he union of the Greek and the romantic spirits is the central clue to Pater's important essay on Winckelmann, published a year later. If not always fully coherent, the essay remains a remarkable display of knowledge and judgment by a man of twenty-seven. It first established the Paterian view of life and stated with some subtlety the complex of issues put under a harsher light in "Coleridge." The dialectic of "Winckelmann" is so complex that some of its central focus and its polemical matrix seem to have escaped detection. "Wincklemann" asks whether there is a "Hellenism" possible in the modem world and seeks to establish the relation of such a "Hellenism" to medieval Christianity, the romantic spirit, and nineteenth-century science. In answering, Pater carefully selects certain aspects of Hegel's theory and history of the arts, in order to define a special mode and morality of existence possible to a small number of exceptional souls. What has not been seen is that Pater so shapes the course of his argument as to make it a rejection and correction of Matthew Arnold's views of Christian and classical culture.
The presence of the Arnold of Essays in Criticism is very marked in a number of ways. There is, first of all, in the 1867 essay a paragraph, never reprinted, mentioning "Maurice de Guérin's 'Centaure,' now so well known to English readers through Mr. Arnold's essay." (Walter Pater, p. 105.) Moreover, the lofty judicial impartiality of Arnold's "criticism" sets the tone of Pater's essay: Pater's "at the bar of the highest criticism" (p. 157) has the very accent of Arnold's "at the tribunal of literary criticism" (CPW, III, 54). Pater, speaking of the "aim of a right criticism" (p. 200), is the echo of Arnold defining "criticism, real criticism" (CPW, III, 268). Especially Arnoldian is the [202/203] personification of criticism. Arnold's criticism that "may and must remind it [Protestantism] or that "must maintain its independence" is also Pater's active protagonist: "criticism can reject neither, because ..." or "criticism entertains consideration of him ..." (CPW, pp. 281, 280; Ren-1, pp. 158, 200). But Pater's essay is most centrally preoccupied with Arnold because it sets out to recast the balance of Greek, Christian, and modern established in Arnold's "Pagan and Medieval Religious Sentiment" (1864; CPW, III, 212-231). Arnold's essay is directly alluded to in Pater's description of the Renaissance as a return to "the life of the senses and the understanding," in his reference to the medieval "worship of sorrow," and in his twice appealing to "the imaginative intellect," which turns out to be the double of the "imaginative reason," the dialectical culmination of Arnold's essay.
The dialectical structure of Arnold's essay, which Pater very likely heard on its delivery at Oxford in March 1864, is very subtle, and the neat juxtapositions and oppositions, followed by a brilliant and provocative conclusion deftly tying up complex materials in a simple phrase, make it the natural focus that it became in Pater's thought for some years. It begins with the apparently academic topic, to give "a near, distinct sense of the real difference in spirit and sentiment between paganism and Christianity, and of the natural effect of this difference upon people in general"; actually the question becomes the far less disinterested one of what the elements of "the modern spirit's life" are — precisely the question Pater was to ask in "Winckelmann." Arnold opens with a surprisingly long section in praise of the wide-embracing" quality of the Catholic Church of history, if not "the Church of the future," then "indisputably the Church of the past, ... the Church of the multitude." This religious appeal to the multitude becomes the essay's criterion of religious authenticity — that is, until the great bravura solution of the ending. Prepared by this long, even affectionate praise of the medieval spirit, the reader is not surprised that the bulk of the essay is concerned to award the prize to Christianity rather than to paganism. Arnold's "representative religious poem of paganism," the Fifteenth Idyll of Theocritus, despite "a certain grace and beauty," shows none of the religious emotion that a [203/204] symbolic treatment of the Adonis story would reveal and has nothing that is elevating, consoling, or "in our sense of the word religious." The hymn to Adonis is exactly adapted to "the tone and temper of a gay and pleasure-loving multitude: "The ideal, cheerful, sensuous, pagan life is not sick or sorry." But "by the very intensity and unremittingness of its appeal to the senses and the understanding, by its stimulating a single side of us too absolutely," this pagan life finally fatigues, and revolts us.
