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The Recipe For Genius
by [?]

Let us start fair by frankly admitting that the genius, like the poet, is born and not made. If you wish to apply the recipe for producing him, it is unfortunately necessary to set out by selecting beforehand his grandfathers and grandmothers, to the third and fourth generation of those that precede him. Nevertheless, there is a recipe for the production of genius, and every actual concrete genius who ever yet adorned or disgraced this oblate spheroid of ours has been produced, I believe, in strict accordance with its unwritten rules and unknown regulations. In other words, geniuses don’t crop up irregularly anywhere, ‘quite promiscuous like’; they have their fixed laws and their adequate causes: they are the result and effect of certain fairly demonstrable concatenations of circumstance: they are, in short, a natural product, not a lusus naturae. You get them only under sundry relatively definite and settled conditions; and though it isn’t (unfortunately) quite true that the conditions will always infallibly bring forth the genius, it is quite true that the genius can never be brought forth at all without the conditions. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? No more can you get a poet from a family of stockbrokers who have intermarried with the daughters of an eminent alderman, or make a philosopher out of a country grocer’s eldest son whose amiable mother had no soul above the half-pounds of tea and sugar.

In the first place, by way of clearing the decks for action, I am going to start even by getting rid once for all (so far as we are here concerned) of that famous but misleading old distinction between genius and talent. It is really a distinction without a difference. I suppose there is probably no subject under heaven on which so much high-flown stuff and nonsense has been talked and written as upon this well-known and much-debated hair-splitting discrimination. It is just like that other great distinction between fancy and imagination, about which poets and essayists discoursed so fluently at the beginning of the present century, until at last one fine day the world at large woke up suddenly to the unpleasant consciousness that it had been wasting its time over a non-existent difference, and that fancy and imagination were after all absolutely identical. Now, I won’t dogmatically assert that talent and genius are exactly one and the same thing; but I do assert that genius is simply talent raised to a slightly higher power; it differs from it not in kind but merely in degree: it is talent at its best. There is no drawing a hard-and-fast line of demarcation between the two. You might just as well try to classify all mankind into tall men and short men, and then endeavour to prove that a real distinction existed in nature between your two artificial classes. As a matter of fact, men differ in height and in ability by infinitesimal gradations: some men are very short, others rather short, others medium-sized, others tall, and yet others again of portentous stature like Mr. Chang and Jacob Omnium. So, too, some men are idiots, some are next door to a fool, some are stupid, some are worthy people, some are intelligent, some are clever, and some geniuses. But genius is only the culminating point of ordinary cleverness, and if you were to try and draw up a list of all the real geniuses in the last hundred years, no two people could ever be found to agree among themselves as to which should be included and which excluded from the artificial catalogue. I have heard Kingsley and Charles Lamb described as geniuses, and I have heard them both absolutely denied every sort of literary merit. Carlyle thought Darwin a poor creature, and Comte regarded Hegel himself as an empty windbag.

The fact is, most of the grandiose talk about the vast gulf which separates genius from mere talent has been published and set abroad by those fortunate persons who fell, or fancied themselves to fall, under the former highly satisfactory and agreeable category. Genius, in short, real or self-suspected, has always been at great pains to glorify itself at the expense of poor, commonplace, inferior talent. There is a certain type of great man in particular which is never tired of dilating upon the noble supremacy of its own greatness over the spurious imitation. It offers incense obliquely to itself in offering it generically to the class genius. It brings ghee to its own image. There are great men, for example, such as Lord Lytton, Disraeli, Victor Hugo, the Lion Comique, and Mr. Oscar Wilde, who pose perpetually as great men; they cry aloud to the poor silly public so far beneath them, ‘I am a genius! Admire me! Worship me!’ Against this Byronic self-elevation on an aerial pedestal, high above the heads of the blind and battling multitude, we poor common mortals, who are not unfortunately geniuses, are surely entitled to enter occasionally our humble protest. Our contention is that the genius only differs from the man of ability as the man of ability differs from the intelligent man, and the intelligent man from the worthy person of sound common sense. The sliding scale of brains has infinite gradations; and the gradations merge insensibly into one another. There is no gulf, no gap, no sudden jump of nature; here as elsewhere, throughout the whole range of her manifold productions, our common mother saltum non facit.