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Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the boy starts his “education” the better. Maybe he will be an ornithologist when he grows up. A few people, however, can still see and hear in the old way. But most of the members of the human race have lost the capacity to be painters, poets, or musicians, and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to; they must get it secondhand.

What is missing after afford to? "see and hear directly" or "be painters, poets, or musicians"

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This means:

... and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to see and hear directly.

The implication (as I( see it) is that this takes time and energy away from earning a living, but that even those who can afford to take that time are mostly too trained in attending to ordinary daily affairs to be able to see and hear directly; instead most people must see and hear secondhand through the works of painters, poets, or musicians.

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