A this momentous point of time, when the Old Year and the New Year are blending imperceptibly into that mystic web of human history called Past and Present, what says the dial of our destiny? On what figure in the round of man’s life and progress does the rising sun of the Future shed its clearest and most commanding ray? Let us look up and see! Let us lift our eyes from our dreary self-absorption and miserable personal and petty cares, let us read the shining numeral that marks our immediate national duty Work! Work is the center from which all the lines of a nation’s power and prosperity radiate; and work is, with us, the burning topic of the day. Work that is urgently sought and demanded; work that needs doing; work waiting to be taken strenuously in hand; work that must and shall be done, or all the forces of God and Nature will demand why it is left undone! Before all rulers, priests, statesmen, and people in our Empire lies a vast field of labor a field in which as yet so little of the soil has been tilled, and so scanty the grain which has been sown, that such harvest as may be gathered in is well-nigh profitless. Work is, to a certain extent, slowly going on, but the real ‘spirit’ of work is almost, if not entirely, lacking. And success is impossible in any undertaking, unless one has all one’s heart and soul in the means whereby success is attained. The simplest task has its result in something satisfactory, if per formed by a cheerful and willing worker, while the most brilliant opportunities of high achievement are stultified and rendered nil by a laggard, reluctant, or prejudiced humor. The ‘spirit’ of work must be centered in work before any work can be done worth doing.
There are certain persons of singular and altogether diseased mind who look upon work as a hardship scarcely to be borne. These are the outcasts of Nature. For if we faithfully study Nature, our divine Mother, we find that never for a single second does she know any cessation of toil. Forever and ever she patiently essays to teach us, her children, the secret of her beauty, her fruitfulness, her wisdom; and forever and ever we turn aside, striving in puny fashion to oppose ourselves to her immutable laws while creating impracticable ones of our own. She shows us that the loveliness of land and sea, the blossoming of trees and flowers, the plumage of birds and butterflies, the formation of precious gems in the rocks and among the shells of the ocean, are all the result of Work. The diamond is the brilliant effect of patient conformation to the necessary elements of its composition in the mine. The pearl is merely the proof of laborious effort on the part of a poor bivalve to mend a wound in its shell. When with the coming spring we see the first dainty aconites breaking the dark ground into gold, we know they have been ‘working’ their way through the earth determinedly, moved by the divine instinct and desire of light. Strange it is that we cannot at least do our work as well as these simple organisms which passively obey the Divine Command! We judge ourselves ‘superior’ to them; but in that we cannot or will not do our ‘work’ so well, we are inferior. We have less patience than the diamond; less adaptability than the oyster; less courage than the aconite. The particular kind of work which we perhaps find ready to our hand to do, does not suit our ‘convenience.’ We are too ‘great’ for anything that savors of the ‘menial.’ The duties to which honor, conscience, and self-respect bind us are ‘narrow’ or ‘monotonous.’ We want to be something we are not, and for which we were never intended to be; and like the fabled frog who sought to become a bull, we burst ourselves with an inflated idea of our own value. The famous Quentin Matsys was a blacksmith. But he did not scorn the blacksmith’s trade or the blacksmith’s shop: he raised the smithy work to the height of his own creative genius, as is testified to this day by his exquisitely fashioned iron fountain in the Cathedral Square of Antwerp. Benvenuto Cellini was a metal worker, and his ‘trade’ was his joy. He was content to stick to his trade; and to design such marvels of work in his trade, that his name has come down to us in our generation as one of the few among the masters of art in the world.
