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THE RARITY OF GENIUS
A TRAVELER in England is very much struck, as he goes from one provincial town to another, at the absence in the guide book of great names which stand for national glory. In a newer country like ours we find this scarcity still more marked. How many towns of five or ten or even twenty-five thousand inhabitants one may pass through that are not notable for any personality of genius! Even the mechanical genius in which this country is so rich, can by no means be found in every part of it. There is, to be sure, a notably high average quality of citizenship such that a great many persons in each community exceed the knowledge of the ancients in some departments of human thought. Where all are distinguished, none are distinguished. With all these allowances, however, one feels jealous of human reputation when any particular neighborhood fails to shine in human annals. Someone has said that only one life in a hundred millions is remembered permanently. The estimate is large. A poet has commemorated the fact that we have evidence of the existence of some great nations of which not a name remains. "They had no poet and so they died."
This little essay would inquire why genius or, if you choose, great distinction in a certain line of human effort, is so rare. The probable answer, it would appear, is not the obvious answer, namely, that supreme talents are rare. Genius has been defined as the capacity for hard work. Is not the answer in this, that so few men of excellent ability have devoted themselves by choice deliberately and intensely with all their faculties to the accomplishment of an outstanding achievement? This is not to say that any well-educated man of good ability can be an Emerson. There are fine, inherent qualities which, added to intense application, have placed certain names on the roll of geniuses. What we contend for is this, that men like Poe and Burns, had they not dissipated their powers, might have left us great epics rather than brief fragments. Even Lowell, it is thought and as he himself has hinted, might, had he set himself steadily to the task, have left us a literary monument far more superb than the work he has left. Here we would hazard the judgment that probably no town of ten thousand inhabitants has failed of men who, had they set themselves to one fixed purpose of creation, would have left a permanent monument of achievement.
When we stand in the midst of some fair landscape and see the brilliant play of light and the glory of earth and sky, and the wealth of teeming nature, we are conscious of a sad regret that so much fair preparation, that so fine a theater for action should have failed in the production of great men. England is broad, but has only one Runnymede. America owns a single Concord. Massachusetts can pride herself that so many foci of power are located within her narrow limits. But with the preparation of an education in liberty and law and the call of a new world, we at times wonder that no more has been done after such great beginnings. Somebody, some years ago, worked out the probable number of living descendants of the Massachusetts Coast Colonies at fifteen millions.
The names in "Who's Who" have recently been classified by states and it has been found that the quota for the eastern states and, particularly, for Massachusetts, is far larger in proportion to the population than in the newer states. Yet we must believe that indolence is responsible that many men of fine abilities stop short of the highest achievements. The Yankee character has been supposed to be restless, The descendants of the first settlers of Massachusetts should frankly admit that there are multitudes of them in the back wash of civilization. We have in mind a fine scholar of large native powers whose broadest influence did not extend beyond the occasional office of a selectman in a town of six hundred people. There are always ten times more persons who will die for their country than will live for it.
GOING BACK TO NATURE - WORCESTER COUNTY
NEIGHBORHOOD GOSSIP - SAUGUS
DREAM AND REALITY - GRAFTON
A NANTUCKET THREE DECKER
The superficial have accepted as a final dictum the ancient saying that "in making many books there is no end." We make no pretensions to wide research but we think we voice the experience of many when we say that scarcely a week elapses that we do not seek and seek in vain for authoritative information in some department of human knowledge. To an astonishing extent, history is blank. The notorious phrase of Napoleon that "history is a legend agreed upon," while a trifle too broad like all proverbs, is so far true that we blush. Scientific information is still at a premium, and, far beyond necessity, literature is lean.
The world war is scarcely over, yet many of the greatest movements in the war are veiled in mystery and probably always will be. What we do know in comparison with what we easily might know will always be an infinitesimal fraction, Here then we plead that the youth of Massachusetts, with the background of their history and the standpoint of their present opportunity, may dedicate themselves in sufficient numbers to the accomplishment of important work that never has been done.
NEW ENGLAND IN WINTER
THE recent increase in interest in out-of-doors winter sports is awakening many persons for the first time to one of the aspects of beauty which ought long since to have been a larger factor in our thought. The curling snow fingers that fall gradually away in curves from the old picket fences; the white festoons that drape the evergreens; the old door posts with their caps of snow; the graceful birches laden with their white burden and drooping in bows of every degree of curvature until some even meet the ground; the half-hidden cottages; the fantastic aspects of the snow shapes in their draperies and wave effects, — all these are charming elements of northern winter life.
The snow itself has recently been found to be a mine of hidden beauties hitherto neglected. An enthusiast who has made three thousand individual magnified photographs of snowflakes has so far found no two alike. If a mathematician were called upon to compute on the theory of chances the probable number of regular crystalline snowflake forms he would give us an answer high up in the billions. Most of these forms are hexagonal crystals. A very great many of them may supply exquisite patterns for embroidery, for lace and for every sort of designing, Little do we think as we set our foot on the first snow that we are probably crushing a million crystals each of great beauty, each individually distinguished. One of old made the query, "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" Did he suspect this modern revelation? Probably not. The stars under foot are as wonderful as those overhead.
What a delicate inconceivably subtle influence must guide formations of these crystals so that each follows a new design! We are led to wonder whether there is a limit to these designs.
Snow in certain forms, crystallized under very low temperatures, sometimes produces a three-sided crystal. These are not so beautiful but they are, nevertheless, extremely interesting.
ECHO LAKE - BERKSHIRES
FROM BERKSHIRE HEIGHTS
THREE FRIENDS - FRAMINGHAM
The snow in the open is influenced in its contour wholly, of course, in the same way as water and sand. A duplication of a curdled sky may be seen in many a snow landscape and again on the blowing sands which are here and there to be found in New England. The shape of a sea wave is of ten duplicated to a nicety in snowdrifts which curl at their crests with all the delicacy possible. The spindrift of the sea is also duplicated in the loose snows which blow from the crests of such drifts.
