Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/479

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GENIUS AND INSANITY. 461

and now, is a question that can not be answered. Our ignorance of the many hidden threads that make up the inextricable skein of causation forces us to regard each new appearance of the lamp of gen- ius with much of the wonder, if with something less of the supersti- tion, with which the ancients viewed it.

This being so, we must be content with a very tentative and pro- visional theory of the relations between genius and mental disease. We can not, for example, follow M. Moreau in his hardy paradox that genius has as its material substratum a semi-morbid state of the brain, a neuropathic constitution which is substantially identical with the "insane temperament" or "insane neurosis."* For, first of all, the facts do not support such a generalization. If the "genial tempera- ment " involved a distinct constitutional disposition to insanity, the number of great men who had actually become insane would certainly be much greater than it is. And, in the second place, this proposition reposes on far too unsubstantial a basis of hypothetical neurology. We know too little of the variations of nerve structure and function to pronounce confidently on the essential identity of the nervous organi- zation in the case of the man of genius and of the insane." f

A more modest and possibly more hopeful way of approaching the question appears to offer itself in the consideration of the psychical characteristics of genius. We may inquire into those peculiarities of sensibility and emotion, as well as of intellect, which are discoverable in the typical psychical organization of the great man, and may trace out some of the more important reflex influences of the life of intellect- ual production on his mind and character. What we all recognize as genius displays itself in some large original conception, whether artis- tic, scientific, or practical. And it seems not improbable that by a closer investigation of the conditions and the results of this large con- structive activity of mind we may find a clew to the apparent anomaly that grand intellectual powers are so frequently beset with mental and moral infirmity. These lurking-places of abnormal tendencies will, we may expect, betray themselves more readily in the case of artistic and especially poetic genius, which has, indeed, always been viewed as the most pronounced form, and as the typical representative of creative power.

No careful student of genius can fail to see that it has its roots in a nervous organization of exceptional delicacy. Keenness of sensibility, both to physical and mental stimuli, is one of the fundamental attri- butes of the original mind. This preternatural sensitiveness of nerve has been illustrated in the two latest records of poetic genius. Car-

  • Op. cit., p. 463, seq.

\ Dr. Haudsley is more guarded, contenting himself with saying, "It is truly re- markable how much mankind has been indebted for special displays of talent, if not of genius, to individuals who themselves, or whose parents, have sprung from families in which there has been some predisposition to insanity " (" Responsibility in Mental Dis- ease," p. 47).

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