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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/549

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THE GENIUS AND HIS ENVIRONMENT.

tainment, and with it the greatest influence ever attained by man, is yet more than any one of these. It is not enough, the hero-worshiper may still say, that the genius should have sane and healthy judgment, as society reckons sanity. The fact still remains that even in his social judgments he may instruct society. He may stand alone and, by sheer might, lift his fellow-men up to his point of vantage, to their eternal gain and to his eternal praise. Even let it be that he must have self-criticism, the sense of fitness you speak of, that very sense may transcend the vulgar judgment of his fellows. His judgment may be saner than theirs; and as his intellectual creations are great and unique, so may his sense of their truth be full and unique. Wagner led the musical world by his single-voiced praise of the work of Wagner; and Darwin had to be true to his sense of truth, to the formulations of his thought, though no man accorded him the right to instruct his generation either in the one or in the other. To be sure, this divine assurance of the man of genius may be counterfeited; the vulgar dreamer often has it. But, nevertheless, when a genius has it, he is not a vulgar dreamer.

This is true, I think, and the explanation of it leads us to the last fruitful application of the doctrine of variations. Just as the intellectual endowment of men may vary within very wide limits, so may the social qualifications of men. There are men who find it their meat to do society service. There are men so naturally born to take the lead in social reform, in executive matters, in organization, in planning our social campaigns for us, that we turn to them as by instinct. They have a kind of insight to which we can only bow. They gain the confidence of men, win the support of women, and excite the acclamations of children. These people are the social geniuses. They seem to anticipate the discipline of social education. They do not need to learn the lessons of the social environment. Their "tact," we say, is great.

Now, such persons undoubtedly represent a variation toward suggestibility of the most delicate and singular kind. They surpass the teachers from whom they learn. It is hard to say that they are "learning to judge by the judgments of society." And yet they differ from the man whose eccentricities forbid him to learn through the discipline of society. The two are opposite extremes of variation; that is the only possible construction of them. It is the difference between the ice-boat which travels faster than the wind, and the skater who braves the wind and battles up-current in it. The latter is soon beaten by the opposition; the former outruns its ally. The crank, the eccentric, the enthusiast—all these run counter to sane social judgment; but the genius leads society to his own point of view, and interprets the social movement, of which he and his fellows are part, so ac-