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Walter Pater (1839 - 1894)

Books by this author: Selected Essays
  • About
  • Walter Horatio Pater was born in East London in 1839 and lived for a time in Enfield before the Pater household moved to Canterbury in 1853. There Walter attended the King’s School, proceeding in 1858 to the Queen’s College, Oxford, as an undergraduate. In 1864, having remained in Oxford, he was made a fellow of Brasenose College, where he taught Classics and Philosophy. He retained his fellowship for the rest of his life. From around the time of this appointment, Pater began publishing critical essays on literature and art, gradually gaining a reputation for fine, idiosyncratic prose, sceptical philosophy, and a distinctive aestheticist outlook. Some of these essays were included in his first book, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), which made his name not only as a stylist and perceptive critic, but also as a controversial thinker whose sympathy with the ‘pagan’ sensibility and the ‘epicurean’ mode of life attracted considerable hostility. Other critical essays were collected in the 1889 volume Appreciations, while Pater’s historical novel Marius the Epicurean had appeared in 1885, and some of his works of short fiction had been gathered together in a volume entitled Imaginary Portraits in 1887. Living with his two unmarried sisters and dividing his time between West London and his Oxford college, Pater had become one of the most important figures in the British Aesthetic Movement. His essays on critical theory helped to shape the values of many younger writers and artists, while his subtle representations of various aesthetic and philosophical temperaments, both in his critical studies and in his fictional narratives, exercised a large influence on notions of conduct, taste and moral feeling in certain artistic and intellectual spheres. In 1893 was published his final book, Plato and Platonism, based on a series of lectures he had delivered to Oxford students. After an attack of rheumatic fever or pleurisy, Pater died suddenly of heart failure in Oxford in 1894. His grave may be seen there in the Holywell Cemetery. In the following years Pater’s friends oversaw the publication of several further volumes of previously uncollected essays, including Greek Studies (1895), Miscellaneous Studies (1895), and Essays from the Guardian (1896), as well as an unfinished novel, Gaston de Latour (1896).
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