his book comprises three studies investigating in detail the intellectual and personal relations existing among three dominating figures in nineteenth-century English thought and culture. These studies are fundamentally concerned with the humanistic vision of Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater and emphasize their adaptation of the traditional religious culture to the needs of the later nineteenth century. John Henry Newman enters as a figure of central importance, a far greater importance than he has hitherto been accorded, because of his commanding position in the thought of both younger men and because the contrasts and continuities in Arnold and Pater often become clearest in relation to him. I am concerned with nothing less than the total "vision" of Arnold and Pater though I have not by any means entered into every aspect of their thought. I have attempted to give a sense of motive and progression to both careers by concentrating on the ways in which the religious problems of the Victorian period centrally affected their evolving humanistic syntheses.
In The Last Romantics Graham Hough has traced the heritage of English aestheticism and "Decadence" through its best-known figures — Ruskin, Rossetti, Pater, Morris, the Rhymers, and Yeats. He stresses the increasing dominance of the "aesthetic" norm in English art, religion, and life and underlines some of the ways in which English religious attitudes were transformed in the process. But Pater seems distinctly out of place in this scheme; Hough does not establish the long-supposed link between Ruskin and Pater, and he does not adequately account for the place of religious concerns in Pater's distinctive synthesis. I have attempted to work out the "other" line leading from traditional norms to the nineties. This line has not gone entirely unnoticed, especially by the late [ix/x] T. S. Eliot, but its full implications are by no means clear. Eliot's conception of continuity and diminution among the three — that Arnold's "degradation" of religion was "competently" continued by Pater — has been constantly before me in these studies although his viewpoint is not precisely my own and his interests not my exclusive concerns. By establishing Arnold's and Pater's extensive indebtedness to Newman and by analyzing the nature of their "use" of his ideas, it is easier to account for the peculiar and complex role of traditional religion (especially as mediated through Newman) in their successors, notably Oscar Wilde and Lionel Johnson, though this is an extension of the topic I have not taken up here.2
These studies have been conducted in great, though I hope not stupefying, detail: a benefit of the method may be an understanding of the density and elaborate interconnectedness of the intellectual currents of High and Late Victorian culture. Only by examining the immense interweaving of interests, arguments, and goals, in a much more unified culture than our own, can we detect the full flavor of these men's work as well as measure the full weight of the polemics and preoccupations [x/xi] themselves. The uniquely satisfying quality of Victorian prose arises in part from the sense of rich and diverse talent in a small, geographical close-knit, and "centripetal" intellectual community. The public statements of Victorian critics and essayists (and sometimes of poets and novelists) are often best regarded as refutation, qualification, or approval of some other writer's views. In particular, I have sought to define the mechanics of the process by which the substance of dogmatic Christianity was transformed, within one or two generations, into the fabric of aestheticism. I have endeavored to describe the pressures generating a response, the precise elements of transvaluation, and the shared and unshared factors in a shifting cultural equation, by which the conservative humanism of Newman, at once religious and literary, could be exploited, with a strong sense of meaningful continuity, in the fluid, relativistic, and "aesthetic" humanism of Pater. That the development of aestheticism, especially in Arnold and Pater, is fundamentally bound to changes in religious doctrine and expression has long been acknowledged; but the dearth of detailed studies has obscured this major line of inheritance in Victorian culture. although deliberately emphasizing the transformation of values and categories in Newman, Arnold, and Pater — one of the most closely interwoven successions in intellectual history — I have tried everywhere, in righting a false balance, to escape the danger of making myself liable to the charge of the fallacy of the unique source.
