The Aesthetic of Walter Pater

The Aesthetic of Walter Pater

The Aesthetic of Walter Pater

The Aesthetic of Walter Pater

Excerpt

Being so close to the modern day but not of it, Walter Pater is denied the appreciation bestowed on many a minor author of days further past. Though actually so recent, his work comes to us almost from another world. Even while it portrays movingly the bewildering flux of things, it carries an atmosphere of the incredibly stable. It has no hints of war's alarms, no shrinking from the conflicts of the masses, no perception of social need. The problem which occupies Pater is not our difficulty of holding together the very framework of society, but the permanent human problem of the transitory nature of all things and the irremediable pain of the world.

In another way Pater is not of our time. He won fame as a great stylist. But now, as our sentences grow shorter and shorter, and our units of thought break up, we forget our artistic heritage, and scorn him as artificial, over-elaborate, 'precious.' Likewise as a critic Pater is denied his just dues, and dismissed as 'impressionistic' or 'aesthetic.' The first term embodies a misunderstanding, which springs from reading a very small part of his work as typical of the whole. The second term tests also partly on a misunderstanding, but is more largely a reflection of his philosophy of life and of art. In these strenuous days we moderns feel that anyone who talks about beauty and neglects to discuss the social significance of art is shallow, not to be taken seriously.

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