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Imitation of the best Authors, is not to compare with a good Original
[. . .]™.±
Addison and Dennis™s writings on genius suggest a new paradigm of
imitation which had nothing to do with aping ancient writers, and which
can be seen as laying the groundwork for Edward Young™s treatment of
the matter in his Conjectures on Original Composition of ±·µ (a signi¬cant
year, which also saw the publication of Gerard™s Essay on Taste, Adam
Smith™s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the second edition of Burke™s
Inquiry). To Young, ˜Imitations are of two kinds; one of Nature, one of
Authors: The ¬rst we call Originals, and con¬ne the term Imitation to
the second.™± There are three major defects in the spirit of imitation:
it denies art the possibility of progression and improvement; it thwarts
Nature herself, who ˜brings us into the world all Originals™; and, ¬nally,
it ˜makes us think little, and write much™.±µ Where Young departs from
Dennis, however, is in his rejection of rule-following per se. ˜There is™, he
asserts, ˜something in Poetry beyond Prose-reason; there are Mysteries
in it not to be explained, but admired [. . .].™ Moreover, ˜Genius can set us
right in Composition, without the Rules of the Learned; as Conscience
µ·
The eighteenth century
sets us right in Life, without the Laws of the Land [. . .].™± By being re-
de¬ned as the emulation or representation of nature, imitation has come
to be identi¬ed with originality as the chief characteristic of genius.±·
There is some friction, however, between Young™s ¬delity to an imita-
tive theory of art, and his description of true imitation (i.e. of nature) as
that which has ˜a vegetable nature™ and ˜rises spontaneously from the vital
root of Genius [. . .]™. He is concerned that the representational demands
made by even this sense of imitation imply a check to the activity of the
artist. Yet without regulation of some kind, ˜[i]n the Fairyland of Fancy,
Genius may wander wild; there it has a creative power, and may reign
arbitrarily over its own empire of Chimeras™. As he struggles to articulate
a notion of truth in imitative art without compromising the integrity of
genius, he ¬nds it dif¬cult to resist the pull of innatism, for if ˜[l]earning
is borrowed knowledge; Genius is knowledge innate, and quite our own
[. . .]™.± Young was not alone in this respect: there was a general feeling
at the time that if the products of Genius truly were instances of epistemic
originality, and transcended empirical truth, then they must entail some
kind of innatist principle which would bind such a power to truth. This
was a problem which was to preoccupy theory until at least the end of
the century.

Innatism: Sharpe vs Young
After Locke, the remaining advocates of innatist theories of knowledge
were forced onto the defensive. Henry More™s argument that the mind
was ˜not unfurnish™d of Innate Truth™ no longer seemed tenable.± Even
opponents of empiricism such as Shaftesbury shied away from its dog-
matical implications. Yet as the concept of genius developed and assumed
new and more powerful qualities, the notion of an ˜empirical genius™
seemed ever more incongruous. It had for a long time been thought that
if transcendent genius was truly unique and irreducible, then it could
not simply be an acquired facility or quality derived from learning and
experience; that it must be, at least in part, inborn, or innate. This
in turn became entangled with a theory of language “ systematized in
the eighteenth century by Vico, but already familiar to writers of the Re-
naissance “ which rendered primitive language as more natural (though
less complex) than that of modern societies, because more spontaneous,
and less affected by art or the sophistication of learning. The innate and
˜primitive genius™ thus came to embody ideas about the germination
of language and intelligence which were crucial to the age™s view of
µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
itself, and of its artistic and scienti¬c culture, as progressive. The prob-
lem in Britain, however, was that such a ¬gure did not ¬t easily into the
model which empirical science was constructing of human intellectual
development.
One of the more curious products of this paradox is William Sharpe™s
A Dissertation upon Genius. Sharpe attempts to remove the innatist overtones
from the idea of genius by rede¬ning it according to Lockean paradigms.