In Great Britain there is, most unfortunately, a certain ‘class’ contempt for ‘trades.’ The worker in any one of them is hampered on all sides; and his individuality, if he happens to possess any, is too frequently condemned and repressed. The man who is occupied in a trade is called a ‘common’ man. Many folks among us are a great deal too fond of this word ‘common.’ They use it on all occasions, in and out of season depreciatively, or contemptuously. They have a fastidious abhorrence for ‘common’ things. They dislike the ‘common’ people. The brave soul who has climbed inch by inch up the ladder of prosperity, beginning at the very lowest rung and arriving success fully at the top, receives but a grudging meed of praise ‘he comes of common family’ he is quite a ‘common’ person! This expression ‘common’ is a favorite one with the sort of people who are found languishing idly among the ‘hangers-on’ of ‘county’ magnates, striving to claim kinship (through some pre-Adamite ‘family connection’) with a lord, or a duke, or some such human toy of material circumstance; and preferring to pass their time generally in disseminating stupid scandal and mischievous gossip, rather than mix with ‘common’ everyday honest men and women who have work to do in the world, and who honestly do it. Among them are most of the toadies, time-servers, and hypocrites of the community; creatures who crawl before a trumpery ‘title’ as abjectly as a beaten cur trails its body along in the dust under the whip of its master, and who have neither the courage nor the perception to see that there is nothing in God’s universe that we dare call ‘common.’ Every smallest particle of creation, from a star to a dewdrop, is designed to be perfect in itself, and individually adapted to individual uses. We may not rightly call any man, woman, or child ‘common,’ except in so far as they belong to our ‘common’ humanity, and share with us the joys of the ‘common’ sunshine, the ‘common’ fresh air, the privilege of a ‘common’ grave, and the right of a ‘common’ faith in God. And the ‘common’ man who has worked, and through work alone has performed the un-‘common’ feat of raising himself from the low to the high, is far more to be admired and respected than he who, born to the heritage of millions, trifles away his time in idle squandering and foolish dissipation. Nature marks this latter class of wealthy ‘loafers’ so that we may know them. Their banking-accounts may be written in raised letters of gold, but on their faces we read in unmistakable characters what may be called a ‘Public Warning.’ The man who himself works for his own, is a much healthier type of humanity than the man who merely takes what others have made for him.
There is no degradation in any sort of work. The field-laborer turning the heavy clods of earth, in preparation for the sowing of grain, is every whit as noble as the student who, by patient research, prepares the way for a harvest of fresh scientific discovery, always providing that the true ‘spirit’ of work is in both men. For the ‘spirit’ of work is the love of work; it is the bending of all one’s energies, for love’s sake, upon the particular task we have in hand. With love all things are easy; without love, the smallest duty becomes burdensome. There is no reason why another Benvenuto Cellini should not arise in the metal trade, no cause why another Michael Angelo should not paint ceilings in fresco. We are frequently shamed, not so much by the enterprise of other nations, as by our own idleness and inefficiency. We make a great clamor about ‘gentility’ a form of snobbishness more prevalent in the British Islands than anywhere else. Many a working-man’s wife would rather place her sons as clerks in city offices than apprentice them to a useful trade, because she foolishly imagines clerks are ‘gentlemen,’ forgetting that ‘gentlemen’ are not made by position, but by conduct. Every so-called ‘gentleman’ in the land would be much the better for learning some trade before considering his education completed. No trade is, of itself, contemptible; each branch offers its own chances of new discovery and higher development, depending on the invention, ambition, energy, and resource of those employed in it. Thought and perseverance in a worker are bound to raise whatever work he or she is employed in to an art. Personally speaking, I am bound to say that I have never found any one who is really clever, trustworthy, and persevering, in any trade or profession, among the ‘Unemployed.’ The real lovers of work seem always to have enough, and more than enough, work to do. I endorse every word recently written by a clever American writer who, discussing the ‘Unemployed,’ and the men who declare they have ‘no chance nowadays,’ says: ‘I do not believe that life is more difficult than it used to be. To-day, perhaps, you may have to know French, shorthand, or typewriting among the means of livelihood. But to learn them all does not require a greater sacrifice of brain power than was required of our grandfathers to learn reading and writing. They often had to walk six miles there and six miles back from a school, and when they had learnt an accomplishment the ‘competition’ was ‘fearful.’ At the bottom of much of this modern outcry of the terrible difficulties of life nowadays, there appears to me to be a good deal of self-conceit, when the cry is raised by a successful man, and of self-excuse when the cry is used by an unsuccessful man. The former likes to impress upon you that he has done something heroic; the latter that he has failed simply because nobody could have succeeded.
‘The world seems overstocked with everything,’ a gloomy-minded man remarked to Lord Palmerston. ‘I can tell you some things that the world has never enough of,’ replied Palmerston, ‘and that it is always willing to pay for: intelligence, honesty, courage, and perseverance. In these the supply will never exceed the demand.’
