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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/205

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GENIUS AND HEREDITY.

tween Aristotle and his father Nicomachus, court-physician, of whom we hardly know anything; or between Galileo and his father Vicenzo, who wrote on the theory of music; or between Leibnitz and his father, law-professor at Leipsic? In fact, only a single example can be opposed to our criticism, that of the family of the Bernouillis, which was celebrated for the number of mathematicians and physicists whom it produced through several generations. Yet here we have to take notice of the fact that only one of the family, John, was rated by his contemporaries alongside of Newton and Leibnitz on account of his brilliant mathematical discoveries. The others were very distinguished men, but that is a different thing. The genius stands apart.

Still, we can say that in these three orders of the creative art there is something hereditary—not genius, indeed, but a kind of necessary apprenticeship, or perhaps a physiological and mental aptitude tending to determine to certain vocations. In this way we can understand why we meet so many musicians, or painters, or men of science, in the same family. In the case of the painters, for example, there is something that inspiration can not do without, there are a number of primary gifts and technical properties in design or color which are easily transmitted by example and imitation in the father's studio, and are distributed as a common patrimony among the children. Only one of the family will rise to the first rank; but this initiation into his art is indispensable to him as a matter of economy of time and labor, and also to give greater freedom to his inspiration. Macaulay has well said that Homer could never have made himself known to us in the language of a savage tribe, and that Phidias could never have carved his Minerva out of a log with a fish-bone. It is necessary to take account of these favorable circumstances, which in some families help to overcome the first difficulties of the art, and furnish the future genius with; convenient instrumentalities with which he can make himself familiar and skillful from his earliest childhood. So the taste for music that is, an aptitude for measuring time and distinguishing notes is innate with many children, and is often derived from the father, mother, or other ancestors. If both parents are musicians, all the children will generally have a correct ear; if only one of them is a musician, some of the children may have the taste, while others may not. Likewise, a facility in quickly grasping and handling numerical or algebraic values is indispensable to the operations of the mathematician, and may be remarked as a peculiar gift in certain families, among whom may some time arise one illustrious in the science. These conditions are not essentials of genius, but they are useful to it in helping it to disengage and reveal itself. They are, as it were, the alphabet of his art to the composer, mathematician, or painter; and it is not without advantage that the art has, by means of the example and traditions of the family, become a kind of instinct for the future great man. This explains how it is that great painters, mathematicians, or musicians,