Out Of Place
The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be
born with a bias to some pursuit, which finds him in employment
The art of putting the right man in the right place is perhaps
the first in the science of government, but the art of finding
a satisfactory position for the discontented is the most
It is a celebrated thought of Socrates, that if all the
misfortunes of mankind were cast into a public stock, in order
to be equally distributed among the whole species, those who
now think themselves the most unhappy would prefer the share
they are already possessed of, before that which would fall to
them by such a division.
I was born to other things.
How many a rustic Milton has passed by,
Stifling the speechless longings of his heart,
In unremitting drudgery and care!
How many a vulgar Cato has compelled
His energies, no longer tameless then,
To mould a pin, or fabricate a nail.
"But I'm good for something," pleaded a young man whom a merchant was
about to discharge for his bluntness. "You are good for nothing as a
salesman," said his employer. "I am sure I can be useful," said the
youth. "How? Tell me how." "I don't know, sir, I don't know." "Nor do
I," said the merchant, laughing at the earnestness of his clerk. "Only
don't put me away, sir, don't put me away. Try me at something besides
selling. I cannot sell; I know I cannot sell." "I know that, too," said
the principal; "that is what is wrong." "But I can make myself useful
somehow," persisted the young man; "I know I can." He was placed in the
counting-house, where his aptitude for figures soon showed itself, and
in a few years he became not only chief cashier in the large store, but
an eminent accountant.
"Out of an art," says Bulwer, "a man may be so trivial you would mistake
him for an imbecile--at best, a grown infant. Put him into his art, and
how high he soars above you! How quietly he enters into a heaven of
which he has become a denizen, and unlocking the gates with his golden
key, admits you to follow, an humble reverent visitor."
A man out of place is like a fish out of water. Its fins mean nothing,
they are only a hindrance. The fish can do nothing but flounder out of
its element. But as soon as the fins feel the water, they mean
something. Fifty-two per cent of our college graduates studied law, not
because, in many cases, they have the slightest natural aptitude for it,
but because it is put down as the proper road to promotion.
A man never grows in personal power and moral stamina when out of his
place. If he grows at all, it is a narrow, one-sided, stunted growth,
not a manly growth. Nature abhors the slightest perversion of natural
aptitude or deviation from the sealed orders which accompany every soul
into this world.
A man out of place is not half a man. He feels unmanned, unsexed. He
cannot respect himself, hence he cannot be respected.
You can enter all kinds of horses for a race, but only those which have
natural adaptation for speed will make records; the others will only
make themselves ridiculous by their lumbering, unnatural exertions to
win. How many truck and family-horse lawyers make themselves ridiculous
by trying to speed on the law track, where courts and juries only laugh
at them. The effort to redeem themselves from scorn may enable them by
unnatural exertions to become fairly passable, but the same efforts
along the line of their strength or adaptation would make them kings in
"Jonathan," said Mr. Chace, when his son told of having nearly fitted
himself for college, "thou shalt go down to the machine-shop on Monday
morning." It was many years before Jonathan escaped from the shop to
work his way up to the position of a man of great influence as a United
States Senator from Rhode Island.
Galileo was sent to the university at Pisa at seventeen, with the
strict injunction not to neglect medical subjects for the alluring study
of philosophy or literature. But when he was eighteen he discovered the
great principle of the pendulum by a lamp left swinging in the
John Adams' father was a shoemaker; and, trying to teach his son the
art, gave him some "uppers" to cut out by a pattern which had a
three-cornered hole in it to hang it up by. The future statesman
followed the pattern, hole and all.
There is a tradition that Tennyson's first poems were published at the
instigation of his father's coachman. His grandfather gave the lad ten
shillings for writing an elegy on his grandmother. As he handed it to
him, he said; "There, that's the first money you ever earned by your
poetry, and take my word for it, it will be the last."
Murillo's mother had marked her boy for a priest, but nature had already
laid her hand upon him and marked him for her own. His mother was
shocked on returning from church one day to find that the child had
taken down the sacred family picture, "Jesus and the Lamb," and had
painted his own hat on the Saviour's head, and had changed the lamb into
The poor boy's home was broken up, and he started out on foot and alone
to seek his fortune. All he had was courage and determination to make
something of himself. He not only became a famous artist, but a man of
"Let us people who are so uncommonly clever and learned," says
Thackeray, "have a great tenderness and pity for the folks who are not
endowed with the prodigious talents which we have. I have always had a
regard for dunces,--those of my own school days were among the
pleasantest of the fellows, and have turned out by no means the dullest
in life; whereas, many a youth who could turn off Latin hexameters by
the yard, and construe Greek quite glibly, is no better than a feeble
prig now, with not a pennyworth more brains than were in his head before
his beard grew."
