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CHAPTER FOUR The House Beautiful & the Cathedral Congruous again with the popularity of the builders of Amiens, of their motives, is the wealth, the freedom and abundance, of popular, almost secular, teaching ... the Bible treated as a book about men and women, and other persons equally real, but blent with lessons, with the liveliest observations, on the lives of men as they were then and now, what they do, and how they do it, or did it then, and on the doings of nature which so greatly influence what man does. Pater, "Notre-Dame d'Amiens" This page intentionally left blank PATER's DISCUSSION OF prose in his essay "Style" bears the proprietary impress of one who is talking about his own literary medium. Despite the sometimes defensive tone, the evangelical fervor underlying the exposition communicates Pater's faith in his own contribution to building the House Beautiful. For Pater, prose seems the natural medium to convey modernity, modernity as characterized by complexity and "naturalism"-which are equivalent to relevatism. That imaginative prose should be the special and opportune art of the modern world results from two important facts about the latter: first, the chaotic variety and complexity of its interests, making the intellectual issue, the really master currents of the present time incalculable-a condition of mind little susceptible of the restraint proper to verse form, so that the most characteristic verse of the nineteenth century has been lawless verse; and secondly, an all-pervading naturalism , a curiosity about everything whatever as it really is, involving a certain humility of attitude, cognate to what must, after all, be the less ambitious form of literature. And prose thus asserting itself as the special and privileged artistic faculty of the present day, will be, however critics may try to narrow its scope, as varied in its excellence as humanity itself reflecting on the facts of its latest experience-an instrument of many stops, meditative, observant, descriptive, eloquent, analytic, plaintive, fervid. Its beauties will not be exclusively "pedestrian": it will exert, in due measure, all the varied charms of poetry, down to the rhythm which, as in Cicero, or Michelet, or 105 Walter Pater Newman, at their best, gives its musical value to every syllable.l Throughout his work Pater demonstrates an impressive consistency of thought by repetition of ideas or of metaphors. It may be true that Pater's range of ideas is quite limited.2 If so, however, his manipulation of materials into a harmonious whole effectively makes the points he desires to make. Thus the metaphor of music in Pater's discussion of prose. As "an instrument of many stops," prose, like the organ, can deliver the whole orchestration of complexity and can best interpret a period like the Renaissance, for example. And the "due measure" of its charms suggests the imaginative powers of the various forms prose can take. Likewise, of course, prose serves the humanistic Pater by being the most effective medium for description of things as they are-in their Romantic grotesquerie or in their pristine physical charm. Prose, at least post-Darwinian prose, realizes natural description better than poetry for the skillful nineteenth-century practitioner.3 For Pater, as critic and as creator, the combination of descriptive powers by which the verbal artifact can be constructed, and complexity, which the verbal artifact will manifest, are the paramount virtues of the prose medium. Both the critical and the creative functions of the prose writer work towards realizing the humanist ideal; for Pater, the ideal means a continuing attempt to achieve synthesis.4 The synthesis usually consists of combining existing artifacts, verbal and otherwise, into new artifacts-a constant reworking of different combinations with the purpose of renewal. "Whatever has moved man" continues to move him in Pater's esthetic, 106 The House Beautiful but the words may be arranged differently. Criticism and fiction, then, serve the function of revitalizing memory. The relation of the apprehender to the verbal artifact becomes almost a sacramental one, for the associative nature of Pater's work forces the reader to bring his own body of knowledge and experience decisively into play. The movement towards oneness of apprehender and artifact may itself result in synthesis, but the synthesis gives way to a new synthesis as the elements being combined change under the impact of time. Nonetheless, the momentary achievement of synthesis paradoxically defeats time-for a moment. One way of measuring success in life, according to the "Conclusion " to The Renaissance) is...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813162577
Related ISBN
9780813151854
MARC Record
OCLC
644137961
Pages
200
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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