Walter Pater, photograph Elliott & Fry, 1890s
4 August 1839|
|Died||30 July 1894
|Resting place||Holywell Cemetery|
|Occupation||Academic, essayist, writer|
|Alma mater||The Queen’s College, Oxford|
|Genre||Essay, art criticism, literary criticism, literary fiction|
|Notable works||The Renaissance (1873), Marius the Epicurean (1885)|
|Notable awards||Honorary LL.D, University of Glasgow (1894)|
The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation.
With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch.
To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes or fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought.
What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.
Such discussions help us very little to enjoy what has been well done in art or poetry, to discriminate between what is more and what is less excellent in them, or to use words like beauty, excellence, art, poetry, with a more precise meaning than they would otherwise have.
In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes two persons, things, situations, seem alike.
The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, in many things, great rather by what it designed then by what it achieved.
The various forms of intellectual activity which together make up the culture of an age, move for the most part from different starting-points, and by unconnected roads.
And the fifteenth century was an impassioned age, so ardent and serious in its pursuit of art that it consecrated everything with which art had to ad as a religious object.
One of the most beautiful passages of Rousseau is that in the sixth book of Confessions, where he describes the awakening in him of the literary sense. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most.
A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to to be seen in them by the finest senses?
Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening.
Great passions may give us a quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which comes naturally to many of us.
Philosophical theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us.
Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without.
Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.
At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action.
Many attempts have been made by writers on art and poetry to define beauty in the abstract, to express it in the most general terms, to find some universal formula for it.
A very intimate sense of the expressiveness of outward things, which ponders, listens, penetrates, where the earlier, less developed consciousness passed lightly by, is an important element in the general temper of our modern poetry.
No account of the Renaissance can be complete without some notice of the attempt made by certain Italian scholars of the fifteenth century to reconcile Christianity with the religion of ancient Greece.
That sense of a life in natural objects, which in most poetry is but a rhetorical artifice, was, then, in Wordsworth the assertion of what was for him almost literal fact.
For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake.
To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.