Genius And Talent
( Originally Published 1879 )
GENIUS is of the soul, talent of the understanding; genius is warm, talent is passionless. Without genius there is no intuition, no inspiration; without talent, no execution. Genius is interior, talent exterior; hence genius is productive, talent accumulative. Genius invents, talent accomplishes. Genius gives the substance, talent works it up under the eye, or rather under the feeling, of genius.
Genius is that quality or character of the mind which is inventive, or generates; which gives to the world new ideas in science, art, literature, morals, or religion; which recognizes no set rules or principles, but is a law unto itself; and rejoices in its own originality; which admitting of a direction, never follows the old beaten track, but strikes- out for a new course; which has no fears of public opinion, nor leans upon public favor—always leads but never follows, which admits no truth unless convinced by experiment, reflection, or investigation, and never bows to the ipse dixit of any man, or society, or creed.
Talent is that power or capacity of mind which reasons rapidly from cause to effect; which sees through a thing at a glance, and comprehends the rules and principles upon which it works; which can take in knowledge without laborious mental study, and needs no labored illustrations to impress a principle or a fact, no matter how abstruse, hidden, complex, or intricate. Differing from genius by following rules and principles, but capable of comprehending the works of genius—imitating with ease, and thereby claiming a certain kind of originality, talent is the able, comprehensive agent; while genius is the master director.
Genius is emotional, talent intellectual; hence genius is creative, and talent instrumental. Genius has insight, talent only outsight. Genius is always calm, reserved, self-centered; talent is often bustling, officious, con l dent. Genius is rather inward, creative, and angelic; talent, outward, practical, and worldly. Genius disdains and defies imitation; talent is often the result of universal imitation in respect to everything that may contribute to the desired excellence. Genius has quick and strong sympathies, and is sometimes given to reverie and vision; talent is cool and wise, and seldom loses sight of common sense. Genius is born for a particular purpose, in which it surpasses; talent is versatile, and may make a respectable figure at almost anything. Genius gives the impulse and aim as well as the illumination; talent the means and implements. Genius, in short, is the central, finer essence of the mind, the self lighted fire, the intuitional gift. Talent gathers and shapes and applies what genius forges. Genius is often entirely right, and is never wholly wrong talent is never wholly right. Genius avails itself of all, the capabilities of talent, appropriates to itself what suits and helps it. Talent can appropriate to itself nothing, for it has not the inward, heat that can fuse all material and assimilate all food to convert it into blood; this only genius can do. Goethe was a man of genius, and at the same time of immense and varied talents; and no contemporary profited so much as he did by all the knowledges, discoveries and accumulations made by others.
Talent is full of thoughts; but genius full of thought. Genius makes its observations in short hand; talent writes them out at length. Talent is a very common family trait, genius belongs rather to individuals; just as you find one giant or one dwarf in a family, but rarely a whole brood of either. Men of genius are often dull and inert in society, as the blazing meteor when it descends to earth is only a stone. For full success the two, genius and talent, should coexist in one mind in balanced proportions, as they did in Goethe's, so that they can play smoothly together in effective combination. The work of the world, even the higher ranges, being done by talent, talent, backed by industry, is sure to achieve outward success. Commonplace is the smooth road on which are borne the freights that supply the daily needs of life; but genius, as the originator of all appliances and aids and motions and improvements, is the parent of what is to-day common-of all that talent has turned to practical account.
It is one of the mysteries of our life that genius, that noblest gift of God to man, is nourished by poverty. Its greatest works have been achieved by the sorrowing ones of the world in tears and despair. Not in the brilliant saloon, furnished with every comfort and elegance; not in the library well fitted, softly carpeted, and looking out upon a smooth, green lawn, or a broad expanse of scenery; not in ease and competence, is genius born ands nurtured; more frequently in adversity and destitution, amidst the harrassing cares of a straitened household, in bare and fireless garrets, with the noise of squalid children, in the midst of the turbulence of domestic contentions, and in the deep gloom of uncheered despair, is genius born and reared. This is its birth-place, and in scenes like these, unpropitious, repulsive, wretched, have men labored, studied and trained themselves, until they have at last emanated out of the gloom of that obscurity the shining lights of their times, become the companions of kings, the guides and teachers of their kind, and exercise an influence upon the thought of the world amounting to a species of intellectual legislation.
Genius involves a more than usual susceptibility to divine promptings, a delicacy in spiritual speculation, a quick obedience to the invisible helmsman; and these high superiorities imply fineness and fullness of organization. The man of genius is subject, says Joubert, to " transport, or rather rapture, of mind." In this exalted state he has glimpses of truth, beauties, principles, laws, that are new revelations, and bring additions to human power. Goethe might have been thinking of Kepler when he said, "Genius is that power of man which by thought and action gives laws and rules;" and Cole-ridge of Milton, when he wrote, " The ultimate end of genius is ideal;" and Hegel may have had Michael Angelo in his mind when, in one of his chapters on the plastic arts, he affirms that " talent cannot do its part fully without the animation, the besouling of genius."
Great powers and natural gifts do not bring privileges to their possessors, so much as they bring duties. A cotemporary, in dilating on genius, thus sagely remarks : " The talents granted to a single individual /do not benefit himself alone, but are gifts to the world; every one shares them, for every one suffers or benefits by his actions. Genius is a light-house, meant to give light from afar; the man who bears it is but the rock upon which the light-house is built."
Hath God given you genius and learning? It was not that you might amuse or deck yourself with it and kindle a blaze which should only serve to attract and dazzle the eyes of men. It was intended to be the means of leading both yourself and them to the Father of lights. And it will be your duty, according to the peculiar turn of that genius and capacity, either to endeavor to promote and adorn human life, or; by a more. direct application of it to divine subjects, to plead the cause of religion, to defend its truths, to enforce and recommend its practice, to deter men from courses which would be dishonorable to God and fatal to them-selves, and to try the utmost efforts of all the solemnity and tenderness with which you can clothe your addresses, to lead them into the paths of virtue and happiness.