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CHARACTERISTICS OF GENIUS.
THE finest spirits of all time concur possessed by, instead of a power pos
1 in ascribing their best effects to a sessing. We still make use of the higher power. The genial flow of suc- phrase “ good genius” in the sense of cessful production registers itself in guardian spirit. our consciousness, as a special grace Genius is the higher self, and combeyond the command of the private mon to all men. What, then, distinwill. The experience of every true art- guishes men of genius, so called, from ist, of every great poet, prophet, dis- the rest of mankind ?. We may supcoverer, of every providential leader of pose that the higher self is more active his time, attests the action of an alien in some than in others, or that it finds force transcending the calculated efforts more docile subjects. Or we may supof the mind, and working the surprises pose that its quality differs with differof art and life.
ent individuals. I only contend that This latent and reserved power in genius is not a special faculty which he man the Greeks called Aaluov (dæmon) who has it employs at will, as the paintPlutarch, in his gossiping discourse on er his brush or the sculptor his chisel, the dæmon of Socrates, reports the but the higher nature, the man of the vision of one Timarchus, who descended man. into the cave of Trophonius to consult It is not, however, of genius as a psythe oracle on the subject. He there chological principle, but of genius as an saw spirits which were partly immersed intellectual phenomenon,- of genius as in human bodies, and partly exterior to manifested in science, art, life, – that I them, shining luminously above their wish to speak. heads. He was told that the part im So viewed, its great and distinguishmersed in the body is called the soul, ing characteristic is originality. In the but the external part is called dæmon. etymology of the word lies the sense of Every man, says the oracle, has his productive force, and in 'vulgar opinion dæmon, whom he is bound to obey; it stands for originating power. In scithose who implicitly follow that guid- ence it appears as discovery and inance are the prophetic souls, the favor- vention, always as newness. It is the ites of the gods. Goethe, in his myste- mediator between the known and the rious way, speaks of the dæmonic in unknown, the possible and impossiman as a power lying back of the will, ble. In science, as in nature, there is and inspiring certain natures with mi- always a leap from stage to stage. The raculous energy. He disclaims this beginning of the animal is not the orpower for himself, yet in his autobi- ganic sequent of the vegetable kingography represents the poetic faculty dom, nor the viviparous animal of the dwelling in him as something beyond oviparous, nor man of the chimpanzee. his control, - as a kind of obsession. At each stage there is a lift between
It is this involuntary, incalculable successive orders, a break in the seforce that constitutes what we call gen- quence where plastic Nature interpoius. The word was originally synony- lates a new thought; and the præsens mous with the Aaluoy of the Greeks. It numen makes the bridge from kind to denoted a guardian power beyond the kind. The history of intellectual geneconsciousness and above the will of the sis exhibits similar interpolations. The individual, -- a power which determined succession between old and new, in sciand controlled his action, but over ence and art, is not a mechanical sewhich he had no control. It is com- quence, but a lift and a leap. The paratively a recent use to speak of transition from stage to stage is not genius as a quality of mind; a power the measured increment of an arith
metical series, but a mediation of origi- watch-posts. There was a chasm benating genius. Genius is the bridge tween Uranial and cis-Uranial astronbuilder, the pontifex maximus, in the omy. A bridge was needed to span passage from period to period in sci- that gulf. Who will build the bridge ence and art.
