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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/412

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tions, and that they do not arise among the Australian black-fellows, the Digger Indians, or the Andaman-Islanders.

And now, how far can we account on these principles for the existence of the individual genius? Well, here we must begin by clearing the ground of a great initial fallacy. Genius, as a rule, has made quite too much of itself. Having had the field all to itself, it has never been tired of drawing a hard and fast line between itself and mere talent. Nevertheless, from the psychological point of view, nothing is plainer than the fact that genius differs from mere talent only by the very slightest excess of natural gifts in a special direction. True, that small amount of superiority makes all the difference in our judgment of the finished work: we say, this is a great poem, while that is a pretty trifle; this is a grand scientific generalization, while that is a painstaking piece of laboratory analysis; this is a magnificent work of art, while that is a very creditable little bit of landscape-painting. But, in the brain and hands of the performer, what infinitely minute structural modifications must underlie these seemingly vast differences of effect! And even in ourselves, the critics, how minute are the shades of feeling which make us give the palm to the one work and withhold it from the other! How many people are really competent to judge in any way of the differences between this poem and that, between this oratorio and that, between this picture and that? And what is this but to say that the differences are in themselves extremely small and almost elusive?

Now, in a country like Italy, say, where for many ages many men have continually painted pictures of the nymphs and the satyrs, or of the Madonna and of St. Sebastian; where little chapels have studded the land, from age to age, with votive tablets to Venus Genitrix or to Our Lady of the Sea; where countless generations of workmen have decorated the walls of Pompeii or covered the vulgarest ceilings of Florence and Genoa with hasty frescoes—in such a country there is developed among all the people a general high average of artistic execution, utterly impossible in a country like Scotland, where there has hardly ever been any indigenous spontaneous art at all to speak of. And when an Italian man of an artistic family, having inherited from his ancestors certain relatively high artistic endowments, marries an Italian woman of another artistic family, similarly but perhaps somewhat differently endowed, there is at least a possibility, not to say a probability, that their children, or some or one of them, will develop great artistic power. True, we can not follow the minute working of the crasis: we can not say why Paolo is an artist of the highest type, while Luigi is merely a fair colorist, and Gianbattista is a respectable copyist of the old masters. But at least we can say that all three are painters after a fashion, in virtue of their common artistic descent; and that Paolo is a great painter because he unites in himself, more than either of the others, the respective merits of the two ancestral