Walter Pater

English writer, critic and essayist (1839–1894)

Walter Horatio Pater (4 August 183930 July 1894) was an English essayist and literary critic.

It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art.


  • It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art.
    • Appreciation, Postscript (1889)
Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.
  • Every intellectual product must be judged from the point of view of the age and the people in which it was produced.
    • Pico Della Mirandola
  • The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.
  • Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to to be seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy. To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.
    • Conclusion
  • What we have to do is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions.
    • Conclusion
  • Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.
    • Conclusion
  • Rousseau … asked himself how he might make as much as possible of the interval that remained; and he was not biassed by anything in his previous life when he decided that it must be by intellectual excitement.
    • Conclusion
  • A book, like a person, has its fortunes with one; is lucky or unlucky in the precise moment of its falling in our way, and often by some happy accident counts with us for something more than its independent value.
    • Ch. 6
  • To know when one's self is interested, is the first condition of interesting other people.
    • Ch. 6
  • We need some imaginative stimulus, some not impossible ideal such as may shape vague hope, and transform it into effective desire, to carry us year after year, without disgust, through the routine-work which is so large a part of life.
    • Ch. 25

Quotes about Walter Pater

  • Pater is a neglected author to-day. One can understand why. His mind is a little languid, his style a little mannered, and himself a little over-serious. There is something ludicrous in expounding the art of enjoyment in so hushed and solemn a tone. All the same, it is a great pity to neglect Pater. To a degree unparalleled among English writers, he combined the two qualities essential for critical appreciation—common sense and uncommon sensibility.
    • Lord David Cecil, The Fine Art of Reading and Other Literary Studies (1957), p. 4
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