Characteristics of Genius

THE finest spirits of all time concur in ascribing their best effects to a higher power. The genial flow of successful production registers itself in our consciousness, as a special grace beyond the command of the private will. The experience of every true artist, of every great poet, prophet, discoverer, of every providential leader of his time, attests the action of an alien force transcending the calculated efforts of the mind, and working the surprises of art and life.

This latent and reserved power in man the Greeks called ▵aíμωv (dæmon). Plutarch, in his gossiping discourse on the daemon of Socrates, reports the vision of one Timarchus, who descended into the cave of Trophonius to consult the oracle on the subject. He there saw spirits which were partly immersed in human bodies, and partly exterior to them, shining luminously above their heads. He was told that the part immersed in the body is called the soul, but the external part is called dæmon. Every man, says the oracle, has his daemon, whom he is bound to obey ; those who implicitly follow that guidance are the prophetic souls, the favorites of the gods. Goethe, in his mysterious way, speaks of the daemonic in man as a power lying back of the will, and inspiring certain natures with miraculous energy. He disclaims this power for himself, yet in his autobiography represents the poetic faculty dwelling in him as something beyond his control, —as a kind of obsession.

It is this involuntary, incalculable force that constitutes what we call genius. The word was originally synonymous with the ▵aíωv of the Greeks. It denoted a guardian power beyond the consciousness and above the will of the individual, — a power which determined and controlled his action, but over which he had no control. It is comparatively a recent use to speak of genius as a quality of mind ; a power possessed by, instead of a power possessing. We still make use of the phrase “good genius” in the sense of guardian spirit.

Genius is the higher self, and common to all men. What, then, distinguishes men of genius, so called, from the rest of mankind? We may suppose that the higher self is more active in some than in others, or that it finds more docile subjects. Or we may suppose that its quality differs with different individuals. I only contend that genius is not a special faculty which he who has it employs at will, as the painter his brush or the sculptor his chisel, but the higher nature, the man of the man.

It is not, however, of genius as a psychological principle, but of genius as an intellectual phenomenon, — of genius as manifested in science, art, life, — that I wish to speak.

So viewed, its great and distinguishing characteristic is originality. In the etymology of the word lies the sense of productive force, and in vulgar opinion it stands for originating power. In science it appears as discovery and invention, always as newness. It is the mediator between the known and the unknown, the possible and impossible. In science, as in nature, there is always a leap from stage to stage. The beginning of the animal is not the organic sequent of the vegetable kingdom, nor the viviparous animal of the oviparous, nor man of the chimpanzee. At each stage there is a lift between successive orders, a break in the sequence where plastic Nature interpolates a new thought; and the prœsens numen makes the bridge from kind to kind. The history of intellectual genesis exhibits similar interpolations. The succession between old and new, in science and art, is not a mechanical sequence, but a lift and a leap. The transition from stage to stage is not the measured increment of an arithmetical series, but a mediation of originating genius. Genius is the bridgebuilder, the pontifex maximus, in the passage from period to period in science and art.

Such a bridge was built by Kepler, for the science of astronomy, which, after the pregnant conjecture of Copernicus, had come to a stand in the sixteenth century. Tycho Brahe had accumulated at his observatory a mass of facts which he wanted the wit to apply to further progress, still maintaining, in spite of Copernicus, the earth’s immobility. Kepler saw these facts, and in his productive imagination they immediately germinated into new discoveries. A discrepance of eight minutes between the position of Mars as noted by Brahe, and that which it should have had as calculated by the Copernican hypothesis, suggested to him the ellipse as the true orbit of planetary motion. With this discovery, to which he added that of the equal areas in equal times of the radius vector, and the true proportion of the times of revolution to the distances of the planets from the sun, he inaugurated the new era in astronomy. Kepler’s “ Three Laws ” are the three arches of the bridge by which the sublimest of the sciences crossed the gulf from the Ptolemaic to the modern system.

