( Originally Published 1879 )
THERE is dignity in toil — in toil of the. hand as well as toil of the head—in toil to provide for the bodily wants of an individual life, as well as in toil to promote some enterprise of world-wide fame. All labor that tends to supply man's wants, to increase man's happiness, to elevate man's nature — in a word, all labor that is honest—is honorable too. Labor clears the forest, and drains the morass, and makes "the wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose." Labor drives the plow, and scatters the seeds, and reaps the harvest, and grinds the corn, and converts it into bread, the staff of life. Labor, tending the pastures and sweeping the waters as well as cultivating the soil, provides with daily sustenance the nine hundred millions of the family of man. Labor gathers the gossamer web of the caterpillar, the cotton from the field, and the fleece from the flock, and weaves it into raiment soft and warm and beautiful, the purple robe of the prince and the gray gown of the peasant being alike its handiwork Labor moulds the brick, and splits the slate, and quarries the stone, and shapes the column, and rears not only the humble cottage, but the gorgeous palace, and the tapering spire, and the stately dome. Labor, diving deep into the solid earth, brings up its long-hidden stores of coal to feed ten thousand furnaces, and in millions of homes to defy the winter's cold.
Labor explores the rich veins of deeply-buried rocks, extracting the gold and silver, the copper and tin. Labor smelts the iron, and moulds it into a thousand shapes for use and ornament, from the massive pillar to the tiniest needle, from the ponderous anchor to the wire gauze, from the mighty fly-wheel of the steam-engine to the polished purse-ring or the glittering bead. Labor hews down the gnarled oak, and shapes the timber, and builds the ship, and guides it over the deep, plunging through the billows, and wrestling with, the tempest, to bear to our shores the produce of every clime. Labor, laughing at difficulties, spans majestic rivers, carries viaducts over marshy swamps, suspends bridges over deep ravines, pierces the solid mountain with the dark tunnel, blasting rocks and filling hollows, and while linking together with its iron but loving grasp all nations of the earth, verifying, in a literal sense, the ancient prophecy, "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low;" labor draws forth its delicate iron thread, and stretching it from city to city, from province to province, through mountains and beneath the sea, realizes more than fancy ever fabled, while it constructs a chariot on which speech may outstrip the wind, and compete with lightning, for the telegraph flies as rapidly as thought itself.
Labor, the mighty magician, walks forth into a region uninhabited and waste; he looks earnestly at the scene, so quiet in its desolation, then waving his wonder-working wand, those dreary valleys smile with golden harvests; those barren mountain-slopes are clothed with foliage; the furnace blazes; the anvil rings; the busy wheel whirls round; the town appears; the mart of commerce, the hall of science, the temple of religion, rear high their lofty fronts; a forest of masts, gay with varied pennons, rises from the harbor; representatives of far-off regions make it their resort; science enlists the elements of earth and heaven in its service; art, awakening, clothes its strength with beauty; civilization smiles; liberty is glad; humanity rejoices; piety exults, for the voice of industry and gladness is heard on every side. Working men walk worthy of your vocation! You have a noble escutcheon; disgrace it not. There is nothing really mean and low but sin. Stoop not from your lofty throne to defile yourselves by contamination with intemperance, licentiousness, or any form of evil. Labor, allied with virtue, may look up to heaven and not blush, while all worldly dignities, prostituted to vice, will leave their owner without a corner of the universe in which to hide his shame. You will most successfully prove the honor of toil by illustrating in your own persons its alliance with a sober, righteous and godly life. Be ye sure of this, that the man of toil who works in a spirit of obedient, loving homage to God, does no- less than cherubim and seraphim in their loftiest flights and holiest songs.
Labor achieves grander victories, it weaves more durable trophies, it holds wider sway, than the conqueror. His name becomes tainted and his monuments crumble; but labor converts his red battle-fields into gardens, and erects monuments significant of better things. It rides in a chariot driven by the wind. It: writes with the lightning. It sits crowned as a queen in a thousand cities, and sends up its roar of triumph from a million wheels. It glistens in the fabric of the loom, it rings and sparkles from the steely hammer, it glories in shapes of beauty, it speaks in words of power, it makes the sinewy arm strong with liberty, the poor man's heart rich with content, crowns the swarthy and.. sweaty brow with honor, and dignity, and peace.
Don't live in hope with your arms folded; fortune smiles on those who roll up their sleeves, and put their shoulders to the wheel. You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. To love and to labor is the sum of living, and. yet how many think they live who neither love or labor.
