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1834.] Madden on the Infirmities of Genius.
5 pupils and another for the females; and every week each one enjoys a warm bath a means of health and comfort by the poorest among the ancients, but coufined to a favored few, in these days of modern refinement. How few of our first schools furnish this best preventive of disease to their pupils, thus regularly! How many ever attend to the cleansing of the skin, during that half the year when increased clothing accumulates the secretions upon its surface.
But for whom have these ample and costly provisions been made? For the one thousand blind of New England. Are there none who will do as much for the hundreds of thousands of its indigent youth who long for the light of science, and can learn nothing but the elements of knowledge ? Are there none who will exercise equal liberality in providing teachers for the million of ignorant freemen, just emerging from childhood in our favored country?
REVIEW OF MADDEN ON THE INFIRMITIES OF
GENIUS.' The Infirmities of Genius illustrated, by referring the Anomalies of the Lit
erary character to the Habits and Constitutional Peculiarities of Men of Genius. By K. D. Madden, Esq, author of Travels in Turkey, &c.
Qui ratione corporis non habent, sed cogunt mortalem immortali, ter trem æthere equalem prestare indsutriam.' — Plutarch de Sanit Tuend. In 2 volumes. Philadelphia : Cary, Lea & Blanchard, 1833. pp. 412. A work embracing a range of topics so wide, and views and principles so interesting as the Infirmities of Genius,' deserves a more comprehensive title. Had it been called Effects of a Studious and Sedentary Life,' it would have excited the attention of some, wlio we fear will now neglect some of the most valuable hipts for a student, which we have seen. That the evils it describes are by no means peculiar to that mysterious, overrated power, called Genius,' our observation, as well as our own sad experience, fully satisfies us. It is not the amount of brain, but of mental action, and of bodily inaction, which gives rise to these evils; and the ceaseless plodding of a heavy intellect, or the incessant tension of an anxious heart, or over-excited feelings, whether pleasant or painful; nay, even the ordinary cares of life, and the duties of religion, — if proper attention is not paid to air and exercise— will produce all the ills that ‘fesh is heir to,' no less certainly than the mighty efforts of a Johnson, or the lofty flights of a Byron. By the testimony of this work itself, even these were not attended with evil, so long as the body received its due share of rest and at
Madden on the Infirmities of Genius. [Jan. tention; and the same neglect which produces the horrors' in a genius, may render any, but an idiot, a wretched dyspeptic.
The interest of this subject, and the work before us, is, therefore, by no means confined to the literary world. All who are ever
liable to thought,' or who are capable of deep feeling, are concerned. lv this day of intense activity, the politician, and the man of business, the zealous Christian, and the active doer of good, the advocates of iinprovement and reform, all need to understand the influence of the mind upon the body, and the dangers of excessive activity even in the noblest and most important sphere of hurran efforts. To none, perhaps, is this subject more important, than to parents and teachers, who feel the high responsibility, and the immense difficulty of their task; and to no others can we hope to gain access. We have long felt it desirable to say something, which should aid them in preserving and directing their own energy, and in avoiding that ruin of health, and that abridgment of life, which have too often been the result of faithful efforts in education. The work before us is an opportune aid; but we are painfully burried on by the recollection, that the mere introduction of the subject, has consumed most of the stolen time, and the almost exhausted power of attention, which they have to devote to us.
Madden is a traveller, and a man of science. In the work before us he has described the infirmities of studious men, as presented in the examples of some of the most eminent authors, and traced the connection between the defects of the mind, and the diseases of the body.
The first question which suggests itself on this subject, is the effect of literary pursuits on the duration of life, and in order to throw some light on this subject, Mr Madden has formed tables of the longevity of twenty eminent men in each of the various walks of literature. A suminary of the whole presents the following aggregate number of years for each class, and the average for each individual of the class. Aggregate Average
Agregato Average Natural Philosophers,
Philologists, Moral Philosophers,
64 Sculptors and Painters, 1412
Novelists and Miscel. Aulbors on Law and
laneous Authors, Jurisprudence,
Dramatists, Medical Authors,
68 Authors on Natural Authors on Revealed
Religion, (Deists), Religion,
Poets, When we recollect that these are among the most laborious and voluminous authors, and that their average age is 66, we think it cannot be inferred that literary labor is, on the whole, more unfavorable to longevity, than any other of the sedentary occupations, in our artificial state of society.
ears. 1504 1417
75 70 70 69
1394 1368 1350
62} 62 62 57
Longevity of Literary Men.
