The Nature of Genius

Capt. Little here lays out how previous study and practical experience is the key to genius – at least in a military context here.

Marshal Soult said, however, that “that which is called an inspiration is simply a calculation rapidly made and another great authority has said that “inspiration was frequently but a timely recollection,” which is but a paraphrase of the saying that the “soul of wit is apt quotation.”
Napoleon has himself revealed to us what is to be thought of his innate genius, when, in a conversation with Senator Roederer, the 6th of March; he said:

As for myself, I am always at work, I meditate a great deal. If I seem always prepared to reply to all, to meet all, it is that before undertaking anything, I have meditated’ a long time, I have foreseen what might occur. It is not a genius which reveals to me Suddenly, in secret, what I am to say or do in an emergency by the rest of people unexpected–it is my reflection, it is my meditation. I am constantly at work, at meals, at the theater; at night I get up to work.

The distinguished French military writer, from whom the above is quoted, ” General Pierron, in an attempt to ferret out the secret of Napoleon’s wonderful military capacity, has discovered that the main points of his most brilliant campaign, the campaign in Italy of 796, were taken from the Memoires of the Marshal de Maillebois, who had commanded in that theater fifty years before (1746), ,and from a paper of General de Bourcet, in which there is a review of operations in Italy in 1733.

It is not generally known that before assuming command of the Army of Italy, Napoleon had previously served in the same army its chief of artillery, and from there was transferred to the general staff in Paris, where he prepared a plan of campaign for that army, at which time he saw the books referred to. In a conversation on this subject the late Major Churchill of the army related the two following stories in illustration:

An officer who had served on the staff of General Sherman in the March to the Sea, was telling Major Churchill of the General’s wonderful, intuitive grasp of terrain, and gave as an example how one day the General was laying out the order of march, and said such a column will ford the Chattahoochee at such a point.”-“General, there isn’t any ford shown on the map; hadn’t we better send a reconnoitering party to find out?”-” Oh, no; I’m sure they will be able to find a ford there somewhere,” and sure enough they did!
Then the Major laughed; for he remembered that when he was a boy accompanying his father, Colonel Churchill, who was conducting the survey of that section, Lieutenant Wm. Tecumseh Sherman, of the third artillery, reported for duty, and that Lieutenant Sherman and he had crossed that ford together many a time!

The other story was that a man was insisting on the intuitive, inborn instinct of sign reading possessed by the Indians. “Oh, said his companion, “the white man could do the same under proper training.”-“Never, never in the world!”
Just then the rattle was heard of an ice cart passing in the street. “What’s that? -That’s an ice cart.”-“How did you know that? An Indian would have thought that wonderful.”

The Strategic Naval War Game or Chart Maneuver by Capt W. McCarty Little, USN, p1215

This seems connected to Liddell Hart’s observations that military genius isn’t necessarily a mysterious inborn trait, but the result of practical experience and previous study.

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