A Pattern of the Best and Honourablest Things

‘Ever since the French Revolution there has developed a vicious, cretinizing tendency to consider genius (apart from his work) as a human, more or less the same as other humans. This is wrong. The daily life of a genius, his sleep, his digestion, his ecstasies…his blood, his life and death are essentially different from the rest of mankind.’

Salvador Dali, Diary of a Genius.

‘…he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition, and a pattern of the best and honourablest things, not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he has himself the experience and the practice of all that is praiseworthy.’

John Milton, An Apology for Smectymnuus.

‘In all things by which praise is won, Leon Battista was from his childhood the first. Of his various gymnastic feats and exercises we read with astonishment how, with his feet together, he could spring over a man’s head; how, in the cathedral, he threw a coin in the air till it was heard to ring against a different roof; how the wildest horses trembled under him. In three things he desired to appear faultless to others: in walking, in riding, and in speaking. He learned music without a master, and yet his compositions were admired by professional judges. Under the pressure of poverty, he studied both civil and canonical law for many years, till exhaustion brought a severe illness… And all the while he acquired every sort of accomplishment and dexterity, cross-examining artists, scholars and artisans of all descriptions, down to the cobblers, about the peculiarities of their craft. Painting and modelling he practised by the way, and especially excelled in admirable likeness from memory… And that which others created he welcomed joyfully, and held every human achievement which followed the laws of beauty to be almost divine… But the deepest spring of his nature has yet to be spoken of – the sympathetic intensity with which he entered into the whole life around him. At the sight of noble trees and waving cornfileds he shed tears; handsome and dignified old men he honoured as a delight of nature and never look at them enough. Perfectly formed animals won his goodwill as being specially favoured by nature; and more than once, when he was ill, the sight of a beautiful landscape cured him. No wonder that those who saw him in this close and mysterious communion with the world ascribed to him the gift of prophecy. It need not be added that an iron will pervaded and sustained his whole personality; like all the great men of the Renaissance, he said; Men can do all things if they will.’

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore.


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