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The notion that a people can run itself and its affairs anonymously is the silliest of absurdities. Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us. These are the sole factors active in human progress. Individuals of genius show the way, and set the patterns, which common people then adopt and follow.
The wealth of a nation consists more than in anything else in the number of superior individuals that it harbors. In the practical realm it has always known this, and known that no price is too high to pay for a great statesman or great captain of industry. But it is equally so in the religious and moral sphere and in the philosophic and scientific sphere. Geniuses are ferments and when they come together (genius, being apart, half snore and spend their time in girding at society for not thinking as they do but do nothing to convert it, but these hermits, when brought near and acting directly on each other, shall sleep no more but be put on their mettle) as they have done in certain lands at certain times, the whole population seems to share in the higher energy which they awaken. The effects are incalculable and often not easy to trace in detail, but they are pervasive and momentous.
From the bare economic point of view the importance of geniuses is only beginning to be appreciated. How can we measure the cash value to France of a Pasteur, to England of a Kelvin, to Germany of an Ostwald, to us here of a Burbank? One main care of every country is to find out who its first-rate thinkers and men of action are and to help them. Cost here becomes something entirely irrelevant...the returns are sure to be so incommensurable.
Genius consists in the capacity to see beneath the surface of events, to see through the obvious and conventional and stereotyped appearance of events the significant realities, to the obscured facts and forces, which will prevail in the nature of history. It brings with it the gift of prophesying what is going to happen because to the seeing eye it is already there.
Geniuses are sensitive plants, in some respects like prima donnas. Yet
in these semi-madmen (to have genius we must put up with the inconvenience
of genius, a thing the world will never do...it wants geniuses but it wants
them to be like other people) lies the true aristocracy of mankind. They
have to be treated tenderly. They don't need to live in superfluity but
they need freedom from harassing care; they need books and instruments;
they are always overworking, so they need generous vacations; and above
all things they need occasionally to travel far and wide in the interest
of their souls' development. Where quality is the thing sought after, the
thing of supreme quality is cheap, whatever be the price one has to pay