Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/May 1875/The Physiology of Authorship
|←Discourse on the Death of Lyell||Popular Science Monthly Volume 7 May 1875 (1875)
The Physiology of Authorship
By Robert Edward Francillon
|Sketch of Dr. William Whewell→|
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 the blossom with its fruit, closes while it crowns the family tree. The man of talent is the ancestor of the man of genius, but the man of genius is the ancestor either of nobodies or of nobody. Descendants of great authors, painters, and musicians, who lived two or three generations ago, are hardly to be found. While the families of great soldiers and statesmen swarm, there is scarcely a man in Europe who can boast of a great poet or other artist in the direct line of his pedigree: probably there is not even one who can boast of two such forefathers. The rough stem runs into the leaf, the leaf to the flower, and the flower to the fruit of good work, or—to seed. To pursue the analogy to its end, the full beauty and productiveness of imaginative genius correspond to the effect of decaying vitality.
Analogy, built upon an unscientific metaphor, is of course no argument: but it is a fair explanatory illustration of a theory that rests upon surer ground for its foundation. That the creative imagination or any other mental gift so far resembles disease as to require non-natural conditions for its exercise is not the popular doctrine. The well-known and often-quoted couplet about the near alliance of great wit to madness is directly opposed to the far more pleasant belief in sound minds in sound bodies as the most favorable condition for the production of the best work of all kinds. The tone of hero-worshipers themselves is, to deplore eccentric indulgences as weaknesses of genius rather than to recognize in them the artificial atmosphere necessary for production and creation. The popular doctrine is thoroughly wholesome, because it is taught by the many for the many, and to teach otherwise, in a broad way, would risk the popular confusion of genius with its accidents. But all safe, wholesome, popular doctrines have an unfortunate tendency to turn men at large into a great flock of sheep—infinitely better worth owning than a herd of red deer, but proportionately less full of individual character. The history of how imaginative work is done reads very like a deliberate and apparently insane effort to keep up the action of brain-fever by artificial stimulus, as if creative genius were literally an unsound habit of mind requiring an unsound habit of body—mens insana in corpore insano. Balzac, who had the disease of creative genius in its most outrageous form, "preached to us," says Théophile Gautier, "the strangest hygiene ever propounded among laymen. If we desired to hand our names down to posterity as authors, it was indispensable that we should immure ourselves absolutely for two or three years: that we should drink nothing but water and only eat soaked beans, like Protogenes: that we should go to bed at sunset and rise at midnight, to work hard till morning: that we should spend the whole day in revising, amending, extending, pruning, perfecting, and polishing our night's work, in correcting proofs or taking notes, or in other necessary study." If the author happened to be in love, he was only to see the lady of his heart for one half-hour a year: but. he might write to her for the cold-blooded reason that letter-writing improves the style. Not only did Balzac preach this austere doctrine, but he practised it as nearly as he could without ceasing altogether to be a man and a Frenchman. Léon Gozlan's account of the daily life of the author of the "Comédie Humaine" has often been quoted. He began his day with dinner at six in the afternoon, at which, while he fed his friends generously, he himself ate little besides fruit and drank nothing but water. At seven o'clock he wished his friends goodnight and went to bed. At midnight he rose and worked—till dinner-time the next day: and so the world went round. George Sand calls him, "Drunk on water, intemperate in work, and sober in all other passions." Jules Janin asks, "Where has M. de Balzac gained his knowledge of woman—he, the anchorite?" Love and death came to him hand-in-hand: so that he might be taken as an example of the extreme result of imaginative work obtained by the extreme avoidance of artificial stimulus, and therefore as a fatal exception to the general theory, were it not for one little habit of his which, though a trifle in itself, is enough to bring his genius within the pale of the law. When he sat down to his desk, his servant, who regarded a man that abstained even from tobacco as scarcely human, used to place coffee within reach, and upon this he worked till his full brain would drive his starved and almost sleepless body into such self-forgetfulness that he often found himself at daybreak bareheaded and in dressing-gown and slippers in the Place du Carrousel, not knowing how he came there, and miles away from home. Now, coffee acts upon some temperaments like laudanum upon others, and many of the manners and customs of Balzac were those of a confirmed opium-eater. He had the same strange illusions, the same extravagant ideas, the same incapacity for distinguishing, with regard to outward things, between the possible and the impossible, the false and the true. His midnight wanderings, his facility for projecting himself into personalities utterly unlike his own, belong to the experiences of the "English Opium-Eater." On this assumption, the exaggerated abstinence of Balzac is less like an attempt to free the soul from the fetters of the flesh than a preparation for the fuller effect of a stimulus that instinctive experience had recommended. In any case his intemperate temperance is the reverse of the conditions in which wholesome unimaginative work can possibly be carried on.
