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ESSAY XII.

WHETHER GENIUS IS CONSCIOUS OF

ITS POWERS?

ESSAY XII.

WHETHER GENIUS IS CONSCIOUS OF ITS

POWERS?

No really great man ever thought himself so. The idea of greatness in the mind answers but ill to our knowledge-or to our ignorance of ourselves. What living prose-writer, for instance, would think of comparing himself with Burke? Yet would it not have been equal presumption or egotism in him to fancy himself equal to those who had gone before him-Bolingbroke or Johnson or Sir William Temple ? Because his rank in letters is become a settled point with us, we conclude that it must have been quite as self-evident to him, and that he must have been perfectly conscious of his vast superiority to the rest of the world. Alas! not so. No man is truly himself, but in the idea which others entertain of him. The mind, as well as the eye, “sees not itself, but by reflection from some other thing.” What parity can there be between the effect of habitual composition on the mind of the individual, and the surprise occasioned by first reading a fine passage in an admired author; between what we do with ease, and what we thought it next to impossible ever to be done; between the reverential awe we have for years encouraged, without seeing reason to alter it, for distinguished genius, and the slow, reluctant, unwelcome conviction that after infinite toil and repeated disappointments, and when it is too late and to little purpose, we have ourselves at length accomplished what we at first proposed; between the insignificance of our petty, personal pretensions, and the vastness and splendour which the atmosphere of imagination lends to an illustrious name? He who comes up to his own idea of greatness, must always have had a very low standard of it in his mind. “ What a pity,” said some one, “that Milton had not the pleasure of reading Paradise Lost!" He could not read it, as we do, with the weight of impression that a hundred years of admiration have added to it—"a phænix gazed by all”-with the sense of the number of editions it has passed through with still increasing reputation, with the tone of solidity, time-proof, which it has received from the breath of cold, envious maligners, with the sound which the voice of Fame has lent to

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