- Greek Studies and Pater’s Delayed Meaning
GREEK STUDIES, brought out by Charles Lancelot Shadwell in January 1895, was the first of Pater’s posthumous publications. Quickly assembled, edited and printed within six months of Pater’s death, this volume collects essays that had appeared over the course of nearly twenty years, transferring them from periodical to book form and projecting their views of ancient Greece into the altered cultural landscape of the 1890s. These new material and historical contexts laid the essays open to new readings and interpretations. The early reception of Greek Studies therefore represents a particularly important episode in the construction of Pater that has come down to us in the twenty-first century, since the essays became the territory over which his colleagues and critics, former allies and enemies, fought to fix his reputation and to establish the meaning and value of Pater’s criticism.
Shadwell, an Oxford colleague and future Provost of Oriel College, had been a pupil and then a close friend of Pater for years; he is said to have been the inspiration behind Pater’s description of the transparent temperament in “Diaphaneitè”; besides, he is the dedicatee of The Renaissance and the author of a partial translation of Dante’s Purgatorio (1892) for which Pater wrote an introductory essay. As Pater’s literary executor, Shadwell was now in charge of Pater’s papers, which included several fragments of essays and fiction in various degrees of finish. We know very little of how he went about the delicate process of assembling and publishing these documents because Pater’s early biographers, A. C. Benson and Thomas Wright, paid little or no attention to this phase.1 Shadwell’s first act as literary executor was to assemble a series of articles on Greek subjects that Pater had published at several stages of his career, issuing them in the form of one volume, eventually included with no changes in the complete Library Edition in 1910. After Greek Studies, readers of Pater were given his essay on Pascal, [End Page 170] nearly finished at the time of Pater’s death, in the Contemporary Review in February 1895. This was quickly followed in October 1895 by Miscellaneous Studies, another collection of reissued published pieces put together by Shadwell, to which the editor added the early unpublished essay “Diaphaneitè”; and then, in October 1896, by Gaston de Latour, the novel that Pater had started serialising but decided to interrupt before completion, available for the first time in book form and also edited by Shadwell. The posthumous gathering of Pater’s uncollected essays in volume form was completed by the privately printed Essays from the Guardian, issued by Thomas B. Mosher in 1897.
Among these posthumous publications, Greek Studies occupies a particularly important place. While Shadwell admitted to the lack of a real “unifying principle” in Miscellaneous Studies, he presented Greek Studies as close to Pater’s intention both in shape and organisation.2 As he noted in his preface to that volume, Pater had intended to gather his essays on Dionysus and Demeter in book form in the late 1870s. That early collection, provisionally entitled Dionysus and Other Studies, had already been set up in print when in November 1878 Pater suddenly wrote to Macmillan instructing him to break up the type. In that letter Pater lamented the “many inadequacies” that he came across on revising the proofs and concluded that “it would be a mistake to publish the essays in their present form; some day they may take a better and more complete form.”3 Immediately after Pater’s death, Shadwell set about to resurrect this aborted project, working on those very proofs corrected and then discarded by Pater, which Shadwell, as he informs his readers, used as copy-text for his posthumous edition. In his preface to Greek Studies, Shadwell is eager to emphasise the notion of fidelity. Redeploying the imagery of transparency that Pater had associated with him many years earlier, he presents his role as that of executor rather than editor in an attempt to erase the trace of his own intervention and thus diminish the distance between reader and author. In actual...