In regard to the effect of different pursuits, it is a striking fact, that the mere triflers in literature, have suffered more from its labors than its greatest benefactors. It appears that Philosophers have been most remarkable for longevity, and Poets the inost short-lived among authors.
Astronomers seem to have exceeded all other Natural Philosophers in the duration of life.
• In the Time's Telescope for 1833, there is a list of all the eminent Astronomers, from Thales to those of the last century; and out of eightyfive only twentyfive had died of the age of sixty, five had lived to between ninety and a hundred; eighteen between eighty and ninety; twentyfive between seventy and eighty; seventeen between sixty and seventy ; ten between fifty and sixty ; five between forty and fifty ; and four between thirty and forty. In no other pursuit does the biography of men of genius exhibit a longevity at all to be compared to this. No other science, indeed, tends so powerfully to raise the mind above those trivial vexations, and petty miseries of life, which make the great amount of human eyil.'
Authors on Revealed Religion, and Philologists occupy the middle point of the scale. Mr Madden remarks, that those pursuits in which the imagination is largely exerted, are least favorable to longevity. While this is unquestionably true, we are not inclined to ascribe it chiefly to this cause. So far as our own experience, or our knowledge of physiology can guide us, that occupation is most exhausting, which produces most sensation, either nervous or intellectual. In conducting the instruction of the deaf and dumb, we found the mimic exhibition of feeling, and the excitement it produced, incomparably more exhausting, than any amount of intellectual labor in examining or explaining mere science, provided there was nothing to call forth personal anxiety or apprehension, and we could ascribe to no other cause, the peculiarly prostrating influence of this occupation. An eminent musician, in feeble health, informed us, that too much use of a piano often exhausted bin by the nervous excitement it produced; the barmonica or musical glasses, must be used with great care on this account.
On this ground, the wide difference in the duration of life between Natural Philosophers and Poets; between Moral Philosophers and Dramatists; Jurists and Novelists; Painters and Musicians, is easily explained. Could the fictions which rouse every feeling of the reader, and have produced every degree of nervous convulsion, from the mere sob to the hysteric, or the fainting fit, lave been created without agitating every nerve of the author, and exciting him sometimes even to phrenzy ? Could they have been imagined, and executed, without a corresponding inroad upon the constitution?
We cannot pass by the obvious bearing of this fact upon the reading of the young. Works of fiction are usually put into their hands as the means of amusement, or at least, they are suffered to 8 Works of Fiction - Premature Cultivation.
[Jan. be thus employed. But if these remarks be just, they require the full energies of the mind; for surely, the work, which, from its very nature, shortens the life of its author, by the excitement it produces, can scarcely relax the mind of the reader, who is capable of being deeply interested in it, and of reading every scene, and feeling every emotion. Indeed, we can well recollect that the stolen hours which we passed in this gratification, were far more exhausting than those which we spent in the hard study of the school; and we have never succeeded in making it a relaxation froin severe thought, unless when the story was so familiar that it had lost its keenest interest, or when it could draw off the mind, for a time, from intense pain. The fact that deists, (as most of those here spoken of as · Authors on Natural Religion are,) should stand at an opposite and lower extreme of the scale, is a striking evidence that Christianity is profitable to the life that now is.'
Mr Madden presents in this connection the pernicious influence of premature cultivation, in the language of Tissot.
