decorated initial aesthetic 'T'he purpose of T. S. Eliot's "Arnold and Pater" (1930) was "to indicate a direction from Arnold, through Pater, to the 'nineties, with, of course, the solitary figure of Newman in the background." (p. 431). As early as January 1925, Eliot had remarked provocatively in "The Return of Matthew Arnold" (The Criterion, III, 162) that "[Arnold's] thought lacks the logical rigour of his master Newman." That "direction" had to do with a progressive confusion as to the place of religion in life in the later nineteenth century; but the "of course" regarding the solitary Newman in the background remained a suggestive but undeveloped notion. Ferris Greenslet long ago indicated a basis for this line of continuity in the tradition of Oxford and in Pater's style found "something of the spirit of her moods as Matthew Arnold found another trace of it in Newman's." In seeking to define, as part of his secular humanism of the sixties, the qualities of mind which he grouped under the labels of "criticism" and "culture," Arnold, as seen in Chapters 2-4, repeatedly associated those qualities with Oxford and, above all, with the person and writings of Newman. Pater, in his attempt to trace out the lineaments of highly refined religious-aesthetic awareness [305/306] , especially in the eighties and nineties, found Newman and Newman's example an equally essential point of departure. The three men are linked primarily by the description and advocacy of a peculiar, highly Oxonian, version of perfected human consciousness. To study the totality of the relationships among the three men is to witness the transformation — and in some ways the dilution and debasement — of the older, theologically oriented Oxford humanism. This older tradition of "letters and philosophy," no longer intact after mid-century in an increasingly skeptical, secularized, and science-oriented Oxford, was, significantly, most fully and adequately described by Newman in works like the Idea of a University and the Grammar of Assent only after he had felt compelled to leave Oxford for good.

While Arnold and Pater always found in Newman a "miracle" of aesthetic and religious perception, they decisively diverged in their reaction to his theology. Where the strenuously "moral" Arnold in his religious writings of the seventies regularly manipulated Newman's position on such matters as faith, development, and prophecy in order consistently to subvert the totality of orthodox theology, the "aesthetic" Pater of the eighties and nineties used, if rather tentatively, a simplified and attenuated version of Newman's most characteristic arguments in favor of "assent" and ecclesiastical tradition. Men like T. H. Huxley agreed with Newman that the Oxford literary humanism was historically, and by implication intrinsically, dependent on theological values. With differing emphases, Arnold and Pater also insisted that, even in the absence of faith, a religiously tinged richness of perception is the crown of the perfected life; for both, the role of religion thus becomes the crux of a modern literary humanism. The most fertile source of confusion in tracing the connection among the three men is [306/307] the fact that Arnold and Pater became the most influential advocates of an historic humanist consciousness, while rejecting the theological and metaphysical underpinnings of that heritage.

Before his religious crisis of the late fifties, Pater was an enthusiastic High-Church ritualist who already knew a considerable amount about the Tractarian Movement. He had visited John Keble at the age of fifteen and had even written an "Essay on Justification," which is now lost. (Thomas Wright, p. 77, xix.) But a now skeptical and scoffing Pater learned, in the sixties, to see Newman through the distorting spectacles provided by Arnold's early essays. Before the appearance of Pater's first published essay, in 1866, Arnold had established the reading of Newman the man, the thinker, and the artist which was to color Pater's view for the rest of his life. In January 1863, atnid the glare of the Colenso controversy, Arnold had associated Newman with the theory of a spiritual and intellectual elite who are alone the privileged bearers of truth. Speaking in the name of "literary criticism" and as the spokesman of "culture," Arnold attributes the view that "Knowledge and truth ... are not attainable by the great mass of the human race at all" to "Dr. Newman": "'The few (those who can have a saving knowledge) can never mean the many,' says, in one of his noblest sermons, Dr. Newman" (CPW, III, 43-44). In the following year, Arnold sought to define the qualities of mind which made Newman the embodiment and exponent par excellence of the Oxford "sentiment." He speaks of the Apologia as marked throughout with an "urbanity" that is the product of "a miracle of intellectual delicacy," and as "the work of a man never to be named by any son of Oxford without sympathy, a man who alone in Oxford of his generation, alone of many generations, conveyed to us in his genius that same charm, that same ineffable sentiment which this exquisite place itself conveys" (CPW, III, 250, 244).

These ideas are refleded in the first two essays published by Pater. In his study of Coleridge's prose writings (January 1866), Pater had [307/308] this double-edged remark to make concerning conservative thinkers of "the highest order."

Conunmicating in this way to the passing stage of culture the charm of what is chastened, high-strung, athletic, they yet detach the highest minds from the past by pressing home its difficulties and finally proving it impossible. Such is the charm of Julian, of St. Louis, perhaps of Luther; in the narrower compass of modern times, of Dr. Newman and Lacordaire; it is also the peculiar charm of Coleridge. ("Coleridge's Writings,", p. 106-107.)

