« AnteriorContinuar »
glory, they are wearied by the sullen The Youth of Genius assumes so resistance of his character.
many forms that, from the habits of The love of repose and of musing mere boys, it is impossible to prognose generally attends the “ Youth of Ge- ticate with much certainty any thing nius," and Mr D’Israeli asserts that it of the future character. The natures is retained through life. He asserts of men, Mr D’Israeli well says, are as too, that a man of fine genius is rarely varied as their fortunes. Some like enamoured of common amusements or diamonds must receive their splendour robust exercises. Beattie has express- from the slow touches of the polisher, ly told us of his Minstrel,
while others, resembling pearls, ap“The exploit of strength, dexterity, or speed pear at once born with their beauteous To him nor vanity nor joy could bring." lustre. It is delightful, however, Alfieri could never be taught to dance when a great man has reached his gloHorace was a bad rider—Metastasio ry, to look back on little trifling cira bad shot—the younger Pliny was cumstances, by which he, in his boycharmed by the Roman mode of fowl- hood, strove to anticipate it. Ariosto, ing, which admitted him to sit a whole when a boy, composed a tragedy from day with his tablets and stylus—and the story of Pyramus and Thisbe; and Thomson was the hero of his own Pope indicated his passion for Homer Castle of Indolence. All this is very in these rough verses, which he drew inconclusive. Beattie, though a man up from Ogilby's version. Sir Wilof real poetical genius, was sadly defi- liam Jones, at Harrow, divided the cient in strength and vigour, both of fields according to a map of Greece, intellect and passion-and“ young and portioned out to each school-felé Edwin,” though assuredly no vulgar low a dominion. boy,” is very far indeed from being a The first efforts of genius are often fine ideal impersonation of a young po- wholly inauspicious. Indeed, though
He is much too effeminate and some great inen have, in very early timid, and too much troubled with de- youth, produced perfect specimens of licate nerves. There can be no reason composition, it may in general be rein nature why a man of imagination marked, that their early writings have and passion (and that man is a Poet) been worse than the early writings of should not, in the exuberance of ani- very inferior minds. They are troubmal spirits and delight, pour out his led and overmastered by their own very soul in the ardent enjoyment of conceptions or it may be that great all those pursuits, for which young and glorious visions are seen by Edwin, who was probably but weak them dimly and at a distance then, and sickly, had no relish. Much de- which afterwards burst upon them pends on his bodily frame>much on in perfect splendour. The the age in which he lives much on of this Mr D'Israeli has not even his country-much on his early read- alluded to, but has merely given some ing-much on his rank in life. No- examples. The first attempts of Drything can be asserted generally, on this den and Swift were hopeless-Rapoint, of the Youth of Genius, nor in- cine's earliest compositions abounded deed of its manhood. Poets, philoso- in all the faults from which his later phers, statesmen, divines, there have productions were so remarkably free been, who loved and excelled in all Gibbon, in his “ Essay on Literature," manly accomplishments. In those ob- is but a feeble person and Raphael, jects and pursuits which Beattie and under Perugino, drew meagre and miMr D’Israeli would exclude from the serable forms, though afterwards the thoughts and passions of a youth of sole master of ideal beauty. genius, there is much to kindle and to Genius has even proceeded to feed those very powers and feelings manhood without its splendour.-most essential to the character of ge- Goldsmith had no love of poetry till nius. There can be no doubt that the he was thirty. It was said of Johngreatest poets of all countries have been son, that he would never offend in men eminently endowed with bodily conversation, and of Boileau, that he powers, and that they rejoiced and ex- had no great understanding, but would celled in all manly cxercises or pur- never speak ill of any one. suits. So has it been with the great- Isaac Barrow's father used to say of est poets of Greece, Italy, and Eng- him, that if it pleased God to take land.
