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Word Count: 934
Pater as a Moralist WHILE PATERS WORK was the object of severe moral criticism in the authors own lifetime the tendency of more recent criticism has been to admit its moral seriousness Most readers today wrote David DeLaura twenty years ago agree that Paters aestheticism for all its confusion of ethics and aesthetics is essentially a special moralitynot art for arts sake but art for the sake of a special conception of the perfected life1There are indeed early instances of Paters being accorded the status of moralist by critics for instance by Vernon Lee in 18952 But there is a marked difference between the way in which the term was applied in the past and the way in which it has been applied since the 1950s While it used to be claimed that Pater became a moralist he is now said simply to be one but one evidently uneasy about his chosen morality3 The difference reflects an important change in critical attitude towards the moral conflict instanced in Paters writing especially in his central work Marius the Epicurean 1885 all but avowedly concerned with reviewing the ethical position put forward in his first book Studies in the History of the Renaissance 1873 This element of conflict and of crisis was of course tacitly recognized by critics such as Vernon Lee who posited a transition on Paters part from an early aesthetic to a later moral standpoint But the notion of a smooth and untroubled progression from the one to the other shows an excessive readiness to underwrite Paters own attempts to reconcile the conflicting elements in his thought It results in a misleadingly indefinite unproblematic and over-spiritualized version of his morality as for example an adherence to the conception of health and congruity in matters of the spirit4 Critics are now readier to acknowledge Paters confusion between ethics and aesthetics and acknowledge too that the crisis announced in Marius remained
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