Before he ends, Pater exclaims: "How often in the higher class of theological writings — writings which really spring from an original religious genius, such as those of Dr. Newman — does the modern aspirant to perfect culture seem to find the expression of the inmost delicacies of his own life, the same yet different!" (Ibid, p. 127) Culture, genius, charm, delicacy: the words and the ideas are Arnold's; and both he and Patcr associate them centrally with Newman. Similarly, in the crucial essay on "Winckelmann," of January 1867, Pater develops the view of ancient Greek religion as "the religion of art and beauty," even if only to question it by quite unexpectedly using Newman's Development of Christian Doctrine: "Thus Dr. Newman speaks of 'the classical polytheism which was gay and graceful, as was natural in a civilized age'" (Ren-1, p. 171; see EDD, p. 209). Further on in the same paragraph he asserts: "Religious progress, like all purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few" (Ren-1, p. 172).

In the "Winckelmann" essay, too, there appeared an echo of a theme Newman had developed masterfully in one of his Dublin lectures, "Christianity and Letters." Pater sees Winckelmann as a late Renaissance exponent of what he variously calls "the classical spirit," "intellectual culture," "Hellenic humanism." This classical tradition, "the supreme tradition of beauty," provides the unity of European culture. Pater describes a fresco of Raphael's which depicts Apollo and the classical and Renaissance poets as embodying this "orthodoxy of taste." The "generai history of culture" testifies to "the authority of [308/309] the Hellenic tradition, its fitness to satisfy some vital requirement of the intellect." Spiritual forces of the past must now live an underground life: "The Hellenic element alone has not been so absorbed or content with this underground life; from time to time it has started to the surface; culture has been drawn back to its sources to be clarified and corrected. Hellenism is not merely an element in our intellectual life; it is a constant tradition in it" (Ren-1, pp. 168-69). This "element of permanence, a standard of taste," in European art, "is maintained in a purely intellectual tradition ... [and) takes its rise in Greece at a definite historical period. A tradition for all succeeding generations, it originates in a spontaneous growth out of the influences of Greek Society" (Ren-1, p. 170).

Though the idea is by no means unique to Newman, Pater seems to be following rather closely Newman's description of "a great association of nations ... not political, but mental, based on the same intellectual ideas, and advancing by common intellectual methods," which, for all the changes of history, "continues down to this day," continuously "one and the same" (Idea, p. 220). Newman, too, finds Greece "the fountain head of intellectual gifts" (Idea, p. 224). Of course Newman is concerned with "the formation of the course of liberal education," whereas Pater characteristically in his "supreme tradition of beauty" is thinking primarily of the fine arts; but the emphasis on "a conscious tradition ... .. a purely intellectual tradition," of culture is held in common. Newman, in defining his "tradition of intellectual training," insists that classical literature "has been the instrument of education, and the food of civilization, from the first times of the world down to this day" (Idea, p. 228). Paradoxically, perhaps nowhere do Pater and Newman stand closer, even in this early period, than on the essential unity of the Western tradition, at once Hellenic and Christian. Despite Pater's hostility to Christianity in the essay, he insists on the view "which preserves the identity of European culture. Thie two [pagan and Christian art] are really continuous: and there is a sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance was an uninterrupted effort of the Middle Ages, that it was ever taking place" (Ren- 1, p. 199). Taking an even more comprehensive, and perhaps tendentious [309/310] , view, Newman asserts the historical unity of the classical intellectual heritage and Christian religious experience: "Jerusalem is the fountainhead of religious knowledge, as Athens is of secular.... The grace stored in Jerusalem, the gifts which radiate from Athens, are made over and concentrated in Rome. . . . Rome has inherited both sacred and profane learning" (Idea, pp. 230-31).