In later time, when Laplace by victorious arithmetic had solved the portentous problems of the Mecanique Céteste, and reduced to order the seeming irregularities of the heavenly bodies, when every planet but one was exactly timed in sidereal horology; when even the revolution of distant Saturn was computed to the day, the hour, the very second of his arrival at the home station after an annual journey of nearly thirty earthly years,— Uranus alone defied arithmetic, and refused to conform to the time set down for him on the heavenly dial. No calculus could fix this extreme member of the spheral school, no equation could dispose of his rebellious eccentricity. “What ails the refractory planet ? ” asked the startiming sentinels of science, at their watch-posts. There was a chasm between Uranial and cis-Uranial astronomy. A bridge was needed to span that gulf. Who will build the bridge from Saturn to Uranus ? Then said Leverrier, “ That bridge must be a planet.” And he set himself to work to construct a planet. It must be of such and such dimensions, it must be at such and such distances from the sun and other planets, it must have such and such periods of rotation and revolution. And now, gentlemen at the sentinel-posts of science, your bridge is ready ; and if, at a certain hour of a certain night you will turn your telescopes on a certain quarter of the heavens, you will see a planet which was never yet noted by terrestrial eye. And the sentinels pointed their tubes, and saw Neptune emerge from the upper deep, and respond with ray serene to the searching interrogatory of his brother orb.

But before the problems of the Mecanique Celeste could be solved, a higher arithmetic was required than any known to ancient science. The methods employed by the old astronomers were not applicable to these new exigencies. A bridge was needed between the old computation and the new problems. That bridge was furnished by Leibnitz, the mathematical genius of the seventeenth century. He examined the methods then in use for determining the values of unknown and variable quantities ; and found that by considering number as continuous, and of gradual growth, the process might be simplified, and the values of unknown quantities ascertained by equations established between their derivatives, instead of directly between themselves. The result was the infinitesimal calculus, — the serviceable tool without which astronomy could not have achieved its greatest triumphs.

Richer than science itself in illustrations of originating genius is the application of science to art. Art is the issue to which science necessarily tends. As spirit cannot remain spirit in unconditioned abstraction, but is bound to precipitate itself in material creations; so knowledge rushes into life, and science hastens to realize itself in art. In whatever department of scientific inquiry, however remote from practical life, a new fact is discovered, the genius of humanity will sooner or later translate that fact into use.

In 1820 a Danish professor, in the midst of a lecture on electricity, was suddenly seized with a thought which so overwhelmed him that he straightway closed his delivery, adjourned with his class from the lecture-room to the laboratory, there to test his idea by a practical experiment. The experiment demonstrated that the electric current is accompanied by a magnetic circulation, and exerts, under certain conditions, a determining influence on the direction of the magnetic needle. In a word, he discovered electro-magnetism. Twelve years later, an American artist returning from Europe hears a fellow-passenger in the home-bound packet-ship recount some experiments with the electro-magnet recently witnessed in Paris. He conceives the idea that the rapid transmission of electricity might be turned to account in the communication of intelligence. After several fruitless experiments, he succeeds in constructing a machine by which the action of the electro-magnet on a lever puts in motion an iron pen, and deposits marks which, used as equivalents of alphabetic signs, produce on paper, an intelligible record. Another twelve years, and a message is sent from Baltimore to Washington by this miraculous agent. Meanwhile the pregnant idea has fructified abroad; lightning has become a medium of communication between the capitals of Europe ; England builds a colossal steamship, which having miscarried in every other enterprise, and conjugated in her brief history all the moods and tenses of failure, serves at last a providential purpose in threading the Atlantic with an insulating cable which binds the hemispheres in social converse. In less than fifty years from the date of Oersted’s experiment, the Old World is wired to the New; continent converses with continent by electro-magnetism. At this rate, how long will it be before the whole earth, girdled round and round with electric lines of intelligence, shall repair the disaster of Babel, and have all her children united once more in conscious communication ?

