martes, 17 de enero de 2012
Genius and Degeneration
The purpose of this paper is to show that wherever genius is observed,
we find it accompanied by degeneration, which is evinced by physical
abnormalties or mental eccentricities. It is a strange fact, however,
and one not noticed by Lombroso, or any other writer, as far as I know,
that mechanical geniuses, or those who, for the most part, deal with
material facts, do not, as a rule, show any signs of degeneration. I
have only to instance Darwin, Galileo, Edison, Watts, Rumsey, Howe, and
Morse to prove the truth of this assertion. It is only the genius of
aestheticism, the genius of the emotion, that is generally accompanied
by unmistakable signs of degeneration.
Saul, the first king of Israel, was a man of genius and, at times, a
madman. We read that, before his coronation, he was seized with an
attack of madness and joined a company of kindred eccentrics. His
friends and acquaintances were naturally surprised and exclaimed: "Is
Saul among the prophets?" _i. e._, "Has Saul become insane?" Again, we
are told that he was suddenly seized with an attack of homicidal
impulse, and tried to kill David. Before this time he had had repeated
attacks of madness, which only the harp of David could control and
subdue. David himself was a man whose mental equilibrium was not well
established, as his history clearly indicates. He forsook his God,
indulged in licentious practices, and was, withal, a very, immoral man
at times. At his time, the Hebrews had reached a high degree of
civilization. Abstract ethics had become very much developed, and any
example of great immorality occurring during this epoch is proof
positive of atavism or degeneration.
As I have intimated before, many of the ancient Hebrew prophets, who
were unquestionably men of genius, gave evidences of insanity; notably
Jeremiah, who made a long journey to the River Euphrates, where he hid a
linen girdle. He returned home, and in a few days made the same journey
and found the girdle rotten and good for nothing; Ezekiel, who dug a
hole in the wall of his house, through which he removed his household
goods, instead of through the door; Hosea, who married a prostitute,
because God, so he declared, had told him so to do; and Isaiah, who
stripped himself naked and paraded up and down in sight of all the
people. King Solomon, a man of pre-eminent genius, was mentally
unbalanced. The "Song of Solomon" shows very clearly that he was a
victim of some psychical disorder, sexual in its character and origin.
The poems of Anacreon are lascivious, lustful, and essentially carnal,
and history informs us that he was a sexual pervert.
Swinburne's poems show clearly the mental bias of their author, who is
described as being peculiar and eccentric. Many of the men of genius who
have assisted in making the history of the world have been the victims
of epilepsy. Julius Caesar, military leader, statesman, politician, and
author, was an epileptic. Twice on the field of battle he was stricken
down by this disorder. On one occasion, while seated at the tribune, he
was unable to rise when the senators, consuls, and praetors paid him a
visit of ceremony and honor. They were offended at his seeming lack of
respect, and retired, showing signs of anger. Caesar returned home,
stripped off his clothes, and offered his throat to be cut by anyone. He
then explained his conduct to the senate, saying that he was the victim
of a malady which, at times, rendered him incapable of standing. During
the attacks of this disorder "he felt shocks in his limbs, became giddy,
and at last lost consciousness." Moliere was the victim of epilepsy; so
also was Petrarch, Flaubert, Charles V., Handel, St. Paul, Peter the
Great, and Dostoieffsky; Paganini, Mozart, Schiller, Alfieri, Pascal,
Richelieu, Newton, and Swift were the victims of diseases epileptoid in
Many men of genius have suffered from spasmodic and choreic movements,
notably Lenau, Montesquieu, Buffon, Dr. Johnson, Santeuil, Crebillon,
Lombardini, Thomas Campbell, Carducci, Napoleon, and Socrates.
Suicide, essentially a symptom of mental disorder, has hurried many a
man of genius out into the unknown. The list begins with such eminent
men as Zeno, Cleanthes, Dionysius, Lucan, and Stilpo, and contains the
names of such immortals as Chatterton, Blount, Haydon, Clive, and David.
