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Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873)

by Walter Pater, Walter Pater

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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[From The Summing Up, The Literary Guild of America, 1938; ix, 24; xii, 36; xxiv, 86-87:]

But at that time [1890s] a florid prose was admired. Richness of texture was sought by means of a jewelled phrase and sentences stiff with exotic epithets: the ideal was a brocade so heavy with gold that it stood up by itself. The intelligent young read Walter Pater with enthusiasm. My common sense suggested to me that it was anaemic stuff; behind those elaborate, gracious periods I was conscious of a tired, wan personality. I was young, lusty and energetic; I wanted fresh air, action, violence, and I found it hard to breathe that dead, heavily scented atmosphere and sit in those hushed rooms in which it was indecorous to speak above a whisper.

[…]

When English prose recovered simplicity with Hazlitt, the Shelley of the letters and Charles Lamb at his best, it lost it again with De Quincey, Carlyle, Meredith and Walter Pater. It is obvious that the grand style is more striking than the plain. Indeed many people think that a style that does not attract notice is not style. They will admire Walter Pater's, but will read an essay by Matthew Arnold without giving a moment's attention to the elegance, distinction and sobriety with which he set down what he had to say.

[…]

But the two writers that It was really necessary to admire [in the 1890s] if you would be a person of culture and not a British philistine were Walter Pater and George Meredith. […] Now I know that there is a great deal of fustian in [Meredith’s] novels. But the strange thing is that, reading them again, I recapture the days when I first read them [in the 1890s]. They are rich for me now with sunny mornings and my awakening intelligence and the delicious dreams of youth, so that even as I close a novel of Meredith's, Evan Harrington for instance, and decide that its insincerity is exasperating, its snobbishness loathsome, its verbosity intolerable and I will never read another, my heart melts and I think it's grand.

On the other hand I have no such feeling about Walter Pater whom I read at the same time and with a similar excitement. No pleasant associations give him for me a merit to which he has no claim. I find him as dull as a picture of Alma Tadema. It is strange that one can ever have admired that prose. It does not flow. There is no air in it. A careful mosaic constructed by someone without great technical skill to decorate the walls of a station dining-room. Pater's attitude towards the life about him, cloistered, faintly supercilious, gentlemanly, donnish in short, repels me. Art should be appreciated with passion and violence, not with a tepid, deprecating elegance that fears the censoriousness of a common room. But Walter Pater was a feeble creature: it is unnecessary to condemn him with intensity. I dislike him not for himself, but because he is an example of a type in the literary world that is common and detestable. This is the person who is filled with the conceit of culture.

[From A Writer's Notebook, Doubleday & Company, 1949, Preface, xiii-xiv]

I have heard that Walter Pater used to make abundant notes on his reading and reflection and put them into appropriate pigeonholes, and when he had enough on a certain subject, fit them together and write an essay. If this is true, it may account for the rather cramped feeling one has when one reads him. This may be why his style has neither swing nor vigour. For my part, I think to keep copious notes is an excellent practice, and I can only regret that a natural indolence has prevented me from exercising it more diligently. They cannot fail to be of service if they are used with intelligence and discretion.
1 vote WSMaugham | Jun 26, 2015 |
The classic Victorian study of the art and literature of the renaissance.
  Fledgist | Oct 6, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Walter Paterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pater, Waltermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Symons, ArthurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Many attempts have been made by writers on art and poetry to define beauty in the abstract, to express it in the most general terms, to find some universal formula for it.
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The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry and Studies in the History of the Renaissance refer to the same work. The latter is the original 1873 title . Oxford World's Classics has released it under both titles (reverting to the original Studies in the History of the Renaissance for the 2010 redesign), but not a word of the text differs.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 019283553X, Paperback)

Oscar Wilde called this collection of essays the "holy writ of beauty." Published to great acclaim in 1837, it examines the work of Renaissance artists such as Winckelmann and the then neglected Botticelli, and includes a celebrated discussion of the Mona Lisa in a study of Da Vinci. The book strongly influenced art students and aesthetes of the day and is still valuable for the insights it offers and the beauty of the writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:14 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Published to great acclaim in 1873, Walter Pater's compendium of idiosyncratic, impressionistic essays on the Renaissance gained him a reputation as a daring modern philosopher. Oscar Wilde called it the "holy writ of beauty." It was Pater's cry of "art for art's sake" that became the manifesto for the aesthetic movement. He believed that art should be sensual and that beauty should rank as the highest ideal. Marked by elegant fluency, Pater's essays discuss Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and other artists who, for him, embodied the spirit of the Renaissance. Pater's work survives to this day as one of the best pieces of cultural criticism to emerge from the nineteenth century.This collection is criticism as beautiful as the art it considers.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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