n the mid-seventeen-nineties, in his work On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, Friedrich Schiller, like other German Hellenists before and after, proclaimed the failure of modern society and religion and appealed to the ancient Greeks as examples of perfect humanity. The Greeks were still part of Nature; only later came a humanity divided within itself. "Feeling and thought," he declared, "were not yet split in pieces, that scarce remediable cleavage in the healthy nature of man had not yet taken place." (Cited in Humphry Trevelyan, p. 198.) Later in the same decade, Goethe, who found in Schiller's critical writings the very expression of the "Greek" ideal he himself aspired to in this period, added: "The highest idea of man can be attained only through manysidedness, liberality. The Greek was capable of this in his day. The European is still capable of it. (p. 199.) Seventy years later, Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy, his most "Hellenizing" work, declared that human perfection as culture defined it and as the Greeks lived it goes beyond religion, that is, beyond Christianity, by listening to "all the voices of human experience" in working toward the ideal of "a harmonious expansion of all the powers [165/166] which make the worth of human nature" (CPW, V, 93, 94). In his own "mechanical and external" civilization, the appeal must constantly be to the "best art and poetry of the Greeks, in which religion and poetry are one, in which the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all sides adds to itself a religious and devout energy" (CPW, V, 100). And in 1877, in the concluding words of the Preface to Last Essays on Church and Religion, his final attempt to salvage Christianity by reestablishing it on a "natural" basis, Arnold cited Benjamin Jowett's words on the Socratic notion of "the interdependence of virtue and knowledge": "The moral and intellectual are always dividing, yet they must be reunited, and in the highest conception of them are inseparable" (LECR, p. 179).

For Walter Pater, in one of his first published essays, on Johann Winckelmann (1867), the founder of "aesthetic paganism" in Germany, the crucial problem of the modern world was whether Goethe's Hellenic ideal of "Heiterkeit, blitheness, or repose, and Allgemeinheit, generality or breadth," can be made operative in "the gaudy, perplexed light of modem life" (Ren-1, pp. 186, 201). Even more specifically, can the ideal "in which man is at unity with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward world," be "communicated to artistic productions which contain the fulness of the experience of the modern world" (Ren-1, pp. 196, 204)? Nearly twenty years later, Pater's autobiographical spokesman, Marius, speculates on the unity of human activity, and takes deep satisfaction in the notion that morality may be, "in effect, one mode of comeliness in things--as it were music, or a kind of artistic order, in life" (ME, II, 4).

These characteristic utterances are gathered here to suggest that a set of antitheses and proposed reconciliations, which provided the unity of German Hellenism in the late eighteenth century, are at the heart of the line of continuity from Arnold, through Pater, to the nineties in late nineteenth-century England. A complex and highly dialectical process, worked out in the thought of the major German figures and everywhere related to the cult and "myth" of Greece first effectively formulated by Winckelmann, enjoys an extraordinary recrudescence in the careers of Arnold and Pater. Put simply, the problem is that of the [166/167] transcendence, whether through rejection or synthesis, of the dualisms with which the Western tradition, especially in Platonism and Christianity, was seen to have burdened man. In Goethe's time as in Arnold's there is a search for a new basis of life compatible with the exigencies of modern thought and experience, and yet ensuring fullness of consciousness, "fulness of being." In ethics, in human psychology, and especially in artistic production, the attempt to provide what Arnold, looking to Goethe, called in 1866 a new interpretation of human life and "a new spiritual basis" for European civilization (CPW, III, 381) involved as its major counters a special version of "Hellenic" values and a radical revaluation of the Christian tradition. The dualisms to be transcended might be within the individual--the psychological dualism of feeling and thought; the metaphysical split between matter and spirit, body and soul; the ethical rapture of morality and aesthetics, or morality and the intellect, or duty and desire; the artistic antagonism between the spiritual and the "sensible," the outward and the inward form and essence, passion and order. Or the dichotomy might be broadly cultural — northern "soul" and southern "form," the classical and the romantic, Christianity and paganism, individual self-development against humane "service" to mankind. Whatever the mode of transcendence, however, and there are often numerous resolutions even in a single career — a morality above morality, a return to the Greeks, a new Christianity — the norm, for many of the Germans as for Arnold and Pater and their successors, is increasingly the aesthetic.

