lmost simultaneously with his impressive defense of the Greek ideal, Pater was, between 1876 and 1883, continuing that other series of statements concerning the Middle Ages and Christianity, in their relations to the Hellenic spirt and to modern literature, which had so occupied him in the essays of the Renaissance volume. As if with the other hemisphere of his brain and, in retrospect, as remote preparation for Marius, Pater again and again attempts, inconsistently and uncomfortably, to come to terms with the medieval inheritance of the modern world. The essay "Romanticism" (November 1876; later as Postscript to Appreciations, 1889) is illustrative. The subject is the definition of classicism and romanticism. Anticipating twentieth-century notions, Pater separates the view of romanticism and classicism as period concepts from the view that the romantic and classical spirits are two tendencies at work, in varying proportions, at all times (Appreciations, pp. 247, 257). He does not deny that temperament has a role in the generation of the romantic spirit and that there are born romanticists and born classicists (Appreciations, pp. 249, 257). Neither does he deny that romanticism in the limited sense is the product of "special epochs" (Appreciations, p. 250). For example, one great period, that [256/257] of German romanticism (Pater mentions Goethe and Tieck), is pictured as "listening in rapt inaction to the melodious, fascinating voices of the Middle Age," that other "romantic" age (Appreciations, p. 249). The problem becomes that of determining whether, as many German aestheticians had claimed, the Middle Ages are the special fount of the romantic spirit.
The answer is a carefully qualified affirmative. Pater again stresses the romantic element in Greek literature (Appreciations, pp. 258-259), an idea he had used in the Greek studies and much earlier in "Winckelmann" to challenge the conventional view of the Middle Ages as the unique spiritual matrix of the romantic spirit in art and literature, Pater must, however, account for Dante and for Provençal love poetry. As he had done in the Morris review of 1868, Pater acknowledges that the "overcharged" spirituality of the Middle Ages provided the climate in which the intensities of the courtly love tradition flourished; but since romanticism crops up again and again in literary and spiritual history, [257/258] he undercuts his concession by making the Middle Ages "only in illustration," even if the supreme illustration, of the romantic spirit. He puts his argument this way: "The essential elements, then, of the romantic spirit are curiosity and the love of beauty; and it is only as an illustration of these qualities, that it seeks the Middle Age, because, in the overcharged atmosphere of the Middle Age, there are unworked sources of romantic effect, of a strange beauty, to be won, by strong imagination, out of things unlikely or remote" (Appreciations, p. 248). However, some ambiguity results from the following account of medieval "romanticism":
Outbreaks of this spirit . . . come naturally with particular periods — times, when, in men's approaches towards art and poetry, curiosity may be noticed to take the lead, when men come to art and poetry, with a deep thirst for intellectual excitement, after a long ennui, or in reaction against the strain of outward, practical things: in the later Middle Age, for instance; so that medieval poetry, centering in Dante, is often opposed to Greek and Roman poetry, as romantic poetry to the classical. (Appreciations, p. 250)
Romanticism is thus an "outbreak," "a reaction" of intellect against ennui, presumably the ennui induced by medieval asceticism and excessive spirituality. Moreover, romanticism in "its true signification" comes only with the literature of Provence, in which the desire for beauty and sweetness is mingled with the "grotesque" and the almost "insane": this is "a wholly new species of poetry, in which the Renaissance may be said to begin" (Appreciations, pp. 205-51). Pater's essay comes close to being an elaborate evasion of the question of the relation of romanticism to medieval spirituality; it wavers between his two earlier views — the first, that the Renaissance and the modern spirit, even in the Middle Ages, are simply the antagonists of the medieval spirit, or rather the insurrectionary outcropping of the suppressed Hellenic ideal; the second, that the unnatural rigors and intensities of the medieval religious ideal provided precisely the atmosphere in which an antinomian literature of the grotesque and the bizarre could flourish.
