Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/February 1901/A Study of British Genius I

1408231Popular Science Monthly Volume 58 February 1901 — A Study of British Genius I1901Henry Havelock Ellis




UNTIL now it has not been possible to obtain any comprehensive view of the men and women who have chiefly built up English civilization. It has not, therefore, been possible to study their personal characteristics as a group. The sixty-three volumes of the 'Dictionary of National Biography' of which the last has been lately issued, have for the first time enabled us to construct an authoritative and well balanced scheme of the persons of illustrious genius, in every department, who have appeared in the British Isles from the beginning of history down to the end of the nineteenth century; and, with a certain amount of labor, it enables us to sum up their main traits. It has seemed to me worth while—both for the sake of ascertaining the composition of those elements of intellectual ability which Great Britain has contributed to the world, and also as a study of the nature of genius generally—to utilize the 'Dictionary' to work out these results. I propose to present here some of the main conclusions which emerge from such a study.

The 'Dictionary' contains some record—from a few lines to several dozen pages—of some thirty thousand persons. Now, this is an impracticable and undesirable number to deal with—impracticable because, regarding a large proportion of these persons, very little is here recorded or is even known; undesirable because it must be admitted that the majority, though persons of a certain note in their own day or their own circle, cannot be said to have made any remarkable contribution to civilization or to have displayed any very transcendent degree of native ability. My first task, therefore, was to ascertain a principle of selection in accordance with which the persons of relatively less distinguished ability and achievement might be eliminated. At the outset one class of individuals, it was fairly obvious, should be omitted altogether in the construction of any group in which the qualities of native intellectual ability are essential—I mean royalty, and members of the royal family, as well as the hereditary nobility. Those eminent persons, the sons of commoners, who have founded noble families, are, of course, not excluded by this rule, according to which any eminent person whose father, at the time of his birth, had attained the rank of baronet or any higher rank, is necessarily excluded from my list. Certainly the son of a king or a peer may possess a high degree of native ability, but it is practically impossible to estimate how far that ability would have carried him had he been the son of an ordinary citizen; it might be maintained that a successful merchant, ship-owner, schoolmaster or tradesman requires as much sagacity and mental alertness as even the most successful sovereign; by eliminating those individuals in whom the accident of birth counts for so much, we put this insoluble question out of court. I am surprised to find how few persons of obviously preeminent ability are excluded by this rule, and how many whom, at first, one would imagine it excludes, it really allows to pass, especially in the case of sons born before the father was created a peer. In order to avoid any scandalous omissions, I have thought it well to rule in all those sons of peers whose ability has clearly been of a kind which could not be aided by position and influence; thus I have included the third Earl of Shaftesbury, for it cannot be held that the possession of an earldom tends to aid a man in becoming a philosopher. It has, however, very rarely indeed been necessary to accord this privilege; I have always refrained from according it in the case of soldiers and statesmen.

Having eliminated those whose position in the world has clearly been influenced by the accident of birth, it remained to eliminate those whose place in the world, as well as in the 'Dictionary,' was comparatively small. After some consideration I decided that, generally speaking, those persons to whom less than three pages were allotted were evidently not regarded by the editors, and could scarcely be generally regarded, as of the first rank of eminence. Accordingly, I excluded all those individuals to whom less than that amount of space was devoted. When this was done, however, I found it necessary to go through the 'Dictionary' again, treating this rule in a somewhat more liberal manner. I had so far obtained some 700 names, but I had excluded many persons of undoubtedly very eminent ability and achievement; Hutton, the geologist, and Jane Austen, the novelist, for instance, could scarcely be omitted from a study of British genius. It was evident that persons with eventful lives had a better chance of occupying much space than other persons of equal ability with uneventful lives. Moreover, I found that a somewhat rigid adherence to the rule I had laid down had sometimes resulted in groups that were too small and too ill-balanced to be useful for study. In the case of musical composers, for instance, while those of recent times, of whom much is known, were dealt with at length, the earlier musicians, of whom little is known, though their eminence is much greater, were excluded from my list. On the other hand, a certain number of persons had been included because, though of quite ordinary ability (like Bradshaw, the regicide), they happened by accident to have played a considerable part in history. In going through the 'Dictionary' a second time, therefore, I modified my list in accordance with a new rule, to the effect that biographies occupying less than three pages might he included if the writers seemed to consider that their subjects had shown intellectual ability of a high order, and that those occupying more space might be excluded if the writers considered that their subjects displayed no high intellectual ability. At the same time, I eliminated those persons who rank chiefly as villains (like Titus Oates), and have little claim to the possession of any eminent degree of intellectual ability. I have also felt compelled to exclude women (like Lady Hamilton) whose fame is not due to intellectual ability, but to beauty and to connection with eminent persons.

