Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/547

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

he and society must agree in regard to the fitness of them, although this agreement is not the emphatic thing. The essential thing in this matter of intellectual variation is that the thoughts thought must always be critically judged by the thinker himself. This may be illustrated in some detail.

Suppose we take the man of striking thoughts and with them no sense of fitness—none of the judgment about them which society has. He will go through a mighty host of discoveries every hour. The very eccentricity of his imaginations will only appeal to him for the greater admiration. He will bring his most chimerical schemes out and air them with the same assurance that the real inventor exhibits his; but such a man is not pronounced a genius. If his ravings about this and that are harmless, we smile and let him talk; but if his lack of judgment extend to things of grave import, or be accompanied by equal illusions respecting himself and society in other relations, then we classify his case and put him into the proper ward for the insane. Two of the commonest forms of such impairment of judgment are seen in the victims of persecution on the one hand, the exaltés on the other. The images which throng into the consciousness of the former of these are those which represent his own powerlessness before an ever-present enemy. Neither the assurances of friends nor the evidence of his own senses are sufficient to rectify the judgment he makes that these imaginings are real. He has no true sense of values, no way of selecting the fit combinations of his fancy from the unfit; and even though some transcendently true and original thoughts were to flit through his diseased imagination, they would go as they came, and the world would still wait for a genius to arise and rediscover them. The other class—the exaltés—are somewhat the reverse. The illusion of personal greatness is so strong that their thoughts are infallible and their persons divine.

Men of such perversions of judgment are common among us. We all know the man who seems to be full of rich and varied thoughts, who holds us sometimes by the extraordinary power of his conceptions or the beauty of his creations. And yet we find in it all some incongruity, some eminently unfit element, some grotesque application, some elevation or depression from the level of commonplace truth, some ugly strain in the æsthetic impression. The man himself does not know it, and that is the reason that he includes it. His sense of fitness is dwarfed or paralyzed. We in the community learn to regret that he is so "visionary," with all his talent, and so we accommodate ourselves to his unfruitfulness, and at the best only expect an occasional hour's entertainment under the spell of his thinking. This certainly is not the man to produce world movements.