hat Pater knew Arnold's work intimately, and absorbed great amounts of his spirit into his own writings, is a critical commonplace. But the extraordinary extent and significance of the influence, even at the verbal level, has never been documented. Pater liked "The Scholar-Gipsy," which had thrown a romantic haze over the Oxford countryside, and after he went up to Oxford in October 1858 he "eagerly" attended Arnold's lectures, enjoying the "impudence" and the "onslaught of the Philistines."1 From the beginning [192/193] the influence was very deep, almost crippling at times. A first exercise, "Diaphanéitè," dated July 1864 and understandably never printed by Pater, is to a large extent a pastiche of Arnold's phrases, already subtly and characteristically twisted to new ends Pater's evocation (probably autobiographical in intention) of a special temperament, prophetic of the next generation, is a study in "perfect intellectual culture," an advocacy of coming "nearer and nearer to perfection," a call "to value everything at its eternal worth," and the establishment of an ideal of "just equipoise" in which no gift or virtue or idea "has an unmusical predominance" (MS, pp. 249, 248, 252). But this is only the small change of the Arnoldian rhetoric. Even more unmistakable is the reference to the "intellectual throne" (MS, p. 249), a phrase in "The Scholar-Gipsy" (1. 184). Arnold's definition of religion as that which "has lighted up morality" (CPW, III, 234) occurs twice, in the phrase "a mind lighted up by some spiritual ray within" and in the description of Raphael as one who was "lighted up" by the Renaissance and the Reformation, yet "yielded himself to neither" (MS, pp. 250, 253). But what Pater is saying, and what he implies, is by no means a carbon copy of Arnold. Pater's disturbing "sexless beauty," "a moral sexlessness, a kind of impotence, an ineffectual wholeness of nature" (MS, p. 253), is a world away in tone and import from the moralism and puritanism of Arnold's own ideal of wholeness.
Pater's critical career was properly inaugurated with the essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge of January 1866. This is Pater's impressive, if not yet fully coherent, attempt to define the function of "criticism" and "culture" in modern life and to suggest the role of the "modern spirit" in shaping a mode of quasi-religious "spirituality" available to the few. Pater is clearly on the highroad to the Renaissance. In this full-dress rehearsal, Arnold's Essays in Criticism are frequently the point of departure, but everywhere there appears the reshaping pressure of a unique, emerging review of life. Despite the Arnoldian aura created by references to "Forms of intellectual and spiritual culture," "the human spirit on its way to perfection," "complete culture," disinterestedness, and a personified "critical spirit," Pater at once announces a new frontier in the advancement of the modern spirit. He redefines Arnold's "modern spirit" as the "relative spirit," and what it is [193/194] relativizing is, precisely, morality. "Modern thought is distinguished from ancient by its cultivation of the 'relative' spirit in place of the 'absolute.' ... To the modern spirit nothing is or can be rightly known except relatively under conditions... . Hard and abstract moralities are yielding to a more exact estimate of the subtlety and complexity of our life." ("Coleridge's Writings," p. 107. Cited by page number in text throughout this chapter.) The scope of the "critical intellect" is radically reduced to 11 a world of fine gradations and subtly linked conditions, shifting intricately as we ourselves change" (p. 108). The literary life of Coleridge, who is everywhere "restlessly scheming to apprehend the absolute," was "a disinterested struggle against the application of the relative spirit to moral and religious questions"; happily, Coleridge failed, for his "was a struggle against the increasing life of the mind itself" (p. 108).
