The unimaginative literature such as books on science and technology is the literature of fact. Since both prose and poetry are two branches of imaginative literature and are concerned with the expression of the writer’s sense or enjoyment of fact, both have no essential difference. Many are the beauties of prose and poetry, and it is the critic’s business to enjoy, react and respond to those beauties, and then convey his own enjoyment to his readers. Prose has a bright future. Whether poetic or prosaic a work must express truthfully the artist’s vision of life. Hence that style is the best style which enable the writer to convey his vision exactly and truthfully.
Poetry and Prose : Their close similarity
Pater begins his essay on Style by saying that there is no essential difference between poetry and prose. The difference exists between imaginative and unimaginative literature only. Unimaginative literature is pure literature which can move and captivate our hearts and is full of aesthetic pleasure.
His Concept of Style
In his definition of style Pater echoes Longinus. Style is the writer’s means of expressing his vision with the help of diction, design, and personality which constitute the style. Hence the choice of words, labour and polish, economy, careful construction of sentences, the logical coherence, writer’s personality, and good subject-matter help in developing a suitable style.
The Choice of Words
A writer should select words carefully. He should beget a vocabulary faithful to the colouring of his own spirit. To do so it is not necessary to take recourse to obsolete or worn-out words but rather to use current words in the only sense they bear restoring their ‘finer edge,’ blunted by constant misuse. He should reject newly coined words, and also gipsy phrases. It is his tact or sensibility and painstaking labour which would help him to make such a choice. He should be fastidious and punctilious in his choice, for the appeal of art is to the scholar and not to the vulgar multitudes.
A really beautiful prose style requires labour on the part of the writer, and close attention on the part of the reader. The literary artist must be learned in the various arts, sciences, and philosophies, so that by naturalising their vocabulary in his composition, he may enrich the language and increase its expressive power. Variety in the use of words, and sweetness and melody to the language may be imparted by mixing monosyllabic words with longer but sonorous words.
As a prose writer is a scholar writing for scholars, he should fastidiously avoid all false ornament and surplusage. He should use absolute economy of means and express himself in the fewest possible words. Ornaments, like figure of speech, should be used only when absolutely necessary, when they are really serviceable. “All art doth but consist in the removal of surplusage.”
The Mind in Style
The mind in style to Pater is the construction of sentences. Sentences should follow each other logically and naturally. The structures should have logical coherence. A sound structure requires an architectural design, in which one sentence is joined to, or fits in, other, like bricks in building. Any surplusage would, therefore, be offensive as it spoils the beauty of structure. So the mind reveals itself in design, in structure, in careful adjustment of words to sense, and of part to the whole. Variety to the style may be imparted by a judicious combination of simple, short, crisp,
sentences with long, vigorous, intricate sentences.
The Soul in Style
The logical coherence is the mind in style. But besides this the style has a tone, a colour, an atmosphere, certain subtle graces which Pater refers to as, “the soul in style.” The soul is the element of personality in style. It is the peculiar spirit of which the artist is made of. It is from this quality that we can know a writer from his works. It is in this sense that style is the man. It is because of this soul in style that religious writers and preachers are able to persuade and convert. As mind secures form, soul secures perfume.
Words are the body, structure is the mind, and certain subtler graces are the soul of style. Style is the man. But this does not mean that style depends on the whim of the individual. The style, the manner, would be fl e man, not in his unreasoned and really uncharacteristic caprices, involuntary or affected, but in absolutely sincere apprehension of what is most real to him. ‘the real man’ and not his whim and capricious aspects.
Good Art and Great Art
At the end of the essay Pater draws a distinction between good art and great art. The distinction between the two depends not on its form, but on the matter. It is good art when the writer is successful in portraying truthfully his sense of fact. But it is great art when a great subject is treated in great manner. The great art results only when it ‘has the soul of humanity,’ when the vision of the artist has nobility, universal truth and universal validity, when it has sound subject matter, when it is devoted to the service of humanity. Mere truth to personal vision is not enough; the quality of that vision, its nobility, is also essential. All art is great in proportion as it is devoted to the service of man and the glory of god. The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Les Miserables, The English Bible are great art.
Pater’s essay on Style is not merely a treatment of the qualities of good prose; it is also an exposition of his aesthetic creed and his canons and principles of criticism. In this essay, while discussing diction, form and style, he is also discussing the central problems of literary art. This is clearly brought out by a brief consideration of the essay.