When Thomas Hardy first met him in 1866, he sensed something of the enigma. Pater seemed almost to tiptoe through life, like 'one carrying weighty ideas without spilling them'. Sometimes he comes down to us as whimsically precious: 'The undergraduate is a child of nature... like a wild rose in a country lane'; Tansies are like the eyes of angels, given to mankind so that [we] should not weep.' But beneath the affectation—particularly towards the end of his life—lurked uncertainties and doubts. The apparatus of religion fascinated him. With his London friend Richard Jackson, he spent hours trawling the parishes of the East End for services of higher and higher ritual. But the meaning of these ceremonies eluded him. As an undergraduate his preference had been for ritual as theatre: 'It doesn't matter in the least what is said, as long as it is said beautifully. And in early middle age he was still able to separate performance and purpose: The Church of England is nothing to me apart from its ornate services.' Gradually, however, he settled on a ritualized theistic viewpoint, accepting the formularies of the Church without necessarily accepting its metaphysic. He even ended as an advocate of compulsory chapel. 'Theology', he wrote in 1866, is 'a great house, scored all over with hieroglyphics by perished hands'. Ultimately, its mysteries proved impenetrable. Yet his very last essay was on Pascal, the laureate of doubt denied. [275-76]

Related Material


Crook, J. Mordaunt. Brasenose: The Biography of an Oxford College. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. [review by George P. Landow]

Last modified 7 October 2012