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'Of Genius', in The Occasional Paper, and Preface to The Creation   By: (1685-1750)

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Series Four Men, Manners and Critics

No. 2

Anonymous, "Of Genius", in The Occasional Paper , Volume III, Number 10 (1719)


Aaron Hill, Preface to The Creation (1720)

With an Introduction by Gretchen Graf Pahl

The Augustan Reprint Society March, 1949 Price: One Dollar


RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan

EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles

H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


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 by 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... Continue reading book >>

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