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As The Twig Is Bent
by [?]

I knew, in my youth, a French village far up among the Cevennes Mountains, where the one cultivated man of the place, saddened by the unlovely lives of the peasants around him and by the bare walls of the village school, organized evening classes for the boys. During these informal hours, he talked to them of literature and art and showed them his prints and paintings. When the youths’ interest was aroused he lent them books, that they might read about the statues and buildings that had attracted their attention. At first it appeared a hopeless task to arouse any interest among these peasants in subjects not bearing on their abject lives. To talk with boys of the ideal, when their poor bodies were in need of food and raiment, seemed superfluous; but in time the charm worked, as it always will. The beautiful appealed to their simple natures, elevating and refining them, and opening before their eager eyes perspectives of undreamed-of interest. The self-imposed task became a delight as his pupils’ minds responded to his efforts. Although death soon ended his useful life, the seed planted grew and bore fruit in many humble homes.

At this moment I know men in several walks of life who revere with touching devotion the memory of the one human being who had brought to them, at the moment when they were most impressionable, the gracious message that existence was not merely a struggle for bread. The boys he had gathered around him realize now that the encouragement and incentive received from those evening glimpses of noble works existing in the world was the mainspring of their subsequent development and a source of infinite pleasure through all succeeding years.

This reference to an individual effort toward cultivating the poor has been made because other delicate spirits are attempting some such task in our city, where quite as much as in the French village schoolchildren stand in need of some message of beauty in addition to the instruction they receive,-some window opened for them, as it were, upon the fields of art, that their eyes when raised from study or play may rest on objects more inspiring than blank walls and the graceless surroundings of street or schoolroom.

We are far too quick in assuming that love of the beautiful is confined to the highly educated; that the poor have no desire to surround themselves with graceful forms and harmonious colors. We wonder at and deplore their crude standards, bewailing the general lack of taste and the gradual reducing of everything to a commonplace money basis. We smile at the efforts toward adornment attempted by the poor, taking it too readily for granted that on this point they are beyond redemption. This error is the less excusable as so little has been done by way of experiment before forming an opinion,-whole classes being put down as inferior beings, incapable of appreciation, before they have been allowed even a glimpse of the works of art that form the daily mental food of their judges.

The portly charlady who rules despotically in my chambers is an example. It has been a curious study to watch her growing interest in the objects that have here for the first time come under her notice; the delight she has come to take in dusting and arranging my belongings, and her enthusiasm at any new acquisition. Knowing how bare her own home was, I felt at first only astonishment at her vivid interest in what seemed beyond her comprehension, but now realize that in some blind way she appreciates the rare and the delicate quite as much as my more cultivated visitors. At the end of one laborious morning, when everything was arranged to her satisfaction, she turned to me her poor, plain face, lighted up with an expression of delight, and exclaimed, “Oh, sir, I do love to work in these rooms! I’m never so happy as when I’m arranging them elegant things!” And, although my pleasure in her pleasure was modified by the discovery that she had taken an eighteenth-century comb to disentangle the fringes of a rug, and broken several of its teeth in her ardor, that she invariably placed a certain Whister etching upside down, and then stood in rapt admiration before it, still, in watching her enthusiasm, I felt a thrill of satisfaction at seeing how her untaught taste responded to a contact with good things.