Printer Friendly

Reaction to Saintsbury in Pater's formulation of ideas on prose style.

The ideas expressed by Pater in "Style" were developed between 1886 and 1888 in four related works, the first of which was his review of Specimens of English Prose Style from Malory to Macaulay, by George Saintsbury, his younger contemporary, acquaintance, and advocate of art for art's sake, who was fast becoming the leading English authority on prose style. Reaction to Saintsbury's ideas in "English Prose Style" (the introduction to the book), prompted Pater, already recognized as a stylist, to enunciate opposing ideas that would establish himself as a theorist on style. Fundamentally, he posed his particular formulation of "the style is the man" against Saintsbury's principle of the separability of form and matter in literature.


Most readers of late nineteenth-century British literature know that from the beginning of his career Walter Pater was recognized as a prose stylist, but none has made a point of saying that he did not expound a theory of prose style until his career was two decades old. Before 1886 Pater's comments on prose style had been limited to brief characterizations of the styles of individual writers. He had judged Coleridge's Aids to Reflection and The Friend to be remarkably lacking in "classical form," so much so as to be "bundles of notes"; had called Pico della Mirandola's style "figured"; had judged Du Bellay's prose to be "transparent, flexible and chaste"; had described John Addington Symonds' style as "energetic, flexible, eloquent, full of various illustration," but lacking in "reserve" in "turns of expression" and in "the choice sometimes of detail and metaphor." (1) In "The Character of the Humourist. Charles Lamb," he had analyzed Lamb's sensibility without explaining his mode of expression; however, in that essay he had attributed to Lamb the perception, which seems to have been an assumption of his own, that in Sir Thomas Browne's works the "elements of the man" were "the real source of style." (2) Finally, in describing Flavian's "literary art" in poetry, in Marius the Epicurean, Pater had seemed to describe his own "care for style" in writing prose--"patience of execution," "stately and regular word-building," and "minute culture of form"--a care the purpose of which was the exact expression of "certain strong personal intuitions, certain visions or apprehensions of things as being, with important results, in this way rather than in that." (3) Later in the novel, Marius transfers Flavian's literary ideal of "direct relationship of thought and expression" to prose: "with him [Marius] words should be indeed things--the word, the phrase, valuable in exact proportion to the transparency with which it conveyed to others the apprehension, the emotion, the mood, so vividly real within himself." Further, he expresses, for once, a principle regarding style, the assumption upon which this ideal is based: "a right understanding of oneself being the first precept of genuine style." (4)

In 1886, Pater the stylist reviewed in The Guardian a book by George Saintsbury, who was fast becoming a leading critic of prose style: Specimens of English Prose Style from Malory to Macaulay, selections from ninety-six authors, with annotations, introduced by an essay, "English Prose Style." (5) In this essay Pater found a challenge to some of his basic assumptions about prose style and a challenge in Saintsbury's different and more fully formulated perspective upon the subject, and it was in his commentary upon this essay that Pater first addressed the subject of prose style as such. His discussion of style in the review of Saintsbury is the first of four closely-linked discussions, the other three appearing in "Sir Thomas Browne," published in Macmillan's Magazine in May 1886; "Peach Blossom and Wine," Chapter 4 of Gaston de Latour, published in Macmillan's Magazine in September 1888; and "Style," published in the Fortnightly Review in December 1888 and reprinted the next year as the Introduction to Appreciations. My purpose here is to show that reaction to Saintsbury's ideas in "English Prose Style" prompted Pater to concentrate on prose style in general as he had not done before and, through a three-year process, to formulate the ideas that found expression as a theory of style in the essay "Style"; (6) and, further, to show that ideas of Saintsbury's are often (although not always) the counters against which Pater works when formulating and expressing his ideas.


I am not the first reader to see a connection between Pater's review of Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose Style and his essay "Style." Saintsbury himself was the first. In his discussion of Pater in A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe (1904), Saintsbury, after calling Pater's "Style" "the most valuable thing yet written on that much-written-about subject," (7) states: "There is an interesting tender, or rather pilot-boat, to this Essay in the first of the Guardian Reviews on 'English Literature,' where the texts are the present writer's Specimens, Professor Minto's English Poets, Mr. Dobson's Selections from Steele, and one of Canon Ainger's many bits of yeoman's service to Lamb." (8) David DeLaura has also noted, in Hebrew and Hellene, that "Pater had anticipated much of the central argument of 'Style'" in his review of Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose Style. (9)

When reading "English Prose Style," Pater knew Saintsbury. Saintsbury states in his essay on Pater in The Bookman, 1906: "I had known him before the 'Studies' appeared, and I knew him after." (10) In reference to the time before, he states in A History of Criticism that "more than forty years ago it was debated in Oxford whether he [Pater] would ever publish anything at all." (11) As to the time after, one recorded meeting was on 13 January 1878 at Edmund Gosse's first Sunday evening gathering at Delamere Terrace. (12) By the time of this meeting, Pater had already written Saintsbury a letter. Saintsbury's second major essay, "Modern English Prose," had appeared in the Fortnightly Review on I February 1876, placed immediately before Pater's "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone," Part II. In this essay Saintsbury praises Pater's prose style without qualification, and no other writer's. He judges Ruskin's style to be sometimes spontaneously spellbinding and, at other times, spontaneously meandering, but never to be in Ruskin's control. He praises Arnold's style, but says that his manner sometimes becomes mannerism. (13) His judgments of other modern prose writers are also mixed. However, he introduces Pater with categorical approval in the following reference to Studies in the History of the Renaissance: "But there is one book of recent appearance which sets the possibilities of modern English prose in the most favourable light, and gives the liveliest hope as to what may await us...." (14) He praises the "just proportion and equilibrium" of Pater's sentences, (15) the harmony of sentences within his paragraphs, (16) the "perfection of modulation" (17); he finds no fault with Pater's style. Undoubtedly pleased, Pater wrote the letter, "expressing," as Saintsbury reports in A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912), "special gratification, and acknowledging that" care in constructing paragraphs, which Saintsbury had noted, "had been one of his principal objects." (18)

