decorated initial aesthetic 'N'ewman's ideas were to be of decisive importance in what is perhaps Pater's best-known essay, that on "Style," first published in 1888. Pater also looked to Newman for a "personalist" doctrine of style which would be the adequate vehicle of his favored religious-aesthetic consciousness. As early as 1886, in a review of several books including George Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose, Pater had anticipated much of the central argument of "Style" and firmly linked Newman's essay on "Literature" with his own crucial views on the relations between "style" and "matter":

If there be a weakness in Mr. Saintsbury's view, it is perhaps in a tendency to regard style a little too independently of matter. And there are still some who think that, after all, the style is the man; justified, in very great varieties, by the simple consideration of what be himself has to say, quite independently of any real or supposed connection with this or that literary age or school. Let us close with the words of a most versatile master of English-happily not yet included in Mr. Saintsbury's book-a writer who has dealt with all the perturbing influences of our century in a manner as classical, as idiomatic, as easy and elegant, as Steele's:

"I wish you to observe," says Cardinal Newman, "that the mere dealer in words cares little or nothing for the subject which he is embellishing, but can paint and gild anything whatever to order; whereas the artist, whom I am acknowledging, has his great or rich visions before him, and his only aim is to bring out what he thinks or what he feels in a way adequate to the thing spoken of, and appropriate to the speaker." (EG, pp. 15-16; see Idea, pp. 249-249)

"Literature," like "Christianity and Letters," is from the set of occasional lectures comprising the second half of Newman's Idea of a University and must have been familiar to Pater frorn a very early date. [329/330] There is evidence that it began to influence Pater's views even before 1886.

It may be best to begin by showing that, even apart from the testimony of the 1886 review, Newman and the Idea are quite explicitly at the center of Pater's "Style." Pater notes early that among the many varieties of possible style, the prose of Cicero and Newman is "musical" (Appr., p. 6). This is later expanded, in Pater's defense of imaginative prose as the "special art of the modern world," into the observation that nineteenth-century prose will be

as varied in its excellence as humanity itself reflecting on the facts of its latest experience-an instrument of many stops, meditative, observant, descriptive, eloquent, analytic, plaintive, fervid. Its beauties will not be exclusively "pedestrian": it will exert, in due measure, all the varied charms of poetry, down to the rhythm which, as in Cicero, or Michelet, or Newman, at their best, gives its musical vaJue to every syllable. [Appr., pp. 11-12]

It has been observed by more than one reader that this latter description properly fits, of the three writers named, only Newman. Further on, the Idea is associated with the now familiar "select few" and with a quasi-religious view of the function of the arts:

scholars, I suppose, and not only scholars, but all disinterested lovers of books, will always look to it [literature], as to all other fine art, for a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from a certain vulgarity in the actual world. A perfect poem like Lycidas, a perfect fiction like Esmond, the perfect handling of a theory like Newman's Idea of a University, has for them something of the uses of a religious "retreat." Here, then, with a view to the central need of a select few, those "men of a finer thread" who have formed and maintain the literary ideal, everything, every component element, will have undergone exact trial, and above all, there will be no uncharacteristic or tarnished or vulgar decoration, permissible omament being for the most part structural, or necessary. (Appr., pp. 17-18)1

Finally, when defining "soul in style," which communicates "through vagrant sympathy and a kind of immediate contact," Pater finds it primarily embodied in such religious works as the Vulgate, the English [330/331] Bible, the Prayer-Book, and the Tracts for the Times (Appr., pp. 2 526)-which would of course bring Newman to the reader's mind again.

In all these instances, Newman is viewed as himself a supreme practitioncr of the sort of "style" Pater most admired. The major concern here, however, is with the doctrine of Newman's lecture, which Martin J. Svaglic has recently placed in its nineteenth-century setting in this way:

The best known of the lectures is probably that on "Literature," which anticipates Pater's essay "On Style" [sic] in its insistence on the inseparability of thought and word and in its definition of literature as "the personal use or exercise of language"; and which looks back to Romantics like Coleridge and DeQuincey in its sharp disjunction (perhaps too sharp) between literature and science, the former expressing "not objective truth, as it is called, but subjective; not things, but thoughts." [The Idea of a University, p. xxiv.]

