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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/754

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tasks, and practising all the trades, relieved their masters from bodily labor, made them men of leisure, and consecrated them to the exclusive cultivation of the intellect, like the head of a body of which they were themselves the acting and subject limbs. That Athenian democracy, how jealous soever it might be of equality between citizens, was thus a real aristocracy; and we can very well understand how the decision on matters of art might be trusted to the multitude, when that multitude consisted entirely of men so enlightened, by education and experience, that all public functions and all magistracies might be distributed among them by lot, without any great danger to the state. The empire of the arts, though it refuses to accept any boundaries as haughtily as that of science does, though speaking as well a universal language it spreads over the whole world, can be ruled only by a strict oligarchy. Indeed, as has been justly said, good taste is the quintessence of good sense. Therefore, whatever may be our devotion to equality before the law, we can never admit equality before genius, or even before that talent which the cultivation of art requires.

Among mankind art has been, and always will be, the exclusive share of a small minority; in fact, a very choice and very limited aristocracy. It is assuredly not that of birth, for there is nothing more personal than genius or talent. It is aristocracy in its true and genuine sense—the privilege of the best. Art belongs only to certain exceptional natures, very rare because they are highly endowed, whose possessors must combine with the choicest moral faculties, imagination with judgment, feeling with taste, other precious physical faculties, clearness of view, and precision of touch. All men may be artisans; only the best, the aristoi, can be artists.

To conclude, and still taking the phrase "æsthetic sense" in its highest and perfect meaning, we first deny it to animals; and next, holding this delicate sense to be one of the noblest attributes of mankind, we restrict it to civilized man; then last, even among nations whom continued and general cultivation places in the front rank of humanity, we allow this aesthetic sense only to some groups of select men, on whom the nature of their minds and their taste formed by long study confers this rare and precious privilege. Has not Stendhal declared that all literary reputations are made by a choice circle of five hundred readers? And it is a certain truth that the number of bachelors of arts is still smaller than the number of bachelors of letters.

However, not to overstep the very modest part suited to mere writers and professional critics, let us hasten to add that, if in art the public voice is that of a very small number, but acute, practised, and disinterestedly enthusiastic; if this voice alone decrees to the living the rewards of celebrity, to the dead the immortality of fame; if, moreover, this choice circle of connoisseurs has the sole right of