One more illustration of the many which suggest themselves. There has grown up of late an art which, though strictly mechanical in its methods, is nearly allied to beautiful art in its products, and surpasses beautiful art in its faithful rendering of nature,— the art by which the sun is made to copy and fix the pictures he paints on the eye. When we gaze on a beautiful or beloved object which time and distance must soon remove, the desire arises to have what is next to the object itselt, — the " counterfeit presentment” that shall reproduce the image when the original is withdrawn. The frolic grace of childhood, the radiant bloom of youth, are charms which the swift years are hastening to obliterate. The fond parent whose house these visions of beauty bless is anxious to preserve in the impress what he cannot retain in the life. The tourist bound for distant lands, intending protracted absence, would fain leave behind some image of himself that may represent him in the home circle, and take with him the images of his beloved. The same tourist bound for home desires some memorial that shall reproduce for him in after years the scenes and wonders of foreign lands. The painter’s art may, to some extent, supply these wants, for such as are able to command its service. But the products of pencil and brush are luxuries not accessible to all. A cheaper artist has been secured for these occasions. The same celestial limner that painted the originals is engaged by modern invention to repeat the picture in miniature and portable form. Photography answers the demand of unerring accuracy in the product, with the smallest cost in the process. The history of this invention illustrates the opportuneness of genius in the application of science to art. The art of photography was impossible until chemistry, the most recent of the sciences, had discovered the physical fact on which it is based. No sooner was the fact discovered than genius was ready to appropriate and translate it into use. It was near the close of the last century that Senebier, investigating the laws of vegetable processes, discovered that the light of the sun is required to enable the leaves of plants to fix the carbon and disengage the oxygen of the earth’s atmosphere. Subsequent experiments, suggested by this discovery, established the fact that the violet rays of the prismal spectrum, and those which bound it on the outer side, possess the property of blackening chloride of silver. To ordinary minds there was no particular significance in this fact, no relation to pictorial art. But the genius of Daguerre came in contact with it. He saw in it the germ of a new and wondrous invention ; saw in it the possibility of pictures painted by the light, — copies of its own originals,— and gave us in the photograph a bridge of triumph from the laboratory to the easel. By means of this invention, which renders with impartial fidelity every trait in nature and art, the tourist brings home the lands lie visits, in his portfolio. Venice and Rome, Switzerland and the Rhine, are sold at the print-shops, and Europe may be seen without the inconvenience of seasickness.

In beautiful art, as in mechanical, the mark of genius is still originality. And here this trait is most conspicuous in the great transitions by which art passes from its rude and elementary stages to its full development, — transitions which culminate in some marked individual, who bursts the trammels of convention, and leads his age by one decisive step from bondage to freedom. Such a deliverer was Praxiteles, when he set before his countrymen the daring novelty of the Cnidian Venus, proclaiming the complete beauty of the human form, and proving that beauty undraped and unadorned, to the eye of the spirit, is sufficient covering. Such a deliverer was Leonardo, who emancipated art from the bonds of Umbrian spiritualism, and instaurated simple humanity in the schools of Italy.

Next to originality, the most distinctive characteristic of genius is a right proportion between the productive and regulative forces of the mind. A certain exceptional amount of intellectual vigor being presupposed, what most distinguishes minds of the first from those of a lower order is that due command of their powers which precludes all wildness and excess, and secures for their works the crowning grace of proportion. The mind of man, like the planet he inhabits, and like all the great agencies of nature, is bipolar. It has its positive pole and its negative,— antagonist forces, which, for want of a better designation, we will call Imagination and Reflection. Imagination is the positive force, reflection the negative ; imagination creates, reflection limits and defines. The one gives the stuff, the other the form. Imagination, although the most exalted of the intellectual powers, is also the most universal. It is the first faculty which the infant exercises, and the last to become extinct in old age. Its universality is seen in dreams. The clown dreams as well as the poet; and the dreams of either are just as poetic at one time, and just as absurd at another. Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power which, if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or a Shakespeare. Our night-history is a series of poetic compositions, each one of which, however absurd as a whole, contains, perhaps, some one passage or trait which would make the fortune of a work of art. But though the raw capacity is universal, the trained faculty is peculiar. Out of this unorganized prose imagination the conscious artistic power must develop itself, like the winged bird from the senseless egg. The artist differs from the common man, not so much in the amount of mind possessed as in the amount taken up into consciousness. Imagination alone does not constitute genius. There may be’an excess of that element, unbalanced by the regulative powers. “ Men of unbounded imagination,” says Dryden, “ often want the poise of judgment.” In actual life, that excess produces or rather constitutes insanity, — a phenomenon very similar to that of dreaming. The maniac, like the dreamer, is taken out of his true position in space and time. But the reason of the disturbance is not the same in both. In the maniac the imagination, owing to some morbid action of the brain, overrules the impressions derived through the senses ; in the dreamer the predominance of the imagination arises from the torpid state of the sentient organs. The dreamer is a madman quiescent, the madman is a dreamer in action.