Pater's prolonged emphasis on the fusion of form and matter in art, which might be called the aesthetic analogue of his humanistic attempt to cancel any opposition between morality and the world of intellectual and aesthetic perception, is one of the unifying themes of his whole career. From 1873 onward, his views on the unity of both art and literature were expressed most frequently in terms of matter and form, the ambiguous correlatives of Aristotelian hylomorphism, themselves originally metaphors. While the theoretical aim is generally one of the union or fusion or interpenetration of the two, the constant bias is toward a state in which "form ... is everything, and the mere matter is nothing" (PP, p. 8; see also Ren-1, pp. 9, 143-144). The most extended statement of this view, of considerable influence on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century aesthetics, appears in "The School of Giorgione" (1877). (On that influence, see Solomon Fishman, The Interpretation of Art, pp. 67 ff.) "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music"-in the sense that music above all other arts "obliterates" the distinction between matter and form (Ren-3, p. 135).

The Giorgione essay is probably the most persuasive and responsible statement in nineteenth-century England of the cult of form. But it also [331/332] marks Pater's distance from the position of Coleridge, to whom he is sometimes linked, since Coleridge-in his concern for the unity the totality, or the wholeness of art works-keeps a better balance between part and whole. (René Wellek, II, 171.) Moreover, Pater was much more interested in the fine arts than was Coleridge and constantly tended to assimilate literature to the condition of the fine arts — and the disparagement of "mere matter" can be applied to painting or music or architecture far more successfully than to verbal structures. Further, Coleridge's interest in unity and wholeness is fundamentally a concern for the organic relation of the parts to the whole, that is, of the parts to a seminal vision in the "imagination" of the creative artist. Pater, by contrast, seems by "matter" to mean (in art) the subject matter depicted and (in literature) both the narrative subject and the logical, denotative "meaning" of words, phrases, and larger units-and by "form" to mean (in art) technique, "manner," and (in literature) "expression," the suggestive and evocative power of language beyond the denotative. Only once does Pater approach the Coleridgean position, when he declares style to be giving "the phrase, the sentence, the structural member, the entire composition, song, or essay, a ... unity with its subject and with itself.... All depends on the original unity, the vital wholeness and identity, of the initiatory apprehension or view" (Appr., p. 22). He even stresses the need for an "architectural design, . . . a single, almost visual, image, vigorously informing an entire, perhaps very intricate, composition," and disparages an original vision "not organically complete" (Appr., p. 23).5 Nevertheless, the drift of Pater's reiterated reflections on form and matter, thought and word, is atomic, fractionary, a matter of this or that expressive unit, far more than the development or growth of an entire work from a unitary Coleridgean germ. Even in the quoted section on unity of conception, Pater charac- [332/333] -teristically stresses variety, expressiveness, the inevitability of "many irregularities, surprises, and afterthoughts" in composition. In fact Pater's emphasis on the exact relation of inner thought and outward expression is far more probably derived immediately from Newman's "Literature" than from Coleridge.

Newman's central doctrine — "Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one: style is a thinking out into language" (Idea, p. 241) -is at least echoed as early as Pater's 1874 essay on "Wordsworth": "in him [Wordsworth], when the really poetic motive worked at all, it united, with absolute justice, the word and the idea; each, in the imaginative flame, becoming inseparably one with the other, by that fusion of matter and form, which is the characteristic of the highest poetical expression. His words are themselves thought and feeling" (Appr., p. 58). Even the strongest "formalist" passage in the Giorgione essay contains a key metaphor anticipated by Newman-in ideal poetry and painting "form and matter, in their common identity, present one single effect to the 'imaginative reason' that complex faculty for which every thought and feeling is twin-born with its sensible analogue or symbol" (Ren-3, P. 138); Newman had said: "according to the well-known line, 'facit indignatio versus;' not the words alone, but even the rhythm, the metre, the verse, will be the contemporaneous offspring of the emotion or imagination which possesses him" (Idea, p. 243). In Marius, too, Flavian, the companion of the hero's youth, sought to save Latin literature from "routine and languor" by re-establishing "the natural and direct relationship between thought and expression" (ME, I, 96). The other chief doctrine of Newman's "Literature" to be embodied in "Style" was the related view that "literature is personal," "the faithful expression of [the writer's] intense personality, attending on his inward world of thought as its very shadow" (Idea, pp. 240-241 ). This idea, too, was earlier broached in Marius, where Marius learns from Flavian the "demand for a matter, in all art, derived immediately from lively personal intuition"; for Marius, the word or phrase became "valuable in exact proportion to the transparency with which it conveyed to others the apprehension, the emotion, the mood, so vividly real within himself" (ME, I, 103, 155). [333/334]

