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 principles of criticism. It is a statement of Pater’s ideas on diction, form and style which are the central problems of literary art.
According to Pater, there is no essential difference between poetry and prose except that which is between imaginative literature and literature of fact. However, to Pater’s age prose was more suitable and had a brighter future. That is why Pater considers the beauties of a good style. Style is a craft which can be learned only through painstaking labour. It is only to great geniuses like Shakespeare that style comes naturally; for the common man it is a thing that can be attained by scholarly labour and hard work.
Choice of Words
The main constituents of style, according to Pater, are diction, design, and personality. As to the first, he begets a vocabulary faithful to the colouring of his own spirit’—one calculated to convey his sense of fact in the precise way it hasxkcured to him. For a good diction the writer should take a recourse to current words rather than the old, obsolete words. He has to exercise a skilful economy, too, in their use, extracting the utmost from every word and meaning more than he writes down. He has also to shun the uncommon in word and phrase. He should not give undue place to ornament. Only then he can give a pleasurable stimulus to the reader. A writer should also avoid coinages and eulogisms. He should be fastidious and punctilious in his choice of words. Figures of speech should be used only when essential.
A prose writer is a scholar writing for scholars. And a really beautiful prose style requires labour on the part of the write. The literary artist must be learned in various arts, sciences and philosophies, so that by naturalizing 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.
The Mind in Style or Design
Next, Pater takes up the construction of sentences which he refers to as the mind in style. Sentences should follow each other logically and naturally. A sound structure requires an architectural design, in which one sentence is joined to, or fits in, the other, like bricks in building. Any surplusage would, therefore, be offensive, as it spoils the beauty of struct! re. 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 or the Personality of the Writer
The soul in style is the personality of the writer. According to Pater, “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. At their best, these writers become, as we say sometimes ‘prophets’. It is the personality of the writer that gives warmth and colour to his style; it gives the style its perfume as well. And yet paradoxically, the more personal a style is, the more impersonal it is “in a real sense.”
Words are the body, structure is the mind, and certain subtler graces are the soul of style. The style should express truth, and there should be absolute accordance of expression to idea. Great art results 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. So, after all, the apostle of “art for art’s sake,” turns out to be a moralist, a humanitarian, one who would use his “art for life’s sake.”