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is this union of talents and of virtues that constitutes the great man.
To such characters thould be paid the deserved tribute of applause, and to record their merits in this periodical Publication, lhall be our constant am. bition.
[No. XVI.] ON GENIUS
“ True genius is but rare”
y mankind have in all ages, and in all nations, ren dered their willing homage. Under whatever character it makes its appearance,
excites particular attention. We gaze at its creative energies, and contemplate its effufions with a more than ordinary delight. This is a fact so well established, that by no one will it be seriously queftioned.
But a reflecting mind will pause and ask itself, what is this power of the intellect which thus challenges universal admiration? The question is important, and worthy of affiduous enquiry. Let us examine it.
"Many definitions of Genius have been offered to the Public, and have received discussion. Perhaps the most unexceptionable is the following :- -Genius, in the learned world, is that power of the human mind by which literary beauties are generated. This definition is not given merely as the writer's own private opinion, but rather as the result of the different accounts which have been communicated in various publications. Dr. Alexander Gerard, of Aberdeen, wrote an admirable treatise on this subject, and, as far as I recoliect, he inclines to the definition now offered to the Reader. Be. that as it may, I mall endeavour to thew the truth of what is here advanced respecting it:
To confirm the justice of the definition, I will not revert to the origin of the term, which is certainly in my favour. Its etymology is clearly indicative of its creative energy. But let us refer to what are usually térmed works of Genius. What are these, but generally speaking, works of imagination ? , The Writer, spurning at the narrow boundaries of time and space, launches forth into themes which excite our admiration, and overwhelm us with astonishment. This was particularly the case with Milton and Shakespeare. Hence Johnson's delineation of Shakespeare's talents in the following lives, turns expressly on this point, and is confessed to be the most Atriking lines produced by that grcat Biographer, who was intimately acquainted with human nature.
When Learning's triumph o'er barbarous foes,
And unresisted Paffion storm’d the breast, Milton also deals much in the sublime, and the most energetic parts of his poem are those where he expatiates in the regions of fancy. Even his devils are grand, and command a certain awful admiration. Let any person take up Paradise Lost, and peruse the first books of that immortal work, he will feel the truth of these remarks. Genuis in its highest sense is this productive power, for it generates beauties of the most exalted kind. “Its coruications Aalh upon the reader with an astonishing ef. feet.. We are amazed and confounded at its exercions. In this high class indeed few writers can be ranked. It requires very extraordinary talents, such as feldom meet in more than one man in the courfe of a century.
But we must recollect that Genius must not be confined to these superior efforts. It has its degrees, like every thing else, in the wise economy of nature, We
talk of a genius for poetry--for war--for politics, or for any mechanical employment. The word poffefles an extensive fignification, and may therefore be applied to almost every thing. We however remark, that Genius is necessary to distinguish a man, whatever line of life he follows, provided it has a connection with the operations of the intellect. In the learned world we frequently meet with productions that have something of this divine power to recommend them. Poor, indeed, must be the performance which is wholly deftitute of it! Yet truth obliges us to confess, that such productions are obtruded on the public notice, but on their very appearance are justly consigned to oblivion. In the Adventurer, written by Dr. Hawkesworth, will be found an entertaining paper, where even the several works of the men of genius are tried by a fery ordeal, and the most ferious consequences ensued. Many parts of these celebrated writers becaine expunged, those portions of them which were deemed unworthy of their talents, no longer remained, Every thing which might be denominated unjust, obscene, triling, was baniihed. The efforts of intellects were purified from their dross. Thus remarks its ingenious author--" It gave me the highest “ fatisfaction to fee Philosophy thus cleared from er“ roneous principles, History purged of falsehood, Poe
try of fustjan, and nothing left in each but GENIUS, " SENSE, and TRUTH!"
Let not men, however, of ordinary genius, throw their pens aside, and abandon themselves to despair. There is an ordinary class of readers who may be pleased with their productions. For taste, as well as genius, exists in endless varieties. At the same time, every one 1hould exert himself to the utmost for the improvement of those talents with which heaven has endowed him, Genius, though not to be conferred by any human being, yet máy be wonderfully enlarged and strengthened. There are instances, on record, where the slenderest sparks have been, by alliduous attention, blown up into a
flame. There is indeed scarcely any faculty of the sout more capable of improvement. Hence the utility of a good education, nor can the mind be too early inured to habits of compofition. Prose and Poetry afford an am. ple field for the inventive power of man. The writers who amongst us Britons have most excelled in these de. partments are well known. Let their effufions be carefully studied. Thus will a portion of theit fpirit be imbibed, and a commendable imitation uf their excellencies generated.
Permit me, here, to recommend to young Writers a topic of advice which cannot fail to be of service to them. It is this--that in their aspiration after literary excellence, it hould be confined chiefly to one particular department. The ambition of youth is oftentimes flaming and indiscriminate. It hurries from object to object, with an astonishing celerity. It never suffers itself duly to consider the qualities of the subject to be investigated. Glancing at every thing, it gives not time thoroughly to scrutinize any thing. How is it possible that such an individual can excel in the departments of literature !
It must neverthelefs be confessed that characters have appeared in the learned world possessing a genius of a molt extensive nature. Of this fact Voltaire is a striking instance, though it has been remarked, that it would have been better had he written lefs, and with greater accuracy. The French genius is in general distinguished for its fertility, but in solidity is deemed inferior to many of the productions of Britain. At the same time we would repeat our advice to young Wri
-Çonfine. yourselves chiefly to one particular department. Think not to grasp every thing before your ability can ensure your success. Consult the dictates of your minds, and ascertain the objects to which you are inost favourably inclined. Exercise your genius, but be cautious not to overstrain it. Thus will you do justice to your talents, and become valuable members of the Republic of Letters. Attend to the words of the judi
cious Dr. Hugh Blair; taken from his Lectures on Rhetoric, the frequent perusal of which I would recommend to every individual attempting composition :“ A sort of universal genius, or one who is equally
and indifferently turned towards several different profeífions and arts, is not likely to excel in any. Although there may be fome few exceptions, yet in general it holds that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed towards fome one object, exclusive in a manner of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that whatever it be. The rays must converge to a point in order to glow intensely, This remark I here chuse to make, on account of its great importance to young people, in leading them to examine with care, and to pursue with ardour, the cur. rent and pointing of nature towards thole exertions of genius in which they are most likely to excel.”
These cursory observations on Genius are intended to excite attention to an important subject. In this scribbling age almost every individual aspires to the character of an author. But let it be seriously considered, that an union of genius, and taste is necessary in order to instruct and entertain mankind. A person conscious of this truth will not hastily expose his crude effusions to the public eye. When he appears in print he will put on bis best array, and having done his utmosi, will, with calmness and dignity, await the sentence of that ref. pectable-tribunal before which he has presumed to ap,
* Taste will be the subject of the REFLECTOR in our next Number.