Byron affords a similar, though of course less consistent, illustration of a tendency to put himself out of working condition in order to work the better. "At Disdati," says Moore, "his life was passed in the same regular round of habits into which he naturally fell." These habits included very late hours and semi-starvation, assisted by smoking cigars and chewing tobacco, and by green tea in the evening without milk or sugar. Like Balzac, he avoided meat and wine, and so gave less natural brain-food room for more active play. Schiller was a night-worker and a coffee-drinker, and used to work on champagne. Not only so, but he used an artificial stimulus altogether peculiar to himself: he found it impossible, according to the well-known anecdote, to work except in a room filled with the scent of rotten apples, which he kept in a drawer of his writing-table, in order to keep up his necessary mental atmosphere. Shelley's practice of continually munching bread while composing is not a mere piece of trivial gossip when taken in connection with more striking and intelligible attempts to ruin the digestion by way of exciting the brain, and when it is remembered that his delicate and almost feminine organization might require far less to throw it off the balance than naturally stronger frames. At all events, it seems to point to the same instinctive craving for abnormal aids to work when the imagination is called upon—as if it were not intended that the creative power should be a function of the natural man. Of course there is no need to suppose that the stimulus is always or even often adopted with the deliberation of the actor, who used to sup on underdone pork-chops to inspire himself with the mood proper to tragedy. Nor need the stimulus be of a kind to produce intoxication, in the vulgar sense of the word. So long as it puts the body into a non-natural condition, in the way pointed out by individual instinct, it seems that the physical conditions of imaginative work are fulfilled.
Unfortunately for any complete treatment of the question, a sufficient body of data is not easily gathered. Great artists, in all fields of work, are notoriously shy of publishing their processes, even when they themselves know what their processes are. It is, however, always legitimate to argue from the known to the probable; and if it can be gathered that all great imaginative work, whenever the process is known, has been accompanied with some abnormal habit, however slight, it is fair enough to assume that the relation of cause and effect has something to do with the matter, and that some such habit may be suspected where processes are not known. There are, however, two great imaginative authors of the very first rank whom believers in the pleasant doctrine that the highest and freest work can be done under the healthiest conditions of fresh air, early hours, daylight, and temperance—which does not mean abstinence—have always claimed for their own. One of these is Goethe. He and Balzac are at precisely opposite poles in their way of working. Here is the account of Goethe's days at Weimar, according to Mr. G. H. Lewes: He rose at seven. Till eleven he worked without interruption. A cup of chocolate was then brought, and he worked on again till one. At two he dined. "His appetite was immense. Even on the days when he complained of not being hungry he ate much more than most men. . . . He sat a long while over his wine, chatting gayly, for he never dined alone. . . . He was fond of wine, and drank daily his two or three bottles." There was no dessert—Balzac's principal—meal nor coffee. Then he went to the theatre, where a glass of punch was brought him at six, or else he received friends at home. By ten o'clock he was in bed, where he slept soundly. "Like Thorwaldsen, he had a talent for sleeping." No man of business or dictionary-maker could make a more healthy arrangement of his hours. The five or six hours of regular morning work, which left the rest of the day open for society and recreation, the early habits, the full allowance of sleep, and the rational use of food, are in glaring contrast to Balzac's short and broken slumbers, his