In intellectual efforts, the excess of imagination over the negative faculty shows itself in overstrained and fantastic productions, in poetic “ambition that o’erleaps its sell.” Phaeton, in the Greek mythology, borrows the sunchariot, but, unable to guide the steeds, is hurried away by them to his own destruction. There are Phaetons in every walk of life, — men of great capacity and vast ambition, who fail in serious undertakings for lack, as we say, of “judgment,” that is, of negative power. They are carried away by great conceptions which they are unable to manage and bring to successful execution. They have the positive element of genius, imagination; but want reflection, — that reaction of the mind on its own forces which Axes their limits, and binds them with law and form. Unlimited force is force without effect. The sun’s rays would be powerless without the refracting and reflecting planets, which oppose their denser spheres to the prodigal efflux. The planets would fly asunder, and be dissipated in nebulæ, without the centripetal force, which negatives their eager striving for limitless expansion. The vegetable growths of the earth would exhaust themselves in rank excess of leaf and stalk, and never ripen into fruit, were it not for the concentrative power which checks this overgrowth, and, reducing the volume for the sake of the product, collects the luxuriant juices of the plant into edible pulp and marrow. What the centripetal power is to the planet, what concentration is to the plant, that reflection is to the mind,—the power which sets bounds, which corrects and defines, which moulds and perfects and renders available the raw material of imagination.

For want of this negative power, unbalanced minds become the victims of their own ideality. Like the magician’s apprentice in Goethe’s deep fable, they are drowned by the spirits they evoke. As artists, as poets, they often astonish, but never satisfy. They lacerate the soul with over-excitement. But genius is always self-possessed. The masters in art know how to lay as well as to summon ; they command the spirits they conjure, and dismiss them promptly when their work is done.

“ In die Ecke
Besen ! Besen !
Seid’s gewesen ! ”

They never harrow with excessive emotion. Whatever horrors their subject may bring, the general harmony is not disturbed. If they summon Furies, as in the Eumenides and in Macbeth, they put music in their mouths and a solemn measure in their feet. If they picture deeds of violence, as in Othello, they half envelop them in their own deep shadows. They “ use all gently ” ; “in the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind" of their “ passion.” they “ acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” Whether dealing with elemental fury or wielding the lightnings of vengeance, they never transgress the severe boundary line of beauty, and “ o’erstep not the modesty of nature.” With the grandest themes they combine the most diligent details. For genius is quite as apparent in elaboration as in conception. It has not only to create the soul of a work, but to mould, part by part, the body that soul is to inhabit. The flow of thought and feeling, when tending to issues the most tremendous, must be guided with studied care and measured strokes through subtleties the most perplexing ; through the marble folds of tangled serpents to Laocoön-struggles, through difficult flesh-tints and anatomical processes to miracles of pictured passion, through rhythmic cadences and dexterous balance of feet and accent to Aias’s grief and Lear’s despair. In works like these, where passion gives soul to art, and art gives form to passion, true genius unites intense fervor with intenser calm, the fiercest glow of conception with the utmost sobriety of judgment. However imagination may soar, reason must hold it in check. However passion may seethe and foam, a reconciling thought must span the tumult, as the rainbow spans Niagara.

