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I have spoken of genius as manifest in science and art; but these are by no means its exclusive province. Its characteristics are nowhere more conspicuous than in action. There are deeds which bear its stamp as unmistakably as the masterpieces of art. When Themistocles, by a ruse, cuts off the retreat of the Allies, provokes the enemy's attack, and risks the destinies of Greece on a single battle; when Caesar confounds Pompey at Pharsalus with a fourth cohort; when William of Normandy scuttles the ships which have brought him and his counts from the coast of France, shutting up his expedition within the alternative of victory or death; when Arnold von Winkelried at the battle of Scmpach breaks the Austrian line by gathering the enemy's lances in his arms; when Cromwell with a stamp of his foot dissolves the Long Parliament "for the glory of God and the good of the people;" when Israel Putnam at Reading baffles the British dragoons by urging his horse over the impracticable precipice; when Napoleon I. with forced marches crosses the Alps and surprises the Austrians on the plains of Lombardy,— I discern in those acts a power akin to that which makes the greatness of Kepler or Michael Angelo.
Is it asked to what individuals on the roll of fame the praise of genius is especially due? The question is one which craves liberal handling. It will not bear a peremptory answer. It is a question on which no one likes that another should dogmatize. The number is small of those to whom all will accord the foremost rank in their Valhalla. The stars of first magnitude in the intellectual firmament are soon catalogued. Some dozen names from Homer to Goethe are all that three thousand years of Indo-Germanic culture have inscribed among the dii majores of poetry; a few more in science, and as many in the plastic arts.
To an American jealous of national fame the question presents itself, What is our part and lot in this matter? What have we that may vie with the splendid examples of the Old World?
The bane of American genius is popularity, the pursuit and the tyranny of the popular vote. Without the popular vote no American is great or blest. Our heaven is an elective privilege; not to be popular is the American hell. So the custom of the ballot extends its sway over letters and art; no standard of success is acknowledged but a numerical one. So many readers, so many copies sold, so much merit: as if intellectual preeminence, like political, could be conferred by the ballot-box! The writer will never prosper with that prosperity which the genuine artist desires, who has the fear of the majority before his eyes, or thinks more of his readers' judgment than his own. The best works are never popular.
As to the influence of foreign models, which is thought by some to act unfavorably on native genius, I can see no hindrance in that direction. European art can no more extinguish ours than the old European could preclude the new, or Sophocles extinguish Schiller. Other minds are to native genius but so much nature, one among the many ingredients in the common soil from which by its own elective chemistry it draws its life.
There is a periodicity in the world of mind as in the world of material nature. Epochs of creative power recur at certain, as yet incalculable, intervals in the course of time. Every zone receives in its turn the full illumination of the sun of history. No doubt this nation will have in its turn, as others before it have had, its golden age of intellectual glory. And when that age arrives, the American poet or prophet or sage who shall worthily represent the mind of this continent will find his place prepared for him by more commanding antecedents, his work reinforced by ampler resources, than ever yet fell to the lot of genius.
THE LORDS OF LIFE.
'THWO factors co-operate in every organized being to make it what it is. All animated nature, including man, is the product of the two.
We will call them Idea and Accident.
By Idea I mean the interior principle in each subject, the proper self of the individual, the distinctive type of the kind.
By Accident I mean whatever in any way affects the development, modifies the property, or determines the manifestation of the individual or. the kind.
I use the word idea in the original Platonic sense of a theorem, or forma formans, prescribing and enduing the forma formata in Nature's kinds,— the ultimate law of its being.1
In works of human art, design, that is, an idea of what is to be, must precede and direct creation. A house is not built without a plan. Can we suppose it otherwise in Nature's laboratory? Must not idea there also precede production?
1 " Lord Bacon, the British Plato, describes the laws of the material universe as the ideas in nature. 'Quod in natura nnturata lex, in natura naturante idea dicitur.' "— Coleridge : Church and
The Hebrew poet understood this; he platonized by anticipation when he wrote: "Thine eyes did see my substance while yet unformed. In thy book were all things written while as yet there was none of them."
It is the fault of the doctrine of "evolution," as commonly presented, in its application to vegetable and animal organisms, that it makes no account of this agency; it does not recognize the plastic function of ideas, although heredity, on which, it insists, is nothing else. It knows, or it emphasizes, but one function in Nature, — accident; it sees in man, brute, and plant only what time and circumstance have made them.
But when we observe how like in Nature produces like, how always the acorn brings forth the oak, and never willow or ash, the lion a lion, and not a bear; when we mark the continuance, age after age, of certain types, which are only ideas stamped on stuff, — we must admit, I think, that ideas are controlling factors in the universe of things. The production of like by like is intelligible only on this supposition; otherwise it would be only occasional, accidental.
Ideas are the forms of creatures present to the creative mind prior to the actual existence of those