That Pater had Newman's lecture at his elbow while composing the essay on "Style" is scarcely to be questioned. Nevertheless, it is well to beware of breaking down into a myriad of "sources" any complex exercise of thought and sensibility like Pater's essay. Moreover, behind Newman's and (explicitly) Pater's distinction between science and literature lay De Quincey-and behind him, Hazlitt, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. (M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, p. 143.) De Quincey had also spoken of style as "the incarnation of thoughts,"7 but Pater's phrasing and development of argument suggest that Newman is the major direct influence in these as in certain other matters. Some of the more revealing coincidences of thought and expression will suffice to show the indebtedness.

When Pater says the historian "must needs select, and in selecting assert something of his own humor, something that comes not of the world without but of a vision within" (Appr., p. 9), he echoes Newman's remarks that literature is the shadow of the writer's "own inward world of thought," "the poetry of his inner soul," the very "image" of his mind (Idea, pp. 241, 243, 244).8 Or when Pater calls literary art "the representation ... of a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power" (Appr., p. 10), he recalls Newman's view [334/335] of language as the expression of a man's "inward mental action" and of "his intense personality" (Idea, p. 241). Pater's similar remark that language must be adapted to express "every lineament of the vision within" and that style is the man "in absolutely sincere apprehension of what is most real to him" (Appr., p. 36) harkens back to the passage from Newman cited in Pater's 1886 review: "the artist ... has his great or rich visions before him, and his only aim is to bring out what he thinks or what he feels in a way adequate to the thing spoken of, and appropriate to the speaker" (Idea, p. 249). Both men are highly conscious of the artist's power of shaping and transforming language for his own special purposes. Newman observes that "while the many use language as they find it, the man of genius uses it indeed, but subjects it withal to his own purposes, and moulds it to his own peculiarities" (Idea, p. 240). Similarly, in defining "soul" in style, Pater speaks of the way certain writers have "of absorbing language, of attracting it into the peculiar spirit they are of, with a subtlety which makes the actual result seem like some inexplicable inspiration" (Appr., p. 25).

The instances could be multiplied: for example, the discussion of Cicero (Idea, p. 245; Appr., p. 36); the correlation of idea and expression (Idea, pp. 241 ff.; APPr., pp. 34, 37-38); or the emphasis on personal "colour and intensity" (Appr., p. 37; Idea, p. 240). More significant, I think, is the dependence of Pater's much-decried finale on Newman's conclusion. Pater distinguishes there between good and great art, no longer according to form but according to matter-that is, by adding to the criteria of good art (the fusion of substance and matter, "the absolute correspondence of the term to its import") certain moral efficacies. This is, says René Wellek, not only the entire revocation of Pater's aestheticism: "It is a recantation at the expense of any unified, coherent view of art." Wellek, Modern Criticism, IV, 395. As Wellek sees, Pater's view anticipates T. S. Eliot's distinction between art and great art (see Selected Essays, p. 388). Pater's statement may not satisfy the theorists, but surely Wellek's dismissal of Pater's ending leaves a persistent critical problem equally unsolved since formalist doctrine has been notoriously unequal to the task of moral judgment and of [335/336] accounting for both the "value" and the "wisdorn" of certain works of literature which do not pass muster according to formalist criteria. At any rate, Wellek is convincing when he attributes this new view of "art as an agency of sympathy and even of humanitarianism" to Pater's new involvement with Christianity" (IV, 395). Wellek's statment, however, that Pater had "returned to the Church" is incautious, as are Thomas Wright's unqualified words in The Life of Walter Pater: "Pater had again become a Christian" (II, 208). In fact, it seems likely that Newman's example inspired the famous conclusion. Pater wrote:

Given the conditions I have tried to explain as constituting good art;-then, if it be devoted further to the increase of men's happiness, to the redemption of the oppressed, or the enlargement of our sympathies with each other, or to such presentment of new or old truth about ourselves and our relation to the world as may ennoble and fortify us in our sojourn here, or immediately, as with Dante, to the glory of God, it will be also great art; if, over and above those qualities I summed up as mind and soul-that colour and mystic perfume, and that reasonable structure, it has something of the soul of humanity in it, and finds its logical, its architectural place, in the great structure of human life. (Appr., p. 38)