night-work, and his bodily starvation. But he who imagined "Faust" is not to be so easily let off from his share in illustrating a rule. There is no need to quarrel with Mr. Lewes for going out of his way to prove that Goethe was not necessarily a toper because he liked wine and had a good head. Though a great deal of wine was no doubt essential to his general working power, it was in his case rather a tonic than an immediate stimulant, because it came after instead of during work-hours. But this is significant of the same result, only in a different way. Goethe differed from almost every great poet in not doing his greatest work at a white heat; and not only so, but he differed also in constantly balancing his reasoning against his creative faculties. I doubt very much if those long mornings of early work were often spent in the fever of creation. He was a physiologist, a botanist, a critic; and the longer he lived he became more and more of a savant if not less and less of a poet. His imagination was most fertile before he settled down into these regular ways, but not before he settled down into a full appreciation of wine. Balzac would write the draft of a whole novel at a sitting, and then develop it on the margins of proofs, revises, and re-revises. Goethe acted as if, while art is long, life were long also. Till the contrary is proved, I must consistently hold that Goethe was the philosopher before dinnertime, and the poet in the theatre, or during those long after-dinner-hours, over his two or three bottles of wine. That these later hours were often spent socially proves nothing one way or the other. Some men need such active influences as their form of mental stimulus. Alfieri found or made his ideas while listening to music or galloping on horseback. Instances are common in every-day life of men who cannot think to good purpose when shut up in a room with a pen, and who find their best inspiration in wandering about the streets and hearing what they want in the rattle of cabs and the seething of life around them, like the scholar of Padua, whose conditions of work are given by Montaigne as a curiosity. "I lately found one of the most learned men in France... studying in the corner of a room, cut off by a screen, surrounded by a lot of riotous servants. He told me—and Seneca says much the same himself—that he worked all the better for this uproar, as though, overpowered by noise, he was obliged to withdraw all the more closely into himself for contemplation, while the storm of voices drove his thoughts inward. When at Padua he had lodged so long over the clattering of the traffic and the tumult of the streets, that he had been trained not only to be indifferent to noise, but even to require it for the prosecution of his studies." So we learn from Mr, Forster that "method in every thing was Dickens's peculiarity, and between breakfast and luncheon, with rare exceptions, was his time of work. But his daily walks were less of rule than of enjoyment and necessity. In the midst of his writing they were indispensable, and especially, as it has often been shown, at night," When he had work on hand he walked all over the town, furiously and in all weathers, to the injury of his health. And his walks, be it observed, were frequently what Balzac's always were—at night; so that in the matter of hours he must be taken as having conformed in some important respects to Balzac's hygiene. Now, Goethe was also an essentially out-of-doors man by nature—not one to let his pen do his imagining for him. He was no slave of the ink-bottle as some are, who cannot think without the feather of a goose in their hands, by way of a sometimes appropriate talisman. There is a well-known passage in one of the Roman Elegies to the effect that inspiration is to be sought more directly than within the four walls of a study, and that the rhythm of the hexameter is not best drummed with the lingers on a wooden table. And if it is true, as he tells, that "youth is drunkenness without wine," it seems to follow, according to his experience, that those two or three bottles of wine are not altogether needless as an aid to inspiration when youth is gone by.
