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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/54

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THE notion is common and deeply rooted that men of large achievement, especially in letters or art, were physically inferior if not downright sickly and infirm. If one questions this idea, he is informed at once that Stevenson was far from well or vigorous, that Heine lived in a "mattress grave," that Chopin died of consumption at an early age, and that Darwin was hardly better than an invalid for much of his life. Even great military minds have found lodgment in miserable shacks of bodies, and Macaulay tells us that, at the battle of Landen, probably the feeblest persons present were the "hunchback" duke of Luxemburg and "that asthmatic skeleton," the Prince of Orange.

The evidence is very striking and also appealing, for while the sickly mediocre are not especially interesting to any one, the fine qualities of the sickly great are magnified, through our sympathy, by the infirmities which beset their paths. The genius displayed by such is often given more credit on this account than it in cold blood deserves. For example, Stevenson, though a writer of delightful things, does not seem by any means certain of maintaining the high place in literature awarded by the admirers of his personality. Heine, brilliant as he was, does not rank with Goethe; and Chopin, though unique in his way, is master in a comparatively narrow field. We should sadly miss his exquisite tone arabesques, but we never expect from him the sublimities of Beethoven or Brahms.

Of the notables named above, it might be remembered that one, Heine, did not complain of a serious illness until he was thirty-nine and that his paralysis was not confirmed until he was forty-seven; that Darwin also was in good health until he had returned from the voyage of the Beagle and was fairly launched in his life work; and that the leaders at the battle of Landen, while frail and sickly, were yet able to knock about on many fields of battle. Even of Stevenson it is said by Mr. Balfour that, "considering his fragility, his muscular strength was considerable and his constitution clearly had great powers of resistance." But for his Bohemian ways and his utter disregard of the laws of bodily well-being, he might have had a much greater degree of health and comfort.

The examples given of great men who were invalids are not always 60 well chosen, and there is often a tendency to exaggerate the infirmi-