Genius, humanity, and connecting 

Even the most isolated misanthropes need to connect, in some form or other…
From the monumental book Beethoven, His Spiritual Development by JWN Sullivan, published 1927:

This contempt [that Beethoven had for the masses, despite his constant yearning to connect with and embrace humanity] was by no means always savage; it was often robustly good-humored.  But there can be no question but it was there.  It was perfectly compatible with that love for humanity he afterwards professed, for that love was based on the vision that came to him of humanity as a suffering humanity…To such a man the majority of human being are more or less random collections of borrowed emotions and borrowed ideas.  They are, to an extent he finds it difficult to understand, the result of their accidental circumstances.  He feels in them an entire absence of the integrating strength and courage that dwells in himself.  Their culture and morality, their aims in life, even their joys and sorrows, seem to him merely characterless reflections of their environment…They are never honest. for the last thing they wold want to face is themselves in their essential loneliness.  With such creatures a man of Beethoven’s kind could never be really intimate.  He could treat them with rough good humor or, if they offended him, he could blaze out in contemptuous wrath.  But he could never treat them with the consideration and respect that a man shows towards his equals…Beethoven had plenty of enemies who could never forget the wounds to their vanity that he had inflicted.  But also, besides the men he genuinely respected, he had plenty of friends who put up with his contemptuous lack of restraint.  At times he tried to be coldly diplomatic towards people and to conceal from them the contempt he felt.

And he had to, for, like Mozart before him, he had very few friends who truly were able to fathom the genius in their midst.  For most people genius is just “somebody who’s really smart.”  And often really lonely.


2 responses

  1. Good one, John! I never knew this about Beethoven. I hate to think of great people has being lonely. But maybe that is part of what made him great.

    Nice to “connect” with you.



    June 24, 2010 at 9:14 am

  2. Well, for Beethoven it was particularly easy to be lonely, as he was deaf most of his life and this was before hearing aids were available. He did use very primitive “ear trumpets,” to little effect.

    For Beethoven’s contemporary Schubert it was even worse. No deafness, but he was painfully shy. So much so that while he idolized Beethoven and they lived in the same city, he never sought him out, being afraid to approach him.


    July 8, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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