Saintsbury's commendatory reference to Pater in "Modern English Prose" was not his first. In a review of Swinburne's Essays and Studies published in The Academy (3 July 1875) he had singled Pater out for praise. In a lament over the generally low level of writing in criticism, he states:
 We have had critics of strongest sense and keenest acuteness; we
 have had (though far more rarely) critics of delicate taste. But we
 have never until very recently had critics who united any, much
 less all, of these characteristics with literary power of the
 highest degree. (19)

Even Lamb, Hazlitt, and De Quincey had failed in some particular, each in his own fashion, to achieve this felicitous combination, according to Saintsbury. But he has this to say of Pater: "Two years ago the publication in a collected form of Mr. Pater's Studies gave us almost our first volume of criticism which was valuable as criticism, and at the same time still more valuable as literature." (20) It is difficult to imagine any judgment upon his work that would have pleased Pater more. He is likely to have read this comment because when it appeared he was engaged, also, in writing a review for The Academy, on Symonds' Age of the Despots, which appeared just four weeks after Saintsbury's review of Swinburne's book. (21)


Before discussing Pater's reaction to Saintsbury's "English Prose Style," it is necessary to explain in some detail the ideas that stirred the reaction. The underlying principle of Saintsbury's entire canon of criticism is the separability of form and matter, or style and matter. As he makes plain in his first major essay, on Charles Baudelaire, whom he calls "the most original, and within his limits the most remarkable, of modern French poets," (22) "poetical merit" is merit of form, or style. (23) He praises Baudelaire as a critic, too, stating that he had "the mark of the true critic": "He judges much more by the form than by the matter of the work submitted to his notice." (24) Late in life, in A Scrap Book (1922), he states:
 Few things have surprised me more ... than the objection of some
 who are certainly not fools, to the separation of Form and Matter
 in literature. This objection seems to be mainly due to a generous
 but surely unfounded dislike of the notion of good Form
 sanctifying--or even being compatible with--matter not good, or to
 the still more unreal notion--apparently entertained to some extent
 by Wordsworth--that good matter will insist on being clothed with
 good form. I only wish it did! (25)

He thus assumed that prose style was a subject that could be discussed historically, without reference, necessarily, to the subject matter of prose. It would be an oversimplification, but not a distortion, to describe Saintsbury's position in "English Prose Style" by saying that he saw John Dryden as a reformer who, by conscious aim and effort, in imitation of Jean Guez de Balzac in France, refined English prose style by simplifying and clarifying its syntax and punctuation. He assumes, in approaching the subject, that style in prose and poetry are different: "... it is not inappropriate to begin an essay on the subject of English prose style by observing that, whatever may be its merits and defects, it is entirely different--different by the extent of the whole heaven of language--from English verse style." (26) When he describes the characteristics that distinguish the two modes, he limits the subject almost totally to style at the sentence level:
 ... between the syntax, taking that word in its proper sense of the
 order of words, of prose and the syntax of verse; between the
 rhythm of prose and the rhythm of verse; between the sentence- and
 clause-architecture of prose and the sentence- and
 clause-architecture of verse, there has been since English
 literature took a durable form in the sixteenth century at least as
 strongly marked a difference in English as in other languages. (27)

He refers to other languages because he is countering a judgment of a French critic that a difference did not exist between the styles of prose and poetry in England as it did, properly, in France. According to Saintsbury, English writers before Dryden-Hooker, Lyly, Bacon, Ben Jonson, Burton, Hobbes, Browne, Milton, Taylor--although they wrote many effective passages of prose, often wrote ineffectively because they imitated Latin grammar, "abused" conjunctions, and did not know when to come to a full stop. (28)

Saintsbury, who had written the English Men of Letters John Dryden (1881), and had revised Sir Walter Scott's edition of The Warks of John Dryden (1882), judged Dryden to have been primarily responsible for reforming English prose style. According to his view of history, Dryden and a few of his contemporaries--especially Sir William Temple and George Savile, Marquess of Halifax-established systematic arrangement of clauses within sentences and sentences within paragraphs; improved punctuation, making the use of the full stop more frequent and more significant; avoided "the homoeoteleuton [use of like-sounding syllables, words, or phrases at the close of a series of sentences], and [repetition of] ... the same word, unless used emphatically, in the same sentence"; and gave attention to proportion and balance in sentences. (29) In his view, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon reacted somewhat against the new style, but did not return to the individualism of the past. The Augustans of the eighteenth century--Steele, Addison, Swift--embraced and sustained the reforms, although the loss of passion, magnificence, and solemnity that had accompanied reform was especially noticeable in their writings.

