Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

largely benefited; for money wages were maintained while the prices of commodities were falling. At last, however, the fall has extended to money wages. Like every other commodity, labour is subject to the laws of supply and demand, among which are those which govern the relation between the precious metals in the shape of money, and other commodities; and until an adjustment is arrived at all round, we cannot hope to enjoy any general prosperity. The labour troubles which are taking place all over the world show what a painful process is going on, and should convince us that any attempts to bolster up wages by artificial means can end only in disaster. .

Finally, as one who, in the language of Lord Penzance, is a Free Trade idolater, let me say a parting word. It is not by taxing foreign importations that we can keep our place in the world of commerce, and overcome foreign competition. We must do so by the extension of education among both masters and men, by endeavours to improve the suitability, the quality, and the tastefulness of our goods, and to reduce the cost of production by the study and adoption of scientific processes of which the world is daily giving some novel example. Our workpeople, moreover, must learn to exercise more than they do now the virtues of temperance and providence, in which they are sadly deficient. It is by such means alone that we as a nation shall be able to hold our own in the competition which gets keener day by day. A resort to Protection would only aggravate the evils which it was intended to cure.

GEORGE W. MEDLEY.

[NOTE.— The foregoing article was written as an answer to Lord Penzance, on behalf of the Cobden Club, and 6 at the special request of its Committee.'—ED.]

GENIUS AND PRECOCITY.

The idea that genius reveals itself early in life does not at once recommend itself to common sense. Observation of nature as a whole suggests first of all perhaps that her choicer and more costly gifts are the result of a long process of preparation. And, however this be, there is certainly more of moral suggestiveness in the thought that intellectual distinction is the reward of a strenuous adolescence and manhood than in the supposition that it can be reached by the stripling at a bound through sheer force of native talent. And it may not improbably have been a lively perception of this ethical significance which fostered in the classic mind so widespread a disbelief in early promises of great intellectual power. We find a typical expression of this sentiment in the saying of Quintilian: ‘Illud ingeniorum velut præcox genus non temere umquam pervenit ad frugem.' That is to say, the early blossom of talent is rarely followed by the fruit of great achievement.

It is evident that this saying embodies something like a general theory of the relation between rank of talent and rate of development. Where superior intellectual ability shows itself at an early date, it is of the sort that reaches its full stature early, and so never attains to the greatest height. On the other hand, genius of the finer order declares itself more slowly.

In order to estimate the soundness of this view two lines of inquiry would be necessary. We should need to ask, first of all, what proportion of those who have shown marked precocity have afterwards redeemed the promise of their youth ; and, secondly, what number of those who have unquestionably obtained a place among the great, were previously distinguished by precocity.

These two lines of investigation are, however, in a measure distinct. It may turn out that a large proportion of clever children never attain to anything but mediocrity in later life, and yet that the majority of great men bave been remarkable as children. Hence we may confine ourselves in the present essay to the second branch of the above inquiry, the retrogressive search for signs of precocity in the early life of those who have attained distinction.

It is to be remarked that even the limited inquiry to which we propose to confine ourselves here is a complex one. It includes, at least, two distinct questions, namely, first, whether men of genius bave, in the majority of cases, displayed marked ability at an early age, and secondly, whether they have reached their full maturity of power and highest achievement early or late. It is specially important to distinguish these two points, because they are apt to be confused under the shifting significance of the word “precocious.'

I shall confine myself, then, at the outset to the question how far, or in what proportion of cases, recognised intellectual eminence has been preceded by youthful distinction and superiority to others. And in order to narrow the inquiry still further, I propose to deal exclusively with those who have reached eminence in some branch of art or of literature. This will exclude those who have displayed genius in the region of practical affairs, such as the statesman, the soldier, and the ecclesiastic.

Within the boundaries thus drawn, there appear to be seren gronps sufficiently distinct and important to require separate examination. These are: 1, musicians; 2, painters; 3, poets; 4, novelists; 5, scholars, including historians and critics ; 6, men of science; and 7, philosophers. These classes are marked off from one another partly by differences in the materials and the form of the production, and partly by differences in the intellectual implements employed, such as observation and sensuous imagination.

As indications of precocity we shall select, first of all, any manifestations in childhood or youth of an exceptional aptitude and bent corresponding to the special direction of the later development of the genius. Thus in the case of the poet we must note such boyish characteristics as an exceptional love of poetry, a disposition to dreamy abstraction, &c. With respect to evidences of general intellectual ability, such as a high place at school or college, these will have a very different value in different domains. In the case of the musician, for example, they would have little relevance--except, indeed, so far as want of application to the prescribed course of studies might serve as negative evidence of an absorbing interest in the self-chosen study. On the other hand, in judging of the precocity of the scholar the school-reputation becomes an important ingredient of the case.

