Pater is the greatest critic of the romantic-impressionistic school. He imparted new dimensions and a new dignity to impressionistic criticism. The charge of intellectual pleasure-seeking or Hedonism has been repeatedly brought against him. But the conclusion of his essay on style is alone sufficient to disprove such a charge.
He does not divorce art from life, rather he would have art serve the purposes of life. “Good art” becomes “great art” only when it is devoted to noble ends, to the amelioration and elevation of the lot of humanity. This makes him the noblest of the aesthetes, one who imparted dignity, sanity and balance to the cult of Beauty in England. Worship Beauty by all means but remember that Beauty of the highest kind is moral Beauty. That is Pater’s attitude.
While critics like Paul Elmer More are critical of Pater’s methods and regard him as no critic at all, for he had, “no fixed point of view of his own”, nor could he enter sympatric ally into the point of view of others, Logouts and Canadian take a more balanced view of his greatness as a critic, when they say that Pater may lack completeness or conviction, but he gives us a kind of insight into the work he studies, and few critics can do that. A. C. Benson also praises his extraordinary sensibility and says that in his appreciations he moves like a bee from flower to flower gathering particles of sweet honey.
Pater has his faults. For one thing he lacks originality. In his impressionism he is anticipated by Coleridge, Lamb and the other romantic critics. Similarly, there is nothing new in his “pleasure- giving” view of literature. His views on style can be traced back to Longinus.
In his view that in a poet, like Wordsworth, there is much that is characteristic, and much that is not characteristic, he is anticipated by Arnold who pleaded that Wordsworth should be presented through a suitable selection. Secondly, it is also true that he did not formulate any rules and principles. Thirdly, his criticism lacks a sense of purpose and direction. His criticism is often inconclusive, and sometimes even capricious.
Even if all this admitted, Pater remains a great critic.