By neat antithesis, St. Francis is seen to have fitted religion for popular use, consoling men through his marriage with poverty: "Poverty and suffering are the condition of the people, the multitude." Men naturally take pleasure in the senses, but medieval Christianity offered a refuge from misery in man's "heart and imagination." Theocritus' hymn "takes the world by its outward, sensible side"; St. Francis' Canticle, "by its inward, symbolical side." The first admits only the pleasure-giving; "the second admits the whole world, ... but all transfigured by the power of a spiritual emotion, all brought under a law of supersensual love, having its seat in the soul." At this moment, Christianity is dearly a more powerful religious force than paganism. But the antithesis has not yet been worked out to its logical end. For if the life of Pompeii was an extreme of sensualism, St. Francis' asceticism was the extreme of spiritualism. "Human nature is neither all senses and understanding nor all heart and imagination." The Renaissance is then described as a return to this "pagan spirit," to the life of the senses and the understanding. The Reformation, in turn, was like St. Francis' revival in being "a reaction of the moral and spiritual sense against the carnal and pagan sense." But the "grand reaction" against spiritualism and the return to the senses and understanding, came with the eighteenth century. Arnold now turns to Heine, as a champion of the new paganism, who divided the whole world into "barbarians and Greeks." Arnold quotes from a passage of The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany attacking the "fever" and "over-tension" and melancholy asceticism of the Middle Ages and looking to the reign of the "religion of pleasure" in which "the body and soul shall have made their peace together." In "the old, ideal, limited, pagan world," which was never sick or sorry, answers Arnold, reflecting a knowledge [204/205] of German aesthetics, this ideal may have been possible; but in "the new, real, immense, post-pagan world" when "the shock of accident is unceasing, the serenity of existence is perpetually troubled," not even Heine can live the pagan ideal. This is proved by a grotesque passage of Heine's written on his deathbed, entirely lacking in "the clear, positive, happy, pagan character"; the "religion of pleasure" is thus a failure as "a comfort for the mass of mankind, under the pressure of calamity, to live by." The strength of the religion of sorrow is that it provides "a stay for the mass of mankind, whose lives are full of hardship." Above all, it actually conveys more joy than the pagan religious sentiment, "actual enjoyment of the world." Medieval Christianity, far from being characterized by gloom and austerities, drew much greater delight from the natural world than paganism did: gladness, not sorrow, made the fortune of Christianity, "not its assigning the spiritual world to Christ, and the material world to the devil, but its drawing from the spiritual world a source of joy so abundant that it ran over upon the natural world and transfigured it."
If the essay had ended here, the original problem, a contrast of two religious attitudes, would have been worked out, and Christianity would be the victor; but the dialectic would have been incomplete. In a sudden reversion to an earlier statement of opposite deficiencies in the two religious spirits, Arnold resolves the problem with a stroke: "the main element of the modern spirit's life is neither the senses and understanding, nor the heart and imagination; it is the imaginative reason." In Greece from 530 to 430 B.C., the Greece of Simonides, Pindar, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, Arnold claims that poetry made "the noblest, the most successful effort she has ever made as the priestess of the imaginative reason, of the element by which the modern spirit, if it would live right, has chiefly to live." Arnold protects himself by suggesting that the effort was not perfect, that even in Pindar's time the fatal movement toward Pompeii was implicit. Moreover, Greece may not have provided poets with the necessary "fullness of varied experience." "Perhaps in Sophocles the thinking-power a little overbalances, the religious sense, as in Dante the religious sense overbalances the thinking power." Arnold has obviously abandoned his earlier criterion, the "consoling" power of a religion for the multitude. [205/206]
The problem of the creation of an "adequate" modern poetry, which occupied Arnold from the Preface of 1853 onward, is now his real concern. The Greek poets from Pindar to Sophocles are not to be blindly imitated, "But no other poets so well show to the poetry of the present day the way it must take; no other poets have lived so much by the imaginative reason; no other poets hove made their work so well balanced; no other poets, who have so well satisfied the thinking-power, have so well satisfied the religious sense." And in a startling reversal of his previous tender regard for Christianity, Arnold finishes by commenting on a passage of the Oedipus Rex, "Let St. Francis, — nay, or Luther either, — beat that!"
The attempt in "Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment" to suggest the place of the religious spirit in modern life is Arnold's most ambitious historical effort before his account of Hebraism and Hellenism in 1868. That it both stimulated and nettled Pater is shown in the numerous allusions to it in the Renaissance studies and later. What is at stake is Arnold's and Pater's differentiated readings of the needs of the modern spirit, and of the "religious" quality of that new consciousness. In substance, Pater accepts Arnold's reading of history and his ideal of "imaginative reason": what he cannot swallow is Arnold's high (if qualified) praise of medieval Christianity, its having "elements" to contribute to the modern synthesis, its "joyful" character. In the sixties Pater fundamentally accepted Heine's, not Arnold's, view of medieval religion: ascetic Christianity had created the fictitious and morbid quarrel between the body and soul. Arnold's 1864 essay becomes the background for a surprising number of historical judgments in Pater's career.