So far as possible, it will be seen, I have sought to subordinate my own private judgment in making the selection. It has been my object to place the list, so far as possible, on an objective basis. At the same time, it is evident that, while I only reserved to myself a casting vote on doubtful points, there is necessarily a certain proportion of cases where this personal vote had to be given. A purely mechanical method of making selections would necessarily lead to various absurdities, and all that I can claim is that the principles of selection I have adopted have involved a minimum of interference on my part. It is certainly true that, even after much consideration and repeated revision, I remain myself still in doubt regarding a certain proportion of people included in my list and a certain proportion omitted. However often I went through the 'Dictionary/ I know that I should each time make a few trifling readjustments, and any one else who took the trouble to go over the ground I have traversed would likewise wish to make readjustments. But I am convinced that if my principles of selection are accepted, the margin for such readjustment is narrow.

I must here remark that a slightly lower standard of ability has been demanded from the women selected than from the men. It was not my desire that this should be so, and in the first list the same standard was demanded from women as from men. But it soon became clear that this was not practicable. On account of the greater rarity of intellectual ability in women, they have often played a large part in the world on the strength of achievements which would not have allowed a man to play a similarly large part. It seemed, again, impossible to exclude various women of powerful and influential personality, though their achievements were not always considerable; I allude to such persons as Hannah More and Mrs. Montague. Even Mrs. Somerville, the only feminine representative of science in my list, could scarcely be included were she not a woman, for she was little more than the accomplished popularizer of scientific results. In one department, and one only, the women seem to be little, if at all, inferior to the men in ability; that is in acting.

Putting aside the women for the moment, we find that Great Britain has produced no fewer than 859 men of a high degree of intellectual eminence. These I classify, according to the direction of their activities, as follows: Actors, 23; Artists (painters, sculptors, architects), 69; Business Men, 3; Divines, 128; Doctors, 7; Lawyers, 35; Men of Letters, 150; Men of Science (and inventors), 94; Musical Composers, 14; Philanthropists, 4; Philosophers, 27; Poets, 98; Politicians (statesmen, agitators, administrators, etc.), 113; Sailors, 29; Scholars, 40; Schoolmasters, 4; Soldiers, 46; Travelers and Explorers, 9.

It is necessary to make certain remarks concerning this classification. In the first place, there is some amount of duplication, owing to one man having sometimes distinguished himself in more than one field. This I have sought to minimize by placing a man only in those departments in which he really reached a high degree of eminence; thus many individuals belonging to the church or the law appear in my lists only as Politicians, Philosophers or Men of Letters, and not as Divines or Lawyers. It must be admitted, however, that, in a large proportion of cases, the question of classification and of duplication remains difficult and doubtful. The longest and most miscellaneous group is that of Men of Letters. It would have been possible to include the Poets also in this group, and in some cases (especially in regard to some of the Elizabethan dramatists) it has been difficult to decide into which group a writer should fall; but, on the whole, the Poets were too large, important and homogeneous a group to be merged into the miscellaneous body of Men of Letters. The smallness of the group of Business Men will probably attract attention. It would, indeed, be possible to enlarge the group somewhat, especially by including various prosperous publishers and newspaper proprietors; but it scarcely appeared that the biographers of these worthies regarded them as persons of extraordinary intellectual ability, and it was also notable that in many cases they owed much to birth and circumstances; in any case, the group would still remain small. It may seem strange that 'a nation of shopkeepers' should have produced so few merchant princes entitled to figure brilliantly in this 'Dictionary.' The real reason seems to be that a man of marked ability is not content to achieve success in business only; he uses his business capacity merely as an instrument for attaining further ends, to become free to devote himself to literary or scientific aims, and especially to obtain an entry into politics; business success is thus subordinated to success in other fields. It must be added that, while many inventors have used their scientific activity to build up large businesses, their claim to recognition in the 'Dictionary' remains that of men of science. Another unexpectedly small group is that of Doctors. Here, again, it would have been possible to enlarge the group somewhat by including a certain number of medical men, who are not, however, considered by their biographers to have really attained a durable reputation. Just as a really able business man is not satisfied with business success, so a really able doctor is not satisfied with professional success, but seeks a higher success, especially in science. A number of eminent men in science, letters and philosophy have been doctors, but it has not been in medical practice that their reputations have been made. I have no comments to make on the other groups, which, in all cases, I believe, fairly correspond to the real distribution of high ability. The group of Divines may seem large, but it certainly appears that religion has offered, in the past, if not in the present, a peculiarly favorable field for the development of mental ability.

