Arnold and Pater
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176 ] Arnold and Pater1 Although Pater is as appropriate to the ’seventies as to the ’eighties, because of the appearance of Studies in the History of the Renaissance in 1873, I have chosen to discuss him in this volume2 * because of the date 1885, the middle of the decade, which marks the publication of Marius the Epicurean.3 The first may certainly be counted the more “influential” book; but Marius illustrates another, but related aspect of Pater’s work. His writing of course extended well into the ’nineties; but I doubt whether anyone would consider the later books and essays of anything like the importance, in social history or in literary history, of the two I have mentioned. The purpose of the present paper is to indicate a direction from Arnold, through Pater, to the ’nineties, with, of course, the solitary figure of Newman in the background. It is necessary first of all to estimate the aesthetic and religious views of Arnold: in each of which, to borrow his own phrase against him, there is an element of literature and an element of dogma.4 As Mr. J. M. Robertson has well pointed out in his Modern Humanists Reconsidered, Arnold had little gift for consistency or for definition.5 Nor had he the power of connected reasoning at any length: his flights are either short flights or circular flights. Nothing in his prose work, therefore, will stand very close analysis, and we may well feel that the positive content of many words is very small. That Culture and Conduct are the first things, we are told; but what Culture and Conduct are, I feel that I know less well on every reading. Yet Arnold does still hold us, at least with Culture and Anarchy and Friendship’s Garland.6 To my generation, I am sure, he was a more sympathetic prose writer than Carlyle or Ruskin;7 yet he holds his position and achieves his effects exactly on the same plane, by the power of his rhetoric and by representing a point of view which is particular though it cannot be wholly defined. But the revival of interest in Arnold in our time – and I believe he was more admired and read not only than Carlyle and Ruskin, but than Pater – is a very different thing from the influence he exerted in his own time. We go to him for refreshment and for the companionship of a kindred point of view to our own, but not as disciples. And therefore it is the two books I have mentioned that are most readable. Even the Essays in Criticism cannot [ 177 Arnold and Pater be read very often; Literature and Dogma, God and the Bible, and Last Essays on Church and Religion, have served their turn and can hardly be read through.8 In these books he attempts something which must be austerely impersonal; in them reasoning power matters, and it fails him; furthermore, we have now our modern solvers of the same problem Arnold there set himself, and they, or some of them, are more accomplished and ingenious in this sort of rationalizing than Arnold was. Accordingly, and this is my first point, his Culture survives better than his Conduct, because it can better survive vagueness of definition. But both Culture and Conduct were important for his own time. Culture9† has three aspects, according as we look at it in Culture and Anarchy, in Essays in Criticism, or in the abstract. It is in the first of these two books that Culture shows to best advantage. And the reason is clear:10† Culture there stands out against a background to which it is contrasted, a background of definite11† items of ignorance, vulgarity and prejudice. As an invective against the crudities of the industrialism of his time, the book is perfect of its kind. Compared with Carlyle, it looks like clear thinking, andis certainly clearer expression;and comparedwith Arnold, Ruskin often appears long-winded and peevish.12 Arnold taught English expository and critical prose a restraint and urbanity it needed. And hardly, in this book, do we question the meaning of Culture; for the good reason that we do not need to. Even when we read that Culture “is a study of perfection,”13 we do not at that point raise an eyebrow to admire how much Culture appears to have arrogated from Religion. For we have shortly before been hearing something about “the will of God,” or of a joint firm...