Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/548

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


528 POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Most of the men we call " cranks " are of this type. They are essentially lacking in judgment, and the popular estimate of them is exactly right.

It is evident, therefore, from this last explanation, that there is a second direction of variation among men — a variation in their sense of the truth and value of their own thoughts, and with them of the thoughts of others. This is the second limitation which the man of genius shares with men generally — the limitation in the amount of variation which he may show in his social judg- ments, especially as these variations affect the claim which he makes upon society for recognition. It is evident that this must be an interesting and important factor in our estimate of the claims of the hero to our worship, especially since it is the more obscure side of his temperament, and the side generally over- looked altogether. I shall therefore devote the rest of my space to the attempt to illustrate this matter of what I shall call the " social sanity " of the man of genius.

IV.

The first indication of the kind of social variation which over- steps even the degree of indulgence society is willing to accord to the great thinker, is to be found in the effect which education has upon character. The discipline of social development is, as we have seen, mainly conducive to the reduction of eccentricities, the lev- eling off of personal peculiarities. All who come into the social heritage learn the same great series of lessons derived from the past, and all get the sort of judgment required in social life from the common exercises of the home and school in the formative years of their education. So we should expect that the greater singularities of disposition which represent insuperable difficulty in the process of social assimilation would show themselves early. Here it is that the actual conflict comes — the struggle between impulse and social restraint. Many a genius owes the redemp- tion of his intellectual gifts to legitimate social uses to the victory gained by a teacher and the discipline learned through obedience. And thus it is, also, that so many who give promise of great dis- tinction in early life fail to achieve it. They run off after a phan- tom, and society pronounces them mad. In their case the per- sonal factor has overcome the social factor ; they have failed in the lessons they should have learned, their own self-criticism is undisciplined, and they miss the mark.

These two extremes of variation, however, do not exhaust the case. One of them tends in a measure to the blurring of the light of genius, and the other to the rejection of social restraint to a degree which makes the potential genius over into a crank. The average man is the mean. But the greatest reach of human at-

�� �