Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/753

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A posteriori: it is plain that a man's first movement, as regards the good, is almost always right; as regards the beautiful, almost always wrong. Listen to the crowd, judging by its moral estimate of an event that has taken place under its eyes, when no interest nor passion misleads it: what good sense, what fairness, what insight, what right intentions, what generous sympathies! Then hear it discoursing on the merit of works of art: what wretched taste, what glaring mistakes, what ridiculous enthusiasm, what sad and utter going astray! "The people," writes Diderot to Grimm, "looks at every thing, and gets at the meaning of nothing." But do you ask for still more decisive and clear practical proofs of the immense distance that separates knowledge of the good from that of the beautiful in the human mind? A petit jury, though it decides on the liberty, life, and honor of an accused person, is drawn merely by lot, because each citizen can judge as well as every other, upon evidence and discussion, of the truth and morality of an alleged fact. But do we choose the jury which has to award the prize of a competition from the same list and in the same way? No! in that case we must choose among the most skilled and the best qualified specialists.

But what need of demonstrating what his own experience tells every one? Among these skilled and special jurors where is the one who will not confess that he at first was, and long continued to be, the dupe of his ignorance? Which of them is not aware that taste for the arts, and, still more, taste in the arts, came to him only after a long time, after lucky and often casual experiences, after protracted studies, repeated comparisons, a constant exertion of the powers of seeing, understanding, feeling, judging? And who does not know, by having learned it in himself, that in the arts—except perhaps in music, which filters in unconsciously to those who hear it—emotions come in the train of reasonings, and that the first condition of positive admiration is knowledge? "I am fully persuaded," says Sir Joshua Reynolds, in one of his "Fifteen Discourses," "that the pleasure yielded us by the perfections of art is a taste which we acquire only by long study and with much labor."

Those who choose to attribute too liberally to all men the sense of the beautiful as well as that of the good, attempt to support their opinion by a fact. They cite the instance of Athens, where, they say, competition in the arts was open to all in the public arena, where the whole people formed the tribunal. The instance is misleading, and I take it the other way, to sustain my proposition. Without insisting on the special genius of ancient Greece among the other nations of the world, and that of the Athenian people among the other peoples of Greece, I will merely point out that this people of Athens, so small in its territory and population, so great in its deeds and renown, consisted of about forty thousand free citizens, served by four hundred thousand slaves. Now, the slaves, charged with all manual