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" THOSE, who attain any excellence, commonly spend life 66 in one pursuit; for excellence is not often obtained upon 66 easier terms. But to the particular species of excellence 6 men are directed, not by an ascendant planet, or predomi66 nating humour, but by the first book which they read, some 66 carly conversation which they heard, or some accident which “ excited ardour and emulation.” This opinion was not one of those, which Dr. Johnson defended in conversation merely for the sake of victory, but one by which he abided on reAlection, and which he seems anxious to inculcate in his writings: not content with expressing it thus decidedly in his Life of Pope, he repeats it in still stronger terms in the Life of Cowley:
“ In the window of his mother's room lay Spenser's Fairy “ Queen, in which Cowley took very early delight to read, till “ by feeling the charms of verse, he became, as he relates, “ irrecoverably a poet. Such are the accidents, which, some“ times remembered, and perhaps sometimes forgotten, pro“ duce that particular designation of mind and propensity for “ some certain science or employment, which is commonly “ called genius. The true genius is a mind of large gene
“ ral powers, accidentally determined to some particular .. 66 direction.”
Whether the circumstances which are likely to form the taste occur by chance, or result from design, the effect on the mind would probably be similar. If, instead of Cowley's chancing to find the Fairy Queen on the window seat of his mother's room, it had been put into his hands by his mother or any of his friends, it would have given him the same pleasure, and would have equally tended to prepossess him in favour of poetry.
If such slight circumstances in childhood have decided youth to a particular pursuit, with how much more certainty might we expect that education, which is a continued series of motives directed to one purpose, should form the taste and habits to any employment or profession? If it were an established fact, that there really exists such a thing as natural genius, parents would do wisely to wait till its indications appear, and they should let their children choose their own professions, in consequence of their predominating inclinations.
But if there be any doubt of the actual existence of peculiar genius, and if, on the contrary, there is reason to believe, that all the faculties of the mind can be directed by circumstances to any particular object, prudent parents would decide as early as possible what the professions of their children are to be, and would trust securely to the power of education. In this point of view it becomes necessary to examine the longcontested question concerning genius, not merely as a subject of curious speculation, but of immediate practical utility.
That all human beings are naturally equal in their capacities, is not asserted by any, even of those authors who deny the existence of peculiar genius; a difference in the power of attention, arising from the vivacity of the perceptions of pleasure or pain, and a difference in the acuteness or strength of the organs of the senses, must be admitted. Some children have peculiar delicacy of ear; others superior quickness and accuracy of eye; these are most likely, as far as natural disposition is concerned, to succeed as painters, those as musicians. The child who has well-formed limbs, and great bodily agility, is better calculated to be a dancer, than one of a heavy, clumsy make, and of a dull spirit; and that some young people, from their naturally robust constitutions, are better suited than others of feeble health, to endure the fatigue of active professions, no reasonable person will deny. It is also admitted, that, even at an early age, some children show more memory, and some more imagination, than others. Some persons attribute this difference to a superiority or inferiority in particular organs or faculties of the mind, called memory or invention; others deny the existence of such separate organs, and attribute all these intellectual varieties to an original difference in the vivacity of the perceptions of pleasure and pain. It is scarcely possible, and fortunately it is immaterial to our present business, to decide this question. To whichever cause this original difference be ascribed, it is by no means sufficient to account for the amazing superiority, or inferiority, which appears between the capacity of one individual and another, after education is completed. Infant prodigies are exceptions : there are dwarfs and giants in the intellectual as in the material world; but their stature never rises or descends to that of the inhabitants of Brobdignag, or Lilliput. Here is nothing that should prevent a wise parent from determining early on the profession of his child; for call it natural vivacity, call it natural genius, the predisposition is of so inconsiderable an amount, that it cannot reasonably influence the decision. But the popular partisans of natural genius go far beyond all these nice metaphysicians, and boldly assert, that there is a natural predominant propensity in the mind for certain pursuits, arising from natural superiority in some particular faculty of the understanding.
It is difficult to state precisely the assertions of these partisans, because they are themselves so vague in their statements, that it is impossible to follow them. The inaccuracy of common biography conspires with the ignorance of facts to increase the difficulty, and to support this species of empiricism. Biographers often begin by informing the world, that unfortunately nothing is known of the early education of the subjects of their memoirs ; but that these eminent persons followed the bent of their mind, or the impulse of their genius; that this was done in opposition to the wishes of friends, by whom they had been destined to a line of life unsuited to their natural turn. Sometimes we are told, that the peculiar genius did not break out till late in life, and would never perhaps have been discovered, but for certain happy accidents; that the persons in question had not been remarkable in childhood for any ingenuity ; that they had rather been characterized by dulness; so much so, that their preceptors and friends were afterwards astonished by the sudden blaze of their talents.
It is vain to attempt giving an accurate answer to such assertions. The terms bent of mind, impulse of genius, natural turn, &c., mean nothing, or take the subject in dispute for granted, unless we are told the accidents which are said to have brought these hidden talents to light, and unless we know the degree of penetration of the friends, who mistook early abilities for early dulness; unless, in short, we are made acquainted with the whole course of their education, and with each minute circumstance of their childish history, we must remain utterly incapable of forming any just judgment. Yet such are the assertions, and such the assumed facts, which pass from inferior writers into common conversation, and which are continually repeated in support of the argument in favour of peculiar natural genius. Even when definitions of original genius are attempted, they are often as unintelligible as poor Sir Richard Blackmore's :
“ What we call genius, results,” says the medical, metaphysical, and poetical knight, “ from the particular happy “ complexion in the first formation of the person that enjoys