The Divinity of Genius

To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: In this year, the centenary of the birth of the great Théophile Gautier, I read in an English magazine the atrocious statement: Take away from Gautier his pose and there is nothing left. Pose! Pose! Pose! That cry has eternally assailed the savage incursions of genius into the empire of the forbidden and its assaults upon the ramparts of the conventional gods.

Swine, cows, hens never pose; but they believe that the eagle perched upon its mountain cliff for a flight into the azure, and the lion, erect, expectant, do. The critical Poloniuses dispose of the satanism of Baudelaire, the poetic nymphalepsy of Gautier, the trumpetings of Hugo, the don juanism of Byron, the protean attitudes of Heine, with the word “pose.” It is the judgment writ in Liliput.

Genius without pose is not genius. All grandeur is self-conscious. All superior beings seem to be acting a part. What is called pose in genius is the manifestation of multiple and contradictory personalities. The simple, logical, out and dried minds, whose thoughts, emotions and life development have been surveyed by their ancestors, of whom they are merely a sparkles increment and not a vital development, are puzzled before the myriad masks that genius wears. It is the astonishment of a cow looking at the changing colors of the dawn.

Genius is both Cain and Abel, Lucifer and God, Hamlet and Falstaff, Munchausen and Euclid. Hugo, Whitman, Gautier had multitudes locked up in them. As Leonardo da Vinci struck every mental attitude, so Gautier struck every imaginative attitude. Like Byron, Wilde, Hugo, Bernard Shaw, he was terribly sincere in his “poses.” Did François Villon pose when he turned house-breaker? I believe he did. It was an immortal piece of irony.

Sometimes the poses of genius are a sacred sport. To amaze the bourgeois, to flabbergast the galvanized masterpieces of routine, to turn somersaults over the social ark of the covenant, as Wagner stood in a tree top and imitated an owl; to do the supremely indecorous thing before the bovine eyes of commons sense, this is the sinister irony with which genius confronts stupidity.

Genius is said to be morbidly egotistic. It assumes, in fact, a still higher form of psychological development than egotism. It is impersonal. It not only believes in itself utterly, but it subdivides itself ad infinitum that it may worship itself under a myriad forms and revel in its own luminous magnificences. It worships itself in the third person plural. The brain of a Gautier, a Hugo, a Whitman, a Goethe has a gigantic mirror at the top of it. Against it are flashed all the attitudes of its diurnal physical, moral and cerebral existences. Before that mirror congregate for rehearsal the embryos of all the things they dared not do, could not do, and the flesh and blood embodiment of the things they dared and could do. Before that passionless, incorporate reflector, the countless selves of a genius are always on parade. It is the marvellous phenomenon of self-consciousness at the zenith of its earthly evolution. It is the self of the Hindu seers reviewing its own protean poses. It is the consciousness of a mighty sun that holds within its monstrous grip a countless number of satellites.

Against Gautier, as against Hugo, Shelley and Nietzsche, they have hurled “Blasphemer!” As though the mind could ever blaspheme! As though a thought could be impious! As though the brain could ever do wrong! There is only one blasphemy of which the human mind is capable, and that is to exclude from it any thought that knocks for entry.

Since commandments are always à la mode, I venture this one: Thou shalt not blaspheme against genius. Only genius may say with authority, “Noli me tangere!” All geniuses are gods incarnate. They may bespatter all things. But thou shalt not bespatter them.

Benjamin De Casseres.
New York, August 11.


Source: Letter to the Editor, The Sun, Aug. 14, 1911, p. 4