golden book of spirit and sense,
The holy writ of beauty,
it is Marius the Epicurean.
It has been natural to dwell so long on this “golden book,” because Pater’s various gifts are concentrated in it, to make what is, of course, his masterpiece; though some one or other of these gifts is to be found employed with greater mastery in other of his writings, notably that delicate dramatic gift of embodying in a symbolic story certain subtle states of mind and refinements of temperament which reaches its perfection in Imaginary Portraits, to which the later “Apollo in Picardy” and “Hippolytus Veiled” properly belong. It is only necessary to recall the exquisitely austere “Sebastian Van Storck” and the strangely contrasting Dionysiac “Denys L’Auxerrois” to justify one’s claim for Pater as a creative artist of a rare kind, with a singular and fascinating power of incarnating a philosophic formula, a formula no less dry than Spinoza’s, or a mood of the human spirit, in living, breathing types and persuasive tragic fables. This genius for creative interpretation is the soul and significance of all his criticism. It gives their value to the studies of The Renaissance, but perhaps its finest flower is to be found in the later Greek Studies. To Flavian, Pater had said in Marius, “old mythology seemed as full of untried, unexpressed motives and interest as human life itself,” and with what marvellous skill and evocative application of learning, he himself later developed sundry of those “untried, unexpressed motives,” as in his studies of the myths of Dionysus—“The spirit of fire and dew, alive and leaping in a thousand vines”—and Demeter and Persephone—“the peculiar creation of country people of a high impressibility, dreaming over their work in spring or autumn, half consciously touched by a sense of its sacredness, and a sort of mystery about it”—no reader of Pater needs to be told. This same creative interpretation gives a like value to his studies of Plato; and so by virtue of this gift, active throughout the ten volumes which constitute his collected work, Pater proved himself to be of the company of the great humanists.