Genius should be carefully discriminated from talent, with which it is apt to be confounded. Talent sometimes culminates into the altitude of genius, but is never at home on those august heights. It is the forced hyperbole of the rocket, not the easy swell of Monadnoc. Talent is some one faculty unusually developed ; genius commands all the faculties. The one is a distinct quality ; the other, the entire man. Talent manufactures ; genius creates. From a summer full of roses and berries talent concocts its essences and preserves; but genius is the summer itself, which grows the roses and berries of its own fecundity. Talent is phenomenal, a spectacle which we contemplate as something foreign and external; but genius makes us a party to its doings, it carries us with it like the course of things. Works of talent are accidental ; they might not have happened, or might be other than they are, without seriously affecting the issues of life. But works of genius seem a necessity of nature, — as if they could not be other than they are, and could not but have been. I can as easily imagine Italy or England left out of the map of Europe as I can the Divina Commedia or Hamlet expunged from the world’s literature. Talent egotizes, and is always reminding you of itself; it is always conscious. But genius, sufficient to itself, never seems to know what it does. Like nature, it informs its creations with a spirit everywhere present, but nowhere egotistically prominent. Like nature, it works with equal ease and equal satisfaction in the highest and the lowest, and never seems in one thing more than another to take either pleasure or pride. It performs trifles with an air which makes them seem great, and performs wonders with an air which makes them seem trifles. With equal hand it dispenses thunderbolts and thistle-down ; thinks as much of the robin’s note as it does of the ocean’s roar, as much of the daisy in the rock-cleft as it does of the cataract by whose spray it is nourished. It makes the most refractory problems seem absurdly easy, so adroit the simplicity with which it handles them, —as men of great muscular strength make the bodies they lift seem divested of their gravity. We wonder less at the ready solution than we do at our own stupidity, which failed to discover it. As in the story of Columbus and the egg, while school-learning ponders and plods, genius, with easy assurance, marches straight to the goal.

What somnambulism is to ordinary sleep, that genius is to ordinary waking, — a conscious clairvoyance, as somnambulism is an unconscious one. It is a higher waking ; it dissolves the dream-band, which in ordinary men interposes between the subject and the object, lifts the heavy lid, and informs with new and sincere perceptions the quickened sense. Something of prophetic insight is proper to it. When Copernicus propounded the soli-central hypothesis, astronomers objected that, if his position were correct, Venus ought to have phases like the moon. Copernicus, nothing abashed, admitted the inference, but immediately added, that, if men should ever come to see Venus more distinctly, they would find that she had phases. This was before the invention of the telescope. When that instrument was given to science, one of its earliest fruits was the discovery of the phases of Venus. The composition of the diamond was conjectured by Newton on theoretic grounds, before it was ascertained by Lavoisier; and Goethe, in his Morphology, is said to have anticipated some of the leading discoveries of modern science.

Genius, in close rapport with nature, discovers new expressions in the old familiar face of things, and so enlarges the vocabulary of metaphor. Until Shakespeare spoke of moonlight sleeping, the peculiar expression of a lunar reflection had never been exactly defined. Now that the word has been spoken, we wonder that any other could ever have been applied to it. “ Who,” says Coleridge, “ has not a thousand times seen snow fall upon water ? Who has not watched it with a new feeling from the time when he read Burns’s comparison of sensual pleasure to

‘Snow that falls upon a river, —
A moment white, then gone forever’? ”

Above all, genius is humane. It esteems nothing common or unclean ; it is no respecter of persons. In politics it is oftenest found on the side of the people, as against exclusive and prescriptive rights. Talent is exclusive, because conventional. Holding not of original nature, but of custom, it exaggerates the artificial distinctions which custom has established. Genius absolves from the ban of convention ; it restores to common life its sacred rights. Wherever it appears, humanity is renewed.

I have spoken of genius as manifest in science and art, but these are by no means its exclusive province. Its characteristics are nowhere more conspicuous than in action. There are deeds which bear its stamp as unmistakably as the masterpieces of art. When Themistocles, by a ruse, cuts off the retreat of the Allies, provokes the enemy’s attack, and risks the destinies of Greece on a single battle ; when Caesar confounds Pompey at Pharsalus with a fourth cohort; when William of Normandy scuttles the ships which have brought him and his counts from the coast of France, shutting up his expedition within the alternative of victory or death ; when Arnold von Winkelried at the battle of Sempach breaks the Austrian line by gathering the enemy’s lances in his arms; when Cromwell with a stamp of his foot dissolves the Long Parliament “ for the glory of God and the good of the people ” ; when Israel Putnam, at Reading, baffles the British dragoons by urging his horse over the impracticable precipice; when Napoleon L, with forced marches, crosses the Alps, and surprises the Austrians on the plains of Lombardy, — I discern in those acts a power akin to that which makes the greatness of Kepler or Michel Angelo.

In these cases genius appears linked with fortune. And this is one of its characteristics. Genius approves itself by success. It is vain to talk of what this or that person might have been or have done, if only—. The result is the test. What a man does that he is.

