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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/544

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ness of time must come; and the genius before his time can not be, if judged by his works, a genius at all. His thought may be great, so great that, centuries after, society may attain to it as its richest outcome and its profoundest intuition, but before that time it is as bizarre as the madman's fancies and as useless. What would be thought, we might be asked, of a rat which developed upon its side the hand of a man, with all its exquisite mechanism of bone, muscle, tactile sensibility, and power of delicate manipulation, if the remainder of the creature were true to the pattern of a rat? Would not the rest of the rat tribe be justified in leaving this anomaly behind to starve in the hole where his singular appendage held him fast? Is such a rat any the less a monster because man finds use for his hands?

To a certain extent this argument is true and forcible. If social utility be our rule of definition, then certainly the premature genius is no genius. And this rule of definition may be put in another way which renders it still more plausible. The variations which occur in intellectual endowment in a community vary about a mean; there is theoretically an average man. And the differences among men which can be accounted for by any philosophy of life must be in some way referable to this mean. Variations which do not meet their counterpart at all in the social environment, but which strike all the social fellows with disapproval, finding no sympathy whatever, are thereby exposed to the charge of being "sports" of Nature and the fruit of chance. The lack of hearing which such a man gets sets him in a form of isolation which stamps him not only as the social crank but also as the cosmic tramp.

Put in its positive and usual form this view simply claims that man is always the outcome of the social movement. The reception he gets is the measure of the degree in which he adequately represents this movement. Certain variations are possible—men who are forward in the legitimate progress of society—and these men are the true and only geniuses. Other variations, which attempt to discount the future, are sports; for the only permanent discounting of the future is that which is projected from the elevation of the past.

The great defect of this view is found in its definitions. We exclaim at once: Who made the past the measure of the future? And who made social approval the measure of truth? What is there to eclipse the vision of the poet, the inventor, the seer, that he should not see over the heads of his generation, and raise his voice for that which to all men else lies behind the veil? The social philosophy of the school of Spencer can not answer these questions, I think; nor can it meet the appeal we all make to history when we cite the names of Aristotle, Pascal, and Newton,