the decline of his relationship with Wilde. It began when Pater wrote a good review for Symons "first book in 1888. Symons — much gratified by the approval of one he had long admired — initiated what became a warm correspondence. Pater assumed the role of a mentor to him by giving advice on his manuscripts. Indeed, he even overcame his dislike of writing letters to give detailed and encouraging criticism of Symons' poetry. Pater's effective influence on Symons "ideas is, however, questionable. The most pertinent example being his entreaty to Symons to concentrate on prose rather than poetry: "make prose your principle metier [sic]," he wrote (Letters 80). In the event Symons dedicated his first volume of poetry "to Walter Pater in all gratitude" (Days and Nights). For several years they had, in Symons "words, "an intimate acquaintance" ("Reminiscences" 603), but this came to an abrupt halt in 1891. Lawrence Evans speculates that this was due to Symons "decadent lifestyle (xl), which would be congruent with Pater's rift from Wilde. There is another facet, I believe, that being that Pater disliked how Symons and Wilde were reflecting on his aesthetic. Their outlandish exaltations of style as the supreme value reinforced the media criticisms of Pater's Renaissance even though Wilde revises this idea in Intentions (1891).
Violet Paget, or "Vernon Lee" to use her literary pseudonym, was not one to cause Pater this kind of anxiety. At least her satirical novel on the excesses of aestheticism, entitled Miss Brown (1884), offered him "much interest and amusement "at the 'movement' he has been accused of founding (Pater Letters 56). Violet Paget and Pater were introduced in 1881. They got on so well that although Miss. Paget lived in Italy, she maintained a consistent correspondence with Pater and his sisters from then on and visited them each time she visited England. She often sent her stories and articles for Pater's encouraging appraisal, which she evidently valued: she dedicated Euphorian, a collection of essays: "To Walter Pater, in appreciation of that which, in expounding the beautiful things of the past, he has added to the beautiful things of the present." Miss Paget's aesthetic views can be identified less problematically with Pater's than those of either Wilde or Symons. Her respective attention to stories — "Dionysus in the Euganean Hills," for example mdash; and criticism mirrors Pater's own, whilst her concern to define the dynamic between art and its subject is an extension of Pater's lifelong project.
Pater's circle was small but significant, with him at the centre proffering advice and encouragement. His influence reached far beyond his personal friends. Thomas Hardy wrote that he found inspiration for the eponymous Jude the Obscure in Marius the Epicurean. The influence of Pater's aesthetic on modernism has been substantial with particular regards to his conception of the novel as a work of art. Virginia Woolf, who was taught Classics by Pater's sister Clara, provides the most pertinent examples. One might also look to compare Pater's aesthetic with Joseph Conrad's Introduction to The Nigger of the Narcissus (1898). W.B.Yeats reflected that "we consciously looked to Pater for our philosophy" (302). Yeats moved away from Pater's notion of art, just as literary art itself never fulfilled Pater's vision of it. Yet, Pater's place in the evolution of literary art into modernism is vital. His personal contacts supplemented the influence of his books to the effect that his aesthetic rippled through literary England.
Eliot, George. "Eliot on Pater." Walter Pater: The Critical Heritage. R.M. Seiler, ed. London: Routledge, 1980. 92.
Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin, 1987. 81.
Evans, Lawrence. "Introduction." Letters of Walter Pater. xv-xliv.
Inman, Billie Andrew. Walter Pater's Reading: a Bibliography of his Library Borrowings and Literary References, 1858-1873. London: Garland Publishing, 1981.
Lee, Vernon. Euphorion: Being the Studies of the Antique and Mediaeval in the Renaissance. New York: Kessinger, 2005.
Moore, George. "Avowals IV: Walter Pater." Pall Mall Magazine. xxxiii. August, 1904. 532.
Pater, Walter. "Charles Lamb." Appreciations: With an Essay on Style. 1889. London: Macmillan, 1910. 105-124.
_____. "Coleridge." Appreciations: With an Essay on Style. 1889. London: Macmillan, 1910. 65-104.
_____. Letters of Walter Pater. Lawrence Evans, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.
_____. The Renaissance. 1873. Oxford: OUP, 1998.
_____. "Wordsworth." Appreciations: With an Essay on Style. 1889. London: Macmillan, 1910. 39-64.
Symons, Arthur. Days and Nights. Selected Writings. Roger Holdsworth, ed. London: Fyfield, 2003.
_____. "Some Browning Reminiscences." North American Review. cciv. October, 1916.
Wilde, Oscar. "Preface." The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford: OUP, 1997.
Wordsworth, Jonathan. "Letter to Pater." Letters of Walter Pater. Lawrence Evans, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. 12-14.
Yeats, W.B. Autobiographies. London: Macmillan, 1955.
Last modified 15 November 2005