The fellow-instance of imaginative work triumphantly carried on under the most admirable healthy conditions is that of Scott, He used to finish the principal part of his day's work before breakfast, and, even when busiest, seldom worked as late as noon. And the end of that apparently most admirably healthy working-life we also know. "Ivanhoe" and "The Bride of Lammermoor" were dictated under the terrible stimulus of physical pain which wrung groans from him between the words. The very two novels wherein the creative power of the arch-master of romance shows itself most strongly were composed in the midst of literal birth-throes. It was then he made that grimmest of all bad puns—"When his audible suffering filled every pause, 'Nay, Willie,'" addressing Laidlaw, who wrote for him and implored him to rest, "'only see that the doors are fast. I would fain keep all the cry as well as all the wool to ourselves; but as to giving over work that can only be done when I am in woolen.'" So far from affording any argument to the contrary, the history of the years during which his hand was losing its cunning seems to illustrate the penalty of trying to reconcile two irreconcilable things—the exercise of the imagination to its fullest extent, and the observance of conditions that are too healthy to nourish a fever. À propos of his review of Ritson's "Caledonian Annals," he himself says, "No one that has not labored as I have done on imaginary topics can judge of the comfort afforded by walking on all-fours and being grave and dull." There spoke the man who habitually and without artificial help drew upon his imagination at the hours when instinct has told others they should be employing not their fancy but their reason. The privilege of being healthily dull before breakfast must have been an intense relief to one who compelled himself to do unhealthy or abnormal work without the congenial help of abnormal conditions. Herder, in like manner, is accused by De Quincey, in direct terms, of having broken down prematurely because he "led a life of most exemplary temperance. . . . Surely if he had been a drunkard or an opium-eater, he might have contrived to weather the point of sixty years." This is putting things pretty strongly, but it is said of a man of great imaginative power by a man of great imaginative power, and may therefore be taken as the opinion of an expert all the more honest because he is prejudiced. A need must be strongly felt to be expressed with such daring contempt for popular axioms. At the same time "the German Coleridge" did not manage so very badly, seeing that he worked hard till sixty, and he allowed himself as much coffee as his exceptionally delicate nervous system would stand; so that in reality he seems to conform to the general rule by example rather than by way of exception. Scott is a far better type of the exception that approves the rule. Genius has been defined in as many different ways as there have been people who have tried to define it. But perhaps the most suggestive I have ever heard is the attempt to destroy an exceptionally strong constitution for the gratification of a mental tendency—the physique of an elephant, as I heard it roughly put, and the conduct of a slave-driver who is his own slave. There must be the exceptionally strong constitution to bear an abnormal strain and the effort by every means to do more than Nature when kindly treated will allow. The true working-life of Scott, who helped Nature by no artificial means, lasted for no more than twelve years from the publication of "Waverley" till the year in which his genius was put into harness; so that, of the two men, Scott and Balzac, who both began a literary life at nearly the same age, and were both remarkable for splendid constitutions, the man who lived abnormally beat the man who lived healthily by full eight years of good work, and kept his imagination in full vigor to the end.
That night and not morning is most appropriate to imaginative work is supported by a general consent among those who have followed instinct in this matter. Upon this question, which can scarcely be called vexed, Charles Lamb is the classical authority. "No true poem ever owed its birth to the sun's light. The mild internal light, that reveals the fine shapings of poetry, like fires on the domestic hearth, goes out in the sunshine. Milton's morning-hymn in paradise, we would hold a good wager, was penned at midnight, and Taylor's rich description of a sunrise smells decidedly of the taper." "This view of evening and candle-light," to quote his commentator, De Quincey, once more, "as involved in the full delight of literature," may seem no more than a pleasant extravaganza, and no doubt it is in the nature of such gayeties to travel a little into exaggeration; but substantially it is certain that Lamb's sincere feelings pointed habitually in the direction here indicated. His literary studies, whether taking the color of tasks or diversions, courted