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CHAPTER TWO The Critic of Form To discriminate schools, or art, of literature , is, of course, part of the obvious business of literary criticism: but, in the work of literary production, it is easy to be overmuch occupied concerning them. For, in truth, the legitimate contention is, not of one age or school of literary art against another, but of all successive schools alike, against the stupidity which is dead to the substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to the form. Pater, Appreciations This page intentionally left blank PATER's CLAIM TO a place among the greatest of modern lies in his particular understanding of form. It is hard to think of Pater as a formal critic-we are too beset by the genial essayist of many a country bibliophile's devotion, by the dreamy evocateur of literary anthologies , or by the deviant and unproductive recluse of efficient histories of criticism. But for the twentieth century, Pater may well be the most relevant of the Victorian critics. We can understand him. His concerns are our concerns. His approach to art is very much our approach and is applicable to art forms (cinema, for example) that did not exist in Pater's own time. It takes no great analytic ability to see Pater as a synthesist, his predominant role as a historian of culture. Yet the synthesizing which Pater does goes repeatedly unnoticed, ignored in weary discussion about prose cadences. (Not that Pater's prose lacks cadence. Cadence abounds. But, from Saintsbury to the present, cadence has been the stopping point.) Even in his most comprehensive attempts to bring before his reader's mental eye the complexities of a period-The Renaissance , Marius the Epicurean, Gaston de Latour-Pater directs our attention beyond the particulars of the cultural synthesis and to their realization in the individual man, in the image of the human form. In "Aesthetic Poetry," the other part of the essay from which the "Conclusion" to The Renaissance is taken and one of his most explicit statements of esthetic principles , Pater describes the medieval religious pas-Sion: In the chateau, the reign of revede set in. The devotion of the cloister knew that mood thor- • Walter Pater oughly, and had sounded all its stops. For the object of this devotion was absent or veiled, not limited to one supreme plastic form like Zeus at Olympia or Athena in the Acropolis, but distracted , as in a fever dream, into a thousand symbols and reflections. But then, the Church, that new Sibyl, had a thousand secrets to make the absent near. Into this kingdom of reverie, and with it into a paradise of ambitious refinements, the earthly love enters, and becomes a prolonged somnambulism. Of religion it learns the art of directing towards an unseen object sentiments whose natural direction is towards objects of sense. Hence a love defined by the absence of the beloved, choosing to be without hope, protesting against all lower uses of love, barren, extravagant, antinomian. It is the love which is incompatible with marriage, for the chevalier who never comes, of the serf for the chatelaine, of the rose for the nightingale, of Rudel for the Lady of Tripoli. Another element of extravagance came in with the feudal spirit: Proven~al love is full of the very forms of vassalage. To be the servant of love, to have offended, to taste the subtle luxury of chastisement , of reconciliation-the religious spirit, too, knows that, and meets just there, as in Rousseau, the delicacies of the earthly love. Here, under this strange complex of conditions, as in some medicated air, exotic flowers of sentiment expand, among people of .a remote and unaccustomed beauty, somnambulistic, frail, androgynous, the light almost shining through them. Surely, such loves were too fragile and adventurous to last more than a moment.l Like much of Pater, tpe p~ssage is best known for the wrong reasons-:-the fawiliar ,part l.S the reference to The Critic of Form "frail, androgynous" people, usually taken, probably rightly, as an indication of Pater's own sexual preference . The paragraph that follows, however, tends to undercut what has gone before: That monastic religion of the Middle Age was, in fact, in many of its bearings, like a beautiful disease or disorder of the sense: and a religion which is a disorder of the senses must always be subject to illusions. Reverie, illusion, delirium: they are the three stages of a fatal descent both in the...


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