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Before Genius
by [?]

Indeed, there is a strict moral or ethical dependence of the capacity to conceive or to project great things upon the capacity to be or to do them. It is as true as any law of hydraulics or of statics, that the workmanship of a man can never rise above the level of his character. He can never adequately say or do anything greater than he himself is. There is no such thing, for instance, as deep insight into the mystery of Creation, without integrity and simplicity of character.

In the highest mental results and conditions the whole being sympathizes. The perception of a certain range of truth, such as is indicated by Plato, Hegel, Swedenborg, and which is very far from what is called “religious” or “moral,” I should regard as the best testimonial that could be offered of a man’s probity and essential nobility of soul. Is it possible to imagine a fickle, inconstant, or a sly, vain, mean person reading and appreciating Emerson? Think of the real men of science, the great geologists and astronomers, one opening up time, the other space! Shall mere intellectual acumen be accredited with these immense results? What noble pride, self-reliance, and continuity of character underlie Newton’s deductions!

Only those books are for the making of men into which a man has gone in the making. Mere professional skill and sleight of hand, of themselves, are to be apprized as lightly in letters as in war or in government, or in any kind of leadership. Strong native qualities only avail in the long run; and the more these dominate over the artificial endowments, sloughing or dropping the latter in the final result, the more we are refreshed and enlarged. Who has not, at some period of his life, been captivated by the rhetoric and fine style of nearly all the popular authors of a certain sort, but at last waked up to discover that behind these brilliant names was no strong, loving man, but only a refined taste, a fertile invention, or a special talent of one kind or another.

Think of the lather of the modern novel, and the fashion-plate men and women that figure in it! What noble person has Dickens sketched, or has any novelist since Scott? The utter poverty of almost every current novelist, in any grand universal human traits in his own character, is shown in nothing more clearly than in the kind of interest the reader takes in his books. We are led along solely by the ingenuity of the plot, and a silly desire to see how the affair came out. What must be the effect, long continued, of this class of jugglers working upon the sympathies and the imagination of a nation of gestating women?

How the best modern novel collapses before the homely but immense human significance of Homer’s celestial swineherd entertaining divine Ulysses, or even the solitary watchman in Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon,” crouched, like a night-dog, on the roofs of the Atreidae, waiting for the signal fires that should announce the fall of sacred Ilion!

But one need not look long, even in contemporary British literature, to find a man. In the author of “Characteristics” and “Sartor Resartus” we surely encounter one of the true heroic cast. We are made aware that here is something more than a litterateur, something more than genius. Here is veracity, homely directness and sincerity, and strong primary idiosyncrasies. Here the man enters into the estimate of the author. There is no separating them, as there never is in great examples. A curious perversity runs through all, but in no way vitiates the result. In both his moral and intellectual nature, Carlyle seems made with a sort of stub and twist, like the best gun-barrels. The knotty and corrugated character of his sentences suits well the peculiar and intense activity of his mind. What a transition from his terse and sharply articulated pages, brimming with character and life, and a strange mixture of rage, humor, tenderness, poetry, philosophy, to the cold disbelief and municipal splendor of Macaulay! Nothing in Carlyle’s contributions seems fortuitous. It all flows from a good and sufficient cause in the character of the man.