“ One thing is forever good,
That one thing is success.”

And yet there are instances in which something in the nature of genius is manifest in endurance, in passive resistance and negation. Such examples as that of Aristides writing his name on the ballot that was to condemn him ; Julius Cæsar, foregoing his revenge on Quintus Ligarius ; Cato, self-possessed and self-respecting in the failure of his party, saying, “ The victorious cause pleased the gods, but Cato prefers the losing one ” ; David in his extreme thirst declining the water which his followers had brought him at the risk of their lives ; Sir Thomas More refusing to acquiesce in the divorce of Henry VIII.,— such examples, I say, exhibit the same quality, in a passive form, which we had learned to admire in its active demonstrations. For genius has its moral side as well as its intellectual. In all the best products of the intellect there is a moral element, and in every beautiful act there is something of intellectual life. Virtue in its highest form is also a species of genius.

Is it asked to what individuals on the roll of fame the praise of genius is especially due ? The question is one which craves liberal handling. It will not bear a peremptory answer. It is a question on which no one likes that another should dogmatize. The number is small of those to whom all will accord the foremost rank in their Valhalla. The stars of first magnitude in the intellectual firmament are soon catalogued. Some dozen names from Homer to Goethe are all that three thousand years of Indo-Germanic culture have inscribed among the dii majores of poetry ; a few more in science, and as many in the plastic arts. And even within this innermost court of the sanctuary of fame, our grateful homage demands a separate shrine for. such as Plato, Michel Angelo, and Shakespeare, who “rear their starry fronts sublime ” above the electest heraldry of genius.

In the realms of poetry and art the boundary line which separates genius from talent is more distinctly marked than it is in the world of affairs. Men distinguished by intellectual creations are more easily classed and graded than men of action. But of those who have become eminent in action, there are some who, by virtue of their position, their ability, or their character, are so linked and implicated with the course of events, that their individuality constitutes a crisis in the history of their time. We call them “providential” men. Moses and Solon, Sakya Mouni, Alexander of Macedon, Julius Cæsar, Mohammed, belong to this class. Napoleon I., who fills so large a place in modern history, has been commonly regarded as, among moderns, the highest instance of genius in action. But one fatal deduction invalidates this claim, — the want of final success for himself or his work. The chained Prometheus, who suffers for heavenly gifts communicated to men, loses nothing of our reverence by “ the vulture and the rock ” ; but the vanquished captive, eating his own heart in an island jail, is a figure that throws too dense a shadow on the pomps of empire and the triumphs of ambition. There was wanting to the genius of Napoleon a Waterloo victory ; or, failing that, an early death.

Martin Luther, also and emphatically a providential man, without brilliancy and without grace, possessed many of the radical elements of genius. In him the antagonist forces, the positive and the negative, were signally and marvellously blended and balanced. “ He had qualities,” says Heine, “which are seldom found united, which we are apt to regard as irreconcilable antagonisms. He was at once a dreamy mystic and a practical man of action ; his thoughts had not only wings, but hands ; he was not only the pen, but the sword of his time. He was at the same time a scholastic word-thresher and an inspired, God-intoxicated prophet. . ... He was wild as the storm that uproots the oak, and gentle as the zephyr that dallies with the violet. A complete man, I might say an absolute man, one in whom body and spirit were not divided. He had something original, incomprehensible, miraculous, such as we find in all providential men ; something awfully naif, blunderingly wise, sublimely narrow ; something invincible, daemonic.”

A signal instance of genius in action is the Emperor Charlemagne, the foremost figure in mediaeval history. Not even Augustus so completely identified his age with himself. The world of his day was but the circling frame which held this lustrous solitaire, the pliant setting of this “ Mountain-of-light.” In him were united the gallant warrior, the sagacious general, the profound statesman, the wise potentate, the friend of letters and art, the devout Christian and zealous son of the Church. Christendom found in him a champion who compelled at length the homage of Islam ; and when the “ Commander of the Faithful ” in the East stretched forth his hand with gifts to the commander of the faithful in the West, the civilized world was irradiated by their friendship. A great actor requires a great field. “ You cannot,”says Harrington, “ plant the oak in a flowerpot ; she needs the earth for her roots and the heavens for her branches.” The empire of Charlemagne repeated in its ample sweep the dominion of the Caesars of the West. With one foot of his command on the Spanish peninsula and the other on the banks of the Tiber, he rose in colossal grandeur, the noblest man of his millennium,-—-rose not like “ heaven-daring Teneriffe ” abrupt from the plain, but lifted Europe with him as he rose ; and when he subsided in the final event of the grave, Europe sank with him into long lugubrious mediaeval night.