This flourish, even in its rhythm and syntax, was anticipated in Newman's own condusion:

If by means of words the secrets of the heart are brought to light, pain of soul is relieved, hidden grief is carried off, sympathy conveyed, counsel imparted, experience recorded, and wisdom perpetuated,-if by great authors the many are drawn up into unity, national character is fixed, a people speks, the past and the future, the East and the West are brought into communication with each other,-if such men are, in a word, the spokesmen and prophets of the human family,-it will not answer to make light of Literature or to neglect its study. [Idea, pp. 255-56]

It is hardly surprising that Newman's "spokesmen and prophets of the human family" should, in Pater, create a literature with "the soul of humanity in it" which shall find its place "in the great structure of human life." For it was Newman who had had a chief share in formulating Pater's explicit religious position-Newman who had given Pater a vision of "the great structure of human life." [336/337]

This is not of course to argue that Newman had somehow "converted" Pater. The ending of Marius is both too passive and too deliberately inconclusive to permit such a bypothesis. Moreover, Plato and Platonism (1893), Pater's other major attempt to provide a religious basis for life, is — in its endorsement of dialectic, the product of a detached, rather disembodied skepticism and relativism — even more remote from historic Christianity in any authentic or recognizable form. Yet even here, as shown in Chapter 21, Pater's attempt is to effect a synthesis, a harmony, of his own "independent" Platonism and a special (if rather shadowy) version of Christian religious experience, embodied chiefly in art and ritual. Here again, significantly, Newman's ideas figure prominently.

There are the inevitable references to an elite band of souls of special receptivity. The notion, "Many are called, but few chosen," is implicated in "the very essence of Platonism" (PP, p. 98; see also p. 22). More central is Pater's continued concern with the psychology of apprehension, both in philosophy and art, especially as Newman had developed it under the theological notion of the "economy" or "reserve." Though a considerable body of Victorian anti-intellectualism underlay Pater's skepticism, the tone and phrasing of Pater's argument reflect a rereading of Newman's Apologia. Behind Pater's remark concerning the Socratic irony, "for we judge truth not by the intellect exclusively, and on reasons that can be adequately embodied in propositions; but with the whole complex man" (PP, p. 88), lies Newman's famous statement concerning his own theological progress: "I had a great dislike of paper logic. For myself, it was not logic that carried tne on.... It is the concrete being that reasons; pass a number of years, and I find my mind in a new place; how? the whole man moves; paper logic is but the record of it" (Apologia, p. 153). Thus, when Pater speaks of Plato's myths and fables as "medicinable lies or fictions, with a provisional or economised truth in them, set forth under such terms as simple souls could best receive" (PP, p. 247) or when he declares that the "manly" aitist "will be apt ... to express more than he seems actually to say. He economises" (PP, p. 281), he reminds the reader that Kingsley's chief charge against the Catholic priesthood, the charge that provoked the Apologia, had centered on the [337/338] use of the "economy." Newman's economy and the argument of the Grammar are enlisted in behalf of a Paterian relativism; the result is that Plato is made to sound like an aestheticized Newman. Despite Plato's demand "for certainty and exactness and what is absolute," he is represented as thinking "that truth, precisely because it resembles some high kind of relationship of persons to persons, depends a good deal on the receiver; and must be, in that degree, elusive, provisional, contingent, a matter of various approximation, and of an 'economy,' as is said; that it is partly a subjective attitude of mind: — that philosophic truth consists in the philosophical temper" (PP, p. 187).

There was to be one final use of the Apologia in an anti-intellectual context. Pater's last, uncompleted essay, on "Pascal," published posthumously in December 1894, sympathetically reviews the case against "mere argument" in matters of religious persuasion. Rather obliquely, Pater compares Pascal's manner to Newman's: "The spirit in which Pascal deals with his opponents, his irony, may remind us of the 'Apology' of Socrates; the style which secured them immediate access to people who, as a rule, find the subjects there treated hopelessly dry, reminds us of the 'Apology' of Newman" (MS, pp. 66-67). Just what in the Apologia makes it accessible is not explained. The reference to the Apologia is succeeded by a flurry of elitist references that wrench predestinarian theology into the familiar pattern of spiritual snobbishness (MS, pp. 69, 71). The larger context of these late references to Newman is a correspondence between the two men in the late eighties, evidently irrecoverable.


Victorian Website Overview John Henry Cardinal Newman Walter Pater OV Next Contents

Last modified November 2000