His purpose is ˜to prove, that Genius, or Taste, is not the result of simple
nature, not the effect of any cause exclusive of human assistance, and the
vicissitudes of life; but the effect of acquisition in general™. He rests his case
upon the authority of Locke™s Essay, and above all upon the principle that
our knowledge is grounded on ideas of sensation and re¬‚ection alone: if
this principle is to be allowed, he argues, together with the assumption
that prior to these operations the mind is a tabula rasa, then it follows that
˜Genius can neither act, nor exhibit itself, till these powers have been at
work [. . .].™±° Sharpe does, however, advance a positive theory of genius:

[Genius is] an aptness to receive the accession of some ideas, and to exclude
that of others; or [. . .] an active power of revolving, examining, and conferring
together the ideas thus severally and distinctly received; or [. . .] an activity,
promptitude, or aptness to unite the ideas arising from this comparison, set
them, as it were, in juxta-position, view them in their mutual habitudes and
relations, and thus investigate their consequences and conclusions.±±

Each of these qualities of genius corresponds more or less precisely to
Locke™s account of the principal acts of the mind in perception: namely,
and respectively; sensation, re¬‚ection, and the operation of ˜wit™ under
the supervision of judgement. Moreover, ˜[s]imple apprehension, or the
reception of our primary ideas™ is a business in which ˜the mind itself is
purely passive™. Again, as in Locke, any more radical notion of the mind™s
power, such as the creation of simple ideas, is precluded, as ˜this power
is no more a property of man than the power of working miracles™: ˜All
that the intellect can do, is to sort its materials, not add new ones, nor es-
sentially alter its originals [. . .].™ In this, it is similar to a ˜camera obscura™± “
an analogy which Locke had used to illustrate the operation of the
understanding in the Essay.± In Sharpe, we have a graphic and practi-
cal illustration of the limitations of Lockean empiricism when extended
into a theory of original genius.
Innatism was never going to be an adequate response either to em-
piricism™s challenge to genius to account for the ˜truth™ of its products,
µ
The eighteenth century
or to genius™s intimation that truth itself is something made, not found.
Since Descartes, the innatist doctine of ideas had enjoyed a limited life in
Britain as an expedient con¬‚ation of two different theses; one psycholog-
ical, the other epistemological. Accordingly, an explanation of the origin
of ideas or concepts was run together with an argument regarding the
grounds by which certain propositions were to be counted as necessarily
true. Not only was this out of step with the prevailing philosophy of the
early eighteenth century, then, but it was unequal to the task of coping
with the deconstructive implications the idea of creative genius carried
with regard to truth and knowledge. Theorists sympathetic to genius
(and by the late eighteenth century there were many) were accordingly
forced to make arguments mainly by metaphor and analogy, the most
ingenious and in¬‚uential of which was the paradigm of organic growth
as a model for mental development and activity. Even a conservative like
George Campbell, for example, adopts Young™s language of vegetable
growth in The Philosophy of Rhetoric when he argues that ˜[i]mprovements
[in art], unless in extraordinary instances of genius and sagacity, are not
to be expected from those who have acquired all their dexterity from
imitation and habit™, and that ˜[i]t is from the seed [i.e. rules] only you
can expect, with the aid of proper culture, to produce new varieties, and
even to make improvements on the species™.±
Despite this, the debate as to whether genius was an innate capacity
or an acquired ability ground on. In Scotland, some, such as Adam
Ferguson, still clung to the notion that genius was a birthright, and
that ˜the person, who is born to this elevation, ¬nds himself placed at
once on the height to which so few can aspire™.±µ Others, like Dugald
Stewart, sought to show ˜to how great a degree invention depends on
cultivation and habit, even in those sciences in which it is generally
supposed, that every thing depends on natural genius™.± Most, however,
tried to compromise between the two. For example, in his Dissertations
Moral and Critical, James Beattie initially observes that ˜to be a great