According to Saintsbury, the first generation of prose writers in the nineteenth century, some of them brilliant poets--Coleridge, Southey, Shelley--had adhered to this reformed tradition. But the next generation of writers, led by De Quincey, introduced "the flamboyant style" into English prose, which Macaulay, Carlyle, and Ruskin exhibited, each in his individual way. The effect has been, Saintsbury states, that "among a very large proportion of general readers, and among a certain number of critics, 'style' appears to be understood in the sense of ornate and semi-metrical style." (30) And he explains why: "To confess the truth, the public ... is so much accustomed to find that every writer whose style is a little above the school exercise, and his thought a little above platitude, aims at the distinction of prose-poet, that it has some excuse for its blunder." (31) He takes some consolation in the probability that "this laboured and ornate manner will not last very long." (32) Saintsbury was definitely not talking about Pater. He had praised Pater's style, as we have seen, and he was to praise it again and again in the future; (33) and in A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912), he showed how admirably passages of Pater's writing scanned as prose. (34) In "English Prose Style" he indicates that he could appreciate good flamboyant style, stating "... the period of individualism has given rise, as a former period of something like individualism did in the seventeenth century, to some great and to many remarkable writers." (35) Further, he could dislike plain style. Although he praises David Hume for his plain style, he thought John Locke went too far in plainness: "The lack of ornament in the prose of this period [Dryden's age] is never perhaps more clearly shown than in the style of Locke, which, though not often absolutely incorrect, is to me, I frankly own, a disgusting style, bald, dull, plebeian, giving indeed the author's meaning, but giving it ungraced with any due apparatus or ministry." (36)


It was not customary before Saintsbury for critics to think of Dryden's writing as the watershed in the history of English prose. Samuel Johnson had praised Dryden's style for its clarity, vigor, and animation, but had regarded it as too individual and variable to be imitated. (37) Sir Walter Scott, in a lengthy and laudatory assessment of Dryden's significance as a writer, near the end of his Life of Dryden in the Works, does not claim that Dryden's style is historically significant. (38) Coleridge thought Dryden "a model" of prose style, but Hooker, Taylor, and other earlier writers, as well as some later writers, were also models, for various readers; Dryden did not, for him, introduce a new age of style. (39) It seems to have been Henry Hallam who broached the idea, in Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries (1837-1839), that Dryden revolutionized prose style: "The style of Dryden was very superior to any that England had seen," because Dryden was "not conversant with our old writers" but emulated "the politest ... writers in the French language," seeming "to have formed himself on Montaigne, [Jean Guez de] Balzac, and Voltaire," without adopting their faults. (40)

Matthew Arnold discussed the change in prose style in the seventeenth century in two essays published before 1886. In the first, the Preface to his Six Chief Lives from Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," with Macaulay's "Life o f Johnson," 1878, he hails the period covered by the lives of the six poets--Milton, Dryden, Swift, Addison, Pope, and Gray--as "the passage of our nation to prose and reason. (41) However, he does not see Dryden, or any other writer, as the fountainhead of change. He states: "The Restoration marks the real moment of birth of our modern English prose.... the hour was come for the new prose, and it grew and prevailed." (42) When illustrating the differences between the old prose and the new, he quotes contrasting sentences from Milton and Smollett. (43) He lists the qualities of the new style as "regularity, uniformity, precision, balance." (44) In the second essay, "The Study of Poetry," first published as the Introduction to T. Humphry Ward's English Poets (1880) (to which Pater contributed "Samuel Taylor Coleridge" and Saintsbury contributed essays on eight poets), the age in which the new prose emerged has become for Arnold "the age of Dryden": (45) "We are to regard Dryden as the puissant and glorious founder, Pope as the splendid high--priest, of our age of prose and reason." (46) In this essay, the qualities that characterize the new prose are the same as those in the Preface to Six Chief Lives and the sentence that illustrates the "obsolete and inconvenient" older style is still taken from Milton. (47) However, the contrasting sentence that illustrates the newer style is taken from Dryden rather than Smollett and is followed by this statement: "... we exclaim that here at last we have the true English prose, a prose such as we would all gladly use if we only knew how." (48)


It might be argued that Pater was responding to Arnold as well as Saintsbury in his discussions of prose style. However, it was not Arnold who sparked the process of thinking that culminated in "Style." In 1880, when "The Study of Poetry" appeared, uppermost in Pater's mind was writing Marius the Epicurean, a book that would, in effect, address adverse criticism of his Conclusion to The Renaissance." (49) Also, Arnold's pronouncements on prose style were ancillary to other subjects. In 1886, when he read Saintsbury, Pater had turned his attention to English literature and was deep in the study of Sir Thomas Browne--by Saintsbury's historical scheme an "unreformed" prose stylist. In addition, Saintsbury was establishing himself as the English authority on prose style. Pater was apparently ready to enter the lists. As Saintsbury said in his Bookman essay on Pater, "Pater's own nature was not exactly combative, though it was capable of combativeness.... " (50)

Yet Pater must have wanted to be as appreciative as he could be in his review of Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose Style. Personal acquaintance, gratitude, and his usual demeanor as a critic were good reasons for making the effort. In the first sentence of his review, he pays Saintsbury a series of compliments:
 Mr. Saintsbury's well-considered Specimens of English Prose Style,
 from Malory to Macaulay (Kegan Pad), a volume, as we think, which
 bears fresh witness to the truth of the old remark that it takes a
 scholar indeed to make a good literary selection, has its motive
 sufficiently indicated in the very original "introductory essay,"
 which might well stand, along with the best of these extracts from
 a hundred or more deceased masters of English, as itself a document
 or standard, in the matter of prose style. (51)

But then he turns critic. It was not just that Pater disagreed with much that Saintsbury had said; also, he was galvanized, apparently, by what Saintsbury had not said on the subject, or by his own perceptions that seemed beyond Saintsbury's ken.