Alcoholism and morphinism, or an uncontrollable desire for alcohol or
opium in some form or other, are now recognized as evidences of
degeneration. Men of genius, both in the Old World and in the New, have
shown this form of degeneration. Says Lombroso: "Alexander died after
having emptied ten times the goblet of Hercules, and it was, without
doubt, in an alcoholic attack, while pursuing naked the infamous Thais,
that he killed his dearest friend. Caesar was often carried home
intoxicated on the shoulders of his soldiers. Neither Socrates, nor
Seneca, nor Alcibiades, nor Cato, nor Peter the Great (nor his wife
Catherine, nor his daughter Elizabeth) were remarkable for their
abstinence. One recalls Horace's line, '_Narratur et prisci Cantonis
saepe mero caluisse virtus._' Tiberius Nero was called by the Romans
Biberius Mero. Septimius Severus and Mahomet II. succumbed to
drunkenness or _delirium tremens_."
Among the men and women of genius of the Old World who abused the use of
alcohol and opium, were Coleridge, James Thomson, Carew, Sheridan,
Steele, Addison, Hoffman, Charles Lamb, Madame de Stael, Burns, Savage,
Alfred de Musset, Kleist, Caracci, Jan Steen, Morland Turner (the
painter), Gerard de Nerval, Hartley Coleridge, Dussek, Handel, Glueck,
Praga, Rovani, and the poet Somerville. This list is by no means
complete, as the well-informed reader may see at a glance; it serves to
show, however, how very often this form of degeneration makes its
appearance in men of genius.
In men of genius the moral sense is sometimes obtunded, if not
altogether absent. Sallust, Seneca, and Bacon were suspected felons.
Rousseau, Byron, Foscolo, and Caresa were grossly immoral, while
Casanova, the gifted mathematician, was a common swindler. Murat,
Rousseau, Clement, Diderot, Praga, and Oscar Wilde were sexual perverts.
Genius, like insanity, lives in a world of its own, hence we find few,
if any, evidences of human affection in men of genius. Says Lombroso: "I
have been able to observe men of genius when they had scarce reached the
age of puberty; they did not manifest the deep aversions of moral
insanity, but I have noticed among all a strange apathy for everything
which does not concern them; as though, plunged in the hypnotic
condition, they did not perceive the troubles of others, or even the
most pressing needs of those who were dearest to them; if they observed
them, they grew tender, at once hastening to attend them; but it was a
fire of straw, soon extinguished, and it gave place to indifference and
This emotional anaesthesia is indicative of psychical atavism, and is an
unmistakable evidence of degeneration. Lombroso gives a long list of the
men of genius who were celibates. I will mention a few of those with
whom the English-speaking world is most familiar: Kant, Newton, Pitt,
Fox, Beethoven, Galileo, Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Gray,
Dalton, Hume, Gibbon, Macaulay, Lamb, Bentham, Leonardo da Vinci,
Copernicus, Reynolds, Handel, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Schopenhauer,
Camoens, and Voltaire. La Bruyere says of men of genius: "These men have
neither ancestors nor descendants; they themselves form their entire
There is a form of mental obliquity which the French term _folie du
doute_. It is characterized by an incertitude in thought cooerdination,
and often leads its victims into the perpetration of nonsensical and
useless acts. Men of genius are very frequently afflicted with this form
of mental disorder. Dr. Johnson, who was a sufferer from _folie du
doute_, had to touch every post he passed. If he missed one he had to
retrace his steps and touch it. Again, if he started out of a door on
the wrong foot he would return and make another attempt, starting out on
the foot which he considered the correct one to use. Napoleon counted
and added up the rows of windows in every street through which he
passed. A celebrated statesman, who is a personal friend of the writer,
can never bear to place his feet on a crack in the pavement or floor.