There are 43 eminent women, the proportion to eminent men being only about 1 to 20, although, as I have already pointed out, a somewhat lower standard of intellectual ability seems here to be demanded in order to attain eminence. The eminent women fall into the following groups: Actresses, 13; Women of Letters, 23; Women of Science, 1; Philanthropists, 1; Poets, 5. It will be noticed that women have only attained eminence in five out of the eighteen departments, although, even allowing for legal and other disabilities, they have been free to attain eminence in at least twelve departments.

Having now explained how these lists have been obtained, it may be well at this stage to enumerate the individuals who thus appear entitled to rank as the preeminent men and women of genius produced by the British Isles. Names appearing in more than one group are marked by an asterisk. It has not been thought necessary to distinguish the very numerous cases in which individuals of the same name appear in different groups, since no confusion should thus be caused.

Actors.—Betterton, Booth, Burbage, Cibber, Cooke, Elliston, Foote, Garrick, Kean, Kemble, King, Lewis, Liston, Macklin, Macready, C. Mathews, C. J. Mathews, Palmer, Phelps, Quin, Webster, Wilks, Woodward.

Artists.—Adam, Banks, C. Barry, J. Barry, Bewick, Blake,* Bonington, Browne, Cattermole, Chantrey, Cockerell, Constable, Cooper, Copley, Cotman, Cox, Cozens, Crome, Cruikshank, Danby, Dawson, Dobson, Doyle, Dyce, Eastlake, Etty, Flaxman, Gainsborough, Gibson, Girtin, Gillray, Haydon, Hogarth, Holl, Inigo Jones, Keene, Landseer, Lawrence, Lewis, Linnell, Leech, Maelise, Mbrland, Mulready, Northcote, Opie, Phillip, Pugin, Raeburn, Reynolds, Romney, Rossetti,* Rowlandson, Sandby, D. Scott, G. Scott, Stevens, Stothard, Street, Stubbs, Turner, Vanbrugh,* Varley, Walker, Wilkie, Wilson, Woolner, Wren, Wright.

Business Men.—Gresham, Paterson, Whittington.

Divines.—Abbot, Adrian IV., Ainsworth, Alesius, Allen, Andrewes,* Atterbury, Bancroft, Barclay, Barrow,* Baxter, Bedell, St. Boniface, Bonner, Bradshaw, Browne, Burges, Burnet,* Butler,* Campion, Candlish, St. Thomas de Cantelupe, Cartwright, Challoner, Chalmers, Chichele, Chillingworth, Clarke, Colenso, St. Columba, St. Columban, Cooke, Cosin, Coverdale, Cranmer, Cudworth, St. Cuthbert, Dolben, Doddridge, Donne,* Duff, St. Dunstan, St. Edmund, Emlyn, Erskine, Faber, Ferrar, Fox, Foxe,* Fuller, Garnett, Henderson,* Heylin, Hoadley, Hook, Hooker, Irving, Jewel, Keble, Ken, King, Knox,* Langton,* Lardner, Latimer, Laud, Law, Leighton, Leslie, Liddon, Lightfoot, Lloyd, Loftus, Manning, Marsh, Marshall, Maurice, Melville, Middleton, Milner, Moffat, Montague, Naylor, Newman, Nowell, Owen, Paley,* Parker, Parsons, St. Patrick, Payne, Pearson,* Pecock, Peirce, Penry, Perkins, Peters, Powell, Preston, Pusey, Ridley, Sancroft, Sharp, Sheldon, Stanley,* Tait, Taylor, Tillotson, Tyndale,* Walsh, Warham, C. Wesley, J. Wesley, Blanco White, Whitefield, Whitehead, Whitgift, Wilberforce, St. Wilfrid, Willett, D. Williams, R. Williams, Wilson, Wiseman, Wishart, Wordsworth, St. Wulfstan, Wycliffe.*

Doctors.—Caius,* Linacre,* Mead, Pott, Sydenham, Cheselden, Cullen.

