Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
In the Campagna
By Walter Pater (18391894)
From Marius the Epicurean
THAT flawless serenity, better than the most pleasurable excitement, yet so easily ruffled by chance collision even with the things and persons he had come to value as the greatest treasure in life, was to be wholly his to-day, he thought, as he rode towards Tibur under the early sunshine; the marble of its villas glistening all the way before him on the hillside. And why could he not hold such serenity of spirit ever at command? he asked, expert as he was at last become in the art of setting the house of his thoughts in order. Tis in thy power to think as thou wilt, he repeated to himself: it was the most serviceable of all the lessons enforced on him by those imperial conversations;Tis in thy power to think as thou wilt. And were the cheerful, sociable, restorative beliefs, of which he had there read so much, that bold adhesion, for instance, to the hypothesis of an eternal friend to man, just hidden behind the veil of a mechanical and material order, but only just behind it, ready perhaps even now to break through:were they, after all, really a matter of choice, dependent on some deliberate act of volition on his part? Were they doctrines one might take for granted, generously take for granted, and led on by them, at first as but well-defined objects of hope, come at last into the region of a corresponding certitude of the intellect? It is the truth I seek, he had read, the truth, by which no one, gray and depressing though it might seem, was ever really injured. And yet, on the other hand, the imperial wayfarer he had been able to go along with so far on his intellectual pilgrimage, let fall many things concerning the practicability of a methodical and self-forced assent to certain principles or pre-suppositions one could not do without. Were there, as the expression one could not do without seemed to hint, beliefs without which life itself must be almost impossible, principles which had their sufficient ground for evidence in that very fact? Experience certainly taught that, as regarding the sensible world he could attend or not, almost at will, to this or that colour, this or that train of sounds, in the whole tumultuous concourse of colour and sound, so it was also, for the well-trained intelligence, in regard to that hum of voices which besiege the inward, no less than the outward, ear. Might it be not otherwise with those various and competing hypotheses, the permissible hypotheses, which in that open field for hypothesisones own actual ignorance of the origin and tendency of our beingpresent themselves so importunately, some of them with so emphatic a reiteration through all the mental changes of successive ages? Might the will itself be an organ of knowledge, of vision?
On this day truly no mysterious light, no irresistibly leading hand from afar, reached him; only, the peculiarly tranquil influence of its first hour increased steadily upon him in a manner with which, as he conceived, the aspects of the place he was then visiting had something to do. The air there, air supposed to possess the singular property of restoring the whiteness of ivory, was pure and thin. An even veil of lawn-like white cloud had now drawn over the sky; and under its broad, shadowless light every hue and tone of time came out upon the yellow old temples, the elegant pillared circle of the shrine of the patronal Sibyl, the houses seemingly of a piece with the ancient fundamental rock. Some half-conscious motive of poetic grace would appear to have determined their grouping; in part resisting, partly going along with, the natural wildness and harshness of the place, its floods and precipices. An air of immense age possessed, above all the vegetation arounda world of evergreen treesthe olives especially, older than how many generations of mens lives! fretted and twisted by the combining forces of life and death, into every conceivable caprice of form. In the windless weather all seemed to be listening to the roar of the immemorial waterfall, plunging down so unassociably among these human habitations, and with a motion so unchanging from age to age as to count, even in this time-worn place, as an image of unalterable rest. Yet the clear sky all but broke to let through the ray which was silently quickening everything in the late February afternoon, and the unseen violet refined itself through the air. It was as if the spirit of life in nature were but withholding any too precipitate revelation of itself, in its slow, wise, maturing work.