'Of Genius', in The Occasional Paper, and Preface to The Creation by Aaron Hill

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EMMETT L. AVERY, _State College of Washington_

BENJAMIN BOYCE, _University of Nebraska_

LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, _University of Michigan_

CLEANTH BROOKS, _Yale University_

JAMES L. CLIFFORD, _Columbia University_

ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, _University of Chicago_

SAMUEL H. MONK, _University of Minnesota_

ERNEST MOSSNER, _University of Texas_

JAMES SUTHERLAND, _Queen Mary College, London_

Lithoprinted from copy supplied by author
Edwards Brothers, Inc.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.

[Transcriber's Note: Some of the latin footnotes and the errata were
difficult or impossible to read. These are annotated.]


The anonymous essay "Of Genius," which appeared in the
_Occasional Paper_ of 1719, still considers "genius" largely a
matter of aptitude or talent, and applies the term to the
"mechanick" as well as the fine arts. The work is, in fact,
essentially a pamphlet on education. The author's main concern is
training, and study, and conscious endeavor. Naturally enough,
his highest praise--even where poetry is in question--is reserved
for those solid Augustan virtues of "judgment" and "good sense."

And yet the pamphlet reveals some of the tangled roots from which
the later concept of the "original" or "primitive" genius grew.
For here are two prerequisites of that later, more extravagant
concept. One is the author's positive delight in the infinite
differences of human temperaments and talents--a delight from
which might spring the preference for original or unique works of
art. The other is his conviction that there is something
necessary and foreordained about those differences: a conviction
essential to faith in the artist who is apparently at the mercy
of a genius beyond his own control. The importance of this latter
belief was long ago indicated in Paul Kaufman's "Heralds of
Original Genius."

While his tone is perhaps more exuberant than that of most of his
immediate contemporaries, there is nothing particularly new in
our author's interest in those aspects of human nature which
render a man different from his fellows. It is true that the main
stress of neoclassical thought had rested on the fundamental
likeness of all men in all ages, and had sought an ideal and
universal norm in morals, conduct, and art. But there had always
been counter currents making for a recognition of the inescapable
differences among various races and individuals. Such deviations
were often merely tolerated, but toward the close of the
seventeenth century more and more voices had praised human
diversity. England, in particular, began to take notice of the
number of "originals" abounding in the land.

At least as old as the delight in human differences was the
belief in the foreordained nature of at least those differences
resulting in specific vocational aptitudes. This is the
conviction that each man has at birth--innately and inevitably--a
peculiar "bent" for some particular contribution to human
society. Environment is not ignored by the man who wrote "Of
Genius," for he insists that each man's bent may be greatly
developed by favorable circumstances and proper education, and,
conversely, that it may be entirely frustrated by unpropitious
circumstances or wilful neglect. But in no way can a man's inborn
talent for one thing be converted to a talent for anything else.

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