“The effects of study vary,' says this author, according to the age at which it is commenced. Long continued application kills' the youthful energies. I have seen children full of spirit attacked by this literary mania beyond their years; and I have foreseen with grief, the lot which awaited them. They commenced by being prodigies ; and they ended by becoming stupid ! I'he season of youth is consecrated to the exercise of the body, which strengthens it, and not to study, which debilitates and prevents its growth. Nature can never successfully carry on two rapid developments at the same time. When the growth of intellect is too prompt, its faculties too early developed, and mental application is perInitted proportioned to this development, the body receives no part of it, because the nerves cease to contribute to its energies ; the victim becomes exhausted, and eventually dies of some insidious malady. The parents and guardians who encourage or require this forced application, treat their pupils as gardeners do their plants, who, in trying to produce the first rarities of the season, sacrifice some plants, to force others to put forth fruit and flowers, which are always of short duration, and are inferior, in every respect, to those which come to their maturity at a proper season.
The examples of precocity which are presented, show the danger to the coostitution, in a manner which we should think would destroy the mistaken anxiety, and check the cruel efforts of parents to secure it.
• Moore says, the five most remarkable instances of early authorship, are those of Pope, Congreve, Churchill, Chatterton, and Byron. “The first of these died in his fiftysixth year; the second in his fiftyeighth; the third in his thirty fourth; "the sleepless boy' committed suicide in his eighteenth ; and Byron died in his thirtyseventh year.”
• Mozart, at the age of three years, began to display astonishing abilities for music, and in the two following years, composed some trifling pieces, which his father carefully preserved ; and like all prodigies, his career was a short one; he died at the age of thirty six. Tasso, from infancy, exhibited such quickness of understanding, that at the age of five he was 1834.]
Infirmities and Dangers of Students.
sent to a Jesuit Academy, and two years afterwards recited verses and orations of his own composition, he died at fiftyone. Dermody was employed by his father, who was a school-master, as an assistant in teaching the Latin and Greek languages, in his ninth year ; he died at twentyseven. The American prodigy, Lucretia Davidson, was another melancholy instance of precocious genius, and early death. Keats wrote several pieces before he was fifteen, and only reached his twentyfifth year. The ardor of Dante's temperament, we are told, was manifested in his childhood. The lady he celebrated in his poems, under the name of Beatrice, he fell in love with at the age of ten, and his enthusiasm terminated with life al fiftysix. Schiller, at the age of fourteen, was the author of an epic poem. He died at fortysix. Cowley published a collection of his juvenile poems, called “Poetical Blossoms,' at sixteen, and died at sixty nine.
• But it would be useless to enumerate instances in proof of the asser, tion, that the earlier the development of the mental faculties, the more speedy the decay of the bodily powers.'
The chapter on the influence of literary habits upon the character and health, deserve the perusal of all who censure or ridicule those who for their sake, and for their children, confine themselves to the study, or the school-rooin, because they have not the ruggedness of health, or the firmness of nerve which belongs to those who are breathing the free air, and using incessant and invigorating exercise. How slight,' remarks our author, "are those alterations in health - almost imperceptible to the ordinary observer - which have produced or aggravated the gravest mental infirmities.' No one thinks of reproaching the sleepy child or the convalescent invalid for his peevishness, as an act of his will; and yet how few forin any just estimate of the influence of disease and suffering, often far greater, upon those who are enabled only by the energy of the will to do the common business of life! How often do they reproach them for the diseased feelings which they have not been able to surmount, rather than accord that praise which they deserve, on account of those which they have overcome.
But this chapter contains a serious warning to all who cominit literary suicide. The intemperate man is not excused for the consequences of his conduct, because he was intoxicated. On the saine ground, says Mr Madden, (and we quote for ourselves as well as our readers,)
• The literary man who indulges in habits prejudicial to his health, cannot be supposed ignorant of the effects that must arise from excessive application; and who can say he is guiltless of the infirmities he drags upon him ?
“The studious man sets out with stealing an hour or two from his ordinary repose, — sometimes perhaps more ; and finishes by devoting whole nights to his pursuits. But this night work leads to exhaustion, and the universal sense of sinking in every organ that accompanies it, suggests the use of etimulants, most probably of wine ; alcohol, however, in some shape or other. And what is the result? Why, the existence that is passed in