“ Dark was the night, and darker rose the morn,
That saw the western earth
Of the divinest presence stript and shorn
It ever woke to birth.”
“ It seemed beyond the common lawful sway
Of death and nature o'er our kind,
That such a one as he should pass away
And aught he left behind.”

To an American jealous of national fame the question presents itself, What is our part and lot in this matter? What have we that may vie with the splendid examples of the Old World ? ( Brag to me not yet,” says Carlyle, "of our American cousins. Their quantity of cotton, dollars, industry, and resources I believe to be almost unspeakable ; but I can by no means worship the like of these. What great human soul, what great thought, what great noble thing that one could worship or loyally admire has been produced there ? Not one ; the American cousins have done none of these things.” To this peevish judgment no American born will assent, or hesitate to answer with venerated names of military, civil, and scientific renown. In art, if we have nothing that competes with ancient celebrities, we need not shun comparison with living artists of other lands. But in literature, it must be confessed that, while we excel in productive energy, we are poor in finished products, and can boast of few masterpieces in proportion to the whole amount produced. The national mind is too diffusive as yet to admit of supreme excellence. We have good positive qualities, but want the negative. Our mental energy, like our physical, lacks the restraining power. The consequence is a fatal “ too-muchness ” in our style. In our haste to “ flog creation,” we neglect to discipline ourselves. Some sagacious philosopher discovered that gunpowder would make a capital motive-power, if only, he said, we could find out a way to “ make it work slower.” The American mind is somewhat in the same predicament, subject to the same infirmity of over-haste. Flashy, impatient, unskilled to wait, it does not take conditions enough with it. It shrinks from careful elaboration ; it spends itself with a flash. But without careful elaboration literary eminence was never yet attained.

The bane of American genius is popularity, the pursuit and the tyranny of the popular vote. Without the popular vote no American is great or blest. Our heaven is an elective privilege ; not to be popular is the American hell. So the custom of the ballot extends its sway over letters and art; no standard of success is acknowledged but a numerical one. So many readers, so many copies sold, so much merit. As if intellectual pre-eminence, like political, could be conferred by the ballotbox. The writer will never prosper with that prosperity which the genuine artist desires, who has the fear of the majority before his eyes, or thinks more of his readers’ judgment than his own. The best works are never popular. Milton’s Lycidas has probably fewer admirers than Poe’s Raven or Macaulay’s Lays. M. F. Tupper has a hundred readers to one of Wordsworth. Let him who seeks popularity renounce the higher walks of art. Whoever is conscious in himself of creative power must make up his mind whether he will please the many or satisfy the few ; whether he will have his pay in puffs and pudding, or in the consciousness of having, like Milton, produced a work which “ the world will not willingly let die” ; like Kepler, a work “to be read whether by present or future ages it matters not.”

As to the influence of foreign models which is thought by some to act unfavorably on native genius, I can see no hindrance in that direction. European art can no more extinguish ours than the old European could preclude the new, or Sophocles extinguish Schiller. Other minds are to native genius but so much nature, one among the many ingredients in the common soil from which by its own elective chemistry it draws its life.

There is a periodicity in the world of mind as in the world of material nature. Epochs of creative power recur at certain, as yet incalculable, intervals in the course of time. Every zone receives in its turn the full illumination of the sun of history. No doubt this nation will have in its turn, as others before it have had, its golden age of intellectual glory. And when that age arrives, the American poet or prophet or sage who shall worthily represent the mind of this continent, will find his place prepared for him by more commanding antecedents, his work reinforced by ampler resources, than ever yet fell to the lot of genius. The past of two worlds will be his inheritance, their funded experience his capital, their successes and their failures his teachers and guides. His tools will be the perfection of art, his position the fulness of time. Expectant nations will sit at his feet, and the future will date from his word.