poet [. . .] one must have not only that capacity which is common to
all men of sense, but also a particular and distinguishing Genius, which
learning may improve, but cannot bestow™, but then adds of the nature
of genius itself that ˜it is owing partly to constitution, and partly to habit
[. . .]™.±· Indeed, as the century draws to a close, Isaac D™Israeli is noting
ruefully in his An Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary Character that
˜philosophers have not yet agreed of the nature of genius, for while some
conceive it to be a gift; others think it an acquisition™.±
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose

Invention
So long as that argument was couched in terms of a contest between
Young™s conception of genius and that of Sharpe; that is, between an
innatist and an empiricist version of genius, agreement was an impossi-
bility. In the meantime, a compromise had to be reached between the
aesthetics of creation and the strictures of foundational empiricism. In
the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the idea of artistic cre-
ativity had safely been contained by the concept of invention, used in the
sense of the discovery of something new and hitherto unknown, or the
design of a new whole out of elements previously supplied. This is
the ˜discovery™ theory of creation, discussed at the beginning of this
chapter, which owes something to Plato™s notion of the Demiurge. It
does not challenge empirical principles, though it tests them by produc-
ing new candidates for veri¬cation. Bacon, for example, has this sense in
mind in The Advancement when he claims that ˜[t]he invention of speech or
argument is not properly an invention: for to invent is to discover that we
know not, and not to recover or resummon that which we already know
[. . .]™.± Similarly, Hobbes argues in Leviathan that ˜the discourse of the
mind, when it is governed by design, is nothing but seeking, or the faculty
of invention [. . .]™.±µ° Locke™s own de¬nition of invention as a liveliness
of memory is rather more conservative, but comparable to these.±µ±
This in turn encouraged in theorists and critics a certain licence. In the
preface to his ±µ translation of Fresnoy™s De Arte Graphica, Dryden writes
of painting and poetry that ˜[i]nvention is the ¬rst part, and absolutely
necessary to them both: yet no Rule ever was or ever can be given how to
compass it™. Moreover, ˜[w]ithout Invention a Painter is but a Copier, and
a Poet but a Plagiary of others™.±µ Even Rymer ¬nds it a fault in Ariosto
that he ˜produces nothing of his own invention™.±µ There are limitations
to this freedom, however. Dryden denies that genius or invention entails,
for example, the ability to evolve ˜new Rules™ in drama, while Temple
insists that ˜[b]esides the heat of Invention and liveliness of Wit, there
must be the coldness of good Sense and soundness of Judgement™, without
which poetry is apt to be ˜wild and extravagant™.±µ
Locke™s own in¬‚uence on the development of the concept of invention,
however, exceeds that of his own de¬nition of the term. His demand
for science to use a plain and exact language suited to its investigative
purpose produced con¬‚icting demands upon poetry: on the one hand,
to conform to this standard, and, on the other, to de¬ne a space for itself
±
The eighteenth century
outside scienti¬c discourse. All the while, empiricism quietly undermined
Neoclassical rules. As a consequence, the notion of ˜invention™ is forced
to bear increasing weight in literary theory. In The Spectator No. ·,
Addison™s discussion of Paradise Lost uses the term in a way which signals
a further departure:
Milton™s Characters, most of them, lie out of Nature, and were to be formed
purely by his own Invention. It shews a greater Genius in Shakespear to have
drawn his Calyban, than his Hotspur or Julius Caesar: The one was to be supplied
out of his own Imagination, whereas the other might have been formed upon
Tradition, History, and Observation [. . .]. The Loves of Dido and Æneas are
only Copies of what has passed between other Persons. Adam and Eve, before
the Fall, are a different Species from that of Mankind [. . .] and none but a Poet
of the most unbounded Invention, and the most exquisite Judgement, cou™d
have ¬lled their Conversation and Behaviour with so many apt Circumstances
during their State of Innocence.±µµ

To an extent, what this passage signi¬es is a shift in tone and emphasis.