from him any of his children, he hop
ed it might be Isaac, as the least pro- prove very dull men, is not at all surmising. Unfortunately for our know- prising. But the fact is, that even at ledge of the human soul, men of ge- school, their superiority over boys of nius do not themselves attend philo- genius was not real, but apparent. sophically to all the numberless causes There can be nothing that is not en. that from childhood are constantly af- couraging and hopeful in the exhibifecting, forming, and moulding their tion of early genius, if we are assured characters. There is not much auto- that it is genius. Disappointment onbiography in the world, and but a ly follows mistake. We misconceive small part of it is valuable. It is a the nature and essence of the qualities difficult thing to live over again a life- exhibited by some favourite boy,-we time, without losing either its lights or anticipate a glorious future from an shadows. It is also a formidable erroneous view of the present, and thing. But if inen of genius will not then we very wisely lay it down as a do it for theinselves, none else can do grand truth, that nature is often not it for them; and in the very best me- true to her promises, when her operamoir that ever was written of a man of tions have only falsified our hasty and genius by another mind, how little is unauthorised prophecies. there in which we can discover the Mr D’Israeli then gives us a chapter cause of any one part of his character. ' on the first studies of genius. Many Mr D'Israeli, we think, might have of those peculiarities, he observes, of entered a little more into the philoso- men of genius, both fortunate and unphy of this matter ; for, from the mul- fortunate, may be easily traced to titude of his anecdotes, conclusions the them. As physicians tell us that most contradictory might be drawn. there is a certain point in youth at One good remark he does make," that which the constitution is formed, and it has happened to some men of genius on which the sanity of life revolves, so during a long period of their lives, to is it with the mind of genius. Johnhave an unsettled impulse, without son's early attachment to the works of having discovered the object of its ap- Sir Thomas Brown, produced his extitude, a thirst and fever in the tem- cessive admiration of Latinized Eng, perament of a too sentient being, lish. Rembrandt's father had a mill which cannot find the occupation which received light from an aperture to which it can only attach itself,” but at the top, and this habituated that that the instant the latent talent has great artist to view all objects as if declared itself, they have at once shone seen in that magical light. Pope, forth as men of genius.
when a child, read a small library of Mr D’Israeli says, that in general, mystical devotion, which he found in perhaps a master-mind exhibits pre- his mother's closet; and from the sedocity, and we are inclined to agree raphic raptures of these erotic mystics, with him. He gives a great many in- he partly conceived the feelings of Hestances of this in his usual way, but loise; and to speak of great living undoubtedly, as many might begiven to men,-from the perusal of Rycaut's fothe contrary, according to imperfect bio- lio of Turkish History in childhood, graphies. We conceive that if a mind Lord Byron, it 'is said, derived imof genius were accurately observed in pressions which gave life and motion to boyhood, it would always exhibit that the Giaour, the Corsair and Alp. genius in some form of expression. All The education of genius must, in a the truly great spirits of whose youth great measure, be its own work. But we know any thing authentic, have too often men of genius have through done so. Traits of such thought in half their lives held a contest with bad boys of genius are not to be seen by or no education. Men of genius who common eyes; nay, often seem to or- have been late taught, with powers cadinary observers to denote dulness or pable of placing them in the first stupidity. The common remark that rank, are mortified to discover themboys of great talents seldom turn out selves only on a level with those by first-rate men, is good for nothing, be- nature much their inferiors. They cause by great talents, no more is have of necessity to go through in meant than some of the most unim- manhood, that discipline which others portant qualities of the mind, by which have undergone in boyhood. This clever boys are enabled to make a fi- alone is an evil never wholly to be gure at school. That such boys should surmounted, for it disarranges the fas
culties of the soul, and perplexes na- England. In short, Mr D’Israeli is ture herself.
“ I am unfortunately," of opinion, that it is equally dangerous says Winkleman, one of those whom for a young writer to resign himself the Greeks named oriya Issero sa- to the opinions of his friends, and to pientes, the late-learned, for I have pass them with inattention ; so that appeared too late in the world and in he must be in a great embarrassment. Italy To have done something, I We are not sure if we understand should have had an education anala- Mr D’Israeli very distinctly, and he gous to my pursuits, and this at your will pardon us for hinting, that he age.
does not appear very distinctly to unThe self-educated are accordingly derstand himself. If the youth of gemarked by strong peculiarities. Some- nius was likely to be blasted by the times the greater portion of their lives mere blindness of friends to its excelis past before they can throw them- lence, blasted it would indeed too ofselves out of that world of mediocrity ten be. But we conceive that genius to which they have been confined. so exists for and in itself, and works They are constantly struggling to re- in such a strong spirit of uncommunia alize their conceptions against many cated and uncommunicable delight, difficulties, which, with other persons, that the favourable or unfavourable education has removed. They are apt opinion of others respecting its young to become stubborn-hard-cynical. productions, is not likely to have any But their enthusiasm is great, for it bad effect whatever on its strength or kindles equally at the sight of difficul- happiness. The love of a young mind ties overcome, and those yet to be sur- for its own creations, is not dependent mounted. No self-educated man ever on the love of others. Thomson, we sunk into despair with his art.