Lawyers.—Abinger, Ashburton, Austin, Blackstone, Cairns, Camden, Campbell, Clare, Cockburn, Coke, Curran, Denman, Eldon, Ellenborough, Fortescue, Haddington, Hale, Hardwicke, Kenyon, Littleton, Lyndhurst, Macclesfield, Maine, More,* Noye, St. John, Selbourne, Selden, Somers, Stair, Stephen, Stowell, Thurlow, Westbury, Williams.

Men of Letters.—Addison, Alcuin, Ascham, Bagehot, Banim, Barclay, Beckford, Bede, Borrow, Boswell, Browne, Buchanan,* Buckle, Bunyan, Burton, Calamy, Camden, Carleton, Carlile, Carlyle, Cibber,* Cobbett, Collier, Colman, Congreve, Cotton, Cowley,* Croker, D'Avenant, Day, Defoe, Dekker, Dempster, De Quincey, D'Ewes, Dickens, Digby, Dugdale, Elyot, Etheridge, Fanshawe, Farquhar, Fielding, Foxe, Francis, Gait, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gibbon, Gifford, Giraldus, Goldsmith, Green, Grote, Hall, Hallam, Halliwell-Phillips, Hamilton, Harrington, Hazlitt, Herbert, Holcroft, Hood, Hook, Howell, Hume,* Hunt, Jeffrey, Jerrold, Johnson, Jonson, Kemble, Kennett, Killigrew, Kingsley, Knowles, Lamb, Landor, Lee, Leland, L'Estrange, Lever, Lewes, Lillo, Lingard, Lockhart, Lodge, Lover, Lyly, Lytton, Macaulay, Mackenzie, Maginn, Mai one, Marryatt, Map, Milman, More,* Nash, Oliphant, Oldys, Paine, Paris, Perry, Pater, Pepys, Prynne, Raleigh,* Reade, Richardson, Ritson, Robertson, Roscoe, Scott, Seeley, Sheil, Sheridan,* Smollett, Southey, Sprat, Sidney Smith, Stanley,* Steele, Sterne, Steevens, Stevenson, Stow, Swift, Symonds, H. Taylor, W. Taylor, Temple,* Thackeray, Thirlwall, Trelawney, Trollope, Tyndale,* Udall, Urquhart, Vanbrugh,* Wakley,* Walton, Warburton, Warton, Whately, William of Malmesbury, William of Newburgh, Williams, Wilson, Wolcot, Wright, Wycherley.

Men of Science.—Arkwright, Babbage, R. Bacon,* Baily, Balfour, Banks, Barrow,* Baskerville, Bell, Bentham, Black, Boyle, Bradley, Brewster, Carpenter, Carrington, Cavendish, Caxton, Clifford, Colby, Cotes, Dalton, C. Darwin, E. Darwin, Davy, Dee, De Morgan, Drummond, Falconer, Faraday, Ferguson, Flamsteed, Flinders,* E. Forbes, J. D. Forbes, Gilbert, Glisson, Grew, Hales, Halley, Hamilton, Harvey, Herschel, Hooker, Horrocks, Hunter, Hutton, Jenner, Jevons, Joule, Knight, Lefroy, Lister, Lyell, Maclaurin, Mai thus, Maxwell, Milner, Morland, Murchison, Murdoch, Napier, Newton, Oughtred, Owen, Parkes, Petty, Priestley, Ray, Sabine,* Sadler, Sedgwick, Sinclair, A. Smith, H. J. Smith, R. A. Smith, W. Smith, Stephenson, Sturgeon, Telford, Trevitheek, Tyndall, Wallis, Ward, Watson, Wedgwood, Whewell, White, Whitworth, Wilkins, Williamson, Wollaston, A. Young, T. Young,

Musical Composers.—Arne, Balfe, Bennett, Blow, Boyce, Byrd, Dowland, Gauntlett, Gibbons, Lawes, Macfarren, Purcell, Tallis, Tye.

Philanthropists.—Howard, Oglethorpe, Owen, Wakley.*

Philosophers.—Bacon, Roger Bacon,* Bentham, Berkeley, Bradwardine, Butler,* Duns, Erigena, Godwin, Hamilton, Hartley, Hinton, Hobbes, Hume,* Locke, Mackintosh, J. Mill, J. S. Mill, Ockham, Paley, Price, Reid, Shaftesbury, Stewart, Toland, Ward, Wycliffe.*