If "criticism" is redefined and restricted, "culture" is even more drastically diminished from Arnold's comprehensive assessment of the modern world to the establishment of a new "higher morality of the few." The problem of the relation of religion to culture becomes that of how to retain "the religious graces" for those who "have passed out of Christianity." Pater scoffs at Coleridge's fear that in the rejection of the supernatural "the spiritual element in life will evaporate also, that we shall have to accept a life with narrow horizons, without disinterestedness, harshly cut off from the springs of life in the past." But the "narrowness," Pater retorts, is all the other way. This spiritual element in life is simply "the passion for inward perfection with its sorrows, its aspirations, its joy," and these mental states are "the delicacies of the higher morality of the few." These states are "only the permanent characteristics of the higher life," expressed by great religious spirits like Augustine and the author of the Imitation in the limited metaphysical and theological terms of their own culture — such ideas as "the doctrines of sin and grace, the fluctuations of the union of the soul and its unseen friend." The mental states are permanent, the intellectual framework is variable: the states exist for "those who are capable of a passion for perfection," although "that religious expression of them is no longer congruous with the culture of the age." [194/195]
But since inwardness continues to appear only in a few forms, "culture cannot go very far before the religious graces reappear in it in a subtilized intellectual shape." For example, certain aspects of the religious character — "Longing, a chastened temper, spiritual joy" — have an artistic worth distinct from their religious import." They are valuable, "not because they are part of man's duty or because God has commanded them, still less because they are means of obtaining a reward, but because like culture itself they are remote, refined, intense, existing only by the triumph of a few over a dead world of routine in which there is no lifting of the soul at all." Our culture, then, is incomplete, 11 we fail of the intellectual throne," if it is not crowned by these religious qualities of "inward longing, inward chastening, inward joy." "Religious belief, the craving for objects of belief, may be refined out of our hearts, but they must leave their sacred perfume, their spiritual sweetness, behind." The defenders of "the older and narrower forms of religious life against the claims of culture" cannot understand this "law of the highest intellectual life," but they "are often embarrassed at finding the intellectual life heated through with the very graces to which they will sacrifice it." Thus, "the modern aspirant to perfect culture" finds "in the higher class of theological writings ... the expression of the inmost delicacies of his own life, the same yet different!" Just as the "spiritualities of the Christian life" have in the past drawn men into "the broader spiritualities" of other systems, so, many of this generation who, "through religion, have become dead to religion," find "some feature of the ancient religious life, not in a modern saint, but in a modern artist or philoshopher! For those who have passed out of Christianity, perhaps its most precious souvenir is the ideal of a transcendental disinterestedness. Where shall we look for this ideal? In Spinoza; or perhaps in Bentham or in Austin" (pp. 126-127).
I have summarized this remarkable argument at length because it is not readily available (The theological portions that had not been reprinted were issued in Walter Pater, Sketches and Reviews.) and because it is the most explicit rationale for what may be called a "religious aestheticism," not only in Pater but perhaps in the English language. The whole essay breathes a total and almost contemptuous detachment from Christianity and Christian [195/196] belief which Arnold never displayed and which Pater himself, even in the years of the Renaissance studies, never again revealed so uncompromisingly. The tone is rather openly autobiographical and this may account for Pater's reluctance to reprint it. That Arnold's concepts of criticism and culture lay behind this new "religious" reading of life is evident in references to "inward perfection," the "passion for perfection," and "disinterestedness" — all of which are themselves clearly enough derived from religious contexts — and in the reiterated allusion, in "the intellectual throne," to "The Scholar-Gipsy." But the essential relation of this argument to Arnold's thought lies in the fact that the essay is largely the logical extension of the premises of Arnold's culture. It represents the basis for Pater's search for a "sort of religious phase possible for the modem mind." For Pater perfect culture strives for the preservation of a permanent spiritual element in life; this element survives in a small number of mental states or religious graces (longing, chastening, joy) even in the absence of the objects that formerly excited these states and of the systems to which they were erroneously attached. Now freed permanently from the need for any metaphysical or theological rationale, these modes of consciousness can be cultivated for their own sake, no longer justified on ethical grounds (duty, love of God, rewards) but discriminated simply by the remoteness, refinement, and intensity of the states themselves. The experience of the residuary perfume and sweetness of older erroneous beliefs in this new higher morality or broader spirituality will be evoked by a wide acquaintance with the best art or philosophy or theology, and will no longer be claimed exclusively by the older narrow and untenable forms of religious life.
In this expression of Pater's early thought lies the explicit basis for the morality that readers have long detected in the Renaissance. Pater regards a certain kind of religious consciousness as the permanent summit of the most worthy human striving; it may be achieved without belief in a transcendent object of consciousness, indeed without any detectable object at all save certain evocative intellectual and aesthetic stimuli. Pater's essay presents a first statement of the "counsel to get all the emotional kick out of Christianity, without the bother of believing it," the basis for which T. S. Eliot attributes to a more innocent [196/197] Arnold. (p. 434.) Certainly Arnold provided the elements for Pater's confusion of religion and aesthetic experience, especially in claiming, as he was to do in Culture and Anarchy, that culture "goes beyond religion" (CPW, V, 94) in striving for "perfection" through the harmonious expansion of all human powers. But the passage Eliot most likely has in mind is the famous opening of "The Study of Poetry," not written until 1880. There, Arnold argues that in the collapse of creeds, dogmas, and traditions, poetry has an immense future:" 'Our religion has materialised itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion to-day is its unconscious poetry' " (EC-2, pp. 1-2). However, Pater had anticipated this attitude as early as the Coleridge essay, when he says, "Dogmas are precious as memorials of a class of sincere and beautiful spirits, who in a past age of humanity struggled with many tears, if not for true knowledge, yet for a noble and elevated happiness. That struggle is the substance, the dogma only the shadowy expression" (p. 129). The point is that Pater seized on the logical implications of the Arnoldian view of culture from the first, well before Arnold himself more cautiously drew out the "aesthetic" consequences of his doctrines.