On the first issue, while allowing that there are essential differences between prose and poetry, (52) and registering a certain fascination with Saintsbury's exhibition of differences between rhythm in good prose and rhythm in good poetry, (53) Pater declares: "Great poetry and great prose, it might be found, have most of their qualities in common." (54) In regard to historical changes, whereas Saintsbury assumed that Dryden and other reformers were discovering, through the study of languages, the "requirements of English prose style," i.e. requirements imposed by the nature of the English language, (55) Pater related the changes in style to changes in philosophy:
 In Dryden, and his followers through the eighteenth century, we see
 the reaction against the exuberance and irregularity of that prose
 ["of more varied, but certainly of wilder and more irregular
 power"], no longer justified by power, but cognisable rather as bad
 taste. But such reaction was effective only because an age had
 come--the age of negative, or agnostic philosophy--in which men's
 minds must needs be limited to the superficialities of things, with
 a kind of narrowness amounting to a positive gift. (56)

He would not separate style from thought. He agrees that "order, precision, directness" "should form the criterion of prose style," but because they are "the radical merits of prose thought." (57)

Pater implies in his review that style will change with thought and thought will reflect the philosophical orientation of an age in history. He renders this idea in a fully developed form in the discussion on style set into "Peach Blossom and Wine" (that it is set in is indicated by the fact that it was later removed and set into Plato and Platonism, with revisions). (58) In this discussion, Pater claims that there is a necessary relationship between forms of prose and the matter expressed in those forms:
 Three different forms of composition have, under different
 conditions prevailed--three distinct literary methods--in the
 presentation of philosophic thought; earliest, the metrical form,
 when philosophy was still a thing of intuition, sanguine,
 imaginative, often obscure, and became a poem "concerning
 nature"...; precisely the opposite way to that, when native
 intuition had shrunk into dogmatic system, the dry bones of which
 rattle in one's ears with Aristotle or Aquinas as a formal
 treatise, the true philosophic temper, the proper human complexion
 in this subject, lying between these opposites as the third
 essential form of its literature, the essay--that characteristic
 model of our own time, so rich and various in special apprehensions
 of truth, but of so vague and dubious sense of their ensemble and
 issue.... The reader sees already that these three methods are no
 mere literary accidents dependent on the choice of particular
 writers, but necessities of literary form strictly determined by
 matter as corresponding to these essentially different ways in
 which the human mind relates itself to truth. (59)

Only quite indirectly is Pater thinking of form, or style, on Saintsbury's level of sentence structure and paragraph structure; he is extending the subject, but in a way adverse to the basic principle of Saintsbury's critical approach.

In his review, he expresses the crux of the difference, developed in "Peach Blossom and Wine":
 If there be a weakness in Mr. Saintsbury's view, it is perhaps in a
 tendency to regard style a little too independently of matter. And
 there are still some who think that, after all, the style is the
 man; justified, in very great varieties, by the simple
 consideration of what he himself has to say, quite independently of
 any real or supposed connection with this or that literary age or
 school. (60)

To reinforce the idea that "the style is the man," Pater closes his review with a statement from John Henry Newman, on the distinction stated in Idea of a University between "the mere dealer in words" and "the artist." The former can "paint and gild any subject," Newman states, but the latter tries only to express his "great or rich visions" "in a way adequate to the thing spoken of, and appropriate to the speaker." (61)

When Pater was writing his review of Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose Style, his essay on Sir Thomas Browne must have been partially written, since it appeared three months later. As I argued in "Walter Pater's Versatility as a Critic," from 1878 Pater employed the expressive mode of criticism primarily. (62) In 1886, when writing "Sir Thomas Browne," he was not asking--like the aesthetic critic described in the Preface to The Renaissance--what peculiar pleasure he could derive from the works of a writer, or, like the aesthetic critic described in "The School of Giorgione," whether a writer had achieved that blend of form and matter that constitutes perfect art. He was an expressive critic looking for the qualities in the man, the peculiar sensibility and temperament, that explained the nature of his writings. In fact, as early as "Joachim Du Bellay," when making a rare reference to style, in poetry, he implied that wherever expressiveness of individuality exists, this expressiveness is style. Although developing the idea that "Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather the age and school to which he belonged than his own temper and genius," (63) he still states:
 But if you look long enough to understand it, to conceive its
 sentiment, you will find that those wanton lines have a spirit
 guiding their caprices. For there is style there; one temper has
 shaped the whole; and everything that has style, that has been done
 as no other man or age could have done it, as it could never for
 all our trying, be done again, has its true value and interest.

If Pater had not read Saintsbury, he probably would have said in "Sir Thomas Browne," as he does, after quoting a passage from Browne, "There is the manner of Sir Thomas Browne, in exact expression of his mind!" (65) However, without having read Saintsbury, he very likely would not have begun the essay as follows:
 English prose literature towards the end of the seventeenth
 century, in the hands of Dryden and Locke, was becoming, as that of
 France had become at an earlier date, a matter of design and
 skilled practice, highly conscious of itself as an art, and above
 all, correct. Up to that time it had been, on the whole, singularly
 informal and unprofessional, and by no means the literature of what
 we understand by the "man of letters." Certain great instances
 there had been of literary structure, or architecture--The
 Ecclesiastical Polity,' 'The Leviathan'--but for the most part that
 literature is eminently occasional, closely determined by the eager
 practical aims of contemporary politics and theology, or else due
 to a man's own native instinct to speak because he cannot help
 speaking. (66)

Here we have Saintsbury's generalization that there was a marked change in English prose during the seventeenth century, a change parallel to that in French prose somewhat earlier, but in the details there are several Paterian twists. Pater places Locke, whose style Saintsbury had found disgusting, beside Dryden, his great innovator. Whether Pater was upgrading Locke or downgrading Dryden in yoking them is not clear, but he was certainly questioning the distinction made between them, and he continued to question such a distinction by yoking Locke, a few sentences later, to another author praised by Saintsbury for his style, Edward Gibbon. (67) He implies, as Saintsbury does not, that the difference between the older and the newer styles is partially attributable to the growth of professionalism among writers. Further, Pater diverges from Saintsbury by extending style to cover the structure, or architecture, of the entire work. It is plain that when he uses design, he means the design of the work, not the design of sentences and paragraphs. Also, he finds well designed works before Dryden and Locke, namely Richard Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity and Hobbes' Leviathan. And he repeats the idea that he had earlier posed against Saintsbury's assumption that form could be separated from matter: That manner depends upon the type of subject treated and upon the writer's "nature."

