“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 life!
The young swan is restless and uneasy until she finds the element she has never before seen. Then,
“With archéd 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 remember.”
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 impossible.
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 himself.