Pater's Winckelmann essay is so centrally a response to Arnold's "Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment" that, after the opening pages in review of Winckelmann's career, the very structure of his argument parallels Arnold's. By rejecting the uniqueness and value of the medieval religion of sorrow, by qualifying Arnold's views on the alleged superficiality of Greek popular religion, and finally by proposing a version of Arnold's Hellenic solution in a larger historical perspective, Pater consciously sets out to readjust the relations among the major factors in Arnold's own complex equation. The opening [206/207] section is devoted to Winckelmann's interpretation of "the Hellenic spirit." First, he experiences the freedom of the imagination which the Renaissance itself felt. "How facile and direct," this Renaissance sentiment is made to say, using Arnold's phrase, "is this life of the senses and understanding when once we have apprehended it! This is the more liberal life we have been seeking so long, so near to us all the while. How mistaken and roundabout have been our efforts to reach it by mystic passion and religious reverie; how they have deflowered the flesh; how little they have emancipated us! ... the lost proportions of life right themselves" (pp. 153-154). The antagonism of Hellenism and medievalism is thus at once established as the essential crux of Pater's study and, though with a new evaluation, is put very much in Arnold's terms. The viewpoint, verbally and philosophically, is frankly that of Heine as given in Arnold's essay. Pater maintains that Winckelmann's perfection is a narrow one and that it cannot compare with the "elasticity, wholeness, [and] intellectual integrity" of Goethe, "with his universal culture." But Goethe learned from Winckelmann the "integrity" of this intense sort of perfection for which Winckelmann was willing to cast away from himself other interests, religious, moral, political.2 This is a conflict of ideals — between a "complete" and a "selective" culture — which will persist in Pater until Marius. "There have been," says Pater, "instances of culture developed by every high motive in turn, and yet intense at every point; and the aim of our culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a life as possible. But often the higher life is only possible at all on condition of a selection of that in which one's motive is native and strong; and this selection involves the renunciation of a crown reserved for others" (pp. 157-58).[207/208] In 1867 it awaits a temporary solution in the final pages of the essay.
The argument proper begins with Pater's surprisingly Arnoldian (and Newmanesque) discussion of "the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste." This Hellenic tradition provides the unity of Western culture, and its authority is proved not only in Winckelmann's life but in the general history of culture:
The spiritual forces of the past, which have prompted and informed the culture of a succeeding age, live, indeed, within that culture, but with an absorbed, 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 conscious tradition in it. [p. 169]3
This is the "element of permanence, a standard of taste" in art, which Pater will later subordinate more to the special "conditions of time and place" which he here deprecates (pp. 169-170). He reminds us that "this standard of artistic orthodoxy" arose in Greece "at a definite historical period — the century from 530 to 430 B.C. which Arnold had selected. Pater undertakes to explain the conditions under which this standard arose. "Greek art," he begins, "when we first catch sight of it, is entangled with Greek religion" (p. 170). The relation of art to religion is the subject of Pater's essay as it was of Arnold's. Pater's major purpose, now, is to attack medieval Christianity and its influence upon art; this he does in two stages. First, he redefines Greek religion anthropologically by asserting a ritual basis common to all religions, including those of Greece and the Middle Ages; through the special conditions of Greek life, its religion was [208/209] able to give rise to a high art, as medieval Christianity was not; as a result, medieval Christianity loses any unique religious or artistic claims it might seem to have upon us. Second, retaining the production of art as his criterion, Pater adopts enough of Hegel's scheme of art history to explain why the medieval conception of life prohibited the use of an independent tradition in art and was in fact the enemy of the artist. Using Winckelmann as a model, Pater focuses upon the conditions favorable to the life of the artist and to the "artistically" conceived life in a broader sense.