dare say, cared little about the sturace of the self-educated,” says our pidity of his worthy friends. True Author, are apt to consider some genius, we conceive, may be, and ofof their own insulated feelings those ten is, greatly benefited by wise, kind, of all; their prejudices are often in- and judicious friends,---rarely injured vincible, and their tastes unsure and by the mere ignorance of duller spircapricious ; glorying in their strength, its. We mean to apply this merely while they are betraying their weak- to their compositions,-their early nesses, yet mighty even in that enthu- poems or pictures, as Mr D’Israeli siasm which is only disciplined by its has done. But if we take a larger own fierce habits. Bunyan is the view of the friendship of young men Spenser of the people. The fire burn- of genius, and think of their friends as ed towards heaven, although the altar objects of love, tenderness, or venerawas rude and rustic.”
tion, then we do conceive, that so far Friends who, in ordinary cases, are from their being “ usually prejudiso valuable in youth, are, according cial,” they are as breezes and stars to to Mr D’Israeli, usually prejudicial in the soul of genius; that without deep, the youth of genius. Real genius, he strong, pure, and intellectual friendsays, has often been disconcerted and ship, for some mind similar to itself, thrown into despair, by the ill judg- genius would wither into desolate de ments of his domestic circle. Taste cay; and that almost all the first nois of such variety, that not one of ble efforts of genius have been in the ten thousand well-educated intelligent joy and the strength of human affecmen, possess that prophetic kind of it tions. which anticipates the public opinion. One of the best Chapters in the Had some of our first writers set their book is that on the “ Irritability of fortunes on the cast of their friend's Genius.” Mr D’Israeli, however, seems opinion, we might have lost many too broadly to admit, that men of precious compositions. Thomson's genius are generally of an irritable early friends saw little or no merit temperament. He ought to have statin his “ Winter.” Parnel was reck- ed, a little more precisely, first, what oned something of a dunce till Swift is meant by irritability applied to introduced him to Bolingbroke ; and them; and, secondly, how far the when Reynolds returned from Italy, charge is a true one. Some sorts with all the excellence of his art, his of genius there unquestionably are, old teacher Hudson exclaimed, that he which, so far from inclining their posdid not paint so well as when he left sessors to irritability, seem naturally
to lead to quiescence and repose. Ex- arises, too, from the anxious and pretreme accuracy of distinction is, how- carious occupation of making to themever, not a merit of this writer, and we selves a great name. For the most part must take him as we find him. He of his life, the fame of an author or of very justly remarks, that the modes an artist is of an ambiguous nature. of life of a man of genius are often in They find it in one place and lose it conflict with the monotonous and imi- in another. Praise and blame come tative habits of society; that his oc- to them at one and the same time. cupations and amusements even are They are often ignorant of the extent discordant with its artificial character. of their reputation. Admiration often This, undoubtedly, must be very much exists, unknown to them, of them and the case with every man of genius. their works. They are exposed to all Genius in society, therefore, even in the vague indefinite feelings of minds the very best of it, must often be in excited into a ferment by their works. apathy, and often in suffering. No They know that they are talked of, wonder that irritation often ensues, thought of, approved, condemned. even with those who have tamed The world thinks itself entitled to themselves down to bear the dulness make free with them, either in its or impertinence of ordinary existence. eulogies or its satire. They stand in A company of blockheads will all ex- a very singular kind of relationship claim against the luckless genius who with the world, and the feelings exmay have exhibited some symptoms cited by that relationship are often of of irritation when condemned to the a feverish and disturbing kind. Each talk of such foolish company; and new work places them in a new state that irritation is all laid to the score of of mind. Hope is born, languishes, his genius. But how would one block- frets, or attains its object and dies. head feel in the company of ten men There is a constant alternation of of genius? He too would be irritable, strong emotions in their hearts. No and very eccentric too, or we are much wonder that they should be what the mistaken in such a situation. But world in its good nature calls irritable. the world, after all, will have the best Minds of the first order, and of the of the argument; and they are quite highest achievement, have in all counright in attributing the sufferings, or tries been subjected to mortification and the disgust of superior minds, to an trial. Bacon was not at all understood irritable temperament, rather than to in his day. Sir Thomas Bodley upthe folly, indelicacy, rudeness, or ig- braided him with his new mode of norance of those with whom they philosophising. Sir Edward Coke wrote come into contact.