In general, Addison is far less concerned than Rymer had been with con-
cepts such as ˜decorum™, ˜propriety™, and ˜correctness™, and his reference
to ˜exquisite Judgement™ here has the look of an afterthought: it might
easily have been placed in parentheses. The greatest innovation, how-
ever, is in the idea that invention might create what lies ˜out of Nature™,
or what exceeds the sum total or aggregate of the poet™s accumulated
experience of the world via ˜Tradition, History, and Observation™. This,
more radical notion of invention is echoed by the anonymous author
of the Two Dissertions concerning Sense and the Imagination, with an Essay on
Consciousness (±·) when he writes that
Imagination, when under the Conduct and Direction of Reason, is the Instrument
of that noble Faculty of the Mind, called Invention. For tho™ we often give the
name or title of Invention to a new Discovery, or the ¬nding out something that
was not known before [. . .] yet, I think, in strictness the Term Invention is most
properly applicable to some rational Work or Performance, which is different
from any thing we have perceived by our Senses.±µ

The reference to the ˜Conduct and direction of Reason™ is revealing,
for the author is a rationalist who, in the main, is in reaction against
Locke. Consequently, he is rather more generous in his estimate of the
territory of reason than Addison. By contrast, it is as a consequence of
the absence of any alternative principle of veri¬cation that the earlier
writer™s account of invention effectively stretches empiricism to breaking
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
point. This strain persists in the work of later advocates of original genius,
such as Joseph Warton. In his An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope,
Warton enthuses over ˜the genuine poet, of a lively plastic imagination,
the true  « or   ™, who is ˜so uncommon a prodigy™,±µ· and
numbers among the ˜few transcendent geniuses™.±µ But so indebted is he
to the Lockean account of perception, that he can give no grounds for
distinguishing the poetical truth produced by genius from historical fact,
other in that it provides a ˜minute and particular enumeration of cir-
cumstances judiciously selected™, and thereby approaches ˜a more close
and faithful representation of nature than the latter™.±µ
It was with good reason, then, that Samuel Johnson was so suspicious
of the kind of imagination presented by contemporary psychology. As
he wrote in The Rambler no. ±µ, it was ˜a licentious and vagrant faculty,
unsusceptible of limitations, and impatient of restraint™, which frustrated
the logician by producing ˜some innovation, which, when invented and
approved, subverts the rules which the practice of foregoing authors
had established™.±° This disapproving tone might sound jarring if viewed
against his later declarations in Lives of the English Poets that ˜[t]he highest
praise of genius is original invention™ and ˜[t]he essence of poetry is
invention™,±± but Johnson is scrupulous to con¬ne his own sense of imag-
ination to empirical duties of recovering and rearranging the mind™s em-
pirically given furniture.± As he puts it in The Idler, in a now-familiar
formula, ˜[i]magination selects ideas from the treasures of remembrance,
and produces novelty only by varied combinations™.± By denying imagi-
nation even the modest epistemic role of discovery, he presents an ac-
count that is in its essentials more conservative than that of Addison
or earlier critics. Accordingly, when he praises Pope for having ˜all the
qualities that constitute genius™, invention, being one of these, is given as
that activity ˜by which new trains of events are formed and new scenes
of imagery displayed [. . .]™.± Johnson™s ambivalence reveals how two
imaginations were struggling for priority in the eighteenth century: one
foundational, the synthetic under-labourer to epistemology; the other
aesthetic, ¬gurative, and indifferent to the claims of knowledge. This is
not to say that the two were divided as cleanly as this distinction suggests:
that theirs was as much a relationship of complicity as antagonism was, of
course, precisely what worried Johnson. That said, his censorious inton-
ings hardly represent the cutting edge of eighteenth-century theories of
imagination. Instead, the major advances were taking place north of the
border, and particularly in the work of Alexander Gerard and William
Duff.

The eighteenth century

The Scottish ˜Genius™
The most signi¬cant contribution of the Scottish school to the theory of
genius is in its naturalistic (i.e. non-sceptical) appropriation of Hume™s
discussion of the epistemic function of association and its linking of
this to the new sense of invention, encouraged by models of scienti¬c
progress, as a process of discovery. The genius was thus a person of un-
usual quickness, clarity, comprehensiveness, and plasticity of imaginative
association, who, by the regular operations of this faculty, explored new
regions for knowledge and ˜invented™ new truths.
