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date: 05 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The use of genius to mean “innate intellectual or creative power of an exceptional or exalted type” (OED) emerged in the 1770s, in the writings of William Duff and Alexander Gerard. Until then, “genius” meant only a talent of one kind or another, generally subordinated to taste or discipline. Even “original genius” was merely one kind among others. It became something more special in Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition, and was by Young and Duff particularly associated with lyric poetry. But even in them, genius is a psychological characteristic; in eighteenth-century usage poetic geniuses were rough and untutored, or naive prodigies, or rustic and primitive, or otherwise socially isolated. In much poetry of the era the (typically solitary) genius replaces the (social and military) hero. Even as late as Goethe’s last novel, William Meister’s Journeymanship, genius is a guiding spirit (a Genius in German) and not a sublime power of soul (Genie).

Keywords: poetry, genius, imitation, lyric, education, originality, psychology, heroism, sociability

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