In 1877 Pater once again assayed the difficult relation of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, in revising and expanding "Aucassin and Nicolette" for its inclusion as "Two Early French Stories" in the second [258/259] edition of The Renaissance. The spirit of the additions is unexpectedly conciliatory toward Christianity: the principle on which Pater is operating is that of "the harmony of human interests." He develops the parallel between the legend of Tarmhäuser and the story of Abelard:
When Abelard died, like Tannhäuser, he was on his way to Rome. What might have happened had he reached his journey's end is uncertain; and it is in this uncertain twilight that his relation to the general beliefs of his age has always remained. In this, as in other things, he prefigures the character of the Renaissance, that movement in which, in various ways, the human mind wins for itself a new kingdom of feeling and sensation and thought, not opposed to but only beyond and independent of the spiritual system then actually realised. The opposition into which Abelard is thrown, which gives its colour to his career, which breaks his soul to pieces, is a no less subtle opposition than that between the merely professional, official, hireling ministers of that system, with their ignorant worship of system for its own sake, and the true child of light, the humanist, with reason and heart and senses quick, while theirs were almost dead. He reaches out towards, he attains, modes of ideal living, beyond the prescribed limits of that system, though in essential germ, it may be, contained within it. As always happens, the adherents of the poorer and narrower culture had no sympathy with, because no understanding of, a culture richer and more ample than their own. After the discovery of wheat they would still live upon acorns . . . and would hear of no service to the higher needs of humanity with instruments not of their forging. [Ren-3, pp. 6-7]
This is a new Pater and a new solution to one of the most persistent problems of his intellectual career. The spirit of conciliation is evident in the first statement that the "new kingdom" won by the Renaissance is "not opposed to, but only beyond and independent of," the medieval religious system. Pater then makes the unprecedented announcement of the possibility that this new humanism of reason, heart, and senses may have been "contained in essential germ" within the medieval system itself. The only culprits now are the ignorant, inflexible priests.
Pater ends his considerably expanded essay by a significant qualification of that "sinister claim for liberty of heart and thought" which in 1873 he saw in the Renaissance within the Middle Ages: [259/260]
But in the House Beautiful the saints too have their place; and the student of the Renaissance has this advantage over the student of the emancipation of the human mind in the Reformation, or the French Revolution, that in tracing the footsteps of humanity to higher levels, he is not beset at every turn by the inflexibilities and antagonisms of some well-recognised controversy, with rigidly defined opposites, exhausting the intelligence and limiting one's sympathies. The opposition of the professional defenders of a mere system to that more sincere and generous play of the forces of human mind and character, which I have noted as the secret of Abelard's struggle, is indeed always powerful. But the incompatibility with one mother of souls really "fair" is not essential; and within the enchanted region of the Renaissance, one needs not be forever on one's guard. Here there are no fixed parties, no exclusions: all breathes of that unity of culture in which "whatsoever things are comely" are reconciled, for the elevation and adorning of our spirits. [Ren-3, pp. 26-27]
Presumably just because they exist in the subintellectual atmosphere of a "House" exclusively furnished with what is comely and thus have no part in doctrinal disputes such as marked the Reformation and the French Revolution, the most centrally representative figures of the Renaissance are aloof from "disputations" and "the spirit of controversy." Leonardo da Vinci, "with his kindred, live in a land where controversy has no breathing-place, and refuse to be classified." Pater acknowledges that in the antinomian literature of which Aucassin and Nicolette is a type, "the note of defiance, of the opposition of one system to another, is sometimes harsh"; but he begs leave to end with a morsel from the "saintly" tale of the friends Amis and Amile, "in which the harmony of human interests is still entire" (Ren-3, p. 27).
I think it evident that here, in 1877, Pater's career is at a critical dividing point. The mood of "Romanticism" (1876) had been one of reconcilement: he had asserted that, although classical and romantic have sometimes divided people of taste into opposing camps, in the House Beautiful "these oppositions cease" (Appr., p. 241). With the additions of 1877, Pater has at last achieved a synthetic viewpoint sufficiently broad to include even the rigors of medieval Christianity, or at least "the saints," within that "harmony of human interests" [260/261] which is the passkey to the House Beautiful. It can hardly be doubted that this intensified mood of reconciliation and harmony and the new welcome extended to Christianity reflect Pater's new religious interests in the later seventies. Never again does Pater produce the direct and unsubtle attacks on historic Christianity which marked his critical efforts as a young man. The central theme of Pater's writing, from this point until the appearance of Marius, is "unity of culture" and unity of personality in a subintellectual. tradition of "fair souls" who live a life of "pure perception" analogous to the fusion of form and matter in a work of art. The saints are now admitted to this suddenly sunnier and totally inclusive structure of the House Beautiful because Christianity now proves adaptable to a culture of total perception by reason of its sacramentalism, its "aesthetic worship."