The man and woman who are above labor, and despise the laborer, show a want of common sense, and forget that every article that is used is the product of more or less labor, and that the air they breathe, and the circulation of the blood in the veins, is the result of the labor of the God of nature. The time was when kings and queens stimulated their subjects to labor by example. Queen Mary had her regular hours of work, and had one of her maids of honor read to her while she plied the needle. Sir Walter Raleigh relates a cutting reply made to him by the wife of a noble duke, at whose house he lodged over night. In the morning he heard her give directions to a servant relative to feeding the pigs. On going into the breakfast room he jocosely asked her if the pigs had all breakfasted. " All, sir, but the strange pig I am about to feed," was the witty reply. Sir Walter was mute, and walked up to the trough.
The noblest thing in the world is honest labor. It is the very preservative principle of the universe. Wise labor brings order out of chaps; it turns deadly bogs and swamps into grain-bearing fields; it rears cities; it adorns the earth with architectural monuments, and beautifies them with divinest works of art; it whitens the seas with the wings of commerce; it brings remote lands into mutual and profitable neighborhood; it binds continents together with the fast-holding bands of rail-roads and telegraphs; it extinguishes barbarism and plants civilization upon its ruins; it produces mighty works of genius in prose and verse, which gladden the hearts of men forever. Work, therefore, with pride and gladness, for thereby you will be united by a common bond with all the best and noblest who have lived, who are now living, and who shall ever be born.
Washington and his lady were examples of industry, plainess, frugality and economy—and thousands of others of the wealthy, labored in the field and kitchen, in older times, before folly superseded wisdom, and fashion drove common sense and economy off the track.
No man has the right to expect a good fortune, unless he goes to work and deserves it. " Luck!" cried a self-made man," I never had any luck but by getting up at five every morning and working as hard as I could." No faithful workman finds his task a pastime. We must all toil or steal—no matter how we name our stealing. A brother of the distinguished Edmund Burke was found in a, reverie after listening to one of his most eloquent speeches in Parliament, and being asked the cause, replied, " I have been wondering how Ned has contrived to monopolize all the talents of the family; but then I remember, when we were at play he was always at work."
The education, moral and intellectual, of every individual must be chiefly his own work. How else could it happen that young men, who have had precisely the same opportunities, should be continually presenting us with such different results, and rushing to such opposite destinies? Difference of talent will not solve it, because that difference is very often in favor of the disappointed candidate.
You will see issuing from the walls of the same college—nay, sometimes from the bosom of the same family—two young men, of whom the one shall be admitted to be a genius of high order, the other scarcely above the point of mediocrity; yet you shall see the genius sinking and perishing in poverty, obscurity and wretchedness, while, on the other hand, you shall observe the mediocre plodding his slow but sure way up the hill of life, gaining steadfast footing at every step, and mounting, at length, to eminence and distinction—an ornament to his family a blessing to his country.
Now, whose work is this? Manifestly their own. Men are the architects of their respective fortunes. It is the fiat of fate from which no power of genius can absolve you. Genius, unexerted, is like the poor moth that flutters around a candle till it scorches itself to death.
It is this capacity for high and long, continued exertion, this vigorous power of profound and searching investigation, this careering and wide-spreading comprehension of mind, and those long reaches of thought, that
" Pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon,
What we have seen of men and of the world convinces us that one of the first conditions of enjoying life is to have something to do, something great enough to rouse the mind and noble enough to satisfy the heart, and then to give our mind and heart, our thought and toil and affections to it, to labor for it, in the fine words of Robert Hall, "with an ardor bordering on enthusiasm," or, as a yet greater sage expresses it, to "do it with all our might.,"
A life of full and constant employment is the only safe and happy one. If we suffer the mind and body to be unemployed, our enjoyments, as well as our lâbors, will be terminated. One of the minor uses of steady employment is, that it keeps one out of mischief; for truly an idle brain is the devil's workshop, and a lazy man the devil's bolster. To be occupied is to be possessed as by a tenant, whereas to be idle is to be empty; and when the doors of the imagination are opened, temptation finds a ready access, and evil thoughts come trooping in. It is observed at sea that men are never so much disposed to grumble and mutiny as when least employed. Hence an old captain, when there was nothing else to do, would issue the order to "scour the anchor."
Labor, honest labor, is mighty and beautiful. Activity is the ruling element of life, and its highest relish Luxuries and conquests are the result of labor; we can imagine nothing without it. The noblest man of earth is he who puts his hands cheerfully and proudly to honest labor. Labor is a business and ordinance of God. Suspend labor, and where are the glory and pomp of earth—the fruit, fields, and palaces, and the fashioning of matter for which men strive and war? Let the labor-scorner look to himself and learn what are the trophies. From the crown of his head to the sole of his. foot, he is the debtor and slave of toil. The labor which he scorns has tricked him into the stature and appearance of a man. Where gets he garmenting and equipage? Let labor answer. Labor which makes music in the mines and the furrow and the forge—oh, scorn not labor, you man who never yet earned a morsel of bread ! Labor pities you, proud fool, and laughs you to scorn. You shall pass to dust, forgotten; but labor will live on forever, glorious in its conquests and monuments.