Alexandre Dumas on creativity and constraint

Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced — from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.

— In Alexandre Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo the wrongfully imprisoned Edmond Dantès, marveling at the elegant tools and writings the indomitable Abbé Faria created from prison discards exclaims, “What would you not have accomplished if you had been free?” The Abbé’s response highlights how true creativity and ingenuity are born in constraint. (Chapter 17, “In the Abbé’s Cell”)

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