As Pater proceeds in "Sir Thomas Browne," it becomes clear that he is not dividing prose writers into unreformed and reformed stylists, with Dryden as the leading reformer, but is dividing formal, meditative, classically clear public writers like More (whom Saintsbury omits), Latimer, Bacon, Hooker, Hobbes, Dryden, Locke, Butler, and Hume, from less formal, more idiosyncratic intimate writers like Montaigne, Burton, Browne, Fuller, and Jean Paul. He explains the appeal of writers of the latter class: Their writing is adorned, "but adorned with all the curious ornaments of their own predilection, provincial or archaic, certainly unfamiliar, and selected without reference to the taste or usages of other people--the charm of an absolute sincerity, with all the ingenuous and racy effect of what is circumstantial and peculiar in their growth." (68)


Pater's essay "Style" opens with a well-balanced discussion of the first idea stated by Saintsbury in "English Prose Style": That "the prose writer and the poet" have "separate and distinct aims and methods." (69) He concedes that there are distinctions "between the characteristic laws and excellences of prose and verse composition," but he adds that "those who have dwelt most emphatically on the distinction between prose and verse, prose and poetry, may sometimes have been tempted to limit the proper functions of prose too narrowly.... (70) He sets aside Saintsbury's historical generalizations, which he had only undermined in "Sir Thomas Browne," by not making historical generalizations and by showing through examples, to his satifaction, that writers from different periods of time had achieved similar effects: "... prose is actually found to be ... picturesque with Livy and Carlyle, musical with Cicero and Newman, mystical and intimate with Plato and Michelet and Sir Thomas Browne." (71) Then he attacks Saintsbury's modeller of good prose style, John Dryden, allowing himself a rare thrust of sarcasm: "Dryden ... loved to emphasise the distinction between poetry and prose, the protest against their confusion with each other, coming with somewhat diminished effect from one whose poetry was so prosaic." (72) More damaging to Dryden's image as the initiator of the plain style in prose is Pater's next judgment: "In truth, his sense of prosaic excellence limited [affected, 1889] his verse rather than his prose, which is not only fervid, richly figured, poetic, as we say, but vitiated, all unconsciously, by many a scanning line." (73)

The fundamental difference between Pater's essay on style and Saintsbury's writings on style, however, is a difference in contexts. Saintsbury was concerned with English prose in general, being persuaded, as he indicates in "Modern English Prose," that in the nineteenth century it had deteriorated. He attributed this deterioration to four developments in modern society: (I) the growth in journalism, with its demand for speed in writing and its penchant for the "pseudo-picturesque" (74); (2) the growth of the novel, with its "constitutent elements," "plot, character, description, and dialogue," "none [of which] lend themselves in any great degree to the cultivation of the higher forms of style, and some [of which] are distinctly opposed to it" (75) ; (3) scientific study, which has placed emphasis on matter rather that manner; and (4) the tendency toward democracy--"the ordinary Briton resents anything esoteric, fastidious, or fine." (76) He states: "... style is essentially an aristocratic thing," but "The conditions of modern life are unfavourable to the attainment of the peculiar mood of somewhat arrogant indifference which is the characteristic of the scholar." (77) Pater had no difficulty achieving the attitude of the scholar, whether it be somewhat arrogant indifference or not; he shows no concern for prose style in general. His subject is prose style as "literary art," (78) and he states that "The literary artist is of necessity a scholar," (79) "A scholar writing for the scholarly," (80) "a select few, those 'men of finer thread' who have formed and maintain the literary ideal." (81) He is writing for elite lovers of books who can appreciate a "winnowed" vocabulary, grace and variety in syntax, and the type of logical structure, or "literary architecture" (82) that denotes "mind, in style." (83)

