The problem with libraries is that they can
be so large, impressive, and filled with knowledge
that they unwittingly embed in us an idea
that everything worth registering, everything
valuable and true, must lie ‘out there’,
must already have been classed on a shelf
with an index number to await our discovery
the moment we cease to be so preoccupied with
But what this modest, respectful and quietly
self-hating conclusion disguises is that each
one of us is an unparalleled and superlative
center of knowledge in and of ourselves; our
minds have more ideas stored in them than
are to be found in the collective catalogues
of the Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de
Coimbra, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New
York and the British library in London; we
have vaults filled with a greater number of
moving and beautiful scenes than those of
the world’s greatest museums put together.
We are just failing to wander the stacks and
galleries as often as we should; we are failing
to notice what we have seen.
So convinced are we that insights of worth
lie beyond us, we have omitted to consult
the treasury of thoughts and visions generated
every hour by our endlessly brilliant, fatefully
The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson
once remarked: ‘In the minds of geniuses,
we find – once more – our own neglected thoughts.’
In other words, geniuses don’t have thoughts
that are in the end so very different from
our own; they have simply had the confidence
to take them more seriously.
Rather than imagining that their minds are
only a pale shadow of the minds of infinitely
greater thinkers who lived and died elsewhere
long ago, they have been respectful enough
of their existence to conceive that one or
two properly valuable ideas might plausibly
chose to alight in the familiar aviary of
their own intelligences.
Thinking is – in a way we generally refuse
to imagine – a truly democratic activity.
We all have very similar and very able minds;
where geniuses differ is in their more confident
inclinations to study them properly.