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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/357

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343
GENIUS AND TALENT.

is Diana of the Epliesians!" till the town-clerk comes to disperse them.

On the other hand, if any bold iconoclast, sick of this perpetual adulatory hero-worship, this fulsome laudation of the divine afflatus, ventures to hint that genius, after all, does not really differ so much from mere talent—poor but honest and industrious talent—that the distinction is mainly one of degree, not of kind, and that what in its youth was simply called talent grows with time and repute into genuine genius—the orthodox worshipers have always their thunderbolt ready forged to crush and annihilate him. "This fellow," they say, with a toss of the head, "being in very truth a born frog, ventures to maintain that frogs, by dint of inflation, can puff themselves out to the dignity of oxen, or that at best there is but little difference of size and build between the two species. That is just because he is a mere frog, and jealous of the vast superiority of bovine greatness." To be sure, when the oxen themselves were yet but young bullocks, sporting in the fields, these same orthodox critics would have eagerly contended for their essential frogginess; but now that they are full grown and fat, and florally wreathed with sacrificial garlands, as becomes an Apis, the orthodox have forgotten their former recalcitrancy. As of old, the fathers stone the prophets, and the children occupy themselves with building their sepulchres. But let that pass. The point is, that if one tries to put the question as to the nature of genius in its true aspect, one is at once regarded in the invidious light of a modern Zoilus.

Nevertheless, this question of genius and talent is a truly scientific one, a psychological problem, one might almost say, in the wider sense, a matter of anthropometry. It is well that it should be discussed on scientific grounds, without any of the hysterical and inflated verbiage with which geniuses and their biographers have too frequently befogged it. Wherein does genius really consist, and how does it differ from mere talent? That, simply put, is the net question which we have here categorically to answer; and to anticipate at once the answer forced upon me as a humble observer by consideration of the facts, I find at bottom that the two are in ultimate analysis almost identical. Genius is talent either pushed to an exceptionally high degree, or exerted in a very unusual direction, or linked with a rare amount of striking industry, or dashed with a certain peculiar vein of bizarre originality. In short, it is such talent as makes itself specially remarked—talent which has in it something of the unique; while other talent, often equally great or even greater, but lacking in the special element of individuality, remains to the last "mere talent," and never attains to any higher level of public recognition.

The first form of these four is the one so aptly and bravely