miserable and bitter verses on a copy A man of genius cannot in a mo- of the Instauratio presented to him by ment turn from his own delightful Bacon. James I. declared, that, like fancies and beautiful creations to the “ God's power, it passeth beyond all mere talk of the passing day. He understanding.". Kepler's work on may indeed acquire something of this Comets was by the learned condemned power, but it is not natural to him; as extravagant; and Galileo abjured and though he may successfully adapt on his knees the philosophical truths himself for a long time together to the he had ascertained. So has it been, most ordinary minds, in some unlucky too, with inferior spirits. Nothing moment he forgets himself, and a can be more bitter to a man of genius, single sally may do away the effect of than to see the truth which he has much sufferance and condescension. discovered or beautified treated with “ Professional characters,” says Mr indifference or scorn. A very slight D’Israeli, “ who are themselves so want of personal respect to the most often literary, yielding to their pre- ordinary man who thinks himself endominant interests, conform to that titled to it, awakens his irritability. assumed urbanity which levels them What shall be said of the hourly and with ordinary minds ; but the man of daily disrespect, or contumely, or ingenius cannot leave himself behind in difference, which men of genius meet the cabinet he quits; the train of his with from persons who would avenge thoughts is not stopt at will; and, in every such offence to themselves with the range of conversation, his habits never-ending persecution ? What is to of thought will prevail."
be said of the shock which their feels The irritability of men of genius ings must be continually sustaining,
MY DEAR S
from hearing things and thoughts, to he is a person of the most unsullied them most sacred, either misundere honour and veracity; and that the fine stood, undervalued, or profaned? There powers of his mind, however warped is no occasion to attribute to irritabi- and weakened by superstitious fears in lity that which often flows from the his youth, have since completely repurest source; and before we censure covered their proper tone and elasticity. the display of keen feelings, we should Your's, &c.
D. K. S. consider what it was that produced, September 1818. and probably justified them.
The higher the imagination of a man of genius, the higher is the sphere of his constant thought above the or- THERE is nothing more baneful than dinary sphere of human life. Much the influence which privileged nurses that is interesting, and even engross- and other attendants upon young ing, to ordinary minds, passes below children exercise over their untutorhim like mists or clouds; and when, ed imaginations, through the mein his descent to the lower regions, hé dium of superstitious dread. becomes enveloped in them, no won
know that there are few who have der that he should exhibit impatience suffered more from such cruelty than to regain the calm serenity of his na- myself; that for the prime years of tive element. Mr D’Israeli concludes my youth I was the victim of a dishis chapter well. “ Men of genius tempered fancy, which I in vain atare often reverenced only where they tempted to chasten or correct; and are known by their writings; intel- that it was only by a most singular lectual beings in the romance of life, and unexpected accident, that I was in its history they are men. Erasmus freed from the reign of terror. But I compared them to the great figures in believe you have never been made actapestry-work, which lose their effect quainted with the full detail of that when not seen at a distance. Their accident; and I therefore send you this foibles and their infirmities are obvious account of it, impressed with the to their associates, often only capable deepest gratitude to the providence of discerning these qualities. The de- which turned to so much benefit in my fects of great men are the consolation own case, that which, considering the of dunces.”
peculiar state and temper of my mind, A great many important topics in might have caused insanity or death, the history of genius are discussed and and wishing it to become, if possible, illustrated in sixteen other chapters. as useful to others. Superstition is To some of these we mean afterwards not indeed an epidemic of the present to return, and hope to lead our readers age; yet there may be individuals, into several interesting fields of dis- who cast their eyes upon my tale, that cussion.
will thank me for its lesson.
I never knew the fostering care of a father; and my mother, except by the boundless affection which I re
member in my solitary tears, did not MR EDITOR,
well supply his place. Inheriting a If you consider the following pages large domain in the wildest district of as possessed of interest, I should be Wales, I was early taught to attach happy to see them inserted in your notions of dignity and importance to Miscellany. The story may not be so myself, and entertained a long train thrilling as some of those you have of more interesting thoughts than already given to the public, but I can usually occupy the breast of boyhood. answer for its truth ; and I dare say From the indulgence of my guardians if old Jerome, who used to shew the to an only son, I was never sent to catacombs in Paris, be yet alive, he school, and thus had no opportunity will recollect the handsome English- of acquiring the prompt and active man, with brown hair, and dark-blue spirit that is generated in a public seeyes full of meaning, whom he re- minary, or that hard yet brilliant leased one morning from a night's polish of the world, that repels from imprisonment in those gloomy vaults. its surface all assaults of sanguine and I shall only add, in behalf of my romantic feeling. My domestic tutor friend, whose letter I transcribe, that enriched my mind with an extensive
A NIGHT IN THE CATACOMBS.