When walking he will carefully step over and beyond all cracks or
crevices. This idiosyncracy annoys him greatly, but the impulse is
imperative, and he can not resist it.
Those who have been intimately associated with men of genius have
noticed that they are very frequently amnesic or "absent-minded." Newton
once tried to stuff his niece's finger into the bowl of his lighted
pipe, and Rovelle would lecture on some subject for hours at a time and
then conclude by saying: "But this is one of my arcana, which I tell to
no one." One of his students would then whisper what he had just said
into his ear, and Rovelle would believe that his pupil "had discovered
the arcanum by his own sagacity, and would beg him not to divulge what
he himself had just told to two hundred persons."
Lombroso has combed history, as it were, with a fine-tooth comb, and
very few geniuses have escaped his notice. This paper, so far, is hardly
more than a review of his extraordinarily comprehensive work; therefore,
I will conclude this portion of it with a list of men of genius, their
professions, and their evidences of degeneration, as gathered from his
Carlo Dolce, painter, _religious monomania_.
Bacon, philosopher, _megalomania_, _moral anaesthesia_.
Balzac, writer, _masked epilepsy_, _megalomania_.
Caesar, soldier, writer, _epilepsy_.
Beethoven, musician, _amnesia_, _melancholia_.
Cowper, writer, _melancholia_.
Chateaubriand, writer, _chorea_.
Alexander the Great, soldier, _alcoholism_.
Moliere, dramatist, _epilepsy_, _phthisis pulmonalis_.
Lamb, writer, _alcoholism_, _melancholia_, _acute mania_.
Mozart, musician, _epilepsy_, _hallucinations_.
Heine, writer, _melancholia_, _spinal disease_.
Dr. Johnson, writer, _chorea_, _folie du doute_.
Newton, philosopher, _amnesia_.
Cavour, statesman, philosopher, _suicidal impulse_.
Ampere, mathematician, _amnesia_.
Thomas Campbell, writer, _chorea_.
Blake, painter, _hallucinations_.
Chopin, musician, _melancholia_.
Coleridge, writer, _alcoholism_, _morphinism_.
Donizetti, musician, _moral anaesthesia_.
Lenau, writer, _melancholia_.
Mahomet, theologian, _epilepsy_.
Manzoni, statesman, _folie du doute_.
Haller, writer, _hallucinations_.
Dupuytren, surgeon, _suicidal impulse_.
Paganini, musician, _epilepsy_.
Handel, musician, _epilepsy_.
Schiller, writer, _epilepsy_.
Richelieu, statesman, _epilepsy_.
Praga, writer, _alcoholism_, _sexual perversion_.
Tasso, writer, _alcoholism_, _melancholia_.
Savonarola, theologian, _hallucinations_.
Luther, theologian, _hallucinations_.
Schopenhauer, philosopher, _melancholia_, _omniphobia_.
Gogol, writer, _melancholia_, _tabes dorsalis_.
Lazaretti, theologian, _hallucinations_.
Mallarme, writer, _suicidal impulse_.
Dostoieffsky, writer, _epilepsy_.
Napoleon, soldier, statesman, _folie du doute_, _epilepsy_.
Comte, philosopher, _hallucinations_.
Pascal, philosopher, _epilepsy_.
Poushkin, writer, _megalomania_.
Renan, philosopher, _folie du doute_.
Swift, writer, _paresis_.
Socrates, philosopher, _chorea_.
Schumann, musician, _paresis_.
Shelley, writer, _hallucinations_.
Bunyan, writer, _hallucinations_.
Swedenborg, theologian, _hallucinations_.
Loyola, theologian, _hallucinations_.
J. S. Mill, writer, _suicidal impulse_.
Linnaeus, botanist, _paresis_.
The reader will observe that I have made use of the comprehensive word,
writer, to designate all kinds of literary work except theology and
philosophy. The above list is by no means complete, and only contains
the names of those geniuses with whom the world is well acquainted.