Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/103
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF AUTHORSHIP.
mirror, he had so long meditated, in those long ages of which he was, as it were, the first discoverer. The "lofty and melancholy strain," the ninetieth Psalm, which old tradition ascribes to Moses, the man of God, whether it be or not the funeral hymn of the great lawgiver, well represents the feeling of one grown gray with vast experience, who at the close of his earthly journeyings contrasts the fleeting generations of man with the granite forms of the mountains at the feet of which he has wandered, and contrasts those mountains and man alike with Him who existed before, beyond, and above them all. It sums up with peculiar force the inner life of the Christian philosopher who concluded his chief work with the contrast between the finite powers of man and the attributes of an infinite God, and who felt persuaded that, after all the discoveries on earth or sea or sky, the religious sentiment remained the greatest and most indestructible instinct of the human race.
THERE is a botanical theory that a flower is nothing more than a leaf in which full development has been arrested. It is more beautiful than the leaf by reason, not of its perfection, but of its imperfection. Even so the leaf is a degenerate twig and the fruit a degenerate flower: so that productiveness comes from the loss of vital strength, and not, as would be assumed at first sight, from its increase. This is not, I believe, the orthodox scientific doctrine, but it is plausible enough to suggest an analogy. The history of a plant, according to the theory of degeneration, is strikingly like the pedigree of literary and artistic genius, according to any of the hundred definitions of that indefinite word. So far as known facts combine into a probable law, a creative intellect is never generated spontaneously. Like dukes and princes, men of imaginative genius have ancestors between themselves and Adam. Bon chat chasse de race. The lives of the mothers of great men form an important branch of biographical literature: and it is usual, even in the paternal line, to find traces of hereditary taste or talent tending toward original production. The mute, inglorious Milton finds a glorious tongue in his great-grandson: the great statesman is the heir of the village Hampden, The theory, though more than merely probable, is by its nature incapable of exhaustive proof: but instances are notorious enough to found thereon a reasonable assumption that family talent precedes individual genius even if the tendency has never made itself conspicuous, or, like the gout, has passed over a generation or two here and there. But, on the other hand, it is yet more certain that genius, like