In Walter Pater's "Conclusion" to The Renaissance the inward world of thought and the physical world of action stand at odds. In this passage Pater seeks the concrete, claiming that "to dwell in thought" inevitably leads to "the whole scope of observation" becoming "dwarfed." In three long sentences Pater is able to convince the reader that perhaps too much reflection in the mind could actually be negative and that the instability of impressions is and should be trumped by "objects in the solidity with which language invests them." Pater explains:

At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action. But when [235] reflexion begins to play upon these objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force seems suspended like some trick of magic; each object is loosed into a group of impressions — colour, odour, texture — in the mind of the observer. And if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind.

The last two sentences in this passage are long, full of semicolons and dashes that lead us through his many points.

Questions

Do the long sentences with all their twists contradict the points he makes in his writing? Would Pater's points be clearer if he wrote in short sentences so the reader does not "continue to dwell in thought?"

How does the image of 'one trick of magic" function to make his point? Why does he use this image and is it effective?

Does the final line that, "the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind" a fair conclusion for Pater to make? Does he go too far in his argument?


Victorian Web Overview Walter Pater Leading Questions

Last modified May 2003