Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/125

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107
EDITOR'S TABLE.

afford to pay, each a million dollars, to secure the gold medal that would place their articles in advance of all competitors. Nor is there anything in recent American experiences that would justify us in expecting an incorruptible administration of the duties of jurymen. Even where the distribution of medals is supplemented and corrected by written reports the results must be unsatisfactory, for it is of small moment to the public that the award has been qualified or contradicted in a printed document. The verdict of the medal itself will be held as the important and decisive thing. Mr. Beckwith, who has not only had experience of the old practice, but has carefully studied its general workings, points out in his report the inadequacy of the European jury system and the defectiveness of its results. Profiting by these failures, the Philadelphia plan has been organized to avoid them, and give us more valuable and trustworthy work.

The first purpose of such a collection of the products of art, science, and industry, as will be displayed in Philadelphia, undoubtedly is, that its objects may be seen and inspected by the public; yet the mere gratification of curiosity by staring at new and strange things is certainly its lowest advantage. Such exhibitions are only put to their best and proper use as means of public education, in which observers become inquirers, and get a knowledge of the true qualities and characters of the things exhibited. The value of the display will be in proportion to its intelligent appreciation, and the management of the affair must be judged by the efficiency and completeness of the means adopted to instruct the public in regard to it. To this end, the first step was to get rid of the misguiding and vicious system of medals, and then to secure capable men to furnish discriminating and responsible reports. It is well for the national honor and for wholesome public influence that the most efficient measures have been taken to put things for once upon their naked and sterling merits. The selection of a hundred able experts from abroad, with a hundred more to be furnished by this country as judges, who are to be paid their personal expenses, and who are committed by their reputations to give honest and competent verdicts on the intrinsic and comparative merits of objects exhibited—the reports to be published for the use of visitors at the earliest practicable moment—is a measure on the part of the commissioners at once so sensible and so just that it raises some perplexity as to how it has been brought about. The old method of proceeding is so rooted in universal usage, and so congenial with the fierce competitive spirit of American business, that we cannot for a moment suppose it has failed to make its best fight against this innovation. That it should have been beaten, and a greatly superior method adopted by the commissioners, is alike unexpected and a cause of devout gratitude.

But the policy initiated at Philadelphia has a still further significance. It is not merely a transient expedient in the tactics of a great show, but it declares a principle of wide and permanent application in society. Its adoption strikes a blow at the all-prevailing habit of offering prizes as artificial stimulants to effort, instead of making the intrinsic excellence of work and its intelligent appreciation the true impulse of exertion and enterprise. Competitions are inflamed in all directions by sordid and selfish temptations, but it is in education that the system of extrinsic rewards and factitious provocations is carried to the greatest extent, and leads to the most mischievous results. The practice of giving prizes in schools is vicious as substituting spurious and unworthy motives to exertion, where the very object is to form the character by bringing generous and ennobling incitements into habitual and controlling exercise. To beat an antagonist, and win a medal or a purse,