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The Discontent Of Talent
by [?]

The complacency that buoys up self-sufficient souls, soothing them with the illusion that they themselves, their towns, country, language, and habits are above improvement, causing them to shudder, as at a sacrilege, if any changes are suggested, is fortunately limited to a class of stay- at-home nonentities. In proportion as it is common among them, is it rare or delightfully absent in any society of gifted or imaginative people.

Among our globe-trotting compatriots this defect is much less general than in the older nations of the world, for the excellent reason, that the moment a man travels or takes the trouble to know people of different nationalities, his armor of complacency receives so severe a blow, that it is shattered forever, the wanderer returning home wiser and much more modest. There seems to be something fatal to conceit in the air of great centres; professionally or in general society a man so soon finds his level.

The “great world” may foster other faults; human nature is sure to develop some in every walk of life. Smug contentment, however, disappears in its rarefied atmosphere, giving place to a craving for improvement, a nervous alertness that keeps the mind from stagnating and urges it on to do its best.

It is never the beautiful woman who sits down in smiling serenity before her mirror. She is tireless in her efforts to enhance her beauty and set it off to the best advantage. Her figure is never slender enough, nor her carriage sufficiently erect to satisfy. But the “frump” will let herself and all her surroundings go to seed, not from humbleness of mind or an overwhelming sense of her own unworthiness, but in pure complacent conceit.

A criticism to which the highly gifted lay themselves open from those who do not understand them, is their love of praise, the critics failing to grasp the fact that this passion for measuring one’s self with others, like the gad-fly pursuing poor Io, never allows a moment’s repose in the green pastures of success, but goads them constantly up the rocky sides of endeavor. It is not that they love flattery, but that they need approbation as a counterpoise to the dark moments of self-abasement and as a sustaining aid for higher flights.

Many years ago I was present at a final sitting which my master, Carolus Duran, gave to one of my fair compatriots. He knew that the lady was leaving Paris on the morrow, and that in an hour, her husband and his friends were coming to see and criticise the portrait–always a terrible ordeal for an artist.

To any one familiar with this painter’s moods, it was evident that the result of the sitting was not entirely satisfactory. The quick breathing, the impatient tapping movement of the foot, the swift backward springs to obtain a better view, so characteristic of him in moments of doubt, and which had twenty years before earned him the name of le danseur from his fellow-copyists at the Louvre, betrayed to even a casual observer that his discouragement and discontent were at boiling point.

The sound of a bell and a murmur of voices announced the entrance of the visitors into the vast studio. After the formalities of introduction had been accomplished the new-comers glanced at the portrait, but uttered never a word. From it they passed in a perfectly casual manner to an inspection of the beautiful contents of the room, investigating the tapestries, admiring the armor, and finally, after another glance at the portrait, the husband remarked: “You have given my wife a jolly long neck, haven’t you?” and, turning to his friends, began laughing and chatting in English.

If vitriol had been thrown on my poor master’s quivering frame, the effect could not have been more instantaneous, his ignorance of the language spoken doubtless exaggerating his impression of being ridiculed. Suddenly he turned very white, and before any of us had divined his intention he had seized a Japanese sword lying by and cut a dozen gashes across the canvas. Then, dropping his weapon, he flung out of the room, leaving his sitter and her friends in speechless consternation, to wonder then and ever after in what way they had offended him. In their opinions, if a man had talent and understood his business, he should produce portraits with the same ease that he would answer dinner invitations, and if they paid for, they were in no way bound also to praise, his work. They were entirely pleased with the result, but did not consider it necessary to tell him so, no idea having crossed their minds that he might be in one of those moods so frequent with artistic natures, when words of approbation and praise are as necessary to them, as the air we breathe is to us, mortals of a commoner clay.