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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/361

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GENIUS AND TALENT.

order of intelligence. Dickens's intelligence, for example, was by no means high; I suppose everybody would admit at once that you may search his works in vain for a single sentence worth quoting as a specimen of profundity, or insight, or wisdom. Not that I wish for a moment to run down Dickens; on the contrary I admire him immensely; I never take up "David Copperfield" or "Nicholas Nickleby" without standing amazed and aghast afresh at the quaintness, the fertility, the oddity, the fun of his inimitable creations. No other man, we feel, could do the like; and that is just why we appreciate Dickens. Originality, in fact, is the special note of this particular type of genius; and originality is therefore often spoken of by hasty thinkers as if it were the essence of genius itself. This, however, is not strictly true, unless we mean unduly to restrict the limits of genius. There have been many great men—undoubtedly great—who were far from remarkable for their originality. The solidest intellect is often utterly wanting in brilliancy or originality. Rather is it the truth that a marked degree of original quaintness entitles even a second-rate man (and Dickens was, in the matter of pure intellect, essentially second-rate) to ungrudged admission upon the final roll-call of the immortals.

Many men have had grotesque and morbid imaginings. Dickens had them grotesque and morbid to the point of uniqueness; therefore we rightly call him a genius. His gift was not a very high or noble one; on the contrary, it was one which, in its lesser developments, belongs rather to the buffoon and the caricaturist. But in Dickens it grew so large, and so far monopolized the whole field of his invention, that it became in itself a title to immortality. Nobody else could do anything equal to it, though many people could do something in a somewhat similar but less profoundly absurd and original vein. Such men as Mill, and Bain, and Lewes, and Lyell, overtop Dickens intellectually by more than half their stature. But you might get a hundred philosophers and psychologists and men of science out of a given country before you got another "Martin Chuzzlewit." It is precisely the idiosyncrasy of the man, the mixture of faculty, that is so rare and unusual. Compound ten million human beings on the ordinary principle of mixing together ancestral strains, and among them all you will produce on an average half a dozen apiece of geologists and historians, but never again a single Dickens.

Genius of this sort, then, is not necessarily at all great; it is only unique, and in virtue of its uniqueness for the most part interesting. Not that all eccentricity and originality partake of the nature of genius either; they must have combined with them some considerable element of distinct cleverness, or they result merely in an eccentric or an original, not in a genius, properly so