the aid of evening, which by means of physical weariness produces a more luxurious state of repose than belongs to the labor-hours of day; they courted the aid of lamplight, which, as Lord Bacon remarked, gives a gorgeousness to human pomps and pleasures such as would be vainly sought from the homeliness of daylight." Those words "physical weariness," if they do not contain the whole philosophy of the matter, are very near it, and are at all events more to the point than the quotation from Lord Bacon. They almost exactly define that non-natural condition of the body which, on other grounds, appears to be proper to the non-natural exercise of the mind. It will be remembered that Balzac recommended the night for the artist's work, the day for the author's drudgery. Southey, who knew how to work and how to get the best and the most out of himself as well as anybody who ever put pen to paper, and who pursued the same daily routine throughout his whole literary life, performed his tasks in the following order: From breakfast till dinner, history, transcription for the press, and, in general, all the work that Scott calls "walking on all fours." From dinner till tea, reading, letter-writing, the newspapers, and frequently a siesta—he, also, was an heroic sleeper, and slept whenever he had the chance. After tea, poetry, or whatever else his fancy chose—whatever work called upon the creative power. It is true that he went to bed regularly at half-past ten, so that his actual consumption of midnight oil was not extravagant. But such of it as he did consume was taken as a stimulant for the purely imaginative part of his work, when the labor that required no stimulant was over and done. Blake was a painter by day and a poet by night; he often got out of bed at midnight and wrote for hours, following by instinct the deliberate practice of less impulsive workers. Now, bodily weariness is simply bodily indolence induced artificially; its production by hard walking, hard riding, hard living, or hard study, looks like an instinctive effort on the part of energetic men to put themselves for the time and for a purpose into the chronically unhealthy condition of naturally indolent men. Indolence, that is to say chronic fatigue, appears to be the natural habit of imaginative brains. It is a commonplace to note that men of fertile fancy, as a class, have been notorious for their horror of the work of formulating their ideas even by the toil of thought, much more by passing them through the crucible of the ink-bottle. In many cases they have needed the very active stimulant of hunger. The cacoëthes scribendi is a disease common, not to imaginative, but to imitative minds. Probably no hewer of wood or drawer of water undergoes a tithe of the toil of those whose work is reputed play, but is, in fact, a battle, every moment, between the flesh and the spirit. Campbell, who at the age of sixty-one could drudge at an unimaginative work for fourteen hours a day like a galley-slave, "and yet," as he says in one of his letters, "be as cheerful as a child," speaks in a much less industrious tone of the work which alone was congenial to him: "The truth is, I am not writing poetry but projecting it, and that keeps me more idle and abstracted than you can conceive. I pass hours thinking about what I am to compose. The actual time employed in composition is but a fraction of the time lost in setting about it." "At Glasgow," we read of him even when a young man, "he seldom exercised his gift except when roused into action either by the prospect of gaining a prize or by some stirring incident." Campbell, if not a great man, was a typical worker. Johnson—who, whatever may be thought of his imaginative powers, was another type—struck off his Ramblers and Idlers at a heat when the summons of the press forbade his indolence to put off his work another moment; he did not give himself even a minute to read over his papers before they went to the printers. He would not have written "Rasselas" except for the necessity of paying for his mother's funeral; and yet he was a laborious worker where the imagination was not concerned. The elder Dumas had to forbid himself, by an effort of will, to leave his desk before a certain number of pages were written, in order to get any work done at all. Victor Hugo is said to have locked up his clothes while writing "Not re-Dame," so that he might not escape from it till the last word was written. In such cases the so-called "pleasures of imagination" look singularly like the pains of stone-breaking. The hardest part of the lot of genius, I suspect, has been not the emotional troubles popularly—and with absurd exaggeration—ascribed to it, but a disgust for labor during the activity of the fancy, and the necessity for labor when it is most disgusting. And, as it is not in human nature to endure suffering willingly, the mood in which such labor is possible calls for artificial conditions by which it can be rendered endurable.