from Saturn to Uranus? Then said Such a bridge was built by Kepler, Leverrier, “ That bridge must be a for the science of astronomy, which, af- pianet." And he set himself to work ter the pregnant conjecture of Coperni- to construct a planet. It must be of cus, had come to a stand in the sixteenth such and such dimensions, it must be century. Tycho Brahé had accumu- at such and such distances from the lated at his observatory a mass of facts sun and other planets, it must have which he wanted the wit to apply to such and such periods of rotation and further progress, still maintaining, in revolution. And now, gentlemen at spite of Copernicus, the earth's immo- the sentinel-posts of science, your bility. Kepler saw these facts, and in bridge is ready; and if, at a certain his productive imagination they imme- hour of a certain night you will turn diately germinated into new discover your telescopes on a certain quarter ies. A discrepance of eight minutes of the heavens, you will see a planet between the position of Mars as noted which was never yet noted by terresby Brahé, and that which it should trial eye. And the sentinels pointed have had as calculated by the Coper- their tubes, and saw Neptune emerge nican hypothesis, suggested to him the from the upper deep, and respond with ellipse as the true orbit of planetary ray serene to the searching interrogamotion. With this discovery, to which tory of his brother orb. he added that of the equal areas in But before the problems of the Miequal times of the radius vector, and canique Céleste could be solved, a the true proportion of the times of rev- higher arithmetic was required than olution to the distances of the planets any known to ancient science. The from the sun, he inaugurated the new methods employed by the old astronera in astronomy. Kepler's “ Three omers were not applicable to these new Laws” are the three arches of the exigencies. A bridge was needed bebridge by which the sublimest of the tween the old computation and the sciences crossed the gulf from the new problems. That bridge was furPtolemaic to the modern system. nished by Leibnitz, the mathematical
In later time, when Laplace by victo- genius of the seventeenth century. He rious arithmetic had solved the porten- examined the methods then in use for tous problems of the Mécanique Cé- determining the values of unknown and leste, and reduced to order the seeming variable quantities; and found that irregularities of the heavenly bodies, by considering number as continuous, when every planet but one was exactly and of gradual growth, the process timed in sidereal horology; when even might be simplified, and the values the revolution of distant Saturn was of unknown quantities ascertained by computed to the day, the hour, the very equations established between their de
second of his arrival at the home sta- rivatives, instead of directly between : tion after an annual journey of nearly themselves. The result was the infini
thirty earthly years,– Uranus alone de- tesimal calculus, the serviceable tool fied arithmetic, and refused to conform without which astronomy could not to the time set down for him on the have achieved its greatest triumphs. heavenly dial. No calculus could fix Richer than science itself in illustrathis extreme member of the spheral tions of originating genius is the applischool, no equation could dispose of cation of science to art. Art is the ishis rebellious eccentricity. “What ails sue to which science necessarily tends. the refractory planet ? ” asked the star- As spirit cannot remain spirit in uncontiming sentinels of science, at their ditioned abstraction, but is bound to precipitate itself in material creations; wired to the New; continent converses so knowledge rushes into life, and sci- with continent by electro-magnetism. ence hastens to realize itself in art. In At this rate, how long will it be before whatever department of scientific in- the whole earth, girdled round and quiry, however remote from practical round with electric lines of intelligence, life, a new fact is discovered, the gen- shall repair the disaster of Babel, and ius of humanity will sooner or later have all her children united once more translate that fact into use.
in conscious communication ? In 1820 a Danish professor, in the One more illustration of the many midst of a lecture on electricity, was which suggest themselves. There has suddenly seized with a thought which grown up of late an art which, though so overwhelmed him that he straight strictly mechanical in its methods, is way closed his delivery, adjourned with nearly allied to beautiful art in its prodhis class from the lecture-room to the ucts, and surpasses beautiful art in its laboratory, there to test his idea by a faithful rendering of nature, the art by practical experiment. The experiment which the sun is made to copy and demonstrated that the electric current fix the pictures he paints on the eye. is accompanied by a magnetic circula- When we gaze on a beautiful or betion, and exerts, under certain condi- loved object which time and distance tions, a determining influence on the must soon remove, the desire arises to direction of the magnetic needle. In have what is next to the object itself, a word, he discovered