In looking out for evidence of special talent we may, in certain cases, find a number of data ready to hand. Thus, in dealing with a musician, we may consider the age at which executive skill was shown, the date of the first original composition, and, as a valuable supplement to these, the time at which music was seriously taken up as a profession. In the case of other sorts of talent such a variety of data may not be accessible.

Finally, after chronicling all indications of childish and youthful precocity, we have to record the age at which the first great work was achieved, a work that either at the time or later on came to be regarded as a title to fame.

In conclusion, I may say that I have confined the inquiry to modern celebrities. Our knowledge of the lives of ancient writers and artists is, as a rule, too scanty to yield the required data. And even in the case of some modern men of mark, the want of a record of early years has compelled me to omit the name from my list. I have abstained, too, for obvious reasons, from including the names of living celebrities.

Taking the groups in the order indicated above, we shall, in the case of each class, look first of all for instances of remarkable precocity. We may then go on to inquire into the proportion of precocious to non-precocious members of the class.

1. Musicians.—The stories of the more remarkable instances of boyish musical talent, alike in execution and in composition, are probably well known to most readers, so that I may pass them over with a brief reference.

Mozart is, I believe, the true Wunderkind in the magical realm of music. He began to play at so infantile a period that no date is assigned. At 4 he could play minuets, in good style probably, for a year after he was exhibited in public. Early in his 5th year he composed concertos; at 11 he wrote an opera buffa, and so forth. Next to him, perhaps, comes Mendelssohn, who first played in public at the age of 9, and whose first dated work, a cantata, was written when he was 11. Beethoven tells us that he began music in his 4th year, and that at 9 he had outgrown his father's teaching. He is said to have written a cantata when 10, and it is certain that a composition for the piano (variations on Dressler's March ') dates from this year. Schubert is another conspicuous instance of early musical development. He, too, soon outstripped his teacher, who said he had got harmony at his fingers' ends. At ji he was sufficiently skilful with the violin to play that instrument in church, and at the same date he began to compose little songs.

The examples just cited illustrate what may be called all-round musical precocity. Others show early talent in a more restricted form of activity. A number of musicians distinguished themselves as lads by masterly execution. Meyerbeer, who as a young child could play any air he bad heard, performed at a public concert at 9. Hillier did the same thing one year later. At the age of 12 Spohr played the violin in public. Mehul was installed as organist at 10.'

Among instances of early attempts at musical composition may be named the following. Schumann tells us that he composed before 7. Cherubini is said to have written at 9, Auber at 11, Weber at 12 (his first opera dates two years later) David at 13, Lotti and Rossini at 16, and our own Purcell at 17.

We have now to note the very early age at wbich a number of

1 Two living musicians are remarkable instances of precocious executive talent : Rubinstein played the piano in public at 10, and Liszt at 12.

eminent musicians entered on a regular curriculum of study with a view to professional life. Some of the greatest precocities, as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, &c., having had parentseither themselves musical and able to be teachers themselves, or at least sympathetic and anxious to get musical instruction for their gifted children, may almost be said to have begun their professional career from their infancy; others began to study at a very early age. Thus Weber was sent by his father (himself a musician) to be instructed, at the age of 9. Puck began to study at 12. In many cases we see the young musician's quenchless earnestness aided by the favour of influential friends, leading to an early devotion to the art, even in the teeth of parental indifference or active opposition. Handel and Haydn are striking cases in point.

I have here selected some of the more striking instances of musical precocity. But the question still remains, what proportion of eminent musicians showed marked taste and ability as children? In order to answer this question I have gone through forty names. Of these I find that thirty-eight displayed a decided bent to the art before 20. This is expressly stated in most cases, and in the rest is clearly inferred from the date of study, or of the first musical composition. The two excepted names are those of Palestrina and Tartini. Of the early life of the former little is known; but it is fairly inferrible that he took up music in his youth. Tartini is the only instance I have met with of a first impulse to music showing itself after 20. He is said to have first taken up the violin to relieve the monotony of cloister life. But the story has a suspicious touch of romance about it.

Of the thirty-eight who were precocious to the extent just defined I have ascertained that twenty-nine are said to have shown a musical gift as children. There is some reason to suppose that others betrayed musical skill towards the end of childhood (about 12). So far as I can discover, only in the case of two of the nine exceptions is there reason to conclude that there was no marked manifestation of ability in childhood. These are (an odd juxtaposition) Rossini and Wagner. The former, says Brendel, though early subjected to musical discipline by his parents, themselves musicians, showed himself at first indocile and disinclined (abhold) to the art. Only in his 17th year does this distaste appear to have given way to genuine devotion. R. Wagner tells us that as a child he was not specially attracted to music, and that it was only when, at the age of 15, he made the acquaintance of Beethoven's symphonies, that he became inspired by a strong and overpowering passion for the art.

The date of a first musical composition is less easily obtainable than that of a first literary publication. I have managed to ascertain it in twenty-seven instances. Out of these, ten began to compose before the age of 15, fourteen more between 15 and 20, and only three after 20.

« ForrigeFortsæt »