Poets.—Barbour, Barclay, Barham, Barnfield, Beaumont, Beddoes, Blake,* Breton, Browne, Bruce, Burns, Butler, Byron, Caedmon, Campbell, Campion, Chapman, Chatterton, Chaucer, Churchill, Clare, Clough, S. T. Coleridge, H. Coleridge, Collins, Cotton, Cowper, Crabbe, Crashaw, Daniel, Davies, Denham, Dibdin, Dobell, Donne,* Douglas, Drayton, Drummond, Dryden, Dunbar, D'Urfey, Fletcher, Ford, Fergusson, Fitzgerald, Gascoigne, Gay, Gower, Gray, Greene, Herbert, Herrick, J. Heywood, T. Heywood, Hogg, Hood, Keats, Keble, Langland, Lindsay, Lovelace, Lydgate, Marlowe, Marvell, Massinger, Middleton, Milton, Moore, Munday, Norton, Otway, Peele, Pope, Prior, Quarles, Rogers, Rossetti,* Rowe, Savage, Shakespeare, Shelley, Shirley, Sidney,* Skelton, Smart, Southwell, Spenser, Suckling, Tennyson, Thomson, Vaughan, Waller, Watson, Wither, Wordsworth, Wotton, Wyatt, Young.

Politicians.—Arthur, A. Bacon, N. Bacon, Bateman, Bradford, Brooke, Brougham, Burke, Burghley, Burnet,* Cade, Canning, Earl Canning, Carstares, Chatham, Chichester, Clarendon, Clive, Cobbett,* Cobden, Cork, Coutances, O. Cromwell, T. Cromwell, Eliot, Ellenborough, Fawcett, Fletcher, Forster, Fox, Foxe,* Frere, Gardener, Grattan, G. Grenville, W. Grenville, Hampden, Harrington, Hastings, Henderson,* Horner, Hubert Walter, Huskisson, Ireton, Kemp, Kirkcaldy, Knox,* S. Langton, W. Langton, Law, Lawrence, Leslie, Lewis, Lilburne, Lucas, Ludlow, Lytton, Macdonald, Macnaghten, Malcolm, Marten, Melville, Northumberland, O'Connell, Oldcastle, O'Leary, O'Neill, Paget, Parkes, Parnell, Peel, Penn, Pitt, Pownall, Pulteney, Pym, Raffles, Reid,* Roe, Rose, Sacheverell, St. Leger, Shaftesbury, Sherbrooke, Sheil,* Sheridan,* T. Smith,* Stratford de Redcliffe, Stirling, Temple,* Thurloe, Tone, Tooke, Tunstall, Vane, Wallace,* Walpole, Walsingham, Warriston, Waynflete, Wentworth, Whitbread, Whitelocke, Wilberforce, Wilkes, Williamson, Windham, Winthrop, Winwood, Wolsey, Wotton, Wykeham, Wyse.

Sailors.—Anson, Blake, Brooke, Byng, Cavendish, Cook, Dampier, Deane, Drake, Duncan, Exmouth, Flinders,* Franklin, Frobisher, Gilbert, Hawke, Hawkins, Hood, Leake, Nelson, Penn, Popham, Raleigh,* Rodney, Smith, St. Vincent, Trollope, Vernon, Willoughby.

Scholars.—Andrewes,* Adamson, Barrow,* Bentley, Bingham, Boece, Buchanan,* Caius,* Cheke, Colebrooke, Colet, Conington, Crichton, Dodwell, Grocyn, Grosseteste, Hales, Hickes, John of Salisbury, Jones, Lane, Lightfoot, Linacre,* Lowth, Montague, Morton, Palmer, Pattison, Pearson,* Pocock, Porson, Salesbury, Savile, T. Smith, W. R. Smith, Spelman, Thomas, Ussher, Whiston, Wordsworth.

Schoolmasters.—Arnold, Bell, Lancaster, Parr.

Soldiers.—Abercrombie, Cadogan, Campbell, Dundee, Edwardes, Gordon, Hardinge, Havelock, Hawkwood, Jones, Knollys, Lake, Lambert, H. Lawrence, S. Lawrence, Leven, Mackay, Marlborough, Moore, Morgan, Munro, Napier, Neill, Nicholson, Nott, Ochterlony, Oglethorpe,* Outram, Picton, Pollock, Raleigh,* Reid, H. D. Ross, R. Ross, Sabine,* Sale, Sidney,* Smith, Tarleton, F. Vere, H. Vere, Wallace,* Waller, Williams, Wilson, Wolfe.

Travelers.—Barrow, Bowring, Bruce, Chesney, Clapperton, Lander, Livingstone, Park, Speke.