Pater's first strategy is to challenge the familiar academic notion of Greek religion as "gay and graceful," as "the religion of art and beauty," of Zeus and Athena, and of Homer, and to provide in effect a rich prehistory for what Arnold was soon to call the Greece of "grace and serenity" (CPW, V, 125). This customary view is partial because it fixes on "the sharp bright edge of high Hellenic culture, but loses sight of the sombre world across which it strikes." Relying on Hermann's Gottesdientsliche alterthümer der Griechen, he distinguishes between a ritualistic system and a cycle of poetic conceptions in Greek religion. At the base of all religions is an ineradicable "universal pagan sentiment, ... which existed before the Greek religion, and has lingered far onward into the Christian world" and which takes account of the "sadness" of the mind when it wanders from the here and now. This eternal, indestructible pagan basis of all religions fixes itself in ritual: "It is the anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering opiates to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life sombre for the vast majority of mankind" (pp. 172-173). (This is in effect to give an unpleasant twist to Arnold's favorable conception of religion as a "refuge" and "consolation" for the misery and suffering that are "the condition of ... the immense majority of mankind"; CPW, III, 223.) Other sources — with the Greeks, mythology — add more definite religious ideas to the "unprogressive ritual element." The cult, the religious observance, remains fixed; the myth, the religious conception, is fluid with the freedom of the intellect. This religious mythology is itself pagan and has "the pagan sadness": "It does not at once and for the majority become the higher Hellenic religion" (p. 174). This primeval pagan sentiment, [209/210] "against which the higher Hellenic culture is in relief," is found not only in the common world of Greek religion but also in Christian countries "least adulterated by modern ideas." In Catholic Bavaria, as well as in the common world of ancient Greece, where moral and theological ideas imperfectly adjust to the permanent ritual basis with its unknown origin and half understood meaning, religious life has its popular "worship of sorrow. . . . its mournful mysteries" (p. 175).
The supreme Hellenic culture is a sharp edge of light across this gloom. The Dorian cult of Apollo, rational, chastened, debonair, with his unbroken daylight, always opposed to the sad Chthonian divinities, is the aspiring element, by force and spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself.... Out of Greek religion under happy conditions arises Greek art, das Einzige, das Unerwartete, to minister to human culture. The claim of Greek religion is that it was able to transform itself into an artistic ideal. [pp.175-76]
The polemical force of this line of argument should now be evident. By insisting, on the authority of "science," that the "anodyne" element is common to all religions, Pater implies that the primeval Greek religion is as satisfactory as the medieval "religion of sorrow." Above all, it is Greek religion that has the unique claim upon us, in its having transformed itself into an artistic ideal.
For this second stage of his argument, Pater borrows just enough of Hegel to attack medieval art and to establish his own "sensuous" view of life. The polemical intention becomes dear as Pater informs us that the thoughts of the Greeks about themselves and their relations to the world were readily turned into "an object for the senses": This is "the main distinction between Greek art and the mystical art of the Christian middle age, which is always struggling to express thoughts beyond itself" (p. 176). He explains the distinction [210/211] by comparing two actual art works. just as Arnold had chosen a "representative religious poem of paganism," Pater selects a "characteristic work of the middle age," Fra Angelico's "Coronation of the Virgin." His object is to castigate the "exaggerated inwardness" of medieval art: what is outward and sensible in Angelico's work "is only the symbol or type of an inexpressible world to which he wishes to direct the thoughts" (p. 177). But a work of Greek art, the Venus de Milo, is "in no sense a symbol, a suggestion of anything beyond it own victorious fairness. The mind begins and ends with the finite image, yet loses no part of the spiritual motive. That motive is not lightly and loosely attached to the sensuous form, as the meaning to the allegory, but saturates and is identical with it" (p. 178). Here Pater echoes the Hegelian "concrete universal," with its identification of "motive" and "sensuous form"; and in this passage appears the proximate source of Pater's lifelong interest in the artistic unity of form and matter in the art work.
The Greek mind, Pater explains, was fortunate in having paused at a certain limited stage of self-reflectiveness: "it has not yet become too inward; the mind has not begun to boast of its independence of the flesh; the spirit has not yet absorbed everything with its emotions, nor reflected its own colour everywhere." Self-reflection itself will end eventually, says Pater in a fervor of anti-Platonism, "in a defiance of form, of all that is outward, in an exaggerated idealism. But that end is still distant; it has not yet plunged into the depths of Christian mysticism" (pp. 178-179). The rhetorical force of this passage is [211/212] unusually strong for Pater; it not only provides the aesthetic grounds of his anti-Christian sentiment at this period but also suggests the personal force behind his rejection of Christianity. This ideal Greek art, in which thought does not outstrip sensuous embodiment, comes as the product of two conditions: first, the "pause" in self-reflectiveness, and second, the Greek emphasis on physical beauty, especially in the hurnan form (pp. 179 ff.). One should not regret that this "unperplexed youth of humanity" passed into a "mournful maturity"; for after the medieval death of the senses, great joy was in store for those who found the ideal still alive. Following Hegel's classification, Pater places sculpture at the center as the supreme expression of "the Greek spirit, the humanistic spirit," between architecture, which is lacking in self-awareness, and painting, music, and poetry ("the special arts of the romantic and modern ages"), which are excessively "self-analytical." Sculpture deals most exclusively with the human form, which is somehow also "pure form," and in this way becomes "a perfect medium of expression for one peculiar motive of the imaginative intellect" (p. 184). The phrase "imaginative intellect" points in the direction of a fusion of the sensuous and the "ideal" — precisely the Hegelian "concrete universal." Surely it also suggests the "imaginative reason" by which Arnold attempted to synthesize the senses and the understanding, and the heart and the imagination — or in a different and equally problematic formula, the thinking power and the religious sense. At any rate, Pater's "supreme Hellenic culture," with its "blitheness or repose" and "generality or breadth," involves the choice of the "imaginative intellect" as it refracts, selects, transforms, and recombines images (p. 186).
