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Chapter 10
"He had catched a great cold, had he had no other clothes to wear than the skin
of a bear not yet killed."--FULLER.
Young Ladislaw did not pay that visit to which Mr. Brooke had invited him, and
only six days afterwards Mr. Casaubon mentioned that his young relative had
started for the Continent, seeming by this cold vagueness to waive inquiry.
Indeed, Will had declined to fix on any more precise destination than the entire
area of Europe. Genius, he held, is necessarily intolerant of fetters: on the one
hand it must have the utmost play for its spontaneity; on the other, it may
confidently await those messages from the universe which summon it to its
peculiar work, only placing itself in an attitude of receptivity towards all sublime
chances. The attitudes of receptivity are various, and Will had sincerely tried
many of them. He was not excessively fond of wine, but he had several times
taken too much, simply as an experiment in that form of ecstasy; he had fasted
till he was faint, and then supped on lobster; he had made himself ill with doses
of opium. Nothing greatly original had resulted from these measures; and the
effects of the opium had convinced him that there was an entire dissimilarity
between his constitution and De Quincey's. The superadded circumstance which
would evolve the genius had not yet come; the universe had not yet beckoned.
Even Caesar's fortune at one time was, but a grand presentiment. We know what
a masquerade all development is, and what effective shapes may be disguised in
helpless embryos.--In fact, the world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome
dubious eggs called possibilities. Will saw clearly enough the pitiable instances of
long incubation producing no chick, and but for gratitude would have laughed at
Casaubon, whose plodding application, rows of note-books, and small taper of
learned theory exploring the tossed ruins of the world, seemed to enforce a moral
entirely encouraging to Will's generous reliance on the intentions of the universe
with regard to himself. He held that reliance to be a mark of genius; and certainly
it is no mark to the contrary; genius consisting neither in self-conceit nor in
humility, but in a power to make or do, not anything in general, but something in
particular. Let him start for the Continent, then, without our pronouncing on his
future. Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
But at present this caution against a too hasty judgment interests me more in
relation to Mr. Casaubon than to his young cousin. If to Dorothea Mr. Casaubon
had been the mere occasion which had set alight the fine inflammable material of
her youthful illusions, does it follow that he was fairly represented in the minds of
those less impassioned personages who have hitherto delivered their judgments
concerning him? I protest against any absolute conclusion, any prejudice derived
from Mrs. Cadwallader's contempt for a neighboring clergyman's alleged
greatness of soul, or Sir James Chettam's poor opinion of his rival's legs,--from
Mr. Brooke's failure to elicit a companion's ideas, or from Celia's criticism of a
middle-aged scholar's personal appearance. I am not sure that the greatest man
of his age, if ever that solitary superlative existed, could escape these
unfavorable reflections of himself in various small mirrors; and even Milton,