ewman's claims upon Pater's attention were multiple and persistent — and, especially toward the end of Pater's career, they struck close to the center of a new focus in the Paterian view of life. Newman was always a master of "style," both its definer and its practitioner. In the first of these roles, Newman had played a part in the lineage of modem formalist theory larger than is usually guessed at. (Newman's overlooked but important place in the critical tradition has been stressed recently by Norman Friedman: see Introduction, n. 8.) As practitioner, Newman from the first was the "original religious genius" who advocated a cause "impossible" to the passing stage of culture but who had somehow revealed, to "the modern aspirant to perfect culture," "the inmost delicacies of his own life, the same yet different." Similarly, near the list Newman's special [338/339] distinction was that he "has dealt with all the perturbing influences of out century in a manner as classical, as idiomatic, as easy and elegant, as Steele's." Perhaps here is the clue to the strange remoteness that one ultimately feels between these two eminent Oxonians, united by definable qualities of personality and of humanist aspiration, yet divided by two generations of cultural erosion and a world of late-nineteenth-century cultural assumptions. Pater's constant references to Newman, explicit and implicit, have a ghostly, parodic quality; Newman the man and the thinker is invoked — "the same yet different" — to buttress a structure he would have judged dangerously insubstantial.
Newman was, secondly, associated with an elitism essential to the Paterian estimate of things. Again, Newman's almost Calvinistic emphasis on the painful text of the few and the many is easily transformed, in the convolutions of Pater's prose, into a defense of a select community of "elite souls" who, blessed with a special receptive sensibility, draw on the cultural capital of the West yet remain consciously disengaged from the enormous energy and faith which produced it. What I have referred to as Pater's snobbishness is not, to be sure, mere artiness or posing. It is in fact an integral and coherent version of humanism, mindful of tradition, the intellectual urgencies of the present, and the needs of "special" souls. It was never proffered as an energizing creed for the many, for society at large, or as a substitute for traditional beliefs. Less a countertradition than a complement, Pater's humanism was the imaginatively reconstructed residue of the Christian-classical synthesis after the science and skepticism of the century had taken their toll. It was in no sense a positive alternative, based on that science and skepticism, after the fashion of the new scientific humanism. The "great structure" of life, a vision of which Pater caught in Newman's Oxford humanism, was not disassembled, reduced, and reconstructed according to new blueprints, as in T. H. Huxley. Instead, there is a tastefully simplified renovation of the old edifice, its emotional and imaginative facade and superstructure still intact, although the metaphysical substructure had in fact been systematically if unobtrusively removed. For Pater's delicately framed "temperament" was able to take into its architectural pattern large amounts of what was central in Newman, sometimes almost verbatim, and systematically [340/341] change its import, its focus, its spiritual exigency. The Paterian "House Beautiful," or Marius' "house of thought," was lodged in the sands of special temperament, itself the unique product of a passing stage of culture. It now lies in ruins.
Perhaps Newman and Pater coincided most centrally in suggesting the continuity and complex unity of European culture. Newman defended, with a lucidity and assurance and largeness of view not available to a later generation, a comprehensive tradition in the Western educational structure at once theological, literary, and social — of which Pater also felt himself the continuator and defender. The two men apprehended this central theological-literary tradition (which was precisely the object of attack for the new secularist advocates of a scientific education) from different perspectives. From "Winckelmann" to Marius, the theological component was steadily deepened and strengthened, even if the tradition remained for Pater primarily secular, a religiously colored "Commonwealth" of elite spirits, the saints and heroes and martyrs of taste and culture.
The paradoxes inherent in this perplexing relationship are abundant enough. Despite a temperamental affinity and a gradual narrowing of the explicit distance between them, Newman and Pater remain divided by divergences of basic commitment. Even the temperaments are easily distinguishable. For all the awesome subtlety of intellect and of psychological insight in Newman, and the personal depths that remained forever out of sight, there was a fundamental simplicity and openness of aspect in his writings. In Pater, by contrast, there is a certain evasiveness and finicalness, both of style and thought, forbidding commitment, which unquestionably reflect the man. Certainly Newman, had he turned his attention to Pater's works, would not have approved. He might not even have understood. What would be have made, for example, of Marius' interest in the idea that morals are simply "one mode of comeliness in things," or of Pater's near-identification of the saint and "the Cyrenaic lover of beauty" (ME, 11, 4, 20) ? In Discourse VIII of the Idea of a University, which Pater knew well, Newman had brilliantly portrayed the "religion ... of imagination and sentiment," which, since for it "virtue is only one kind of beauty," substitutes "a moral sense or taste for conscience in the true meaning of the word" [341/342] (Idea, pp. 170 ff.). Many would say this description applied obviously enough to Pater (especially the best-known Pater of the Renaissance) and declare the passage prophetic — as, for example, "A Form of Infidelity of the Day" neatly states the agnostic position and strategy before they were formally named or enunciated. But Newman's examples in Discourse VIII, characteristically, are from Gibbon and Shaftesbury, and he is attacking a form of eighteenth-century benevolence and rationalism. Pater's case — especially in the writings most influenced by Newman, Marius, "Style," Plato and Platonism, and the Guardian essays — seems significantly different. Pater did not conceive himself as standing ab extra to Christianity, as did the inheritors of eighteenth-century Deism, the new secularists and rationalists: Leslie Stephen, John Morley, T. H. Huxley. Instead, in Pater the older Oxford theological humanism — classically summed up by Newman just after its decisive disappearance — emerges in the late state of deliquescence. Pater's bloodless aestheticism is a pale reflection of the central European and English tradition that had united intellectual refinement with devoutness of spirit. (One thinks of the ghostly, immobile classical figures in the paintings and murals of Pater's contemporary, Puvis de Chavannes.)
