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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

J. M. Barrie (1860–1937)

A Home for Geniuses

From “A Window in Thrums”

FROM hints he had dropped at odd times I knew that Tammas Haggart had a scheme for geniuses, but not until the evening after Jamie’s arrival did I get it out of him. Hendry was with Jamie at the fishing, and it came about that Tammas and I had the pig-sty to ourselves.

“Of course,” he said, when we had got a grip of the subject, “I doun’t pretend as my ideas is to be followed without deeviation, but ondootedly something should be done for geniuses, them bein’ aboot the only class as we do naething for. Yet they’re fowk to be prood o’, an’ we shouldna let them overdo the thing, nor run into debt; na, na. There was Robbie Burns, noo, as real a genius as ever——”

At the pig-sty, where we liked to have more than one topic, we had frequently to tempt Tammas away from Burns.

“Your scheme,” I interposed, “is for living geniuses, of course?”

“Aye,” he said thoughtfully, “them ’at’s gone canna be brocht back. Weel, my idea is ’at a home should be built for geniuses at the public expense, whaur they could all live thegither, an be decently looked after. Na, no in London; that’s no my plan, but I would hae’t within an hour’s distance o’ London, say five mile frae the market-place, an’ standin’ in a bit garden, whaur the geniuses could walk aboot arm in arm, composin’ their minds.”

“You would have the grounds walled in, I suppose, so that the public could not intrude?”

“Weel, there’s a difficulty there, because, ye’ll observe, as the public would support the institootion, they would hae a kind o’ richt to look in. How-some-ever, I daur say we could arrange to fling the grounds open to the public once a week on condition ’at they didna speak to the geniuses. I’m thinkin’ ’at if there was a small chairge for admission the home could be made self-supportin’. Losh! to think ’at if there had been sic an institootion in his time a man might hae sat on the bit dike and watched Robbie Burns danderin’ roond the——”

“You would divide the home into suites of rooms, so that every inmate would have his own apartments?”

“Not by no means; na, na. The mair I read aboot geniuses the mair clearly I see as their wy o’ living alane ower muckle is ane o’ the things as breaks doon their health and makes them meeserable. I’ the home they would hae a bedroom apiece, but the parlour an’ the other sittin’-rooms would be for all, so as they could enjoy ane another’s company. The management? Oh, that’s aisy! The superintendent would be a medical man appointed by Parliament, and he would hae men-servants to do his biddin’.”

“Not all men-servants, surely?”

“Every one o’ them. Man, geniuses is no to be trusted wi’ womenfolk. No, even Robbie Bu——”

“So he did; but would the inmates have to put themselves entirely in the superintendent’s hands?”

“Nae doubt; an’ they would see it was the wisest thing they could do. He would be careful o’ their health, an’ send them early to bed as weel as hae them up at eight sharp. Geniuses’ healths is always breakin’ doon because of late hours, as in the case o’ the lad wha used often to begin his immortal writin’s at twal o’clock at nicht, a thing ’at would ruin ony constitootion. But the superintendent would see as they had a tasty supper at nine o’clock—something as agreed wi’ them. Then for half an hour they would quiet their brains readin’ oot aloud, time about, frae sic a book as the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ an’ the gas would be turned aff at ten preceesely.”

“When would you have them up in the morning?”

“At sax in summer an’ seven in winter. The superintendent would see as they were all properly bathed every mornin’, cleanliness bein’ most important for the preservation o’ health.”

“This sounds well. But suppose a genius broke the rules—lay in bed, for instance, reading by the light of a candle after hours, or refused to take his bath in the morning?”

“The superintendent would hae to punish him. The genius would be sent back to his bed, maybe. An’ if he lay lang i’ the mornin’ he would hae to gang withoot his breakfast.”

“That would be all very well where the inmate only broke the regulations once in a way. But suppose he were to refuse to take his bath day after day—and, you know, geniuses are said to be eccentric in that particular—what would be done? You could not starve him; geniuses are too scarce.”

“Na, na; in a case like that he would hae to be reported to the public. The thing would hae to come afore the Hoose of Commons. Aye, the superintendent would get a member o’ the opposeetion to ask a queistion such as, ‘Can the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, inform the Hoose whether it is a fac that Mr. Sic-a-one, the well-known genius, at present resident in the Home for Geniuses, has, contrairy to regulations, perseestently and obstinately refused to change his linen; and if so, whether the Government proposes to take ony steps in the matter?’ The newspapers would report the discussion next mornin’, an’ so it would be made public withoot onnecessary ootlay.”

“In a general way, however, you would give the geniuses perfect freedom? They could work when they liked, and come and go when they liked?”

“Not so. The superintendent would fix the hours o’ wark, an’ they would all write, or whatever it was, thegither in one large room. Man, man! it would mak a grand draw for a painter-chield, that room, wi’ all the geniuses working awa thegither.”

“But when the labours of the day were over, the genius would be at liberty to make calls by himself or to run up, say, to London for an hour or two?”

“Hoots no, that would spoil everything. It’s the drink, ye see, as does for a terrible lot o’ geniuses. Even Rob——”

“Alas! yes. But would you have them all teetotalers?”

“What do ye tak me for? Na, na; the superintendent would allow them one glass o’ toddy every nicht, an’ mix it himsel’; but he would never let the keys o’ the press, whaur he kept the drink, oot o’ his hands. They would never be allowed oot o’ the gairden either, withoot a man to look after them; an’ I wouldna burthen them wi’ ower muckle pocket-money. Saxpence in the week would be suffeecient.”

“How about their clothes?”

“They would get twa suits a year, wi’ the letter G sewed on the shoulders, so as if they were lost they could be recognised and brocht back.”

“Certainly it is a scheme deserving consideration, and I have no doubt our geniuses would jump at it. But you must remember that some of them would have wives.”

“Aye, an’ some o’ them would hae husbands. I’ve been thinkin’ that oot, an’ I daur say the best plan would be to partition aff a pairt o’ the home for female geniuses.”

“Would Parliament elect the members?”

“I wouldna trust them. The election would hae to be by competitive examination. Na, I canna say wha would draw up the queistions. The scheme’s juist growin’ i’ my mind, but the mair I think o’t the better I like it.”