What Is Man?

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.

Download the rest of What is Man? by Mark Twain.

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