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

and happiness.


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

their line.

"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

a dog.

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

great character.

"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