( Originally Published 1884 )
Work Ibo Law of our Being. —The Ancient Romans.—Pliny on Rural Labor. —The Curse of Idleness.—Causes of Melancholy.—Excuses of Indolence. -Industry and Leisure.—Work a Universal Duty.—Lord Stanley on Work.—Life and Work.
"Arise, therefore, and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee."—1 Chronicles, xxii. 16.
WORK is one of the best educators of practical character. It evokes and disciplines obedience, self-control, attention, application, and perseverance; giving a man deftness and skill in his special calling, and aptitude and dexterity in dealing with the affairs of ordinary life.
Work is the law of our being the living principle that carries men and nations onward. The greater number of men, have to work with their hands, as a matter of necessity, in order to live; but all must work in one way or another, if they would enjoy life as it ought to be enjoyed.
Labor may be a burden and a chastisement, but it is also an honor and a glory. Without it nothing can be -accomplished. All that is great in man comes through work, and civilization is its product. Were labor abolished, the race of Adam were at once stricken by moral death.
It is idleness that is the curse of man not labor. Idleness eats the heart out of men as of nations, and consumes them as rust does iron. When Alexander conquered the Persians, and had an opportunity of observing their manners, he remarked that they did not seem conscious that there could be anything more servile than a life of pleasure, or more princely than a life of toil.
When the Emperor Severus lay on his death-bed at York, whither he had been borne on a litter from the foot of the Grampians, his final watch-word to his soldiers was, "Laboremus" (we must work;) and nothing but constant toil maintained the power and extended the authority of the Roman generals.
In describing the earlier social condition of Italy, when the ordinary occupations of rural life were considered compatible with the highest civic dignity, Pliny speaks of the triumphant generals and their men returning contentedly to the plough. In those days the lands were tilled by the hands even of generals, the soil exulting beneath a ploughshare crowned with laurels, and guided by a husbandman graced with triumphs : " Ipso-rum tunc manibus imperalorum colebantur agri : ut fasest credere, gaudente terra vomere laureato et triumphali aratore." It was only after slaves became extensively employed in all departments of industry that labor came to be regarded as dishonorable and servile.
And so soon as indolence and luxury became the characteristics of the ruling classes of Rome, the down-fall of the empire, sooner or later, was inevitable.
There is, perhaps, no tendency of our nature that has to be more carefully guarded against than indolence. When Mr. Gurney asked an intelligent foreigner who had traveled over the greater part of the world, whether he had observed any one quality which, more than another, could be regarded as a universal characteristic of our species, his answer was, in broken English, " Me tink dat all men love lazy." It is characteristic of the savage as of the despot. It is natural to men to endeavor to enjoy the products of labor without its toils. Indeed, so universal is this desire that James Mill has argued that it was to prevent its indulgence at the expense of society at large, that the expedient of government was originally intended.
Indolence is equally degrading to individuals as to nations. Sloth never made its mark in the world, and never will. Sloth never climbed a hill, nor overcame a difficulty that it could avoid. Indolence always failed in life, and always will. It is in the nature of things that it should not succeed in anything. It is a burden, an incumbrance and a nuisance always useless, complaining melancholy and miserable.
Burton, in his quaint and curious book the only one, Johnson says, that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise describes the causes of Melancholy as hinging mainly on Idleness. " Idleness,"
he says, " is the bane of body and mind; the nurse of naughtiness, the chief mother of all mischief, one of the seven deadly sins, the devil's cushion, his pillow and chief reposal. . . . An idle dog will be mangy; and how shall an idle person escape? Idleness of the mind is much worse than that of the body: wit, without employment, is a disease the rust of the soul, a plague, a hell itself. .As in a standing pool, worms and filthy creepers increase, so do evil and corrupt thoughts in an idle person; the soul is contaminated. . . . Thus much I dare boldly say: he or she that is idle, be they of what condition they will, never so rich, so well allied, fortunate, happy let them have all things in abundance and felicity that heart can wish and desire, all contentment so long as he, or she, or they, are idle, they shall never be pleased, never well in body or mind, but weary still, sickly still, vexed still, loathing still, weeping, sighing, grieving, suspecting, offended with the world, with every object, wishing themselves gone or dead, or else carried away with some foolish phantasie or other."
Burton says a great deal more to the same effect; the burden and lesson of his book being embodied in the pregnant sentence with which it winds up: " Only take this for a corollary and conclusion, as thou tenderest thine own welfare in this, and all other melancholy, thy good health of body and mind, observe this short precept, Give not way to solitariness and idleness. Be not solitary be not idle."
The indolent, however, are not wholly indolent. Though the body may shirk labor, the brain is not idle. If it do not grow corn, it will grow thistles, which will be found springing up all along the idle man's course in life. The ghosts of indolence rise up in the dark, ever staring the recreant in the face, and tormenting him:
" The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices,
True happiness is never found in torpor of the faculties, but in their action and useful employment. It is indolence that exhausts, not action, in which there is life, health, and pleasure. The spirits may be exhausted and wearied by employment, but they are utterly wasted by idleness. Hence a wise physician was accustomed to regard occupation as one of his most valuable remedial measures. "Nothing is so injurious," said Dr. Marshall Hall, " as unoccupied time." An archbishop of Mayence used to say that " the human heart is like a -mill-stone: if you put wheat under it, it grinds the wheat into flour: if you put no wheat, it grinds on, but then 'tis itself it wears away."