Significantly, the qualities that Winckelmann's criticism discerned in Greek sculpture are transferred to Winckelmann himself, who then [212/213] becomes the supreme representative of a special kind of temperament and character. Form in the Hellenic ideal has a "central impassivity," a "depth and repose": the motion in Greek sculpture is "ever kept in reserve," is "very seldom committed to any definite action"; the "colourless unclassified purity of life, with its blending and interpenetration of intellectual, spiritual, and physical elements," is "the highest expression of that indifference which is beyond all that is relative or partial," an indifference rejecting "any one-sided experience"; and finally, Greek art tends even to merge distinctions of sex (pp. 189-192). Winckelmann's temperament is declared to possess the same characteristics. In the "well-rounded unity of his life," he is undisturbed by political, moral, and religious interests alien to his nature. In morals as in criticism, "he enunciates no formal principles, always hard and one-sided" (pp. 193-194). Never "one-sidedly self-analytical," Winckelmann displayed (in phrases repeated from "Diaphanéitè") (Francis X. Roellinger, [p. 277-282] shows that important portions of the earlier essay were carried over, almost verbatim, into "Winckelmann.") "a moral sexlessness, a kind of impotence, an ineffectual wholeness of nature." The serenity of this temperament is shown in Winckelmann's handling the sensuous side of Greek art in the pagan manner, with no sense of "want, or corruption, or shame" (p. 194). Shifting back to the production of arts, Pater declares this to be possible because supreme works of art remove some of the "turbid fever" of the senses; for the artist "has gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas in sensuous form," until, "more and more immersed in sense," it alone has interest for him (p. 195). This extraordinary set of qualities, which somehow inheres in artists, in art works, and in the life of the supreme "Hellenic" critic, and which is a development of the autobiographically tinged portrait of the special "nature" in "Diaphanéitè," is then made the occasion for an unexpected fling at the Christian attitude toward art:
How could such an one ever again endure the greyness of the ideal or spiritual world? The spiritualist is satisfied in seeing the sensuous elements escape from his conceptions; his interest grows, as the dyed garment bleaches in the keener air. But the artist steeps his thought again and again into the [213/214] fire of colour. To, the Greek this immersion in the sensuous was indifferent. Greek sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the blood; it is shameless and childlike. But Christianity, with its uncompromising idealism, discrediting the slightest touch of sense, has lighted up for the artistic life, with its inevitable sensuousness a background of flame... . It is hard to pursue that life without something of conscious disavowal of a spiritual world; and this imparts to genuine artistic interests a kind of intoxication. From this intoxication Winckelmann is free; he fingers those pagan marbles with unsinged hands, with no sense of shame or loss. That is to deal with the sensuous side of art in the pagan manner. [pp. 195-96]
Pater, perhaps more from fidelity to the Hegelian scheme than from personal inclination, immediately sets about countering any regret that man should have passed beyond the Hellenic ideal, "in which man is at unity with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward world," to attempt a perfection "that makes the blood turbid, and frets the flesh, and discredits the actual world about us" (p. 196). This statement exactly matches the description of the "spiritualist" Christian world for which Pater has several times expressed disapproval. What makes it possible for him to justify this later "perfection," obviously, is the fact that it is realized best within the history of Greece. That is, in Greek tragedy there occurs the note of conflict which saves man from the ennui of perfection and finally provides "a broader and profounder music." What Pater seizes upon, even in Hegel's schematic view, is the "dignity" within conflict which tragedy displays and the "joy," "a blithe and steady poise," which the Greek spirit was able to win even from discouragements (pp. 196-97). [214/215]
As Pater notes, Winckelmann did not penetrate into that later stage of Greek achievement. Pater's rhetoric here becomes very difficult to penetrate. The elements of his attitude are complex: dearly he feels a temperamental affinity for Winckelmann's rather immobile "sculpturesque" classicism, even for its sexual ambiguities; moreover, he had repeatedly expressed contempt for Christian "spiritualism" as hostile to art; but, finally, the "progressive" Hegelian standpoint, not to speak of Goethe's example, drove him to acknowledge the necessity of a "turbid" and even a "grotesque" art — and this in turn forced an accommodation not only with the romantic temperament, but, more reluctantly, with its historical prototype, the "spectral" Middle Ages. Pater admits that Winckelmann's supreme insight into "the typical unity and repose of the sculpturesque" blinded him to that bolder art "which deals confidently and serenely with life, conflict, evil. Living in a world of exquisite but abstract and colourless form, he could hardly have conceived of the subtle and penetrative, but somewhat grotesque art of the modern world" (p. 197). Winckelmann inevitably failed to see what Hegel detected, that there is "even a sort of preparation for the romantic temper within the limits of the Greek ideal itself."
