We had been listening to a paper by Kaye—a beautiful and fanciful piece of work; when he finished, Father Payne said: “That’s a charming thing, Kaye—a little sticky in places, but still beautiful.”
“It’s not so good as I had hoped,” said Kaye mildly.
“Oh, don’t be humble,” said Father Payne; “that’s the basest of the virtues, because it vanishes the moment you realise it! Make your bow like a man. It may not be as good as you hoped—nothing ever is—but surely it is better than you expected?”
Kaye blushed, and said, “Well, yes, it is.”
“Now let me say generally,” said Father Payne, “that in art you ought never to undervalue your own work. You ought all to be able to recognise how far you have done what you intended. The big men, like Tennyson and Morris, were always quite prepared to praise their own work. They did it quite modestly, more as if some piece of good fortune had befallen them than as if they deserved credit. There’s no such thing as taking credit to oneself in art. What you try to do is always bound to be miles ahead of what you can do—that is where the humility comes in. But a man who can’t admire his own work on occasions, can’t admire anyone’s work. If you do a really good thing, you ought to feel as if you had been digging for diamonds and had found a big one. Hang it, you intend to make a fine thing! You are not likely to be conceited about it, because you can’t make a beautiful thing every day; and the humiliation comes in when, after turning out a good thing, you find yourself turning out a row of bad ones. The only artists who are conceited are those who can’t distinguish between what is good and what is inferior in their own work. You must not expect much praise, and least of all from other artists, because no artist is ever very deeply interested in another artist’s work, except in the work of the two or three who can do easily what he is trying to do. But it is a deep pleasure, which may be frankly enjoyed, to turn out a fine bit of work; though you must not waste much time over enjoying it, because you have got to go on to the next.”
“I always think it must be very awful,” said Vincent, “when it dawns upon a man that his mind is getting stiff and his faculty uncertain, and that he is not doing good work any more. What ought people to do about stopping?”
“It’s very hard to say,” said Father Payne. “The happiest thing of all is, I expect, to die before that comes; and the next best thing is to know when to stop and to want to stop. But many people get a habit of work, and fall into dreariness without it.”
“Isn’t it better to go on with the delusion that you are just as good as ever—like Wordsworth and Browning?” said Rose.