We are greatly indebted to the recent fashion of wintering in the country because it is possible the fashion may awaken dwellers in the country of rigorous winters to the desirability of their place of residence and to its winter charm, scarcely inferior to that of summer. The mass of mankind, largely untouched by intrinsic beauty, may be led to see beauty, when it becomes a fad to do so, and, all unconsciously to themselves, persons may awake to recognize the splendors which have hitherto lain, asking attention, around them. It is beyond our purpose if it is not beyond our powers to describe intimately many phases of winter beauty. These themes have furnished the poets with no small part of their inspirations. The recent work of Mr. Daniel L. Cady in describing the homely occupations of the country has filled a void in our literature which was in great need of treatment. Under the guise of dialectic forms and from the mouth of the more or less untutored farmer he has expressed many shades of rural life in a manner which shows the keenest observation. The importance of such work is understood by those who know how rapidly the old rural conditions are passing away. There are many things which are already almost archaic in American life, and to preserve a pictorial and literary record of them will very much assist us in securing the rotundity of history.
UNCLE HY'S COLT
THE beautiful snow is availed of by the farmers for breaking colts, Uncle Hy was a burly man of heroic build and when he heard of a colt that had grown to a complete horse estate without ever having admitted a master he thought he saw his opportunity, as the price was not too much and the animal was a beauty. A sturdy horse sled that could not harm itself whichever side up it dragged, and afforded easy means of getting off, was the chosen vehicle.
Now, this colt like some other beauties, was proud. His neck was clothed with thunder and he sniffed the battle from afar. Yet, externally there were no emphatic marks of wilfulness. We will not call the colt obstinate, we will say he just had plenty of character. You have seen such — horses, possibly mules. This colt was not dull. It is said that horses with brains can be taught, This colt knew too much. His mind worked rapidly, but not in the same direction or at the same moment with Uncle Hy's mind. The colt would go rapidly and stand sturdily; only when Uncle Hy said "Whoa" the colt went along, and when Uncle Hy said "Giddap" the colt stood still. It was a failure in the meeting of minds. Consistency may be the mark of a bigot. This colt was not consistent. He could change his mind as rapidly as a woman. If one could only have foreseen when he would change it and in what direction it would have simplified life for Uncle Hy.
When Uncle Hy was not saying a word, man and horse would go along together quite smoothly for a moment or two, when of a sudden the colt would determine to go across lots, which he did, over walls, fences, gutters, stumps and obstacles, all and sundry. The depth of the snow somewhat eased the bumps only they came at unlooked for moments when one could not see what was beneath. Anyhow, Uncle Hy held on. He did not say a word; partly he lacked the breath, and partly it was his nature that the madder he got the less he said. He would come in after a half an hour or half a day's bout with his colt, rather haggard and weary for a man so strong. His arms had been pulled half out of their sockets and his clothing bore no marks of recent acquaintance with the tailor. In fact, he had been in the trenches, and he came away with things not originally on his garments, although parts of them had been left behind in the experience. No doubt the colt was strong; so was Uncle Hy. But Uncle Hy was not scientific and the colt was. Asked why the colt did not keep the road, Uncle Hy would not admit pigheadedness on the part of the horse, but answered, "I guess he jes' tuk a notion."
ACROSS THE FARM - ENFIELD
A MARLBORO ROADSIDE
Uncle Hy had never heard of skis nor did I ever know him to wear snowshoes. He required neither, so long as he fellowshiped with this colt. There was exercise a-plenty, and fresh air moving past at an alarming rate and an intimate acquaintance with snow banks. It was winter sport of a strenuous and absorbing character.
In the dim distance we cannot now recollect how long the association continued, but we do remember that it was finally dissolved by mutual consent with pleasure on both sides of the partnership. Before the end came, however, much history was written and many places were visited "where man never trod before." The neighbors helped, or they tried to. Fifield thought Uncle Hy whipped the colt too much. Uncle Laban thought a colt should be touched up with a whip. Cottle was of the opinion that the animal would go along all right if he was let alone, but Uncle Hy wanted to go with him. Young said Uncle should talk pleasantly to the horse, Uncle was saying nothing eloquently. No one could say the colt did not try, only Uncle Hy seemed not to speak his language.
What was desired was synchronism between the front and the hind legs. Instead they worked like the escapement of a Simon Willard banjo clock. Sometimes when Uncle Hy suggested that the colt go along the animal went into the air at the forward end; sometimes when it was desired to stop him the rear end went up. There was nothing the matter with either end, but the harmony which Uncle Hy sought seemed lacking. The colt was a self-made horse, satisfied with the job. That he could acquire a high school education all by himself was a mark of genius. Most horses can go ahead or back up. In addition to these movements of progression and retrogression the colt could move sidewise to shame any crab and follow any given diagonal provided you did not give it to him. Furthermore, the animal had humor. At one moment he was all fours in the air, body uppermost, and again he was rolling in the snow all fours in the air. He loved the snow and it was a joy to him just to be alive. There was no doubt the animal was a philosophical entity or some parts would have come loose in the experience of that winter.
Coming in from a playful morning with the thermometer well below zero both man and horse were in spots in profuse perspiration, which showed good blood and proved that they had not lost a moment. Uncle Hy had frost on his eyebrows but fire in his eyes. The colt was like Borah. You never knew what he would do next, but you knew he would do something and do it without consulting anyone. His purposes were subtle and his mind serene. He had the infinite variety of Cleopatra and like her was fitted to entertain any man.