What is lacking from Pater's synthesis, and what frees him from some of the hesitancies and illogicalities of Arnold's view of the relation of religion to culture, is Arnold's "strong and irrational moral prejudice." (Ibid, p. 441.) For what unmistakably divides Pater from Arnold in 1866 is Pater's astonishingly unruffled aloofness in the face of the supersession of traditional morality. In the notorious Conclusion to the Renaissance — written as early as 1868 — Pater was to shock and disturb many by the implications of his advice, "The theory, or idea, or system, which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract morality we have not identified with ourselves, or what is only conventional, [197/198] has no real claim upon us" (Ren-1, pp. 211-212). Even more explicit and systematic was the anarchic moralism of the Coleridge essay, which began with the enunciation, "Hard and abstract moralities are yielding to a more exact estimate of the subtlety and complexity of our life," and ended with a protest against "every formula less living and flexible than life itself":
What the moralist asks is, Shall we gain or lose by surrendering human life to the relative spirit? Experience answers, that the dominant tendency of life is to turn ascertained truth into a dead letter — to make us all the phlegmatic servants of routine. The relative spirit, by dwelling constantly on the more fugitive conditions or circumstances of things, breaking through a thousand rough and brutal classifications, and giving elasticity to inflexible principles, begets an intellectual finesse, of which the ethical result is a delicate and tender justness in the criticism of human life. (pp. 131-132)
It may throw light on Pater's later career that, as late as 1889, both these passages were allowed to appear in the extensively revised Coleridge essay in Appreciations. Nevertheless, Pater said in 1882 that with much of the original Coleridge essay, "both as to matter and manner, I should now be greatly dissatisfied" (Evans, "Some Letters of Walter Pater," p. 53). The statement in the previous passage represents nothing less than the transference to the moral realm of the qualities Arnold had required of the critical spirit. Pater approves of subtlety, complexity, the relative spirit, elasticity, a delicate and tender justness in "the criticism of human life," in opposition to hard and abstract moralities, rough and brutal classifications, inflexible principles. In "The Function of Criticism" and "The Literary Influence of Academies," Arnold had demanded that criticism proceed by way of charm, graciousness, urbanity, felicity, and patience, that it be a thing of "quick, flexible intelligence," of "intellectual delicacy"; what he opposes is narrowness and crudeness, and his maxim is: "never to let oneself become abstract." In the Homer lectures Arnold had asked of the critic of poetry, that he should have "the finest tact, the nicest moderation, the most free, flexible, and elastic spirit imaginable; he should be indeed the 'ondoyant et divers.' the undulating and diverse being of Montaigne" (CPW, I, 174). Pater then has simply drawn out the essentially moral implications of Arnold's view of the function of art as "a criticism of life" (CPW, III, [198/199] 209), and asks of morality that it be no less "ondoyant et divers" than the exercise of the modern critical intellect, its guiding genius. Again, of course, all is changed in transit. Even in the two major essays on criticism, Arnold's major object is to establish "a fixed standard, an authority," outside the wilful and eccentric self, much as did Coleridge himself. Certainly Arnold never wavered in his defense of an "absolute" morality. Pater's competent continuation of the "degradation of philosophy and religion, skilfully initiated by Arnold," as Eliot describes it, (Selected Essays, p. 437.) begins full-blown in Pater's first published essay. Pater, in short, had developed the full implications of Arnold's view of religion and culture before Arnold had presented his own more cautious extensions of it in works like Culture and Anarchy and "The Study of Poetry."
