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In "Of human bondage", by W. Somerset Maugham, there is a sentence in the conservation between Foinet and miss Price:

"Then it is my duty to tell you that you are wasting your time. It would not matter that you have no talent, talent does not run about the streets in these days, but you have not the beginning of an aptitude. How long have you been here? A child of five after two lessons would draw better than you do. I only say one thing to you, give up this hopeless attempt. You're more likely to earn your living as a bonne a tout faire than as a painter. Look."

I can't get the bold part, what does it mean? At first, I thought it's an idiom, but it's not.

  • It's like saying "money doesn't grow on trees". It's just a way of saying something is uncommon; (something) is not easy to find. Now, would you please tell me what a bonne a tout faire is? – anongoodnurse Jan 20 '16 at 2:36
  • @medicia: It means "maid". The story happened in Paris, and Foinet - a cruel teacher said that with Price - a student. Maybe It's a way to emphasize. – Sour Tofu Jan 20 '16 at 2:42
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For instances such as this one, the phrase in question can often be better understood by really paying attention to the surrounding phrases and using the context of the scene to reveal potential meaning.

So let's start with the first phrase of the sentence:

"It would not matter that you have no talent,"

This is Foinet telling Miss Price that lack of talent isn't why they are a poor painter, insinuating that one can be a perfectly capable artist without natural talent.

Onto the next phrase:

"talent does not run about the streets in these days"

Again, Foinet is reiterating that talent for painting isn't something that's commonly found in a given person, yet there are still plenty of painters.

And now the last portion of the sentence:

"but you have not the beginning of an aptitude."

Foinet isn't admonishing Miss Price's lack of talent, but rather her inability to progress and learn. The following sentences then emphasize this point.

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