"In the winter of 1824, there set in a great flood upon the town of
Sidmouth, the tide rose to a terrible height. In the midst of this
sublime and terrible storm, Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach,
was seen at the door of her house, with mop and pattens, trundling her
mop, squeezing out the sea-water, and vigorously pushing away the
Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was roused. Mrs. Partington's spirit was
up: but I need not tell you the contest was unequal; the Atlantic Ocean
beat Mrs. Partington. She was excellent at a slop or a puddle, but she
should not have meddled with a tempest."
How many Dame Partingtons there are of both sexes, and in every walk of
The young swan is restless and uneasy until she finds the element she
has never before seen. Then,
"With arched neck
Between her white wings mantling proudly, rows
Her state with oary feet."
What a wretched failure was that of Haydon the painter. He thought he
failed through the world's ingratitude or injustice, but his failure was
due wholly to his being out of place. His bitter disappointments at his
half successes were really pitiable because to him they were more than
failures. He had not the slightest sense of color, yet went through life
under the delusion that he was an artist.
"If it is God's will to take any of my children by death, I hope it may
be Isaac," said the father of Dr. Isaac Barrow. "Why do you tell that
blockhead the same thing twenty times over?" asked John Wesley's father.
"Because," replied his mother, "if I had told him but nineteen times,
all my labor would have been lost, while now he will understand and
A man out of place may manage to get a living, but he has lost the
buoyancy, energy and enthusiasm which are as natural to a man in his
place as his breath. He is industrious, but he works mechanically and
without heart. It is to support himself and family, _not because he
cannot help it_. Dinner time does not come two hours before he realizes
it; a man out of place is constantly looking at his watch and thinking
of his salary.
If a man is in his place he is happy, joyous, cheerful, energetic,
fertile in resources. The days are all too short for him. All his
faculties give their consent to his work; say "yes" to his occupation.
He is a man; he respects himself and is happy because all his powers are
at play in their natural sphere. There is no compromising of his
faculties, no cramping of legal acumen upon the farm; no suppressing of
forensic oratorical powers at the shoemaker's bench; no stifling of
exuberance of physical strength, of visions of golden crops and blooded
cattle amid the loved country life in the dry clergyman's study,
composing sermons to put the congregation to sleep.
To be out of place is demoralizing to all the powers of manhood. We
can't cheat nature out of her aim; if she has set all the currents of
your life toward medicine or law, you will only be a botch at anything
else. Will-power and application cannot make a farmer of a born painter
any more than a lumbering draught horse can be changed into a race
horse. When the powers are not used along the line of their strength
they become demoralized, weakened, deteriorated. Self-respect,
enthusiasm and courage ooze out; we become half-hearted and success is
Scott was called the great blockhead while in Edinburgh College. Grant's
mother called the future General and President, "Useless Grant," because
he was so unhandy and dull.
Erskine had at length found his place as a lawyer; he carried everything
before him at the bar. Had he remained in the navy he would probably
never have been heard from. When elected to Parliament, his lofty spirit
was chilled by the cold sarcasm and contemptuous indifference of Pitt,
whom he was expected by his friends to annihilate. But he was again out
of his place; he was shorn of his magic power and his eloquent tongue
faltered from a consciousness of being out of his place.
Gould failed as a storekeeper, tanner and surveyor and civil engineer,
before he got into a railroad office where he "struck his gait."
When extracts from James Russell Lowell's poem at Harvard were shown his
father at Rome, instead of being pleased the latter said, "James
promised me when I left home, that he would give up poetry and stick to
books. I had hoped that he had become less flighty." The world is full
of people at war with their positions.
Man only grows when he is developing along the lines of his own
individuality, and not when he is trying to be somebody else. All
attempts to imitate another man, when there is no one like you in all
creation, as the pattern was broken when you were born, is not only to
ruin your own pattern, but to make only an echo of the one imitated.
There is no strength off the lines of our own individuality.
Anywhere else we are dwarfs, weaklings, echoes, and the echo even of a
great man is a sorry contrast to even the smallest human being who is