In this limited but decisive sense Newman is, in Eliot's words, "the solitary figure . . . in the background" for both Arnold and Pater. Speaking of Arnold, Eliot elsewhere says: "All his writing in the kind of Literature and Dogma seems to me a valiant attempt to dodge the issue, to mediate between Newman and Huxley" (pp. 105-106). In his review of Pater's Renaissance, John Morley had, with considerable prescience and from his own rationalist point of view, suggested a similar dialectical line of inheritance, though he could not define the kind of transvaluation involved. He welcomed Pater's aestheticism as being divorced from theology and yet meaningfully related to the Oxford Movement:
this more recent pagan movement is one more wave of the great current of reactionary force which the Oxford movement first released. It is infinitely less powerful, among other reasons because it only appeals to persons with [342/343] some culture, but it is equally a protest against the mechanical and graceless formalism of the modem era, equally an attempt to find a substitute for a narrow popular creed in a return upon the older manifestations of the human spirit, and equally a craving for the infusion of something harmonious and beautiful about the bare lines of daily living. Since the first powerful attempt to revive a gracious spirituality in the country by a renovation of sacramentalisim, science his come.... here is Mr. Pater courageously saying that die love of art for art's sake has most of the time wisdom that makes life full. The fact that such a saying is possible in the mouth of an able and shrewd-witted man of wide culture and knowledge, and that a serious writer should thus raise aesthetic interest to the throne lately filled by religion, only shows how void the old theologies have become. [Review of Studies in the History of the Renaissance, p. 476.]
Both Arnold and Pater had derived the rationale and the tonality for their ideal of full consciousness (including a religious "sense") from the older Oxford, and above all from such works of Newman's as the Idea of a University and the Apologia, but in response to the challenge of T. H. Huxley and company they were forced to assert it in increasingly subphilosophical forms, contentless, as "states of mind" detached from any metaphysical substance. The European past — mind, imagination, devotion — was to be somehow preserved for the future, apart from belief, through refinement of taste and the pursuit of a selfregarding "culture." This "style" of life and consciousness seemed able, in carefully controlled circumstances, to persist for a time in the absence of the ballast which, historically and intellectually, had given balance and stability to that kind of apprehension. The line from Newman to some of the untidy private lives of the nineties of which Eliot speaks is an intelligible and swift descent. That Newman's thought has proved renewable in other ways — in European existentialism and personalism and in modem theological studies — is another story.
Newman's thought and personality provided a continuous touchstone for Arnold's developing view of what would remain most essential for man as science and democracy swept away the securities and institutions of the past. Similarly, Newman emerges as a strikingly central figure in the later development of Pater's thought, in effect a [343/344] guide pointing beyond the more destructive and skeptical influences that had earlier set the limits of Pater's range of vision, Both Arnold and Pater were essentially mediators, honest brokers between past and future. The past was a set of human values with which they identified their efforts but whose metaphysical basis they could not finally accept; the future was a numbing visita of poetryless mechanism and (as Arnold might have said) the "Americanization" of the human personality. Caught as they were between two colliding worlds of value, they remain remarkably representative modern men, since the pulls and counterpulls of their careers remain the unresolved, perhaps unresolvable, tensions in the humanist consciousness even a, century later. Arnold and Pater are valuable to us because, among other reasons, they were among the first to analyze the conditions of an adequate modern humanism, and to pay in their own lives the full price of such an attempt. If their "great critical effort" was finally inconclusive, it is not surprising that the precise degree and kind of transformation of value which their reliance on Newman involved still baffle our attempts at understanding. Perhaps the deepest paradox here is the finality with which these two men, both conscious continuators of the older Oxford humanism, in effect assisted in eliminating from the educational and cultural enterprise the inner spirit of the tradition that Newman classically represented. The breakdown of the spiritual center of the European tradition is in retrospect a rapid, and, to men of many points of view, an appalling sight. What this signifies as to the viability of a "Christian humanism" in the West in our time cannot even today be fully grasped.
Last modified 29 August 2007