The passing mention of Blake indirectly suggests an objection. Nature has thought fit to place an insuperable bar between painters and night-work: and yet the work of the painter is as imaginative in character as that of the poet, while painters have shown no tendency, as a class, to break down under the strain. Artists in form have not often followed the example of Michael Angelo, who stuck a candle in a lump of clay, and the lump of clay on his head, and chiseled till morning. But then writing is the exercise of the imagination, including conception as well as execution; painting is the record of previous imagination, and so belongs to the daylight, even according to Balzac's rule. Skill, intelligence, the eye and the hand, which work best under natural and healthy conditions, have to bear the strain. Because his hand and mind work by day, it does not follow that the painter's fancy is not a night-bird—only, happily, it is not called upon to labor in its dreaming hours. Musicians, who might be expected to demand the conditions of imaginative literature in a tenfold degree, have, in fact, breathed as common air the stimulating and unhealthy atmosphere that authors only enter when they need it. Musical genius is, so to speak, a self-supporting fever, that finds in every sort of exciting stimulus not its artificial but its natural and healthy atmosphere. Exceptions, like John Sebastian Bach, prove the notoriety of the rule by the stress which is laid upon them. The manners and customs of great artists in sound tend to support the general rule concerning all imaginative work to an infinite extent, but it would be unfair to argue from those who breathe poison for their native air to those who merely use poison in order to escape from the common air of the unimaginative world.
It is notorious that creative genius is essentially of the masculine gender. Women are the imaginative sex, but the work, which Nature seems to have distinctly allotted to them, has been done by men. This really strange phenomenon is not due to the fact that women have written comparatively little, because, if it were, the little imaginative work they have done would have been great in quality, and would surpass in quantity the other work they have done. But it has not been great in quality compared with that of men, and, compared with the rest of their own work, has been infinitesimally small. No woman ever wrote a great drama; not one of the world's great poems came from a woman's hand. In their own domain of fiction women have been, and occasionally are, great realists, great portrait-painters, great masters of style, great psychologists—but not great inventors, and very seldom inventors at all. Probably everybody will be able to name off-hand one or two exceptions to what looks like a very dogmatic and sweeping piece of criticism—and probably everybody will name exactly the same one or two. Nobody dreams of looking for absolutely great imaginative work, in any branch of art, from a woman; and, when by chance it comes, the admiration it excites is multiplied by wonder. People say, "See what a woman can do"—not "See what women can do." In music, the typically imaginative art, wherein they have had a free and open career, it is legitimately dogmatic to deny them any place at all. Seeing, therefore, that the natural imagination of women is comparatively barren while the ordinary unimaginativeness of men is absolutely fertile, it is impossible to doubt that the way of work has something to do with the matter. And if examples tend to prove that creative genius among men instinctively works under artificial and unhealthy conditions of body, while work wherein the imagination is not tasked is for the most part carried on under the calmest and healthiest conditions, it would follow that women at large fail to produce great creative work by reason of their good working qualities—because they do not in general use artificial stimulants and irregular modes of life to help their brains to wear out their bodies. They keep themselves broad awake in order to dream! They seek to do imaginative work, and take as models the lives of men who do unimaginative work—that is to say, precisely the opposite routine to that of men by whom imaginative work is done. These prove negatively what the examples of creative genius prove positively. If scholars toil late into the early hours, it is to continue their day's work, not to begin it. It is interest that chains them to the desk at midnight, not impulse that calls them there. All philosophers have not always been sober men; but they have taken their indulgences as refreshments and recreations—as interruptions to work, and not as its necessary accompaniments. If Balzac's may be taken as [the type of the artist's life, Kant's may be taken as the type of the student's. The habits of both are equally well known. Kant also gave a daily dinner-party; but when his guests were gone he took a walk in the country instead of seeking broken slumbers in a state of hunger. He came home at twilight, and read from candle-light till bedtime at ten. He rose punctually at five, and, over one cup of tea and part of a pipe, laid out his plan of work for the day. At seven he lectured, and wrote till dinner-time at