The Useful Man

Some thoughts on a “useful man” from 1852. Possibly the best thing I’ve read this year.

“The useful man would be the necessary link in the chain that ought connect the man of science and the daily workman, for he would lay one hand on the theory and the other on the practice, and would often take the place of the two.”

Lost Art Press


We have scientific writers of several kinds, and their number is continually increasing; there is no harm in that, but their studies are mainly directed to form theorists capable of ordering workmen, but unable to put their own hands to the work. Banish to their country seats the most celebrated engineers, and they will be as embarrassed to perform the smallest thing for themselves, as our statesmen, magistrates, professors, poets, painters, and wealthy merchants.

If a lamp leaks, a coffee-pot is broken, a screw lost, a lock damaged, or a chair on three legs—and for a thousand other petty trifles—they must send to the neighboring town. If it is an emergency, a messenger on horseback must be dispatched, with perhaps a kettle round his neck, and a couple of watering-pots in his hand: there is no poor Robinson Crusoe to be found in these oases of luxury and indigence.

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