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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/362

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

called. We have all known many eccentrics whose eccentricity was far indeed from being either amusing or curious; it succeeded merely in making itself supremely annoying or absurd. But the gulf that separates the mere original from the true genius is often as narrow as the gulf that intervenes between the sublime and the ridiculous. Everybody has met odd people, who lived by themselves in odd rooms, who said and did odd things, and whose veriest commonplaces had always about them some lingering flavor of misplaced wit and half-mad imagination. Such queer people, with their dash of insanity, have not infrequently a dash of genius as well, only in their case the divine spark has either never been supplied with sufficient fuel, or never blown up by the breath of appreciation into even a struggling and tentative blaze. Yet who shall say what tiny extra twist in a special direction turns any one of these undiscovered cranky souls into a Dickens, a Heine, a Rabelais, or a Cervantes? The little additional twist makes to us, the percipients, all the difference; but in the brain and mind of the man himself, how infinitesimally small must be the peculiarity of fiber or energy that ultimately determines it!

Look, again, at such a case as Carlyle's. Hundreds of caustic, saturnine Scotch laboring-folk have something the same quaint power of expression, something the same dour, grim humor, something the same vehement, self-assertive egotism. In all fundamentals, philosophical and psychological, they are absolutely identical with the grumbler of Chelsea; their hard Scotch Calvinistic creed is just his gloomy pessimism in the rough; their firm belief in a lawgiver of the cosmos, who loves neither fools nor knaves overwell, is just the crude, unelaborated form of the Carlylese political and ethical system. Add a certain native vigor and directness of language, derived by blood from that canny, clever, uneducated sage, the Ecclefechan stone-mason, the "body wha had sic names for things"; supplement it with an Edinburgh University training, backed up by a strong dose of congenial dreamy German metaphysics; turn it loose upon the world of London, or divert it by circumstances into the hard, underpaid literary channel—and a Carlyle at once emerges upon you, bursting forth in the full tide of his "picturesque bad style," in "Sartor Resartus" and the "French Revolution." Once worked, the trick can never be worked again; but, while it lasts, its effect is marvelous. The rush and go of that full tide carries us all unresistingly before it: we never pause to ask for a moment, as we whirl along helter-skelter down-stream, by what slight variations on a familiar theme the astonishing sense of hurrying, scurrying, clashing music, as of pent-up waters bursting their dams, has been laboriously designed and produced in the far recesses of that wild composer's peculiar idiosyncrasy.