O.M. Not a shred of it. IT GREW OUT OF THIS TALK WITH ME. But for that it would not have occurred to you. No man ever originates anything. All his thoughts, all his impulses, come FROM THE OUTSIDE.

Y.M. It's an exasperating subject. The FIRST man had original thoughts, anyway; there was nobody to draw from.

O.M. It is a mistake. Adam's thoughts came to him from the outside. YOU have a fear of death. You did not invent that--you got it from outside, from talking and teaching. Adam had no fear of death--none in the world.

Y.M. Yes, he had.

O.M. When he was created?

Y.M. No.

O.M. When, then?

Y.M. When he was threatened with it.

O.M. Then it came from OUTSIDE. Adam is quite big enough; let us not try to make a god of him. NONE BUT GODS HAVE EVER HAD A THOUGHT WHICH DID NOT COME FROM THE OUTSIDE. Adam probably had a good head, but it was of no sort of use to him until it was filled up FROM THE OUTSIDE. He was not able to invent the triflingest little thing with it. He had not a shadow of a notion of the difference between good and evil--he had to get the idea FROM THE OUTSIDE. Neither he nor Eve was able to originate the idea that it was immodest to go naked; the knowledge came in with the apple FROM THE OUTSIDE. A man's brain is so constructed that IT CAN ORIGINATE NOTHING WHATSOEVER. It can only use material obtained OUTSIDE. It is merely a machine; and it works automatically, not by will-power. IT HAS NO COMMAND OVER ITSELF, ITS OWNER HAS NO COMMAND OVER IT.

Y.M. Well, never mind Adam: but certainly Shakespeare's creations--

O.M. No, you mean Shakespeare's IMITATIONS. Shakespeare created nothing. He correctly observed, and he marvelously painted. He exactly portrayed people whom GOD had created; but he created none himself. Let us spare him the slander of charging him with trying. Shakespeare could not create. HE WAS A MACHINE, AND MACHINES DO NOT CREATE.

Y.M. Where WAS his excellence, then?

O.M. In this. He was not a sewing-machine, like you and me; he was a Gobelin loom. The threads and the colors came into him FROM THE OUTSIDE; outside influences, suggestions, EXPERIENCES (reading, seeing plays, playing plays, borrowing ideas, and so on), framed the patterns in his mind and started up his complex and admirable machinery, and IT AUTOMATICALLY turned out that pictured and gorgeous fabric which still compels the astonishment of the world. If Shakespeare had been born and bred on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect would have had no OUTSIDE MATERIAL to work with, and could have invented none; and NO OUTSIDE INFLUENCES, teachings, moldings, persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing. In Turkey he would have produced something--something up to the highest limit of Turkish influences, associations, and training. In France he would have produced something better--something up to the highest limit of the French influences and training. In England he rose to the highest limit attainable through the OUTSIDE HELPS AFFORDED BY THAT LAND'S IDEALS, INFLUENCES, AND TRAINING. You and I are but sewing-machines. We must turn out what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.

Y.M. And so we are mere machines! And machines may not boast, nor feel proud of their performance, nor claim personal merit for it, nor applause and praise. It is an infamous doctrine.

O.M. It isn't a doctrine, it is merely a fact.

Y.M. I suppose, then, there is no more merit in being brave than in being a coward?

O.M. PERSONAL merit? No. A brave man does not CREATE his bravery. He is entitled to no personal credit for possessing it. It is born to him. A baby born with a billion dollars--where is the personal merit in that? A baby born with nothing--where is the personal demerit in that? The one is fawned upon, admired, worshiped, by sycophants, the other is neglected and despised-- where is the sense in it?


Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson