Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/238

This page has been validated.

any degree of stability is regained. It is nearly always true that a case of brain-exhaustion needs what may seem a disproportionate time to get well. Repair in so delicate an organ is slow, and we know that gardeners and breeders would rather start afresh with young stock than nurse round specimens which have been checked. Yet Englishmen are courageous and enduring, and many fight into the ministry without consciousness of harm. Nevertheless, I would ask concerning even these—if there be found in them any lack of quick and exquisite thought, of keen and catholic vision, of deep and tender passion; or if there be in them any delight in phrases, and any shrinking from realities; any bondage to convention and prejudice, any blenching from the service of perfect freedom—whether the forcing and hustling of their brains in earlier life have not straitened their conceptions, and checked their mental sweetness, freshness, and enterprise.

Another kind of premature brain-forcing is seen in young artists. Young musicians, especially, abandon themselves with perfervid ingenuity, not merely to discipline and culture, but also to original composition and to excessive display. Hence, as the passion of music is of early manifestation, and the vanity of parents insatiable, we find the history of musicians is one long wail over brilliant promise and early exhaustion or death. It is as true of music as of every other art, that its greatest works are works not of youth but of manhood, not of tender age but of maturity. Schubert died at the age of thirty-one, Mendelssohn at the age of thirty-six, Mozart at the age of thirty-six—these, like many other masters prodigiously, even wastefully, productive in the days of their spring, were worn out when their transcendent genius should have borne its harvest. Even in music we find the most lustrous and immortal works were the works not of youth, nor of early manhood, but of riper years; of masters who were endowed with inexhaustible well-springs of force in body and brain, or who had husbanded their stores in earlier days. Händel composed his great oratorios after he had passed his fiftieth year. Sebastian Bach wrote the "B Minor Mass" at the age of forty-eight, and the two "Passions" somewhat later still. Beethoven wrote the "A Major Symphony" and the "Eroica" between the ages of thirty-four and forty-four: he had thus reached formal excellence, and had he then died would, like Mendelssohn, have bequeathed a great name to posterity. Happily he lived on to write his grandest works, such as the "Ninth Symphony" and the "Missa Solennis", after the age of forty-five. If we turn to our own day and regard the life of a genius who, in quality and quantity of brain-activity with tremendous tension and infinite variety, occupies a position perhaps unique—I speak of Richard Wagner—we find he was born at Leipsic in the year 1813, and is now therefore sixty-five years of age, so that "Lohengrin" and the "Ring des Nibelungen" are the works of years more than mature. I will not pursue this argument with the other creative arts, nor stay to prove that works like the "Paradise Lost," the