The foundations of all this lie very deep in human nature, and taste will be consistent with itself throughout the whole of life. It manifests itself in early sensitiveness and responsiveness to artistic beauty. It determines the choice in what to love as well as what to like. It will assert itself in friendship, and estrangement in matters of taste is often the first indication of a divergence in ideals which continues and grows more marked until at some crossroads one takes the higher path and the other the lower and their ways never meet again. That higher path, the disinterested love of beauty, calls for much sacrifice; it must seek its pleasure on ly in the highest, and not look for a first taste of delight, but a second, when the power of criticism has been schooled by a kind of asceticism to detect the choice from the vulgar and the true from the insincere. This spirit of sacrifice must enter into every form of training for life, but above all into the training of the Catholic mind. It has a wide range and asks much of its disciples, a certain renunciation and self-restraint in all things which never completely lets itself go. Catholic art bears witness to this: “Where a man seeks himself there he falls from love,” says a Kempis, and this is proved not only in the love of God, but in what makes the glory of Christian art, the love of beauty and truth in the service of faith.
“Manners are the happy ways of doing things; each—once—a stroke of genius or of love, now repeated and hardened into usage.”—EMERSON.
The late Queen Victoria had a profound sense of the importance of manners and of certain conventionalities, and the singular gift of common sense, which stood for so much in her, stands also for the significance of those things on which she laid so much stress.
Conventionality has a bad name at present, and manners are on the decline, this is a fact quite undisputed. As to conventionalities it is assumed that they represent an artificial and hollow code, from the pressure of which all, and especially the young, should be emancipated. And it may well be that there is something to be said in favour of modifying them—in fact it must be so, for all human things need at times to be revised and readapted to special and local conditions. To attempt to enforce the same code of conventions on human society in different countries, or at different stages of development, is necessarily artificial, and if pressed too far it provokes reaction, and in reaction we almost inevitably go to extreme lengths. So in reaction against too rigid conventionalities and a social ritual which was perhaps over-exacting, we are swinging out beyond control in the direction of complete spontaneity. And yet there is need for a code of conventions—for some established defence against the instincts of selfishness which find their way back by a short cut to barbarism if they are not kept in check.