As one might suspect, however, it was not Newman the Christian apologist who was of most interest to Pater during the years before Marius was begun in the late seventies — the years of the essays in the first two editions of the Renaissance and of the majority of the Greek Studies. Except for his role in the "Winckelmann" essay, Newman makes no explicit appearance in either of these two colledions of Pater's work of the sixties and seventies.7 During this early period, however, there first appear certain lines of revisionist rhetoric which at least partially justify Eliot's view of "the solitary figure of Newman" at the beginning of the route from Arnold through Pater to the nineties. There is, first, the frequent iteration of the Calvinistically tinged doctrine of the few and the many in characteristically "aesthetic" contexts [310/311] . Certainly the idea of a "clerisy" or an intellectual elite was a commonplace in nineteenth-century England, from Coleridge to Mill and beyond, but Pater's continuous use of the "few" as opposed to the "many," in the very restricted sense of a special class of aesthetically susceptible souls, seems strongly to suggest a further extension of Arnold's quotation from Newman. A glaring example occurs in "Aucassin and Nicolette," first published in 1873. "The central love-poetry of Provence," Pater announces, "the poetry of the Tenson and the Aubade, of Bernard de Ventadour and Pierre Vidal, is poetry for the few, for the elect and peculiar people of the kingdom of sentiment" (Ren-1, p. 6). That kingdom of sentiment, a parody of the Kingdom of God, is of course a realm of calculated spiritual snobbishness. The transformation of values, however, seems even more intentionally offensive when the doctrine is applied in specifically religious contexts, with the implication that certain refined religious experiences are the highest states of aesthetic consciousness, open only to certain elite souls. In the Greek Studies generally, Pater was reassessing the whole of the ancient religious tradition, anticipating his partial accommodation with Christianity in Marius. In "Demeter and Persephone," for example, he claims with a kind of complacent contemptuousness that "coarser minds" might misunderstand the deeper significance of Greek religious ritual, whereas "more elevated spirits," "the nobler kind of souls," could adapt religious myth at will in the name of "culture" and as the embodiment of their own "susceptibilities and intuitions" (GS, pp. 136-137). In "A Study of Dionysus," he maintains that Dionysus, like Persephone, "has also a peculiar message for a certain number of refined minds, seeking, in the later days of Greek religion, such modifications of the old legend as may minister to ethical culture, to the perfecting of the moral nature" (GS, p. 49). This is "the finer, mystical sentiment of the few, detached from the coarser and more material religion of the many" (GS, p. 50). Arnold had quite consciously wrenched Newman's Biblical paraphrase — " 'The few (those who can have a saving knowledge) can never mean the many' "-into a defense of the freedom of a small intellectual elite whom, "in the field of free religious speculation" as in other areas of "the higher culture [311/312] of Europe," "literary criticism regards as exempt from all concern with edification" (CPW, III, 49, 79). Pater, whose "culture" had even less claim than Arnold's to inhabit "the sphere of speculative life, of intellect, of pure thought" (CPW, III, 67), decisively extends the process of redefinition by making the language of religious doctrine a vindication of the life of pure aesthetic apprehension. Throughout his career Pater has a good deal to say about those "elect souls" and "the purely aesthetic beauty bf the old morality."

The process of transformation is equally clear in the remarkably similar images used by Newman and Pater in presenting the human condition. In some of the best known words of the Conclusion to the Renaissance, Pater discusses "the inward world of thought and feeling," associated with images of whirlpool and flame, as a "drift of momentary acts of sight and passion and thought" (Ren-1, p. 209). If we dwell on "impressions unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them," the world is contracted still further:

the whole scope of observation is dwarfed to the narrow chamber of the individual mind. Experience, already reduced to a swarm of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without. Every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world. [Ren-1, p. 209]

In a sermon of 1836, "The Individuality of the Soul," Newman had in a memorable panorama presented his version of the reality underlying the appearances of life:

Or again, survey some populous town: crowds are pouring through the streets; some on foot, some in carriages; while the shops are full, and the houses too, could we see into them. Every part of it is full of life.... But what is the truth? why, that every being in that great concourse is his own centre, and all things about him are but shades, but a "vain shadow," in which he "walketh and disquieteth himself in vain." He has his own hopes and fears, desires, judgments, and aims; he is everything to himself, and no one else is really any thing. No one outside of him can really touch him, can [312/313] touch his soul, his immortality; he must live with himself for ever. He has a depth within him unfathomable, an infinite abyss of existence; and the scene in which he bears part for the moment is but like a gleam of sunshine upon its surface. [PPS, IV, 82-83]

The differences of intention in the two passages are of course very marked. Newman's thesis is "the doctrine of the distinct individuality of the human soul," destined for immortality, whereas Pater makes his vision of the "continual vanishing away, that strange perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves," the ground of an appeal to live a life of "sharp and eager observation," for the moment's sake, before the final darkness descends (Ren-1, p. 210). But what is shared, in tone and implication, is of great significance. Newman's view that every man "is as whole and independent a being in himself, as if there were no one else in the whole world but he" (PPS, IV, 81) — that for every man "no one else is really any thing. No one outside of him can really touch him, can touch his soul" — is easily transmuted, once the transcendental escape route has been sealed off, into the near solipsism of Pater's solitary prisoner for whom "no real voice has ever pierced" the wall of personality. The two men also share a strong sense of the impermanence and even unreality of "material phenomena" (Apologia, p. 4). Newman's image of the activities of life as a momentary "gleam of sunshine" on the surface of the "infinite abyss of existence" is carried over into Pater's more desperate view of life as "this short day of frost and sun" (Ren-1, p. 211). Pater may well have come on Newman's sermon opportunely: the Parochial and Plain Sermons were reissued in the spring of 1868, and Pater, already a reader of Newman's [297/298] sermons in the sixties, published his famous passage first in October 1868 as the conclusion of the Morris review. Neveitheless, the issue here is not precisely that of a direct source, but of a more general transfonnation of a special religious tone and imagery for new "aesthetic" purposes. The "inwardness" and spiritual individualism of Newman's Tractarian ethos, in its most charaderistic formulation, could be directly exploited in the new submetaphysical and sensationalist world of refined spiritual and aesthetic apprehension.


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Last modified 29 August 2007