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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/363

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GENIUS AND TALENT.

If we look, however, at the families of recognized geniuses, we sometimes see, as by a flash of electric light, on what slight accidents of composition these strange results ultimately depend. "Is her sister like her?" asked an enamored poet of a friend of the family. "Very like her," the common-sense friend responded cautiously; "but I wouldn't advise you to see her just yet, or you'd find out too soon how the trick is done." For very often, the slightest exaggeration of the features in a beautiful face will make it at once either commonplace or grotesque. The family likeness in the plain sister suggests forthwith how readily with a turn more of the brush or the knife that chiseled profile might become too painfully Roman, those rich lips too obtrusively negroid, those full eyes too prominent or too lachrymose. You see with undue clearness in such cases the narrow line that separates strength from coarseness, delicacy from feebleness, the pretty from the doll-like, the stately from the hard-featured. Even so, in the families of acknowledged geniuses you see how slight indeed are the special points which distinguish the distinguished: how little the poet differs in fiber from his brother the parson; how near the dry argumentative cobbler comes to his son the materialist philosopher. Bandsman Herschel had a taste for clock-work, for mathematics, for times and seasons: his boy William, who played the oboe in the same Hanoverian regiment, and deserted in due course to be organist at Bath, carried the like tastes just a step further by making a telescope and discovering Uranus. But all his brothers and sisters were also musical, and most of them were mechanical and astronomical as well. The divine genius of William Herschel is just the general family twist, developed perhaps a trifle higher, accompanied perhaps by a somewhat profounder grasp of intellect, or merely (it may be) encouraged and made the most of by a fortunate concurrence of casual conditions. For who shall say what proportion the discovered and acknowledged geniuses of the world's scroll bear to the undiscovered and unacknowledged geniuses who swarm like tadpoles in the board-schools and workshops everywhere around us?

But what makes me above all things skeptical as to the special and exceptional inspiration of the divine genius is a consideration of the historical position of divine geniuses as we actually find them in their own environment. Posterity, divorcing the man from his age, knowing him for the most part as an isolated fact alone, sees him always larger than life, like the heroic statues it erects in his honor. It forgets too often that, in order to judge of him as a unit of humanity, we must look at him in connection with his own surroundings. We are all too apt to personify, or rather to embody and individualize, all great movements: to see in the Reformation nobody but Luther; in the