The most famous dictum in "Style"--that good literary art can be achieved only by a writer who exhibits soul in addition to sensitivity to language and mind--takes Pater into an elaboration of the ideas that he had opposed to Saintsbury's principle of the separability of form and matter in his comments on "English Prose Style." To exhibit soul is to express one's "sense of fact," (84) "his peculiar intuition of a world," (85) "a vision within" (86); thus Pater is able to support what he calls "the well-known saying, 'The style is the man'." (87) For his distinction between fact and sense of fact, he was indebted to Newman's teaching in his essay "Literature," in Idea of a University, that "Literature expresses, not objective truth, as it is called, but subjective, not things, but thoughts." (88) However, when explaining how the expression of the sense of fact is achieved, Pater draws upon Guy de Maupassant's interpretation of Flaubert's idea about the relationship between the word and the thought: '"Among all the expressions in the world, all forms and turns of expression, there is but one--one form, one mode--to express what I want to say'." (89) Here is Flavian's ideal of "direct relationship of thought and expression," as well as the "perfect identification of form and matter," (90) the standard by which Pater's aesthetic critic in "The School of Giorgione" judges art. In "Style," however, Pater emphasizes the significance of substantial matter even to goad style, as he had not done in "The School of Giorgione" and as Saintsbury never did, at least in theory. He states: "... after all the chief stimulus of good style is to possess a full, rich, complex matter to grapple with." (91) In addition, Pater's concept of good style in "Style" embraces a new element. The literary artist's style is appropriate not only to the subject and the speaker, but also to the audience. Although Saintsbury had a concept of audience, the context in which Pater places the subject leaves it no relationship to Saintsbury. Pater is not recommending in "Style" what he called the intimacy of Sir Thomas Browne. According to Pater, Browne wrote with "full confidence in the 'friendly reader,'" with "no sense of a 'public' to deal with." (92) The literary artist in "Style," on the contrary, writes for the scholar, "that sort of reader who will go (all over eyes [full of eyes, 1889]) warily, considerately, though without consideration for him, over the ground." (93) The works that the literary artist gives the scholarly public are true to himself, but not to his uncritical self: "The style, the manner, would be the man, not in his unreasoned and really uncharacteristic caprices, involuntary or affected, but in absolutely sincere apprehension of what is most real to him" (94)--" ... it will be in a real sense 'impersonal'." (95) Thus, although "Style" is the culmination of a process initiated by the reading of Saintsbury's "English Prose Style," it still reflects other attitudes in Pater's mind, primarily the sense implanted by the reaction to Studies in the History of the Renaissance that the public had to be "dealt with."

In its larger significance, this study illustrates an important generalization about Walter Pater as a writer. He was not an isolated self-starter; he was a man of his time responding to other writers, not as overtly, but as definitely, as Mill, Arnold, and Ruskin. As Marius the Epicurean was written primarily as a response to critics of Studies in the History of the Renaissance, and "Romanticism" was written in response to W.J. Courthope's "Wordsworth and Gray," (96) and "The School of Giorgione" was likely prompted by the Ruskin-Whistler controversy, (97) Pater's turn to prose style as a subject is best understood as a response to George Saintsbury's pronouncements on style.

Yet, from a different perspective, there is a still more significant conclusion that can be drawn from this study. Seen in the context of Pater's and Saintsbury's works as a whole, the subject of style is of limited importance. Pater makes this plain at the end of "Style" when he contrasts good art with great art. A writer can express "his vision within" and, through mind, shape challenging matter into inextricable form, using the right words in effective, graceful sentences and paragraphs, in other words, achieve perfect style--good art--and yet not produce a great work of literature. The reason is that all "visions within" are not of equal worth to humankind. As Marius states in his journal: "'the constitutent practical difference between men will be their capacity for a trained insight into those conditions [referred to in the preceding paragraph as "'a certain grief in things as they are, in man as he has come to be ... over and above those griefs of circumstance which are in a measure removeable--an inexplicable shortcoming, or misadventure, on the part of nature itself-death, and old age as it must needs be, and that watching for their approach, which makes every stage of life like a dying over and over again'"], their capacity for sympathy'." (98) Pater had tried to create a great work, not just a good work, in Marius the Epicurean, expressing insight into the condition of humanity and hope for a more humane order, as well as soul, mind, and good taste, apparently believing, as he was to state in the last paragraph of "Style," that a work could be great if it not only achieved good style but was devoted to "enlightment of our sympathies with each other, or to such presentment of new or old truths about ourselves and our relation to the world as may ennoble and fortify us in our sojourn here." (99) And Saintsbury did not always judge a writer by his style. He states in A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe that he often disagreed with "Mr Arnold's critical canons and (less often) with his individual judgments," (100) and he did not pronounce what he called Arnold's doctrine of "the Poetic Subject" to be right. (101) However, he finally declared Arnold to be a greater critic than Pater, (102) even though he judged Pater to be "superior" in "the faculty of expression" and "at least the equal" in "fineness of appreciation." (103) Whether he realized it or not, he was violating his principle that critics should give priority to form over matter in judgment of literature and criticism.

University of Arizona


(1) "Coleridge's Writings," Westminster Review 85 (January 1866), p. 116; "Pico della Mirandula," Studies in the History of the Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1873), p. 35; "Joachim Du Bellay," Studies, p. 129; "Review of Renaissance in Italy; The Age of the Despots," Academy (31 July 1875), pp. 105, l06.

(2) "The Character of the Humourist. Charles Lamb," Fortnightly Review 24 n.s. (October 1878), p. 470.

(3) Marius the Epicurean, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1885 [1st ed.]), 1, 104, 106, 110.

(4) Ibid., I, 103, 167.

(5) "English Literature: Four Books for Students of English Literature," The Guardian (17 February 1886), pp. 246-247; rptd. in Essays from the Guardian (London: Macmillan, 1906 [1st. prt. 1901]), pp. 3-16.

(6) David DeLaura notes in "Newman and the Victorian Cult of Style" that "two important essays of 1876 and 1885" by Saintsbury "probably helped Pater formulate his views on style," but he does not discuss differences between Pater's and Saintsbury's ideas (Victorian Newsletter 51 [Spring 1977], p. 6).

(7) A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, from the Earliest Texts to the Present Day, 5th ed., 3 vols. (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1929), III, 548.

(8) Ibid., III, p. 549.

(9) Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England: Newman, Arnold, and Pater (U of Texas P, 1969), p. 329.

(10) "Walter Pater," Bookman [London] 30 (August 1906), p. 165.

(11) A History of Criticism and Literary Taste, III, 549.

(12) Dorothy Richardson Jones, "King of Critics": George Saintsbury, 1845-1933, Critic, Journalist, Historian, Professor (U of Michigan P, 1992.), p. 61.