The most complete statement of Pater's aesthetics occurs in "The School of Giorgione" (October 1877), in which he insists on "the sensuous element in art": "art addresses not pure sense, still less the pure intellect, but the 'imaginative reason' through the senses" (Ren-3, p. 130). The famous statement, 'All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,' is explained as meaning that music alone achieves the goal of obliterating the distinction between matter and form:
Art . . . is thus always striving to be independent of the mere intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of its responsibilities to its subject or material; the ideal examples of poetry and painting being those in which the constituent elements of the composition are so welded together, that the material or subject no longer strikes the intellect only; nor the form, the eye or the ear only; but form and matter, in their union or 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]
The unity of the art work thus corresponds to a complex faculty belonging to both artist and perceiver. The imaginative reason becomes the special instrument for the life of "pure perception," which is the individual's mode of participation in that larger "unity of culture" [261/262] into which the child of light inserts himself. The phrase "imaginative reason" is of course Arnold's, and if Pater did not use it in precisely Arnold's sense, it properly stood for Pater's version of the unity of consciousness and the modes of ideal living which had borrowed so heavily from Arnold. [Germain d'Hangest (Walter Pater: l'Homme et l'Oeavre, I, 350n24) sees the origin of the phrase in Arnold, but suggestively argues that the meaning is derived from Kant's "aesthetic judgment." ]
Florian Deleal, the autobiographical hero of "The Child in the House" (August 1878), obviously a prototype of Marius, lives this life of pure perception with the aid of the imaginative reason. Pater notes the "predominance in his interests, of beautiful physical things, a kind of tyranny of the senses over him," and the fact that he placed little value on abstract thought and much on "its sensible vehicle or occasion" (MS, p. 186). The portrait of Florian is especially significant because it contains a statement of the grounds for the new admissibility of Christianity into the unity of culture. Florian "remembered gratefully how the Christian religion, hardly less than the religion of the ancient Greeks, translating so much of its spiritual verity into things that may be seen, condescends in part to sanction this infirmity, if so it be, of our human existence, wherein the world of sense is so much with us" (MS, p. 186). Pater also comments that "religious sentiment, that system of Biblical ideas in which he had been brought up, presented itself to him as a thing that might soften and dignify, and light up as with a 'lively hope,' a melancholy already deeply settled in him" (MS, pp. 192-193). This suggests Arnold's definition of religion in Literature and Dogma as "ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by feeling" (LD, p. 18) and, even more, the statement in "Marcus Aurelius" (1863) that Christianity, in contrast to the "constraint and melancholy" of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, "has lighted up morality"" (CPW, III, 134). This sensate religion is explained further in the study of Rossetti in 1883, when Pater was deep in the composition of Marius. There Christian sacramentalism, "aesthetic worship," is seen as canceling the distinction between spirit and matter, obviously on an analogy with the fusion of matter and form in art:
Spirit and matter, indeed, have been for the most part opposed, with a false contrast or antagonism by schoolmen, whose artificial creation those abstractions [262/263] really are. In our actual concrete experience, the two trains of phenomena which the words matter and spirit do but roughly distinguish, play inextricably into each other. Practically, the church of the Middle Age by its aesthetic worship, its sacramentalism, its real faith in the resurrection of the flesh, had set itself against that Manichean opposition of spirit and matter, and its results in men's way of taking life; and in this, Dante is the central representative of its spirit. (Appreciations, p. 212)
By about 1880, then, the Christian liturgy, to which Pater was so notoriously attached in private life, had become as successful an agent as Greek religion in providing man with in all-inclusive unity of consciousness and sympathy, above the antagonisms of spirit and matter and of fixed positions.
Last modified 29 August 2007