On the other hand, if we are amiably and cheerfully inclined to admire things in general in a popular way, easily pleased and not exacting, we shall both receive and give a great deal of pleasure, but it will be all in a second and third and fourth-rate order of delight, and although this comfortable turn of mind is saved from much that is painful and jarring, it is not exempt from the danger of itself jarring continually upon the feelings of others, of pandering to the downward tendency in what is popular, and, in education, of debasing the standard of taste and discrimination for children. To be swayed by popularity in matters of taste is to accept mediocrity wholesale. We have left too far behind the ages when the taste of the people could give sound and true judgment in matters of art; we have left them at a distance which can be measured by what lies between the greatest Greek tragedies and contemporary popular plays. Consternation is frequently expressed at seeing how theatres of every grade are crowded with children of all classes in life, so it is from these popular plays that they must be learning the first lessons of dramatic criticism.
There are only rare instances of taste which is instinctively true, and the process of educational pressure tends to level down original thought in children, as the excess of magazine and newspaper reading works in the same direction for older minds, so that true, independent taste becomes more rare; the result does not seem favourable to the development of the best discernment in those who ought to sway the taste of their generation. If taste in art is entirely guided by that of others, and especially by fashion, it cannot attain to the possession of an independent point of view; yet this in a modest degree every one with some training might aspire to. But under the sway of fashion taste is cowed; it becomes conventional, and falls under the dominion of the current price of works of art. On the other hand it is more unfortunate to be self-taught in matters of taste than in any other order of things. In this point taste ranks with manners, which are, after all, a department of the same region of right feeling and discernment. If taste is untaught and spontaneous, it is generally unreliable and without consistency. If self-taught it can hardly help becoming dogmatic and oracular, as some highly gifted minds have become, making themselves the supreme court of appeal for their own day.
But trained taste is grounded in reverence and discipleship, a lowly and firm basis for departure, from which it may, if it has the power to do or to discern, rise in its strength, and leave behind those who have shown the way, or soar in great flights beyond their view. So it has often been seen in the history of art, and such is the right order of growth. It needs the living voice and the attentive mind, the influence of trained and experienced judgment to guide us in the beginning, but the guide must let us go at last and we must rely upon ourselves.