A further decisively important theme in the rather haphazard structure of "Coleridge" demands attention. Pater initiates his extended series of confrontations and adjustments of classical culture and Christianity, in a breath-taking one-paragraph sketch of European intellectual history. His ostensible purpose is to ridicule the vanity of Coleridge's attempt to "reconcile" the conflict between reason and faith which has existed since the dawn of the Renaissance. Early Christianity had recognized the conflict, he explains, and "based its plea upon its own weakness" in the confrontation with classical culture. Christianity frankly asserted claims that had no appeal to "any genuinely human principle." Paradoxically, this was its strength: the medieval Church's appearance of having reconciled faith and philosophy was only illusory; faith triumphed only through the unnatural "worship of sorrow and weakness" on the part of the weak, who were then the whole of Europe. Far from reconciling faith and reason, the Middle Ages were simply "a strange suspension of life" for "the classical culture which is only the human reason in its most trenchant form" (pp. 114-115 ). As knowledge of "that pagan culture" spread again, the conflict was resumed. The two elements, faith and that which is approved "in a sincerely scientific sphere," have never since really mixed. Writers as different as John Locke and Jeremy Taylor, each with a liberal philosophy [199/200] and a defense of orthodox belief, exhibit "a divided mind"; the inability of the two elements to fuse in a single mind reveals "their radical contrariety."
The Catholic church and humanity are two powers that divide the intellect and spirit of man. On the Catholic side is faith, rigidly logical as Ultramontanism, with a proportion of the facts of life, that is, all that is despairing in life coming naturally under its formula. On the side of humanity is all that is desirable in the world, all that is sympathetic with its laws, and succeeds through that sympathy. Doubtless, for an individual, there are a thousand intermediate shades of opinion, a thousand resting-places for the religious spirit; still . . . fine distinctions are not for the majority; and this makes time eventually a dogmatist, working out the opposition in its most trenchant form, and fixing the horns of the dilemma; until, in the present day, we have on one side Pius IX, the true descendant of the fisherman, issuing the Encyclical, pleading the old promise against the world with a special kind of justice; and on the other side, the irresistible modern culture, which, as religious men often remind us, is only Christian accidentally. [p. 115]
Thus Pater's career begins at the low watermark of his sympathetic regard for Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity. This passage, significantly unreprinted, assumes a crudely belligerent rationalist point of view, that of an optimistic morality play in which orthodox Christianity and the "irresistible" modem spirit stand opposed in "radical contrariety." After going underground during the Middle Ages, the classical spirit, or reason, has steadily re-emerged since the Renaissance, and Christianity will evidently have no place in the modem view of life. Pater's surprising hostility to any accommodation between the two "elements" is not at all characteristic of his later statements on the subject, though he will never quite give up the notion that Christianity is somehow antihuman and appeals to what is "despairing in life." Significantly, this is also Arnold's view of the history of the modern spirit and its permanent enfranchisement in the nineteenth century after sporadic appearances in ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. But despite his contempt for medieval theology, which was to rise to a crescendo in St. Paul and Protestantism and Literature and Dogma, Arnold speaks everywhere in the early essays with great [200/201] sympathy for actual medieval religious life and repeatedly shows his interest in the "fascinating Middle Age." Indeed, Pater's mention of "the worship of sorrow and weakness" may be a first reference to Arnold's "Pagan and Medieval Religious Sentiment," in which Arnold defends medieval Christianity against Heine's attacks. Certainly, in the following year Arnold's essay was to lie at the center of Pater's next venture in criticism. At the very least, Pater's magna instauratio displays a "paganism" matching that of Heine.
The very last words of "Coleridge," however, show Pater struggling for a more complex view of the modern situation. He declares Coleridge to be "the perfect flower of the romantic type":
More than Childe Harold, more than Werther, more than René, Coleridge, by what he did, what he was, and what he failed to do, represents that inexhaustible discontent, languor, and home-sickness, the chords of which ring all through our modern literature. Criticism may still discuss the claims of classical and romantic art, or literature, or sentiment; and perhaps one day we may come to forget the horizon, with full knowledge to be content with what is here and now; and that is the essence of classical feeling. But by us of the present moment, by us for whom the Greek spirit, with its engaging naturalness, simple, chastened, debonair. . . . is itself the Sangraal of an endless pilgrimage, Coleridge, with his passion for the absolute, for something fixed where all is moving, his faintness, his broken memory, his intellectual disquiet, may still be ranked among the interpreters of one of the constituent elements of our life. [p. 132]
In itself, the passage simply reflects a commonplace of German aestheticism — for example, Schiller's contrast of "naive" (classical) and "sentimental" (medieval and romantic) literature, both of which modern man needs for totality and harmony. (Hatfield, p. 140; Trevelyan, p. 200.) For the purposes of this study, this statement suggests that Pater, even in 1866, saw that "the Greek spirit" was not to have everything its own way in the coming years.
Last modified 29 August 2007