It seems dear that the most critical factor in the complex cultural struggle was Christianity and the Christian tradition, a Christianity debilitated by internal division and increasingly isolated from the mainstream of modern culture. The way for modern "aestheticism," whether German or English, as for much of the heterodoxy of the nineteenth century, was prepared by the Enlightenment, which had thrown Christian theology on the defensive, a role for which it was to have no adequate weapons for generations. The major figures of the Enlightenment had appealed to truth, not beauty, as their standard, whereas the German Hellenists had more frankly sought a belief or myth more beautiful, more in keeping with the dignity of man, than [167/168] the Christian." ([Hatfield, p. 1.] As will be evident, much of my reference to the German background is indebted to Professor Hatfield's extraordinarily illuminating work.) Nevertheless, the doctrines most objected to were very much the same for both groups: such matters as Original Sin, asceticism, the system of rewards and punishment, other-worldliness. Somewhat similarly, such first-generation Victorian agnostics as George Eliot, F. W. Newman, and J. A. Froude, prepared in part by eighteenth-century rationalism, rejected Christian theology because of an ethical revulsion against such doctrines of the "economy" of salvation as Original Sin, Reprobation, Baptismal Regeneration, Vicarious Atonement, and Eternal Punishment. Only later was their rejection confirmed by the Higher Criticism of the Bible and evolutionary theory. (See Murphy, p. 800-817.) Figures like Arnold and Pater, however, though their desertion of Christianity was nurtured in the same climate of opinion, appeal far more frankly to aesthetic criteria in rejecting Christian standards. Of course, the cultural climate, even when the sometimes amazing lag in the importation of Continental thought into England is considered, was by no means the same in Goethe's Weimar as in Arnold's Oxford and London. Above all, there hovers over much of Arnold's and Pater's work the intimidating specter of "Science," stern, unrelenting, equipped by Huxley and others with a superseding "morality" of its own. The solidifying orthodoxy of scientific naturalism now added its resounding "No" to the hope for any simple accommodation with historic, supernaturalist Christianity.

For all their sense of an obligation to jettison the metaphysical basis (of much of the inherited Christian view of the world, Arnold and Pater are nonetheless both "conservative" in important senses of the word, both extraordinarily aware of the richness of the total cultural tradition endangered by the collapse of orthodox belief, and both persistently concerned to retain certain traditional modes of feeling, thought, and expession even in the straitened intellectual conditions of modern life. It seems true to say not only that Arnold and Pater were [168/169] both "moralists" (as most readers would agree today), but also that they both, in different ways, conceived a certain "religious" mode of consciousness to be the crown of the perfected life. Here, their German predecessors, though few of them were simply "anti-Christian," were of less direct value to them, But inevitably Arnold and Pater looked back to the German Hellenists for terms in which to express the related cultural dilemma of their own age. Arnold, for example, is openly dissatisfied with the alternatives available to the Victorian mind. Puritanism, the Christianity sponsored by the Victorian middle class, had little sweetness and no light, while the new rationalism and utilitarianism employed reason, its own fierce light, without sweetness, without a consciousness of the richness of the human composite or the human past. In the German Hellenists Arnold, and Pater with him, found a deep concern with the ideal of totality and with the central tradition of the West in art and letters, combined with a frank rejection, or at least critical reexamination, of the Christian theology to which it had been historically attached. Arnold's and Pater's own relations with Christianity varied significantly through the years, and the precise relationship in their work between the classical deposit and "Christianity" fluctuates in important ways. However, three crucial themes provide much of the unity of each career and link the men indissolubly: the persistent merging of religious and aesthetic categories; the concern for the transcendence of human duality at the psychological and ethical levels; and culturally, the pitting of a "Greek" ideal of life, derived in large part from the German Hellenists, against a rejected "medieval" Christianity.

One purpose of the following chapters is to suggest the complexity and significance of Arnold's place in Pater's writings, especially in the dichotomy of Hebraism and Hellenism. The central motifs of Pater's intellectual development are not clear until it is seen that his long recognized dependence on Arnold — in a multitude of echoing phrases, themes, ideas, and attitudes — is part of a larger system of correspondences. Their relationship is a curious combination of open, implied, and perhaps concealed borrowing; and of modification and correction, often through amplification. Whether as a stimulus or sometimes as [169/170] an irritant, Arnold is surprisingly often at the base of Pater's most important statements concerning art, religion, and the problems of modern life. In effect, this study becomes an attempt to define a central theme of the Aesthetic Movement in late nineteenth-century England, in two of its chief figures. Inevitably, some of the unity of nineteenth-century culture is also revealed, as well as the process by which the aesthetic paganism of German thought from Winckelmann to Hegel and Heine is adapted generations later to altered circumstances. Certainly the Aesthetic Movement itself, if not of first-class stature intellectually, resembles the vast effort of German thought in being a serious and respectable attempt to provide fullness of life to a society increasingly aware, as Arnold put it, that the immense inherited "system of institutions, established facts, accredited dogmas, customs, rules," fails to correspond to the wants of modern life. The awakening of this "sense of want of correspondence between the forms of modern Europe and its spirit, between the new wine of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the old bottles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, or even of the sixteenth and seventeenth," says Arnold referring to Goethe, is "the awakening of the modern spirit" (CPW, III, 109). A hundred years of science, the Industrial Revolution, and a revitalized and triumphant rationalism had only made the problem of cultural integration the more pressing, though the hopes for success in that later venture were eventually and inevitably far less sanguine.

The decisive issues for both Arnold and Pater, as for the Germans, were the authority and viability of religion and religious experience, the spilt old wine of the past, in the modern synthesis, and the relation of religion to other aspects of life. That sustained critical effort entailed, as a result, a redefinition of human nature, the attempt to strike a new balance among the components of the human totality. The synthesis achieved by Arnold and Pater proved unstable for a number of reasons. Their varying responses to "ascetic," "medieval," otherworldly Christianity become a touchstone of their own development. The responses vary from a virtual rejection of Christianity in favor of a classical ideal to the positing of two Christianities, one life-destroying and illegitimate, the other life-bestowing and humane.

Last modified November 2000