(13) "Modern English Prose," Fortnightly Review 19 n.s. (February 1876), pp. 253-254.

(14) Ibid., p. 256.

(15) Ibid., pp. 257-258.

(16) Ibid., p. 257.

(17) Ibid., p. 257.

(18) A History of English Prose Rhythm, new impression (London: Macmillan, 1922; rptd. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), p. 421.

(19) Review of Essays and Studies, by A.C. Swinburne, in Academy 8 (3 July 1875), p. 4.

(20) Ibid., p. 4.

(21) Cited in Note 1.

(22) "Charles Baudelaire," Fortnightly Review 18 n.s. (October 1875), p. 500.

(23) Ibid., p. 500. Pater had expressed a similar concept of poetical merit: "Let us understand by poetry all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form as distinct from its matter" ("Winckelmann," Studies in the History of the Renaissance, p. 205).

(24) Ibid., p. 505.

(25) A Scrap Book (London: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 85-86.

(26) "English Prose Style," intro. Specimens of English Prose Style from Malory to Macaulay, selected and annotated by George Saintsbury (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Co., 1886), p. xv.

(27) Ibid., p. xvi.

(28) Ibid., pp. xix-xx.

(29) Ibid., p. xxvii.

(30) Ibid., p. xxxi.

(31) Ibid., p. xxxi.

(32) Ibid., p. xxxvii.

(33) A History of Nineteenth-Century Literature, 1780-1895 (New York: Macmillan, 1896), pp. 399-40l. A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, ed. cir. in Note 7 [1st ed., 1904], III, 545; rptd. in A History of English Criticism (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1911), pp. 498-499. "Walter Pater," Bookman 30 (August 1906), p. 169; rptd. in Prefaces and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 356-357. A History of English Prose Rhythm, ed. cit. in Note 18, pp. 420-421. The only piece in which Saintsbury mixed adverse criticism of Pater's style with appreciation is "Walter Horatio Pater" [Introduction to selections], in English Prose: Selections, 5 vols., ed. Henry Craik (London: Macmillan, 1900 [1st ed. 1893-1896]), V, 749.

(34) A History of English Prose Rhythm pp. 421-423.

(35) "English Prose Style," p. xxxiii.

(36) Ibid., p. xxiv.

(37) "Dryden," in The Six Chief Lives from Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," with Macaulay's "Life of Johnson," ed. Matthew Arnold (London: Macmillan, 1881; rptd. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968 [1st ed. 1878]), p. 182.

(38) "The Life of John Dryden," The Works of John Dryden, 18 vols., ed. Sir Walter Scott, rev. and corrected by George Saintsbury (Edinburgh: William Patterson, 1882-1893), I, 443-444.

(39) "Lecture 14," in Lectures 1808-1819: On Literature, ed. R.A. Foakes, The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, II vols., gen. ed. Kathleen Coburn (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul/Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987), V, Pt. II, 236.

(40) Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, 5th ed., 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1873), III, 557.

(41) "Preface," The Six Chief Lives from Johnson's "Lives of the Poets, "ed. cit. in Note 37, P. xvi.

(42) Ibid., pp. xvii-xviii.

(43) Ibid., p. xvi.

(44) Ibid., p. xxi.

(45) "Introduction," The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers, 4 vols., ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (London: Macmillan, 1891), p. xxxvi.

(46) Ibid., pp. xxxviii-xxxix.

(47) Ibid., pp. xxxvii-xxxviii.

(48) Ibid., p. xxxviii.

(49) See the footnote to the "Conclusion," The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1888), p. 246.

(50) "Walter Pater," Bookman, p. 168.

(51) "Four Books for Students of English Literature," cited in Note 5, P. 247a; rptd. in Essays from the Guardian, cited in Note 5, pp. 3-4.

(52) "Four Books for Students of English Literature, "p. 247a; Essays from the Guardian, p. 5.

(53) Ibid., p. 247a; Ibid., p. 5.

(54) Ibid., p. 247a; Ibid., p. 4.

(55) "English Prose Style," Specimens, p. xxi.

(56) "Four Books for Students of English Literature," p. 247a; Essays from the Guardian, p. 9. Saintsbury also assumed a superficiality in the thinking of the age that, in a sense, affected style: "... the period of original and copious thought ceased in England for a time [after the Restoration], and men, having less to say, became more careful in saying it" ("English Prose Style," pp. xxii); but this insight seems not to have had, for him, any bearing on his principle that matter and form are separable.

(57) Ibid., p. 247a; Ibid., P.5.

(58) Plato and Platonism, Library Edition (London: Macmillan, 1910), pp. 174-175.

(59) "Gaston de Latour. Chapter IV: Peach Blossom and Wine," Macmillan's Magazine 58 (September 1888), pp. 396-397.

(60) "Four Books on English Literature," p. 247b; Essays from the Guardian, p. 15.

(61) Ibid., p. 247b; Ibid., p. 16; John Henry Newman, "Literature," in Idea of a University, ed. Martin J. Svaglic (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), p. 215.

(62) "Walter Pater's Versatility as a Critic," in Beauty and the Beast: Christina Rossetti, Walter Pater, and R.L. Stevenson, ed. Peter Liebreghts and Wim Tigges (Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1996), pp. 102, 104-106.

(63) "Joachim Du Bellay," Studies, p. 134.

(64) Ibid., p. 135.

(65) "Sir Thomas Browne," Macmillan's Magazine 54 (May 1886), p. 5.

(66) Ibid., p. 5.

(67) Ibid., p. 5. Saintsbury states in "English Prose Style": "We shall never have a greater historian in style as well as in matter than Gibbon ..." (p. xxv).