electro-magnet- — the “counterfeit presentment” that ism. Twelve years later, an American shall reproduce the image when the artist returning from Europe hears a original is withdrawn. The frolic grace fellow-passenger in the home-bound of childhood, the radiant bloom of youth, packet-ship recount some experiments are charms which the swift years are with the electro-magnet recently wit hastening to obliterate. The fond parnessed in Paris. He conceives the ent whose house these visions of beauidea that the rapid transmission of elec- ty bless is anxious to preserve in the tricity might be turned to account in impress what he cannot retain in the the communication of intelligence. Af- life. The tourist bound for distant ter several fruitless experiments, he lands, intending protracted absence, succeeds in constructing a machine by would fain leave behind some image which the action of the electro-magnet of himself that may represent him in on a lever puts in motion an iron pen, the home circle, and take with him the and deposits marks which, used as images of his beloved. The same tourequivalents of alphabetic signs, produce ist bound for home desires some meon paper an intelligible record. An- morial that shall reproduce for him in other twelve years, and a message is after years the scenes and wonders of sent from Baltimore to Washington by foreign lands. The painter's art may, this miraculous agent. Meanwhile the to some extent, supply these wants, for pregnant idea has fructified abroad; such as are able to command its serlightning has become a medium of com- vice. But the products of pencil and munication between the capitals of Eu- brush are luxuries not accessible to all. rope; England builds a colossal steam- A cheaper artist has been secured for ship, which having miscarried in every these occasions. The same celestial other enterprise, and conjugated in her limner that painted the originals is enbrief history all the moods and tenses gaged by modern invention to repeat of failure, serves at last a providential the picture in miniature and portable purpose in threading the Atlantic with form. Photography answers the dean insulating cable which binds the mand of unerring accuracy in the prodhemispheres in social converse. In uct, with the smallest cost in the proless than fifty years from the date of The history of this invention Oersted's experiment, the Old World is illustrates the opportuneness of genius in the application of science to art. undraped and unadorned, to the eye
of The art of photography was impossi- the spirit, is sufficient covering. Such ble until chemistry, the most recent of a deliverer was Leonardo, who emancithe sciences, had discovered the physical pated art from the bonds of Umbrian fact on which it is based. No sooner spiritualism, and instaurated simple huwas the fact discovered than genius manity in the schools of Italy. was ready to appropriate and trans- Next to originality, the most distinclate it into use. It was near the close tive characteristic of genius is a right of the last century that Senebier, in- proportion between the productive and vestigating the laws of vegetable pro regulative forces of the mind. A certain cesses, discovered that the light of the exceptional amount of intellectual vigor sun is required to enable the leaves of being presupposed, what most distinplants to fix the carbon and disengage guishes minds of the first from those the oxygen of the earth's atmosphere. of a lower order is that due command Subsequent experiments, suggested by of their powers which precludes all this discovery, established the fact that wildness and excess, and secures for the violet rays of the prismal spectrum, their works the crowning grace of proand those which bound it on the outer portion. The mind of man, like the side, possess the property of blackening planet he inhabits, and like all the chloride of silver. To ordinary minds great agencies of nature, is bipolar. It there was no particular significance in has its positive pole and its negative, this fact, no relation to pictorial art. antagonist forces, which, for want of But the genius of Daguerre came in a better designation, we will call Imagicontact with it. He saw in it the germ nation and Reflection. Imagination is of a new and wondrous invention ; saw the positive force, reflection the negin it the possibility of pictures painted ative; imagination creates, reflection by the light, - copies of its own origi- limits and defines. The one gives the nals, - and gave us in the photograph stuff, the other the form. Imagination, a bridge of triumph from the laboratory although the most exalted of the intelto the easel. By means of this inven- lectual powers, is also the most univertion, which renders with impartial fidel- sal. It is the first faculty which the ity every trait in nature and art, the infant exercises, and the last to become tourist brings home the lands he visits, extinct in old age. Its universality is in his portfolio. Venice and Rome, seen in dreams. The clown dreams Switzerland and the Rhine, are sold as well as the poet; and the dreams at the print-shops, and Europe may
be of either are just as poetic at one time, seen without the inconvenience of sea- and just as absurd at another. Dreamsickness.
