|A STUDY OF BRITISH GENIUS.|
IN a large proportion of cases no reference is made by the national biographers to the diseases from which their subjects suffered, nor to the general state of health. This, however, we could scarcely expect to find, except in those cases in which the state of health had an obvious influence on the life and work of the eminent person. In most of these exceptional cases it is probable that the biographers have duly called attention to the facts, and though the information thus attained is not always precise—in part owing to the imperfection of the knowledge transmitted, in part to the medical ignorance of the biographers, and in part to the deliberate vagueness of their reference to 'a painful malady,' etc.—it enables us to reach some very instructive conclusions concerning the pathological conditions to which men of genius are most liable.
Putting aside the cases of delicate health in childhood, with which I have already dealt in a previous section, the national biographers state the cause of death, or mention serious diseased conditions during life, in 322 cases.
It is natural to find that certain diseased conditions which are very common among the ordinary population are also very common among men of preeminent intellectual ability. Thus, a lesion of the vessels in the brain (the condition commonly described as paralysis, apoplexy, effusion on the brain, etc.) is a very common cause of death among the general population, and we also find that it is mentioned thirty-five times by the national biographers. Consumption, also, so prevalent among the general population, occurred in at least thirty cases. "While many of the consumptive men of genius lived to past middle age, or even reached a fairly advanced age, the disease is responsible for the early death of most of the more eminent of those men of genius who died young—of Keats in poetry, of Bonington and Girtin in art, of Purcell (probably) in music. Some appear to have struggled with consumptive tendencies during a fairly long life; these have usually been men of letters, and have sometimes shown a feverish literary activity, their intellectual output being perhaps more remarkable for quantity than quality. But Sterne in literature, and Black, Priestley, Clifford and other eminent men of science are to be found among the consumptives. It is evident that the disease by no means stands in the way of all but the very highest intellectual attainments, even if it is not indeed actually favorable to mental activity.