Gerard had already moved some distance along these lines in his prize-
winning An Essay on Taste (±·µ), when he had written that ˜[t]he ¬rst and
leading quality of genius is invention, which consists in a great extent and
comprehensiveness of imagination, in a readiness of associating the re-
motest ideas that are any way related™.±µ In the ±·· An Essay on Genius he
expands these thoughts into a comprehensive theory which in its rigour
and analysis is considerably in advance of Duff™s earlier (though in many
respects, similar) An Essay on Original Genius (±··). For both writers, the
role of association is fundamental. To Gerard, invention ˜can be accom-
plished only by assembling ideas in various positions and arrangements,
that we may obtain uncommon views of them™,± while Duff refers to
the imagination™s ˜plastic power of inventing new associations of ideas,
and of combining them with in¬nite variety™, by which genius ˜is enabled
to present a creation of its own, and to exhibit scenes and objects which
never existed in nature™.±· Similarly, both are at pains to assert that this
process is a regular one, though in this, as in so many other cases, it is
Gerard who is the more penetrating. ˜Genius™, he writes, ˜requires a pe-
culiar vigour of association. In order to produce it, the imagination must
be comprehensive, regular, and active.™ It is the regularity of imagination
which ˜enables the associating principles, not only to introduce proper
ideas, but also to connect the design of the whole with every idea that is
introduced™.± Moreover, Gerard goes beyond Duff by introducing the
model of ordered vegetative growth to illustrate the power imagination
has to unite conception and association:
This faculty bears a greater resemblance to nature in its operations, than to the
less perfect energies of art. When a vegetable draws in moisture from the earth,
nature, by the same action by which it draws it in, and at the same time, converts
it to the nourishment of the plant: it at once circulates through its vessels, and is
assimilated to its several parts. In like manner, genius arranges its ideas by the
same operation, and almost at the same time, that it collects them.±
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
It might seem curious, given this model of possible organic unity, that
Gerard is no more inclined to assert the epistemic autonomy of imagi-
nation than Duff. However, useful as it was, the vegetable principle was
still an argument from analogy. It made up for some of the de¬ciencies
of associationist psychology, but it did not have the required suitability of
¬t to combine with it completely: there was something intractably mech-
anistic about the eighteenth-century empirical view of the human mind.
As it was, though Duff and Gerard af¬rm the priority of imagination, they
both deny that it is a suf¬cient condition for genius. As Gerard himself
puts it, though ˜genius be properly a comprehensive, regular, and active
imagination, yet it can never attain perfection [. . .] except it be united
with a sound and piercing judgement™.±·°
Gerard, it must be noted, is not entirely consistent in giving imagina-
tion the lead in the activity of genius. There are times when judgement
seems to be the ruling principle, as when he claims that it ˜assists the
imagination, by putting it in the track of invention, as well as by control-
ing and regulating its operations™. Nonetheless, it is, he suggests, through
this combination of an active imagination with a vigilant judgement
that genius is able to anticipate the very principles by which its pro-
ductions are to be assessed, for ˜critics discovered the rules which they
prescribe, only by remarking those laws by which true genius, though
uninstructed, had actually governed itself ™. At moments such as this in
the Essay on Genius, as well as when he claims that imagination has a
˜creative power™ whereby it ˜confers something original™±·± upon even
simple ideas, he appears to be very close to Kant™s de¬nition of genius
as that human talent through which nature gives the rule to art. There
is at least one important difference, however, between Gerard™s view of
genius and that of Kant. This amounts to the difference between holding
genius™s transgression of the rules to be permissible on the grounds of its
inventiveness, and believing that genius is itself the source, or creator of
the very rules by which it is to be judged, or (in Kant™s terms) that it is
exemplary in its actions. Though both accounts of genius base themselves
on foundationalist theories of knowledge, Gerard™s implicit empiricism
will not allow him to see imagination as transforming our real relations
with nature.±·
