2 January 2014

I Am, in Fact, an Incompetent

W. J. Dawson, Masterman and Son (New York: F. H. Revell, 1909), p. 81:
"Let me reckon up my capital," he thought as the train rushed on; "let me ascertain my authentic stock-in-trade. I have some knowledge of Greek literature and Roman history, but it is probable that in all this train-load of human creatures there are not half a dozen who would attach the least value to my knowledge. I can decipher old French chronicles with fair success; I know enough of music to understand the theory of counterpoint, and enough of poetry to construct a decent sonnet; and, so far as I can see, these are not commodities which possess any marketable value. I have thirty pounds given me by my mother; but if my life depended upon my earning thirty pence, I know no possible method by which I might wrest the most wretched pittance from the world's closed fist. I am, in fact, an incompetent, but through no fault of my own. It seems that I have been elaborately trained to do a great number of things which no one wants done, but not one of the things for which the world makes eager compensation. What were mere pastime to the savage is to me an inaccessible display of effort; left alone with the whole open world for my kingdom, it is doubtful if I could build a house, grow a potato, bake a loaf, or secure the barest means of life. Such is my deplorable condition that it is possible — no, entirely certain, that the poorest emigrant in this rushing freight of men and women would scruple to change places with me."