Intelligence, honesty, courage, and perseverance are never found in the worker who does not truly love his work. Love brings all the virtues in its train. Love means earnest concentration on the thing beloved. Goethe’s inspiring lines should animate the mind and brace the energies of every worker:
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
Whatever you can do, or dream you can begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated;
Begin! and then the work will be completed.
Nature never knows ‘short hours.’ She works at midnight as steadily as she does at mid-day. In the very sleep of her manifold creatures she has designed a working remedial system by which the wear and tear of brain and body shall be repaired. I doubt if any living organism in the whole vast Cosmos ever seeks a holiday save Man. I have often marveled that so sagacious a person as ‘St. Lubbock,’ now Lord Avebury, should have instituted ‘Bank Holidays’ for men, seeing that he has studied the habits and customs of bees. When we complain of working ‘over-time,’ we are really proclaiming ourselves as inferior to the ants and beetles. When we indulge ourselves in idleness and ‘loafing’ we are doing something diametrically opposed to all the laws of the universe. What wonder then if the secret forces of that universe forces whose vast movements we only as yet dimly realize should cast us out among the unfit and ‘Unemployed’? In the bird-world, if one of the feathered community refuses to work for its own living, it is quickly dispatched, as an abnormal and diseased creature. And there is not the slightest doubt that voluntary idleness is nothing less than a morbid growth in the mind, as devastating as a cancer in the body. Nowadays we find scores of people bent on ‘amusing’ themselves. ‘How are you going to ‘amuse’ yourself?’ is a daily question, or ‘What shall we do to kill time and ‘amuse’ ourselves?’ Nobody seems to grasp the fact that in Work, and work alone, is the source of both ‘amusement’ and happiness, as well as of prosperity and power. As for ‘killing time,’ that is a criminal act, for every moment is precious to those who know how to use it honestly. By-and-by our little clocks in this world must stop, and we shall be spared no more of the golden minutes, laden with blessing, opportunity, and love, which, while we live, are given to us freely from the treasuries of God. To ‘kill’ one of them is to murder a living thing.
Certain it is, however, that ‘amusement,’ or what is called by that name, is the fetish of the hour. The wealthy classes of our day set a most mischievous example of time-wasting to the rest of the community, and until they cease to create scandal by their extravagance, licentiousness, sensualism, and luxury, so long will there be discontent and disorder among what we are pleased to call the ‘lower’ majority of the people. If the rich man passes his time in shooting tame partridges and pheasants, the poor man sees no reason why he should not equally pass his time in playing football. He, too, will be ‘amused’ in his way. And supposing football does not appeal to him, he will seek ‘amusement’ in the public-house, getting drunk on the ‘doctored’ beer provided for him by prosperous brewers, of whom some are in Parliament, and some, with the most sublime hypocrisy, profess to support the ‘temperance’ cause. Honest interest in honest work, and the State encouragement of ambition in honest workers, would serve ‘temperance’ better than a million sermons. Government prizes given for specimens of superlative work done by British workmen in British trades would at least show that statesmen thought of something more than their own positions in the House, ‘tea on the Terrace,’ and Bridge, which three things at present would often appear to occupy them, to the forgetfulness of more pressing matters. Aspiration, research, discovery, and invention should be ‘officially’ encouraged and recognized in every trade and profession not checked, repressed, or ‘sneered down.’ For work is not only the making but the preservation of an Empire, arid all those engaged in work merit first consideration from an Empire’s rulers.
A Worker is always a dignified figure. He is the nearest approach to all that we may reverently conceive or guess of God. The Divine Source of Creation must be an ever-working Power. There can be no cessation, no rest from toil, for that prolific Intelligence which creates by a thought and sustains with a breath. Work must needs bring us into unison with Him who hath made us. And if we work faithfully, in the true ‘spirit’ of work, we shall come closer to the Infinite Life of all things, and shall understand, perchance, the deepest, purest meaning and higher intention of our own existence in this world, from which, when our work here is finished, we shall pass to a higher sphere of Labor and a fuller fruition of Love.
by Marie Corelli (1906)