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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/413

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IDIOSYNCRASY.

lines. After all, we common mortals, if we practiced all our lifetime, could not turn out as good a sketch as Gianbattista's first water-color.

In the same way, in a Greece where every god had his temple, every temple its statue, every house its shrine, and every shrine its little deities—in a Greece where marble was what brick is in London, and where artistic stone-cutters were as common as carpenters here—we can understand why a Phidias was a possible product, and why a Phidias-admiring public was a foregone conclusion. So, too, we can understand why among ourselves so many artists should come from the only real native schools of decorative handicraft—the workshops of Birmingham, Manchester, and London. We can see why musical talent should arise most in Germany and Italy, or among the Jews, or in our own case among the Welsh and in the cathedral towns. We can see why a Watt is not born in the Tyrol; why a Stephenson does not come from Dolgelly; why America produces more Edisons, and Bells, and Morses, and Fultons than she produces Schillers, or Mozarts, or Michael Angelos. The convergences which go to produce a great mechanician are more frequent in countries where mechanics are much practiced than they are in the Western Hebrides or in the British West Indies. The Quakers do not turn out many great generals, and the kings of Dahomey are not likely to beget distinguished philanthropists.

Of course, there are some hard cases to understand—hard for the most part, I believe, because we do not know enough about the various convergent lines which have gone to produce the particular phenomenon. Here and there, a great man seems to spring suddenly and unexpectedly from the dead level of absolute mediocrity. But then, we do not know how much mediocrity in different lines may have gone to make up his complex individuality; and we do not know how much of what seems mediocrity may really have been fairly high talent. So many men are never discovered. Let me take a few slight examples from our own time, which may help to illustrate the slightness of the chances that make all the difference in our superficial judgments; and, if I take them from very recent cases, I think the readers of "Mind" will not misunderstand my object; for it is almost impossible to recover the facts from remoter periods.

Carlyle, in spite of his spleen, was no bad judge of intelligence; and Carlyle thought Erasmus Darwin, the younger, an abler man than his brother Charles, the author of "The Origin of Species." Probably nobody else would agree with Carlyle; people seldom do; but at any rate it is clear that Erasmus Darwin must have been a man very high above the average in intellect, doubtless inheriting the same general tendencies which are inherent in the whole of that distinguished family. Yet, if it had not been for his brother, probably the world at large would never have heard of him. Again, supposing he had had no brother, but had married and had children, all of whom achieved celebrity, we might have inquired in vain whence these children came