Talented people can be unpleasant or immoral. But do they behave worse than the untalented? Not always.

From You Might Find Yourself:

Haydn is an interesting figure, for he refutes in his own person the romantic notion that a creative person must either be tormented or a swine. (Haydn was tormented, but only by his wife who was a shrew, and that is not the kind of torment that the romantics mean. They mean inner torment.) Haydn is universally acknowledged to have been a delightful man with the most equable temperament; but the virtual inventor of the string quartet, and masterly composer for it, can hardly be denied the title of genius. Mozart deeply and sincerely revered him; there could hardly be a better testimonial than that.

Another undoubted genius of the most attractive character who comes to mind is Chekhov, probably the greatest writer of short-stories who ever lived. No doubt there has been a deal of hagiography in the way that he has been memorialised; but not even the late Christopher Hitchens could have debunked him in even a minimally convincing way. Few men have ever had such an inextinguishable if evasive charm; even Tolstoy, who was not easy to please, least of all by people who were not contented to be his uncritical acolytes and were his equals, loved him.

Personally, I have never been convinced of the supposed link between genius, or even great talent, and bad character. Perhaps I have been unusually fortunate, but the people of real distinction whom I have met, some of the greatest men or women in their fields, have mostly been delightful people into the bargain (though not quite all, but I will not reveal the exceptions). In my experience, it is the moderately talented, those with some talent but enough self-knowledge to wish it were more and worry themselves that it is not, who have a tendency to unpleasantness, for they are disappointed and often bitter that their reach exceeded their grasp.

A friend of mine once told me that a famous Russian writer – Pushkin, I think it was – once said that no real genius could be an evil man, that evil was incompatible with genius. I have thought about this question on and off ever since. To decide the question properly, according to the current canons of science, one should have an operational definition of both genius and evil, then select a number of geniuses at random and see whether any of them displayed evil. (The number of geniuses you would have to select for examination of their character would rather depend on the number of evil people you expected in a random sample of ordinary people. The smaller the proportion, the large the number of geniuses necessary. And even then there would remain the black swan problem: because 1000 geniuses had no evil characters among them would not mean that the 1001st genius would not be evil.)

What Pushkin – if indeed it was Pushkin – meant was that there was and is an intrinsic incompatibility between genius and evil. Of course, it is not very difficult to think of geniuses with profound flaws of character: Sir Isaac Newton, for example, was inclined to paranoia, could be cruel, and was not much fun. But no one would call him evil, and quite apart from his brilliance as a scientist he was as capable of great wisdom as of great foolishness.

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