For Greek religion has not merely its mournful mysteries of Adonis, of Hyacinthus, of Ceres, but it is conscious also of the fall of earlier divine dynasties. . . . Around the feet of that tranquil Olympian family still crowd the weary shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world. Even their still minds are troubled with thoughts of a limit to duration, of inevitable decay, of dispossession. Again, the supreme and colourless abstraction of those divine forms, which is the secret of their repose, is also a premonition of the fleshless consumptive refinements of the pale mediaeval artists. That high indifference to the outward, that impassivity, has already a touch of the corpse in it; we see already Angelico and the 'Master of the Passion' in the artistic future. The crushing of the sensuous, the shutting of the door upon it, the flesh-outstripping interest, is already traceable. Those [215/216] abstracted gods ... seem already to feel that bleak air in which, like Helen of Troy herself, they wander as the spectres of the middle age. (pp. 197-198)
Pater's uneasiness with romantic art, but far more with Christian art and asceticism, is here very marked. The admired impassivity and indifference of Winckelmann's Greek gods, which Pater found so temperamentally congenial, is, by a cruel paradox that Pater is honest enough to confess, akin to the art-destroying asceticism of the Middle Ages.
In a paragraph not reprinted after 1867, including the mention of Arnold's essay on Maurice de Guérin cited above, Pater goes on: "In this way there is imported into Hellenism something not plastic, not sculpturesque.... So some of the most romantic motives of modem poetry have been borrowed from the Greek." For example, in the tale of the Centaur, Guérin "found a vehicle for all that romantic longing which the modern temper has inherited from mediaeval asceticism." ("Winckelmann," p. 105.) Pater seems caught in a certain logical dilemma. Evidently, he has seized on the notion of a double tradition in Greek religion and Greek art partly in order to disprove the uniqueness of the Christian "religion of sorrow"; moreover, the dream of a perfect Greece in the Hegelian history and theory of art provided authority for the dismissal of a "spiritualist" Christian art. But Hegel's theory of tragedy and of a progressive art and Pater's own admirable sense of the richness of modem literature forced Pater to legitimatize and emphasize the counter tradition and thus to affirm the medieval ancestry of romantic art. The "romantic element" in Greek art had furthered, though it did not cause, the decay of Hellenic art: "but it shows how delicate, how rare were the conditions under which the Hellenic ideal existed." (Ibid, p. 105.) The question then becomes: "Did Christianity quicken that decline?" Pater's basic viewpoint is clear: "The worship of sorrow, the crucifixion of the senses, the expectation of the end of the world, are not in themselves principles of artistic rejuvenescence." He answers that early Christianity did quicken that decay by accepting only the poorest forms of [216/217] a moribund classical art. (Ibid., p. 106.) "Gradually," however, "as the world came into the church, as Christianity compromised its earlier severities, the native artistic interest reasserted its claims." With this increasing secularization the "delicate problem" that Christian art faced was that of the "sensuous expression of conceptions which unreservedly discredit the world of sense" (p. 198):
If we think of mediaeval painting as it ranges from the early German schools, still with the air of a charnel-house about them, to the clear loveliness of Perugino, we shall see that the problem was met. Even in the worship of sorrow the native blitheness of art asserted itself; the religious spirit, as Hegel says, 'smiled through its tears.' ... But in proportion as this power of smiling was refound, there came also an aspiration towards that lost antique art, some relics of which Christian art had buried in itself, ready to work wonders when their day came. [pp. 198-99]
Pater's statement appears to be a very ambiguous answer: somehow the "native blitheness" of art asserted itself in the worship of sorrow; but the genuine article, "that lost antique art," was still buried, awaiting a resurrection. That ambiguity is strongly marked in a "reconciling" paragraph, one of Pater's very first attempts to align pagan and Christian motifs:
