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The Complacency Of Mediocrity
by [?]

Full as small intellects are of queer kinks, unexplained turnings and groundless likes and dislikes, the bland contentment that buoys up the incompetent is the most difficult of all vagaries to account for. Rarely do twenty-four hours pass without examples of this exasperating weakness appearing on the surface of those shallows that commonplace people so naively call “their minds.”

What one would expect is extreme modesty, in the half-educated or the ignorant, and self-approbation higher up in the scale, where it might more reasonably dwell. Experience, however, teaches that exactly the opposite is the case among those who have achieved success.

The accidents of a life turned by chance out of the beaten tracks, have thrown me at times into acquaintanceship with some of the greater lights of the last thirty years. And not only have they been, as a rule, most unassuming men and women; but in the majority of cases positively self- depreciatory; doubting of themselves and their talents, constantly aiming at greater perfection in their art or a higher development of their powers, never contented with what they have achieved, beyond the idea that it has been another step toward their goal. Knowing this, it is always a shock on meeting the mediocre people who form such a discouraging majority in any society, to discover that they are all so pleased with themselves, their achievements, their place in the world, and their own ability and discernment!

Who has not sat chafing in silence while Mediocrity, in a white waistcoat and jangling fobs, occupied the after-dinner hour in imparting second- hand information as his personal views on literature and art? Can you not hear him saying once again: “I don’t pretend to know anything about art and all that sort of thing, you know, but when I go to an exhibition I can always pick out the best pictures at a glance. Sort of a way I have, and I never make mistakes, you know.”

Then go and watch, as I have, Henri Rochefort as he laboriously forms the opinions that are to appear later in one of his “Salons,” realizing the while that he is facile princeps among the art critics of his day, that with a line he can make or mar a reputation and by a word draw the admiring crowd around an unknown canvas. While Rochefort toils and ponders and hesitates, do you suppose a doubt as to his own astuteness ever dims the self-complacency of White Waistcoat? Never!

There lies the strength of the feeble-minded. By a special dispensation of Providence, they can never see but one side of a subject, so are always convinced that they are right, and from the height of their contentment, look down on those who chance to differ with them.

A lady who has gathered into her dainty salons the fruit of many years’ careful study and tireless “weeding” will ask anxiously if you are quite sure you like the effect of her latest acquisition–some eighteenth-century statuette or screen (flotsam, probably, from the great shipwreck of Versailles), and listen earnestly to your verdict. The good soul who has just furnished her house by contract, with the latest “Louis Fourteenth Street” productions, conducts you complacently through her chambers of horrors, wreathed in tranquil smiles, born of ignorance and that smug assurance granted only to the–small.

When a small intellect goes in for cultivating itself and improving its mind, you realize what the poet meant in asserting that a little learning was a dangerous thing. For Mediocrity is apt, when it dines out, to get up a subject beforehand, and announce to an astonished circle, as quite new and personal discoveries, that the Renaissance was introduced into France from Italy, or that Columbus in his day made important “finds.”

When the incompetent advance another step and write or paint–which, alas! is only too frequent–the world of art and literature is flooded with their productions. When White Waistcoat, for example, takes to painting, late in life, and comes to you, canvas in hand, for criticism (read praise), he is apt to remark modestly: