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Walter Pater (1839 - 1894)

Lifespan: 1839 - 1894

Related: aesthetic movement - UK - dandy - Oscar Wilde - hedonism - pleasure - British literature

Marius the Epicurean (1885) - Walter Pater [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Walter Horatio Pater (August 4, 1839 - July 30, 1894) was an English essayist and critic.

But it was not his intention to sink into academic torpor. As he began his career, the sphere of his interests widened rapidly; he became acutely interested in literature, beginning to write articles and criticisms. The first of these to be printed was a brief essay upon Coleridge, contributed in 1866 to the Westminster Review. A few months later (January, 1867), his essay on Winckelmann, the first expression of his idealism, appeared in the same review.

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 similar studies, were collected in his Studies in the History of the Renaissance in 1873. Pater, now at the centre of a small but interesting circle in Oxford, gained respect in London and elsewhere, numbering the Pre-Raphaelites among his friends.

By the time his philosophical novel Marius the Epicurean appeared, he had gathered quite a following. This, his chief contribution to literature, was published early in 1885. In it Pater displays, with fullness and 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. The principles of what would be known as the Aesthetic movement were partly traceable to Pater; and his impact was particularly felt on one of the movement's leading proponents, Oscar Wilde, a former student of Pater at Oxford.

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.

Toward the end of his life, Pater exercised a growing and considerable influence. His mind, however, returned to the religious fervour of his youth. Those who knew him best believed that, had he lived longer, he would have resumed his boyish intention of taking holy orders. He died of rheumatic fever at the age of 55 and is buried at St. Giles cemetery, Oxford.

Pater wrote with difficulty, fastidiously correcting his work. His literary style, serene and contemplative, suggested, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, a "vast attempt at impartiality." The richness and depth of his language was attuned to his philosophy of life. Idealists will always find inspiration in his desire to "burn with a hard, gem-like flame" and to live in harmony with the highest. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Pater [Mar 2006]


Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus (c. 340–c. 270 BC), founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear through knowledge (ataraxia) as well as absence of pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although some equate Epicureanism with hedonism or a form of it (as "hedonism" is commonly understood), professional philosophers of Epicureanism deny that.


In modern popular usage, an epicure is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures; epicureanism implies a love or knowledgeable enjoyment especially of good food and drink—see the definition of gourmet at Wiktionary.

This can largely be attributed to misunderstandings of the Epicurean doctrine. Due to the fact Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos) it is commonly misunderstood as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as constant partying, orgiastic sexual excess and expensive food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia and aponia combined to be the height of happiness Therefore Epicurus regarded prudence as an important virtue and saw things like excess drinking to be contrary to the attainment of ataraxia and aponia. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurean [Mar 2006]

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