The history of art has suffered as much as any history by trenchant and absolute divisions. Pagan and Christian art are sometimes harshly opposed, and the Renaissance is represented as a fashion which set in at a definite period. That is the superficial view; the deeper view is that which preserves the identity of European culture. The two are really continuous: and there is a sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was ever taking place. When the actual relics of the antique were restored to the world, it was to Christian eyes as if an ancient plague-pit had been opened: all the world took the contagion of the life of nature and the senses." Christian art allying itself with that restored antiquity which it had ever emulated, soon ceased to exist. For a time art [217/218] dealt with Christian subjects as its patrons required; but its true freedom was in the life of the senses and the blood — blood no longer dropping from the hands in sacrifice, as with Angelico, but, as with Titian, burning in the face for desire and love. And now it was seen that the mediaeval spirit too had done something for the destiny of the antique. By hastening the decline of art, by withdrawing interest from it, and yet keeping the thread of its traditions, it had suffered the human mind to repose, that it might awake when day came, with eyes refreshed, to those antique forms. [pp. 199-200]
The alleged identity of European culture is only precariously defended here; at least, it has little to do with Christianity itself. Christians opposed "the life of nature and the senses" which they detected in the new-found ancient art; in fact Christian art itself died of its new alliance with the restored antiquity that, somehow, "it had ever emulated." The new spirit had the true freedom of "the life of the senses and the blood," of "desire and love," and so transformed the Christian subjects it treated. But this is simply to assert that in medieval art there was an unassimilated "antique" or pagan element waiting to be revived. Pater's dubious defense of the medieval spirit is symptomatic. Clearly, that spirit, by withdrawing interest from the visible world, is essentially incompatible with art; yet medieval art had somehow "ever emulated" ancient art and even kept "the thread of its traditions." As the later essays of the Renaissance will make much clearer, this thread of Hellenic tradition leading to the Renaissance is in itself unassimilable to the Christian spirit. Christianity, it is evident, has little to offer to art or to the artistic life. The identity of European culture is defined by the persistence, even if at times underground, of the self-sufficient Hellenic tradition.
After this highly qualified statement of a double basis for modem culture, Pater turns for the supreme synthesis to Goethe, who "illustrates that union of the Romantic spirit, its adventure, its variety, its deep subjectivity, with Hellenism, its transparency, its rationality, its desire for beauty"; (This is a passage recorded by Arnold in 1879 [NB, p. 321.]) Winckelmann is important only for having made known to Goethe the Hellenic element, which has the pre- [218/219] ponderance in the Goethean synthesis (p. 201). This is, then, a more developed assertion of the union of the two "constituent elements of our life," the romantic and the Greek spirits, which Pater threw out at the end of the Coleridge essay. The question for Goethe, as Pater poses it, is whether the "breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose," of the Hellenic ideal can be brought into "the gaudy, perplexed light of modern life." As usual, Pater has an answer for the aesthetic critic or observer and one for the artist. "Culture-balance" can no longer be achieved by the simple Greek "perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with the world without"; instead, Goethe's Hellenism. has "the completeness and serenity of a watchful, exigent intellectualism" (pp. 201-203). What then does Goethe mean by "life in the whole, im Ganzen"? Those seeking this supreme self-culture are met by many forms of the "one-sided development of some special talent"; but instead of weighing the claims of these various "alien" (and partial) forms, or even of "reaping" what these forms can give them, their instinct is to find in the various forms their own strength. The intellect does indeed discover "the laws, the operation, the intellectual reward of every divided [specialized, partial] form of culture"; "but only that it may measure the relation between itself and them. It struggles with those forms till its secret is won from each, and then lets each fall back into its place in the supreme, artistic view of life." These elevated natures rejoice, "with a kind of passionate coldness, ... to be away from and past their former selves"; they especially resist "that abandonment to one special gift which really limits their capabilities" (p. 203). Sensuous experience, religious insight, "the commonplace metaphysical instinct": as men of "large vision" we must renounce all these "if we mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection." Philosophy, for example, serves culture not by some illusory insight into truth, but by helping us "detect the passion and strangeness and dramatic contrasts of life" (p. 204). So much for a self-culture above all divided forms of culture; in the "supreme artistic view of life," in which we "mould our lives to artistic perfection," we draw strength from all the actual activities of life, in order to have a totally unlimited "capability." The only suggested object of that "exigent," [219/220] coldly detached and observant intellectualism is a view of "the passion and strangeness and dramatic contrasts of life."13