Indolence is usually full of excuses; and the sluggard, though unwilling to work, is often an active sophist. "There is a lion in the path;" or " The hill is hard to climb;" or " There is no use trying I have tried, and failed, and cannot do it." To the sophistries of such an excuser, Sir Samuel Romilly once wrote to a young man: " My attack upon your indolence, loss of time, etc. was most serious, and I really think that it can be to nothing but your habitual want of exertion that can be ascribed your using such curious arguments as you do in your defense. Your theory is this: Every man does all the good that he can. If a particular individual does no good, it is a proof that he is incapable of doing it. That you don't write proves that you can't; and your want of imitation demonstrates your want of talents. What an admirable system !—and what beneficial effects would it be attended with if it were but universally received!"
It has been truly said that to desire to possess with-out being burdened with the trouble of acquiring is as much a sign of weakness, as to recognize that every thing worth having is only to be got by paying its price is the prime secret of practical strength. Even leisure can not be enjoyed unless it is won by effort. If it have not been earned by work, the price has not been paid for it.
There must be work before and work behind, with leisure to fall back upon; but the leisure, without the work, can no more be enjoyed than a surfeit. Life must needs be disgusting alike to the idle rich man as to the idle poor man, who has no work to do, or, having work, will not do it. The words found tattooed on the right arm of a sentimental beggar of forty, undergoing his eighth imprisonment in the jail of Bourges in France, might be adopted as the motto of all idlers: " Le passe m'a trompe; le present me tourments; l'ave nir m'epouvante" (The past has deceived me; the present torments me; the future terrifies me.)
The duty of industry applies to all classes and conditions of society. All have their work to do in their respective conditions of life the rich as well as the poor. The gentleman by birth and education, however richly he may be endowed with worldly possessions, can not but feel that he is in duty hound to contribute his quota of endeavor towards the general well-being in which he shares. He can not be satisfied with being fed, clad, and maintained by the labor of others, without making some suitable return to the society that upholds him. An honest, high-minded man would revolt at the idea of sitting down to and enjoying a feast, and then going away without paying his share of the reckoning. To be idle and useless is neither an honor nor a privilege; and though persons of small natures may be content merely to consume fruges consumere nati men of average endowment, of manly aspirations, and of honest purpose, will feel such a condition to be incompatible with real honor and true dignity.
" I don't believe," said Lord Stanley (now Earl of Derby) at Glasgow, " that an unemployed man, however amiable and otherwise respectable, ever was, or ever can be, really happy. As work is our life, show me what you can do, and I will show you what you are. I have spoken of love of one's work as the best preventive of merely low and vicious tastes. I will go farther, and say that it is the best preservative against petty anxieties, and the annoyances that arise out of indulged self-love. Men have thought before now that they could take refuge from trouble and vexation by sheltering themselves, as it were, in a world of their own. The experiment has often been tried, and always with one result. You can not escape from anxiety and labor it is the destiny of humanity. . . . Those who shirk from facing trouble find that trouble comes to them. The indolent may contrive that he shall have less than his share of the world's work to do, but Nature, proportioning the instinct to the work, contrives that the little shall be much and hard to him. The man who has only himself to please finds, sooner or later, and probably sooner than later, that he has got a very hard master; and the excessive weakness which shrinks from responsibility has its own punishment too, for where great interests are excluded little matters become great, and the same wear and tear of mind that might have been at least usefully and healthfully expended on the real business of life is often wasted in petty and imaginary vexations, such as breed and multiply in the unoccupied brain."
Even on the lowest ground that of personal enjoyment constant useful occupation is necessary. He who labors not can not enjoy the reward of labor. " We sleep sound," said Sir Walter Scott, " and our waking hours are happy, when they are employed; and a little sense of toil is necessary to the enjoyment of lei-sure, even when earned by study and sanctioned by the discharge of duty."
It is true, there are men who die of overwork; but many more die of selfishness, indulgence, and idleness. Where men break down by overwork, it is most commonly from want of duly ordering their lives, and neglect of the ordinary conditions of physical health. Lord Stanley was probably right when he said, in his address to the Glasgow students above mentioned, that he doubted whether " hard work, steadily and regularly carried on, ever yet hurt any body."
Then, again, length of years is no proper test of length of life. A man's life is to be measured by what he does in it, and what he feels in it. The more useful work the man does, and the more he thinks and feels, the more he really lives. The idle, useless man, no mat-ter to what extent his life may be prolonged, merely vegitates.
The early teachers of Christianity ennobled the lot of toil by their example. " He that will not work," said St. Paul, " neither shall he eat;" and he glorified him-self in that he had labored with his hands, and had not been chargeable to any man. When St. Boniface landed in Britain, he came with a gospel in one hand and a carpenter's rule in the other; and from England he afterwards passed over into Germany, carrying thither the art of building. Luther also, in the midst of a multitude of other employments, worked diligently for a living, earning his bread by gardening, building, turning, and even clock-making."