Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/414

This page has been validated.

by their ability. Once more, take Charles Darwin himself. He was nearly if not quite fifty before he published "The Origin of Species." It was a mere chance that with his feeble health he lived on to complete that great work. Suppose he had died at forty, how would he have been remembered? Chiefly as the author of a clever book of scientific travels, and of a monograph on the fossil acorn-barnacles. In a world of such mere accidents as these, who shall say that an apparently negative instance proves anything?

Take another and somewhat different case—the Tennyson family. Here we have three brothers, all with more or less poetical temperament, and all marked by much the same minute peculiarities in cast of thought and turn of expression. Only two, however, I believe, have published or at least have acknowledged their verses; and of these two alone—Alfred Tennyson and Charles Tennyson Turner—has one a right to speak publicly. When the "Poems by Two Brothers" appeared, who could have said which of the two was destined to turn out a great poet? And in the after-event, who can say what little difference of circumstances may have made the one into a clergyman and the other into a professional versifier? If Charles Turner had cultivated his muse as assiduously as the laureate, would he have produced equal results? What little twist set the one, with Tennysonian love of form carried to the length of a passion, upon the writing of exquisite sonnets alone, while it set the other upon "In Memoriam," and "Maud," and "The Princess," and the "Morte d'Arthur"? What little extra encouragement on the part of a reviewer may have impelled the more successful poet to fresh efforts; what professional distractions or religious scruples may have held back the less illustrious parson? And yet, who can read Charles Tennyson Turner's sonnets without feeling that though the idiosyncrasis is not exactly the same, the crasis itself is at bottom identical? Compare the sonnets with the work of any one among the imitators—the men who "all can raise the flower now, for all have got the seed," and what a difference! The imitator is all servile copy ism in form, with no real underlying identity of matter; the brother is only half a Tennyson in mere externals, but is still own brother in the most intimate turns of thought and feeling.

After such cases as these, do we need any explanation of the sudden apparition of a Carlyle, a Burns, a Shakespeare, a Dickens, from out the ranks of the people themselves? To me it seems not. Are there not pithiness and sternness and ability enough in the Lowland peasantry to account for the occasional production, out of thousands of casts at the dice, of such a convergence as that which gave us the old man at Ecclefechan who "had sic names for things and bodies," and his two able sons, of whom the more strangely compounded was Thomas Carlyle? Is there not in another type of Scotch peasant enough of pathos and literary power and bonhomie to account for an