Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/551

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
531
THE GENIUS AND HIS ENVIRONMENT.

emotional experience which crystallize into single creations of art. They depend upon "inspiration"—a word which is responsible for half the overrating of such men, and for a good many of their illusions. Not that they do not perform great feats in the several spheres in which their several "inspirations" come; but with it all they do present the sort of unbalance and fragmentary intellectual endowment which allies them, in particular instances, to the classes of persons whom the theories I am discussing have in view. It is only to be expected that the kind of sharp jutting variation in the emotional and æsthetic realm which the great artist often shows should carry with it irregularities in heredity in other respects.

Besides, the very habit of this kind of genius, the habit of living by inspiration, puts a premium upon any half-hidden peculiarities which he may have, both in the remark of his associates and in the conduct of his own social duties. He gets to be considered the social exception, the anomaly, the man to be indulged; and his own sense of the greatness and peculiarity of his gifts leads him to claim the indulgence. I honestly think that a due imposition of certain social penalties upon men like Byron in the crises of their existence would at once have purified their lives and dignified their art; while at the same time it would have removed some of the best examples of Nordau and the rest, and suppressed the stimulus to the same kind of social deformity in later men of talent. Mark you, I do not discredit the superb art of these examples of the literary and artistic "degenerate"; that would be to make some of the highest ministrations of genius, to us men, random and illegitimate, and to deny to humanity some of its most exalting and intoxicating sources of inspiration. But I do still say that wherein such men move and instruct us they are in these spheres above all things sane with our own sanity, and wherein they are insane they do discredit to the inheritance to which their better gifts make legitimate claim.

One of Balzac's characters again hits the nail on the head. "My dear mother," says Augustine, in the Sign of the Cat and Racket, "you judge superior people too severely. If their ideas were the same as other folks they would not be men of genius."

"Very well," replies Madame Guillaume, "then let men of genius stop at home and not get married. What! A man of genius is to make his wife miserable? And because he is a genius it is all right! Genius! genius! It is not so very clever to say black one minute and white the next, as he does, to interrupt other people, to dance such rigs at home, never to let you know which foot you are to stand on, to compel his wife never to be amused unless my lord is in gay spirits, and to be dull when he is dull."