The most revealing transformation can be seen in the history of certain phrases and ideas. For example, the "inwardness" that Newman insists on as man's essential spiritual quality is secularized as part of Arnold's criticism and culture and emerges finally as Pater's "impassioned contemplation" — that detached observation of "the individual in his isolation," the "solitary prisoner" whose dream of a world consists of certain traditional states of mind apart, ultimately, from real objects. Equally important is the emphasis all three place on an elite culture; that is, their shared sense that the highest organization of the human powers was "aristocratic," a privileged mode of perception endangered in a rapidly democratizing society. In all three, too, culture is defined almost as much in religious as in secular terms: if there is a shift, it is, paradoxically, toward the progressive religionizing of the [xi/xii] idea of culture and its attendant intellectual qualities. As one moves from Newman to Arnold to Pater, the ideal of culture acquires more and more "religious" graces derived from the traditional culture. Arnold and Pater both were free of Newman's suspicion of the corrective and self-transcending power of secular culture, viewed in broad historical perspective, and were consequently free, again paradoxically, to identify it increasingly with the function of historic religion. Moreover, all three men were continuously involved with the problematic role of religion and of religious experience in the modern world, a concern that, as much as any other theme, reveals the true proportions and progression of their three disparate careers.
Newman's role was that of the supremely adequate nineteenth-century apologist of orthodoxy in terms comprehensible to his contemporaries. The chief effort of the final two decades of Arnold's life, in both the religious writings and the later literary criticism, was precisely to defend the validity of Christian ethics and Christian feeling, even while acknowledging the disappearance of God announced by contemporary agnosticism and science. Moreover, he continually violated his own self-imposed intellectual limitations by suggesting a transcendent source or power or tendency whose name was the "Eternal." In Pater's most Christian phase, religion remained only the supreme "hope" or "possibility" but still a "necessity." Even in his early, most antipathetic mood, when traditional religion was presented largely as the forerunner of certain ideal modes of apprehension, the "religious graces" remained as the crown of life, the reward of the highest human striving.
Newman's important role in the history of nineteenth-century aestheticism seems virtually to have escaped detection. At the base of the large number of suggestive phrases and ideas from Newman which resonate through Arnold's and Pater's work is the extraordinary openness of Newman's Christian humanism to the diversity and unpredictability of human experience, even of secular experience. This openness is best conveyed in the Idea of a University, above all in the too little known essays of the second half, and in the Grammar of Assent. Perhaps the "miracle" both Arnold and Pater found in Newman is the astonishing fact that this, the most powerful defender of the claims [xii/xiii] of religion upon the modern mind, was also the most adequate definer, in prose of incomparable lucidity and suavity, of an ideal of totality, comprehensiveness, inclusiveness, at a time when the image of the distinctively human was being either fragmented or radically reduced. Arnold's religionizing of culture in the sixties had ample precedent in Newman's transference, almost verbatim, of the description of the supernatural virtues in the Oxford sermons to his description of secular education in Discourse V of the Idea of a University. Moreover, Newman's early view that "Poetry ... is our mysticism" anticipates Arnold's view in the literary essays of his final decade. No doubt Pater found it easy to turn to his own uses Newman's discussion of the "beauty of our moral being" and "the beauty of grace" (Idea, p. 108). Perhaps most important, Arnold, Pater, and their successors live out the full consequences of Newman's prediction, expressed in an 1841 review of Henry Hart Milman, that, on the liberal Anglican premises, Christian revelation will "have done no more than introduce a quality into our moral life, not anything that can be contemplated by itself, obeyed and perpetuated" (ECH, 11, 242).
Newman could be important to these two men in part because orthodox Christianity, although imperiled, remained a decisive cultural force in England, dose to the mainstream of national life and of consequence to intellectuals, long after its importance had receded on the Continent. The picturesque medievalism of the Romantic and Victorian poets unquestionably lay behind, and gave impetus to, both the Oxford Movement and aestheticism.4 The lines traced here present, I think, [xiii/xiv] a more serious side of the nineteenth century's encounter with its "medieval" past. To combine Hough's approach with my own is suddenly to throw the Late Victorian cultural situation into a new perspective: it can be meaningfully seen as Protestant England's partial rediscovery and recapturing of its disavowed European, and thus "Catholic," past. Hence, part of the fascination Catholicism exercised over both Arnold and Pater: hence, also, the impression that this Catholic emphasis, which marks in one respect the end of Protestant England, comes too late in the day to be of the most vital use in a rapidly deteriorating religious and cultural situation.5 It is probably Newman who, above all, accounts for Arnold's and Pater's calling for a "Catholic" religious humanism, even though no longer on the basis of belief in Newman's sense of the term. To that extent, the Tractarians, and especially Newman after the publication of the Apologia in 1864, were important agents in putting an end to "Protestant" England, though its successor was not an England any of the principals in this book would have approved — for reasons similar to those later voiced by T. S. Eliot in his sociological essays. It is tempting to say that if there had not been the "miracle" of Newman — the subtle defender of religious orthodoxy who was also the adequate definer of a humanist consciousness — Late Victorian literary life might well have been less "religious" than it was, and that without him it is impossible otherwise to account for the precise religious tone suffusing much of the work of the period.
The special reasons for Arnold's and Pater's attraction to Newman must begin and end with the force of the Oxford tradition itself, a distinctive tradition of personal and intellectual formation that I have called "theological humanism." Unquestionably, the writings of the [xiv/xv] three men reflect the progressive detachment of the older Oxford from the realities of contemporary society; it is increasingly a theme for picturesque, nostalgic treatment, like one of Morris' or Rossetti's medieval subjects.6 But it is equally true that the Oxford consciousness and "sentiment," which Arnold found embodied in Newman and passed on to Pater, was very close to the center of the practical work of his critical career. Newman was attractive to Arnold because he provided the fullest definition and exemplification of the highest, most complex use of the human faculties, a complex of values both men saw as increasingly under attack from an insurgent scientific naturalism and a newly refurbished rationalism. Newman was thus the supreme practitioner of that refined intellectual and spiritual perception that is the link between Arnold's intellectual and religious writings. Moreover, Newman had best described and accounted for changes in religious dogma as the result of changes in general culture: his doctrine of development, itself an acknowledgment of the new nineteenth-century demand for an "historical" view of things, was admirably adapted to the needs of an Arnold increasingly attuned to the whispers of the Zeitgeist. Pater found in Newman the fullest formulation of the psychological grounds of faith and the act of belief — - one-half of his final, awkwardly maintained dualism. He was responding, again, to [xv/xvi] Newman's prophetic sense of the special character of any apologetic adequate to the needs of the nineteenth century, a sense first clearly enunciated in the Introduction to the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). Further, Newman had worked out a "personalist" theory of literature which best embodied Pater's idea of the special function of literature in modern times. And finally, to both Arnold and Pater, Newman had presented the image of European — and Christian — civilization as an enduring source of value satisfying the permanent ethical and aesthetic needs of man: in effect, the basis of a culture superior to the anarchic individualism of the nineteenth century.7
This book converges, in ways I had not originally anticipated, on Pater. For example, by an instructive paradox not previously worked out, Pater's final religious position is seen to be as much indebted to Newman's orthodoxy as it is to Arnold's "natural" Christianity. It is important to insist that in emphasizing the complex uses to which Pater puts his Arnoldian borrowings, I am not claiming too much or the wrong things for Arnold as a source; indeed, none of these studies is conceived as a "source" study in the narrow sense. I have deliberately neglected many of the known sources of Pater's interest in art for art's sake and other doctrines (for example, Goethe, Swinburne, Hegel, Heine), but there is no other author whose phrases, ideas, arguments, and attitudes so completely saturate Pater's writings at all stages as do Arnold's, and the apparent echoes illuminate as much by contrast as by likeness. A dose examination of the full significance of the Arnoldian matrix clarifies and readjusts our apprehension of the unifying motives and directions of Pater's career. Moreover, the chronological reading of Pater's works from the points of view I have adopted (his response to Arnold, his dialectical struggle with the Christian-pagan dichotomy, his reliance on Newman in working out his later religious position) reveals with, I hope, new clarity and precision the central motifs, the [xvi/xvii] polemical intentions, and the shifts in thought which seem still to be ignored in most readings of Pater.
The central topic of the Present book is a Victorian embodiment of one of the great recurrent and unifying "myths" of European history: the conflict of Apollo and Christ, Rome and Jerusalem, intelligence and belief, the secular and the sacred impulses in society. This culture conflict as it is worked out in Arnold and Pater is not a thrice-told tale. Indeed, its full implications can only be grasped in a very long look ahead to our present situation, a look we seem even today scarcely prepared to take. For the full dimensions of secularity in the modern world, especially as it has exhibited itself in phenomena of the mid-twentieth century like religious and atheistic existentialism and "secular" Christianity, are the long-delayed fruits of "Modernist" speculation in the late nineteenth century. The importance of the Christian-pagan theme in Arnold and Pater is its inconclusiveness. Despite his avowed agnosticism, his pose of empiricism, and his resistance to the transcendental and metaphysical, Arnold persistently appeals to a covert supernaturalism in the religious writings and in the literary writings of the final decade, whether in his periphrases for God or in his generally unrecognized openness to the "mystery" of existence and to a universal morality of history. In the final reckoning he confessed his inability to fuse reason and faith, ideas and morality, in a higher, post-Christian synthesis. For Pater there is a similar exhaustion of thought after the careful irresolution of Marius, and his subsequent failure to define the "mixed" culture he aspired to, or what the "third condition" of man, transcending historic dualisms, might be.
The "failure" of Arnold and Pater is significant because they insist, in effect, that a "religious" reading of human nature involving a complex vision of man's permanent moral and aesthetic needs is requisite in any adequate modern humanism. They remain figures of living importance even today because, with unparalleled force and fullness in their own generation, they insisted on a humanistic vision alive on the one hand to the implications of nineteenth-century evolutionary science and on the other to a comprehensive retention of those qualities of mind, emotion, and imagination which have defined what it has meant [xvii/xviii] to be fully "human" in the European past.8 More specifically, the issue is that of the place of religion in an increasingly embattled literary humanism. The older tradition of "literae humaniores," in which letters (including history) shared room, perhaps the smaller room, with philosophy and theology, was the shifting synthesis within which European civilization, "theological humanism," defined itself. Only in the rapid breakdown of that tradition in the nineteenth century did letters move to the center of the humanist scheme, filling the void created by the discrediting or even disappearance of the more ratiocinative components of the traditional educational program; "reason" itself was increasingly confined to the methods of science and technology and denied a significant role in metaphysical or theological speculation. In any event, modern apologists for letters, whether theologically orthodox or not, tend to adopt a religious tone and to assign to poetry a central function in the preservation of humane values — a function previously shared with the more normative disciplines.9 [xviii/xix]
Arnold and Pater provide necessary points of departure for any survey of the evolution of this modem rationale of letters or the "humanities" in a hostile environment because they are the first conservative literary thinkers to defend letters while fully acknowledging the challenge of radical, reductive modern though . I think it no exaggeration to say that the contemporary defense of letters (illogical, unstable, and necessary) cannot be understood without a strong sense of the complex of values, deriving from the experience of Oxford itself, which the three principals of this book centrally defended throughout their entire careers. And so if the Oxford humanists, Newman, Arnold, and Pater, are foster parents, however problematical, of aestheticism, the issues they raise reach well beyond the abortive productions of a special moment in late nineteenth-century culture. The fate of their shared concern for the maintenance of certain inherited modes of human consciousness was involved in the collapse of the older Oxford tradition itself and thus with the collapse of the unity and dynamism of European education as a whole. To perpetuate the values that Arnold and Pater subsumed under the term "culture" — despite the absence of older sustaining religious and social beliefs and an increasing divorce from the actualities of modern society — remains, I believe, the tragically unfulfilled aspiration of twentieth-century literary humanists. The sustaining and growing conviction, then, out of which this book has grown is that the definition of the humanist consciousness linking Newman, Arnold, and Pater, an effort made, significantly, with a strong and increasingly defensive sense of an entire scale of values in grave, perhaps terminal, crisis, is even today the indispensable basis of our discussion [xix/xx] of literature and the role of literature in the humanizing process. Indeed, the confusions and failure of historical perspective of the Leavis-Snow debate and our mandatory and perennial anguish over the "crisis in the humanities" repeat without much advancing that earlier line of thought. The issues in the on-going debate — literary, religious, and broadly cultural — have by no means been worked out to their ultimate conclusion or even to some sort of stability. Far from comprising an "episode" of a past culture, the issues first raised with some clarity and penetration by Newman, Arnold, and Pater are the issues defining the quality of our future.
Last modified November 2000