The women fall into the following groups:

Actresses.—Abington, Anne Barry, Elizabeth Barry, Bracegirdle, Gibber, Clive, Jordan, Kelley, Oldfield, O'Neil, Siddons, Wofrington, Yates. Phi Ian thropist.—Fry.

Poets.—Baillie, Browning, Hemans, Landon, Rossetti.

Women of Letters.—Austen, Barbauld Behn, Burney, C. Bronte, E. Bronte, Centlivre, Cowley, Edgeworth, Eliot, Ferrier, Gaskell, Godwin, Inchbald, Jameson, Martineau, Mitford, Montague, More, Morgan, Newcastle, Opie, Radcliffe.

Women of Science.—Somerville.

It may be asked how these 902 persons of preeminent intellectual ability have been distributed through the course of English history. I find that from the fourth to the eleventh centuries, inclusive, there are only 14 men of sufficient distinction to appear in my lists. From that date onwards (reckoning by the date of birth) we find that the twelfth century yields 10, the thirteenth 9, the fourteenth 16, the fifteenth 31, the sixteenth 156, the seventeenth 182, the eighteenth 352, the nineteenth 132. It is probable that the estimate most nearly corresponds to the actual facts as regards the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Before that time our information is usually too scanty, so that many men of notable ability have passed away without record. In the nineteenth century, on the other hand, the material has been too copious, and the national biographers have probably tended to become unduly appreciative of every faint manifestation of intellectual ability. The extraordinary productiveness of the eighteenth century is very remarkable. In order to realize the significance of the facts, however, a century is too long a period. Distributing our persons of genius into half-century periods, I find that the following groups are formed:

1101-1150 1151-1200 1201-1250 1251-1300 1301-1350 1351-1400
4 6 2 7 6 10
1401-1450 1451-1500 1501-1550 1551-1600 1601-1650 1651-1700
6 25 49 107 107 75
1701-1750 1751-1800 1801-1850
129 223 131

Only one individual belongs to the second half of the nineteenth century. It is scarcely necessary to remark that the record for the first half of the nineteenth century is still incomplete. Taking the experience of the previous century as a basis, it may be estimated that some 40 per cent, at least of the eminent persons belonging to the first half of the nineteenth century are still alive. This would raise that half-century to the first place, but it may be pointed out that the increase on the previous half-century would be small, and also that the result must be discounted by the inevitable tendency to overestimate the men of our own time. When we bear in mind that the activities of the individuals in each of these groups really fall, on the whole, into the succeeding group, certain interesting points are suggested. We note how the waves of Humanism and Reformation, when striking the shores of Britain, have stirred intellectual activity, and have been prolonged and intensified in the delayed English Renaissance. We see how this fermentation has been continued in the political movements of the middle of the seventeenth century, and we note the influence of the European upheaval at the end of the eighteenth century. The extraordinary outburst of intellect in the second half of that century is accentuated by the fact that, taking into account all entries in the 'Biographical Dictionary,' the gross number of eminent men of the low standard required for inclusion shows little increase in the eighteenth century (5,789, as against 5,674 in the preceding century, is the editor's estimate); the increase of ability is thus in quality rather than in quantity. It is curious to note that, throughout these eight centuries, a marked rise in the level of intellectual ability has very frequently, though not invariably, been preceded by a marked fall. It is also noteworthy that in nearly every century the majority of its great men have been born in the latter half; that is to say, that the beginning of a century tends to be marked by an outburst of genius, which declines through the century. This outburst is very distinct at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and, as we have seen reason to believe, it was probably succeeded by an arrest, if not a decline, in the production of genius. If that is so, we may probably expect a fresh outburst of intellectual ability at the beginning of the twentieth century. It would seem that we are here in the presence of two factors: a spontaneous rhythmical rise and fall in the production of genius, so that a period of what is improperly called 'decadence' is followed by one of expansive activity; and also, at the same time, the stimulating influence of great historical events, calling out latent intellectual energy. These considerations, however, are merely speculative, and it is sufficient to accord them this brief passing notice.

Having thus explained the nature of the data with which we have to deal, and the methods by which it has been obtained, we may now proceed, without further explanations, to investigate it. We have to study the chief characteristics—anthropological and psychological— of the most eminent British men and women of genius (using that word merely to signify high intellectual ability), in so far as these characteristics are revealed by the 'Dictionary of National Biography.'[1]

  1. In a certain number of cases I have supplemented or corrected the information derived from the 'Dictionary' by reference to other reliable sources, in many cases of more recent date.