AKA Walter Horatio Pater
Birthplace: Shadwell, London, England
Location of death: Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Cross Churchyard, Holywell, Oxfordshire, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Gay
Occupation: Critic, Author
Executive summary: Marius the Epicurean
English man of letters, born at Shadwell on the 4th of August 1839. He was the second son of Richard Glode Pater, a medical man, of Dutch extraction, born in New York. Jean-Baptiste Pater, the painter, was probably of the same family. Richard Pater moved from Olney to Shadwell early in the century, and continued to practice there among the poorer classes. He died while his son Walter was yet an infant, and the family then moved to Enfield, where the children were brought up. In 1853 Walter Pater was sent to King's School, Canterbury, where he was early impressed by the aesthetic beauties of the cathedral. These associations remained with him through life. As a schoolboy he read Modern Painters, and was attracted to the study of art, but he did not make any conspicuous mark in school studies, and showed no signs of the literary taste which he was afterwards to develop. His progress was always gradual. He gained a school exhibition, however, with which he proceeded in 1858 to Queen's College, Oxford. His undergraduate life was unusually uneventful; he was a shy, "reading man", making few friends. Benjamin Jowett, however, was struck by his promise, and volunteered to give him private tuition. But Pater's class was a disappointment, and he only took a second in literae humaniores in 1862.
After taking his degree Pater settled in Oxford and read with private pupils. As a boy he had cherished the idea of entering the Anglican Church, but, under the influence of his Oxford reading, his faith in Christianity became shaken, and by the time he took his degree he had thoughts of graduating as a Unitarian minister. This project, too, he resigned; and when, in 1864, he was elected to a fellowship at Brasenose, he had settled down easily into a university career. But it was no part of his ambition to sink into academic torpor. With the assumption of his duties as fellow the sphere of his interests widened rapidly; he became acutely interested in literature, and even began to write articles and criticisms himself. The first of these to be printed was a brief essay upon Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which he contributed in 1866 to the Westminster Review. A few months later (January, 1867) appeared in the same review his now well-known essay on Winckelmann, the first expression of his idealism. In the following year his study of "Aesthetic Poetry" appeared in the Fortnightly Review, to be succeeded by essays on Leonardo Da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Pico della Mirandola and Michelangelo. These, with other studies of the same kind, were in 1878 collected in his Studies in the History of the Renaissance.
Pater was now the center of a small but very interesting circle in Oxford. Such men as cherished aesthetic tastes were naturally drawn to him; and, though always retiring and, in a sense, remote in manner, he was continually spreading his influence, not only in the university, but among men of letters in London and elsewhere. The little body of Pre-Raphaelites were among his friends, and by the time that Marius the Epicurean appeared he had quite a following of disciples to hail it as a gospel. This fine and polished work, the chief of all his contributions to literature, was published early in 1885. In it Pater displays, with perfected fullness and loving elaboration, his ideal of the aesthetic life, his cult of beauty as opposed to bare asceticism, and his theory of the stimulating effect of the pursuit of beauty as an ideal of its own. In 1887 he published Imaginary Portraits, a series of essays in philosophic fiction; in 1889, Appreciations, with an Essay on Style; in 1893, Plato and Platonism; and in 1894, The Child in the House. His Greek Studies and his Miscellaneous Studies were collected posthumously in 1895; his posthumous romance of Gaston de Latour in 1896; and his Essays from the "Guardian" were privately printed in 1897. A collected edition of Pater's works was issued in 1901.
Pater changed his residence from time to time, living sometimes at Kensington and in different parts of Oxford; but the center of his work and influence was always his rooms at Brasenose. Here he labored, with a wonderful particularity of care and choice, upon perfecting the expression of his theory of life and art. He wrote with difficulty, correcting and recorrecting with imperturbable assiduity. His mind, moreover, returned to the religious fervor of his youth, and those who knew him best believed that had he lived longer he would have resumed his boyish intention of taking holy orders. He was cut off, however, in the prime of his powers. Seized with rheumatic fever, he rallied, and sank again, dying on the staircase of his house, in his sister's arms, on the morning of Monday the 30th of July 1894.
Pater's nature was so contemplative, and in a way so centered upon reflection, that he never perhaps gave full utterance to his individuality. His peculiar literary style, too, burnished like the surface of hard metal, was too austerely magnificent to be always persuasive. At the time of his death Pater exercised a remarkable and a growing influence among that necessarily restricted class of persons who have themselves something of his own love for beauty and the beautiful phrase. But the cumulative richness and sonorous depth of his language harmonized intimately with his deep and earnest philosophy of life; and those who can sympathize with a nervous idealism will always find inspiration in his sincere and sustained desire to "burn with a hard, gem-like flame", and to live in harmony with the highest.
Father: Richard Glode Pater
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