(68) Ibid., p. 5.

(69) "Modern Prose Style," p. xvi.

(70) "Style," Fortnightly Review 50 (December 1888), p. 728; rptd., with slight revisions, in Appreciations, with an Essay on Style (London: Macmillan, 1889), p. I (revised). Pater added the following footnote when publishing this essay in the book: "Mr. Saintsbury, in Specimens of English Prose, from Malory to Macaulay, has succeeded in tracing, through successive English prose-writers, the tradition of that severer beauty in them, of which this admirable scholar of our literature is known to be a lover. English Prose, from Mandeville to Thackeray, more recently 'chosen and edited' by a younger scholar, Mr. Arthur Galton, of New College, Oxford, a lover of our literature at once enthusiastic and discreet, aims at a more various illustration of the eloquent powers of English prose, and is a delightful companion" (p. 8). Saintsbury might have been referring to this note when he stated in a footnote of his own in A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe. "I have always wondered what made him [Pater] think that I personally prefer plain to ornate prose. The contrary, if it were of any moment, happens to be the case, though I own I think, as even De Quincey thought, that the ornate styles are not styles of all work" (III, 548). 71 Fortnightly Review, p. 728; Appreciations, p. 2.

(72) Ibid, p. 728; Ibid., p. 3.

(73) Ibid., pp. 728-729; Ibid., p. 3.

(74) "Modern English Prose," ed. cit. in Note 13, p. 249.

(75) Ibid., p. 249.

(76) Ibid., p. 251.

(77) Ibid., pp. 250, 251.

(78) "Style," Fortnightly Review, p. 730; Appreciations, p. 6.

(79) Ibid., p. 731; Ibid., p. 8.

(80) Ibid., p. 733; Ibid., p. 13.

(81) Ibid., p. 734; Ibid., pp. 14-15.

(82) Ibid., p. 736; Ibid., p. 20.

(83) Ibid., p. 737; Ibid., p. 21.

(84) Ibid., pp. 730, 741; Ibid., pp. 6, 32 (revised).

(85) Ibid., p. 729; Ibid., p. 5.

(86) Ibid., p. 730; Ibid., p. 5.

(87) Ibid., p. 742; Ibid., p. 33. This "saying," in its original language, "le style est l'homme meme" had been known since it was first spoken by Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, in 1753, in the discourse that he delivered upon being received into the French Academy. In this context, Buffon develops the idea that "well written works are the only ones that will pass on to posterity," because elements of subject matter, including "the singular nature of events" and "the newness even of discoveries" can be "lifted out" of texts and incorporated by other authors into their texts: "These things are beyond the man, whereas the style is the man himself: if it is elevated, noble, sublime, the author will be equally admired at all times ..." [emphasis added]--passage translated by Laura Inman from "Discours prononce a l'academie francoise le jour de sa reception," in Oeuvres philosophiques de Buffon, text established by Jean Piveteau (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954), p. 503b.

(88) "Literature," in Idea of a University, ed. cit. in Note 61, p. 206. Pater cites as the main source of this idea, not Newman, as he had done indirectly at the end of his review of Saintsbury's Specimens of English Prose Style, but Thomas De Quincey. However, De Quincey's distinction between "the literature of knowledge" and "the literature of power," to which Pater refers, is a distinction between literature that appeals to the "discursive understanding" and literature that appeals to the "higher understanding" "through affections of pleasure and sympathy" ("The Poetry of Pope," a review of William Roscoe's edition of Works of Alexander Pope, 1847; rptd. in John J. Jordan, ed., De Quincey as Critic [London/Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973], p. 269). It is not a distinction between an objective rendering of fact and a subjective rendering of sense of fac: as Pater states.

(89) "Style," Fortnightly Review, p. 739; Appreciations, p. 27 (with emphasis on one). Flaubert's statement, as quoted by Maupassant is as follows: "Parmi toutes ces expressions, toutes ces formes, toutes ces tournures, il n'y a qu'une expression, qu'une tournure et qu'une forme pour exprimer ce que je veux dire" (Introduction to Flaubert's Lettres a Georges Sand (Paris: G. Charpentier & Co., 1884), in Chroniques lit teraires et Chroniques parisiennes (Paris: Maurice Gonon, Editeur d'Art, 1969), Vol. XVI of Oeuvres Completes, p. 306.

(90) "The School of Giorgione," Fortnightly Review 22 n.s. (October 1877), p. 530.

(91) "Style," Fortnightly Review, p. 733; Appreciations, p. 12.

(92) "Sir Thomas Browne," ed. cit. in Note 65, p. 6.

(93) "Style," Fortnightly Review, p. 731; Appreciations, p. 8.

(94) Ibid., p. 742; Ibid., p. 34.

(95) Ibid., p. 743; Ibid., p. 35.

(96) See my Walter Pater and His Reading, 1874-1877, with a Bibliography of His Library Borrowings, 1878-1894 (New York: Garland, 1990), pp. 300-301.

(97) Ibid., pp. 384-385.

(98) Marius the Epicurean [1st ed.], II, 203.

(99) "Style," Fortnightly Review, p. 743; Appreciations, p. 35

(100) A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, III, 516.

(101) Ibid., p. 532.

(102) Ibid., p. 544.

(103) Ibid., p. 545.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Nineteenth-Century Prose
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Inman, Billie Andrew
Publication:Nineteenth-Century Prose
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Previous Article:Walter Pater's essay "Diaphaneite" as a bridge between romanticism and modernism.
Next Article:Walling out the world: Walter Pater and the problem of aesthetic historicism.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |