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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/543

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THE GENIUS AND HIS ENVIRONMENT.

our general scheme. But how great a variation? and in what directions?—these are the questions. The great variations found in the criminal by heredity, the insane, the idiotic, etc., we have found excluded from society; so we may well ask why the genius is not excluded also. If our determination of the limits within which society decides who is to be excluded is correct, then the genius must come within these limits. He can not escape them and live socially.

The directions in which the genius actually varies from the average man are evident as a matter of fact. He is, first of all, a man of great power of thought, of great constructive imagination, as the psychologists would say. So let us believe, first, that a genius is a man who has, occasionally, greater thoughts than other men have. Is this a reason for excluding him from society? Certainly not; for by great thoughts we mean true thoughts, thoughts which will work, thoughts which bring in a new era of discovery of principles, or of their application. This is just what all development depends upon, this attainment of novelty, which is consistent with older knowledge and supplementary to it. But suppose a man have thoughts which are not true, which do not fit the topic of their application, which contradict established knowledges, or which result in bizarre and fanciful combinations of them; to that man we deny the name genius: he is a crank, an agitator, an anarchist, or what not. The test, then, which we bring to bear upon the intellectual variations which men show is that of truth, practical workability—in short, to sum it up, "fitness." Any thought, to live and germinate, must be a fit thought. And the community's sense of the fitness of the thought is their rule of judgment.

Now, the way the community got this sense—that is the great result we have reached above. Their sense of fitness is just what I called above their judgment. As far, at least, as it relates to matters of social import, it is of social origin. It reflects the outcome of all social heredity, tradition, education. The sense of social truth is their criterion of social thoughts, and unless the social reformer's thought be in some way fit to go into the setting thus made by earlier social development, he is not a genius but a crank.

I may best show the meaning of the claim that society makes upon the genius by asking in how far in actual life he manages to escape this account of himself to society. The facts are very plain, and this is the class of facts which writers like Mr. Spencer urge, as supplying an adequate rule for the application of the principles of their social philosophy. The simple fact is, say they, that without the consent of society the thoughts of your hero, whether he be genius or fool, are practically valueless. The full-