These statements reveal the central focus of the Paterian view of life. It is tempting to declare, as some readers have, that Pater's behest to "mould our lives to artistic perfection" means that the life of the supreme aesthete is to be somehow aesthetically patterned after the art object itself; but a closer examination shows that "the supreme artistic view of life" is a call to seek out, with the help of high art and by taking into oneself the power of insight of a supreme artist like Goethe, as much as possible of the passion and strangeness and drama of life. The life observed will be the life of others, the lives of people engaged in the necessarily "divided" forms of human "enthusiasm"; the culture observer has no proper life of his own except detached observation, the detection of aesthetic patterning in the life of the world about him. All of human thought and activity — now that history, Hegel, and science have freed man from the need for concerning himself with a chimerical "truth" or conventional moral perfection — is simply grist for the very fine-grinding mills of a small class of emancipated aesthetic observers. Pater's "culture" was, then, never intended as a creed for the many otherwise, it would be destroying the raw material of its own self-development, the passionate and engaged narrower forms of human activity. For certain "natures," for the "few," it offered, as the Coleridge essay put it, the "perfume" and "sweetness" of what is "remote, refined, intense" — offered an aesthetically satisfying arrangement distilled from the life around us. Pater is in effect defining his own role in life and that of a few others who aim at the life of culture. Even if one lacks the productive powers of the great artist, he is allowed to participate in the "supreme artistic view of life"; he is by implication in a better position to do so than the necessarily engaged artist himself.
In a final paragraph, however, Pater suggests that this culture he associates with Goethe was directly in touch with "the practical functions of art.... actual production." The problem now is more special: how can breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, be communicated to [220/221] art works "which contain the fulness of the experience of the modem world" (p. 204)?14 Only poetry — defined as "all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form as distinct from its matter" — can "command that width, variety, delicacy of resources, which will enable it to deal with the conditions of modem life. What modern art has to do in the service of culture is so to arrange the details of modern life, so to reflect it, that it may satisfy the spirit." What the spirit needs in the face of modern life is the "sense of freedom": modern science tells us of "the intricacy, the universality of natural law even in the moral order"; it locates in each individual a web of necessity related to "the central forces of the world" (p. 205). That arrangement of details, satisfying to the spirit, becomes a demand that art "represent men and women in these bewildering toils so as to give the spirit at least an equivalent for the sense of freedom" (pp. 205-206). Goethe's Elective Affinities succeeds in dealing with modern life but reflecting upon it blitheness and repose. Though we cannot modify natural laws, "there is still something in the nobler or less noble attitude with which we watch their fatal combinations"; in Goethe's novel, the network of law "becomes a tragic situation, in which a group of noble men and women work out a supreme dénouement." "Who," Pater asks at length, "if he foresaw all, would fret against circumstances which endow one at the end with so high an experience?" (p. 206). Pater is not, however, asking men and women to refrain from fretting against the circumstances of their own lives in order to gain some insight into them. For the cherished "experience" is precisely that gained from the art object, or at most from the observation of the life situations of others, and not from any insight into the circumstances of the observer's own situation. Properly speaking, Pater's ideal observer has no "life" of his own, and art's [221/222] service to modern culture, in giving to the spirit a make-believe "equivalent for the sense of freedom," is exclusively a service to Pater's "observer" — culture of intense and refined experiences. We are invited to watch the noble or less noble attitudes of men and women, caught in the entanglement of necessity, working out a supreme dénouement as if they were free. Goethe's — or Arnold's — culture has been radically reduced to providing for specially qualified sensibilities glimpses of passion and strangeness and dramatic contrast in the life of others; the special requirement of that state of perceptiveness is that it must detach itself from, must in a sense "renounce," participation in the life from which it extracts the experience. Art no longer exists even to enhance "life" in any ordinary sense of the term. It may be said that Pater's early aestheticism is in effect a program addressed to a special class of souls for transcending the human condition.
Last modified 29 August 2007