The Sensible Spirit: Walter Pater and the Modernist Paradigm

The Sensible Spirit: Walter Pater and the Modernist Paradigm

The Sensible Spirit: Walter Pater and the Modernist Paradigm

The Sensible Spirit: Walter Pater and the Modernist Paradigm

Excerpt

Walter Pater was one of the great intellectual synthesizers of the nineteenth century. With a voracious appetite for contemporary thought he read widely in the two dominant philosophic traditions of his time--British empiricism and German idealism--and he absorbed in one form or another many of the cultural and intellectual currents of the last half of the century. Consequently his texts provide an excellent cross section of his age. But in addition to being a man of his time, Pater had a taste for avant-garde thinking that made him very influential for generations to come. The Pre-Raphaelites, the aesthetes of the 1890s, and many of the early Modernist writers were profoundly affected by Pater's synthetic vision. In his Autobiographies Yeats said of himself and his fellow writers of the nineties, "We looked consciously to Pater for our philosophy." Yeats's comment acknowledges an important role Pater played, not only for Yeats and his friends in the nineties but for Modernist writers generally; it is a role that has not yet been adequately understood or articulated.

Most of the available scholarship on Pater and the Modernists consists of traditional influence studies, including my own essays on Pater and Yeats. These studies have identified a number of works by Mod-

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