In other words, it is clear that Gerard, like Duff, holds a view of in-
vention as discovery, rather than as rule-creation. Duff writes that original
geniuses have an ability ˜to conceive and present to their own minds,
in one distinct view, all the numerous and most distant relations of the
objects on which they employ it; by which means they are quali¬ed to
µ
The eighteenth century
make great improvements and discoveries in the arts and sciences™.±·
Likewise, Gerard de¬nes genius as ˜the faculty of invention; by means of
which a man is quali¬ed for making new discoveries in science, or for
producing original works of art™. And it is because of the fact that ˜in
all the arts, invention has always been regarded as the only criterion of
Genius™, that ˜we allow the artist who excels in it, the privilege of trans-
gressing established rules [. . .]™.±· Moreover, though the discovery thesis
offers writers a means of articulating human creativity while retaining a
certain ¬delity to empiricism, it will not permit them to exceed certain
key principles, such as the representational view of perception. Thus,
even Gerard concedes that the ˜brightest imagination can suggest no
idea which is not originally derived from sense and memory™. Indeed,
˜[g]ive it a stock of simple ideas, and it will produce an endless variety of
complex notions: but as we can create no new substance, so neither can
we, except perhaps in a few very peculiar instances, imagine the idea
of a simple quality which we have never had access to observe™.±·µ In
this respect, Gerard has not yet broken free from Locke™s orbit: creation
remains bound to foundations.
The closing decade of the eighteenth century saw a few innovations in
Scottish theory which signalled further development in the concept of in-
vention. Two factors contributed to this: the gradual (though not always
consistent) absorption of Reid™s commonsensism, and the widespread
adoption of Burke™s position that the language of poetry is non-imitative.
In his ±· Principles, for instance, Adam Ferguson supplements the
Burkean stance with a metaphysical argument. For though he considers
the self-assumed role of the writer to be a creator ex nihilo to be merely a
poetic affectation, he does see language generally as ˜the ¬rst and most
wonderful production of human genius [. . .]™. In this, he continues, ˜the
created mind is itself a creator. Worlds [sic] in the language of Plato, have
sprung from the ideas of Eternal Mind; and language is the emanation of
idea in the mind of man.™ Ferguson, however, fails to pursue this thought
in the direction which it was to take Coleridge, and falls back on the
old idea of the poet as a discoverer and ˜maker™. Poetry, then, represents
˜the attempt [. . .] rather to new model the forms of nature to our own
purpose or taste, than to preserve them such as they actually are™.±·
Dugald Stewart, meanwhile, being at one with Reid on the issue of
abstraction, feels able to agree with Burke that the purpose of poetry
is not simply to ˜ “raise ideas in the mind” ™. Stewart™s most provoking
comment in the Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, however, is
made during his discussion of invention itself, which, he claims, must
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
be distinguished from the notion of discovery: ˜The object of the former
[. . .] is to produce something which had no existence before; that
of the latter, to bring to light something which did exist, but which
was concealed from common observation.™±·· Invention is that activ-
ity whereby improvements are effected in the arts, and discovery that
whereby we advance in knowledge. By de¬ning artistic inventiveness in
such a way, Stewart effectively blocks any cognitive theory of poetic value,
thereby joining Ferguson in effectively con¬ning the ¬ne arts (poetry
included) to the status of ornaments.±· In effect, Reid™s opposition to
representationism has been extended by Stewart into a deep suspicion
of any action of imagination upon the foundational data of perception. If
perception provides a direct apprehension of the object, Stewart argues,
then imagination™s function must be ˜to make a selection of qualities and
of circumstances, from a variety of different objects, and by combin-
ing and disposing these to form a new creation of its own™. The poet™s
province, accordingly, ˜is limited to combine and modify things which
really exist, so as to produce new wholes of his own [. . .]™. However, that
command which the inventor has over his ideas, he claims, is entirely
the result of acquired habit and learned general rules. Consequently,
Stewart is severely critical of the tradition which encouraged ˜that blind

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