about one. The regularity of his life was automatic. It was that of Balzac save in fulfilling all the accepted conditions of health—early rising, early lying down, moderate daily work, nightly rest, regular exercise, and a diet regulated with the care not of a lunatic but of a physician. A cup of tea and half a pipe in the morning cannot be looked upon as stimulants to a man in such perfect health as Kant always enjoyed; and, if they can be, let it be observed that it was while engaged with these he thought about his work—it was his hour for what Campbell called his "fuming meditations." He certainly used no other stimulant to work, in the common sense of the word; but even he illustrates, in another point, the need of the mind for artificial conditions, however slight they may be, when engaged in dreaming. During the blind-man's holiday between his walk and candle-light he sat down to think in twilight fashion; and, while thus engaged, he always placed himself so that his eyes might fall on a certain old tower. This old tower became so necessary to his thoughts that, when some poplar-trees grew up and hid it from his window, he found himself unable to think at all, until, at his earnest request, the trees were cropped and the tower brought into sight again. Kant's old tower recalls Buffon's incapability of thinking to good purpose except in full dress and with his hair in such elaborate order that, by way of external stimulus to his brain, he had a hair-dresser to interrupt his work twice, or, when very busy, thrice a day. It is curious to note the touch of kindred between the imaginative savant Buffon and the learned artist Haydn, who could not work except in court-dress, and who used to declare that, if, when he sat down to his instrument, he had forgotten to put on a certain ring, he could not summon a single idea. How he managed to summon ideas before Frederick II. had given him the said ring we are not informed. But even these trivial instances of caprice help to suggest that, when the fancy is called upon, the ordinary conditions of straightforward work must be considered at an end. Fancy dictates the terms on which she condescends to appear. Of Dickens we are told that "some quaint little bronze figures on his desk were as much needed for the easy flow of his writing as blue ink or quill pens."
But, unhappily, the terms dictated by creative fancy have not been and are not always so innocent as blue ink, coffee, late hours, or rotten apples. A true and exhaustive history of how great imaginative work has been done would be too sad a chronicle, and would be good for nothing but to recall biographical memories that are better forgotten. No doubt most readers will be able to supply from memory instances enough to judge for themselves how far the well-known examples here given exemplify and account for the connection of creative genius with a tendency to chronic suicide. And if the necessity of this connection be admitted, then the question arises, "How far is any man justified or not justified in adopting in intellectual matters the doctrine that the end justifies the means? If he feels—and biography speaks vainly if he is held to be mistaken in feeling—that the work for which Nature intended him must be left undone unless he deliberately elects to ruin his health, to become an awful warning to the white sheep of the social sheepfold and a stumbling-block to would-be imitators, which is he to choose?" All the branches of the question, all its most trifling illustrations, lead to that broad issue which has never yet been boldly faced or fairly answered. The strange manners and customs of men of genius have often enough been defended as unfortunate weaknesses by their apologists: it seems to me they ought either to be condemned as unworthy of men of sense and will, or else boldly asserted as the necessary instruments of the work that owes its birth to them—as the artificial means of producing strength out of weakness which a man who lives for his work ought to use. If creative genius is really an unhealthy condition, it must require unhealthy methods to produce and sustain its action. It is not the healthy oyster that breeds the pearl. Nor is this a dangerous theory. The oyster does not deliberately produce in itself the disease of pearl-bearing, nor can any man—it need hardly be added—give himself genius by adopting and abusing the artificial means that enable genius to work when it is already there. The disease suggests its appropriate conditions: the conditions clearly cannot bring about the disease. The morality of the whole question, and its application to any particular case, must be settled by everybody for himself; but a story of a hurdle-race at Gadshill, told in Mr. Forster's life of Dickens, contains in a homely way the summing up of its philosophy. "Among other oddities we had a hurdle-race for strangers. One man—he came in second—ran a hundred and twenty yards and leaped over ten hurdles in twenty seconds, with a pipe in his mouth and smoking it all the time. 'If it hadn't been for the pipe,' I said to him at the winning-post, 'you would have been first.' 'I beg your pardon, sir,' he answered, 'but if it hadn't been for my pipe I should have been nowhere."—Gentleman's Magazine.