ing is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men
a creative power In beautiful art, as in mechanical, which, if it were available in waking, the mark of genius is still originality. would make every man a Dante or a And here this trait is most conspicuous Shakespeare. Our night-history is a in the great transitions by which art series of poetic compositions, each one passes from its rude and elementary of which, however absurd as a whole, stages to its full development, — transi- contains, perhaps, some one passage tions which culminate in some marked or trait which would make the fortune individual, who bursts the trammels of of a work of art. But though the raw convention, and leads his age by one capacity is universal, the trained faculty decisive step from bondage to freedom. is peculiar. Out of this unorganized Such a deliverer was Praxiteles, when prose imagination the conscious arhe set before his countrymen the dar- tistic power must develop itself, like ing novelty of the Cnidian Venus, pro- the winged bird from the senseless claiming the complete beauty of the egg. The artist differs from the comhuman form, and proving that beauty mon man, not so much in the amount
of mind possessed as in the amount exhaust themselves in rank excess of taken up into consciousness. Imagi- leaf and stalk, and never ripen into nation alone does not constitute gen fruit, were it not for the concentrative ius. There may be an excess of that power which checks this overgrowth, element, unbalanced by the regulative and, reducing the volume for the sake powers. “Men of unbounded imagi- of the product, collects the luxuriant nation," says Dryden, “ often want the juices of the plant into edible pulp and poise of judgment.” In actual life, that marrow. What the centripetal power excess produces or rather constitutes in- is to the planet, what concentration is sanity, - a phenomenon very similar to to the plant, that reflection is to the that of dreaming. The maniac, like the mind, -- the power which sets bounds, dreamer, is taken out of his true posi- which corrects and defines, which tion in space and time. But the rea moulds and perfects and renders availson of the disturbance is not the same able the raw material of imagination. in both. In the maniac the imagina- For want of this negative power, untion, owing to some morbid action of balanced minds become the victims of the brain, overrules the impressions their own ideality. Like the magiderived through the senses ; in the cian's apprentice in Goethe's deep fadreamer the predominance of the imagi- ble, they are drowned by the spirits nation arises from the torpid state of they evoke. As artists, as poets, they the sentient organs. The dreamer is often astonish, but never satisfy. They a madman quiescent, the madınan is lacerate the soul with over-excitement. a dreamer in action.
But genius is always self-possessed. In intellectual efforts, the excess of The masters in art know how to lay as imagination over the negative faculty well as to summon; they command the shows itself in overstrained and fan- spirits they conjure, and dismiss them tastic productions, in poetic “ambition promptly when their work is done. that o'erleaps its sell.” Phaeton, in
"In die Ecke the Greek mythology, borrows the sun
Besen ! Besen ! chariot, but, unable to guide the steeds,
Seid's gewesen !" is hurried away by them to his own de- They never harrow with excessive emostruction. There are Phaetons in ev- tion. Whatever horrors their subject ery walk of life, - men of great capacity may bring, the general harmony is not and vast ambition, who fail in serious disturbed. If they summon Furies, undertakings for lack, as we say, of as in the Eumenides and in Macbeth, “judgment," that is, of negative power. they put music in their mouths and a They are carried away by great concep- solemn measure in their feet. If they tions which they are unable to manage picture deeds of violence, as in Othello, and bring to successful execution. they half envelop them in their own They have the positive element of gen- deep shadows. They “use all gentius, imagination; but want reflection, ly"; "in the very torrent, tempest, and - that reaction of the mind on its whirlwind” of their “ passion," they own forces which fixes their limits, and “acquire and beget a temperance that binds them with law and form. Un- may give it smoothness." Whether limited force is force without effect. dealing with elemental fury or wielding The sun's rays would be powerless the lightnings of vengeance, they never without the refracting and reflecting transgress the severe boundary line of planets, which oppose their denser beauty, and “o'erstep not the modesty spheres to the prodigal efflux. The of nature.” With the grandest themes planets would fly asunder, and be dis- they combine the most diligent details. sipated in nebulæ, without the centrip- For genius is quite as apparent in elabetal force, which negatives their eager oration as in conception. It has not striving for limitless expansion. The only to create the soul of a work, but to vegetable growths of the earth would mould, part by part, the body that soul