Dignity Of Work
( Originally Published 1884 )
Work and Happiness.—Scott and Southey.—Work an Educator of Char acter.—Training to Business.—Business Qualities.—Wellington, Wollenstein, Washington.
"Work as if thou hadst to live for aye;
IT was characteristic of Napoleon, when visiting a work of mechanical excellence, to pay great respect to the inventor, and, on taking his leave, to salute him with a low bow. Once at St. Helena, when walking with Mrs. Balcombe, some servants came along carrying a load. The lady, in an angry tone, ordered them out of the way, on which Napoleon interposed, saying, "Respect the burden, madam." Even the drudgery of the humblest laborer contributes towards the general well-being of society; and it was a wise saying of a Chinese emperor that " if there was a man who did not work, or a woman that was idle, somebody must suffer cold or hunger in the empire."
The habit of constant useful occupation is as essential for the happiness and well-being of woman as of man. Without it women are apt to sink into a state of listless ennui and uselessness, accompanied by sick-headache and attacks of " nerves." Caroline Perthes care-fully warned her married daughter Louisa to beware of giving away to such listlessness. " I, myself," she said, " when the children are gone out for a half-holiday, sometimes feel as stupid and dull as an owl by day-light; but one must not yield to this, which happens more or less to all young wives. The best relief is work, engaged in with interest and diligence. Work, then, constantly and diligently, at something or other; for idleness is the devil's snare for small and great, as your grandfather says, and he says true."
Constant useful occupation is thus wholesome, not only for the body, but for the mind. While the slothful man drags himself indolently through life, and the better part of his nature sleeps a deep sleep, if not morally and spiritually dead, the energetic man is a source of activity and enjoyment to all who come within reach of his influence. Even any ordinary drudgery is better than idleness. Fuller says of Sir Francis Drake, who was early sent to sea, and kept close to his work by his master, that such " pains and patience in his youth knit the joints of his soul, and made them more solid and compact." Schiller used to say that he considered it a great advantage to be employed in the discharge of some daily mechanical duty some regular routine of work, that rendered steady application necessary.
Thousands can bear testimony to the truth of the saying of Greuze, the French painter, that work em ployment, useful occupation is one of the great secrets of happiness. Casaubon was once induced by the entreaties of his friends to take a few days' entire rest, but he returned to his work with the remark, that it was easier to bear illness doing something than doing nothing.
When Charles Lamb was released for life from his daily drudgery of desk-work at the India Office, he felt himself the happiest of men. " I would not go back to my prison," he said to a friend, "ten years longer for ten thousand pounds." He also wrote in the same ecstatic mood to Bernard Barton: " I have scarce steadiness of head to compose a letter," he said; " I am free ! free as air! I will live another fifty years. . . . Would I could sell you some of my leisure ! Positively the best thing a man can do is Nothing; and next to that, perhaps, Good Works." Two years two long and tedious years passed; and Charles Lamb's feelings had undergone an entire change. He now discovered that official, even humdrum work—" the appointed round, the daily task" had been good for him, though he knew it not. Time had formerly been his friend; it had now become his enemy. To Bernard Barton he again wrote : " I assure you, no work is worse than overwork; the mind preys on itself the most unwholesome of food. I have ceased to care for almost any thing Never did the waters of heaven pour clown upon a forlorner head. What I can do, and over-do, is to walk. I am a sanguinary murderer of time. But the oracle is silent."
No man could be more sensible of the practical importance of industry than Sir Walter Scott, who was himself one of the most laborious and indefatigable of men. Indeed, Lockhart says of him that, taking all ages and countries together, the rare example of indefatigable energy, in union with serene self possession of mind and manner, such as Scott's, must be sought for in the roll of great sovereigns or great captains, rather than in that of literary genius. Scott himself was most anxious to impress upon the minds of his own children the importance of industry as a means of usefulness and . happiness in the world. To his son Charles, when at school, he wrote : " I can not too much impress upon your mind that labor is the condition which God has imposed upon us in every station of life; there is nothing worth having that can be had without it, from the bread which the peasant wins with the sweat of his brow to the sports by which the rich man must get rid of his ennui. . . As for knowledge, it can no more be planted in the human mind without labor than a field of wheat can be produced without the previous use of the plough. There is, indeed, this great difference, that chance or circumstances may so cause it that another shall reap what the farmer sows; but no man can be deprived, whether by accident or misfortune, of the fruits of his own studies; and the liberal and extended acquisitions of knowledge which he makes are all for his own use. Labor, therefore, my dear boy, and improve the time. In youth our steps are light, and our minds re ductile, and knowledge is easily laid up; but if we neglect our spring, our summers will be useless and contemptible, our harvest will be chaff, and the winter of our old age unrespected and desolate."
Southey was as laborious a worker as Scott. Indeed, work might almost be said to form part of his religion. He was only nineteen when he wrote these words: " Nineteen years! certainly a fourth part of my life; perhaps how great a part! and yet I have been of no service to society. The clown who scares crows for twopence a day is a more useful man; he preserves the bread which I eat in idleness." And yet Southey had not been idle as a boy on the contrary, he had been a most diligent student. He had not only read largely in English literature, but was well acquainted, through translations, with Tasso, Ariosto, Homer, and Ovid. He felt, however, as if his life had been purposeless, and he determined to do something. He began, and from that time forward he pursued, an unremitting career of literary labor down to the close of his life " daily progressing in learning," to use his own words " not so learned as he is poor, not so poor as proud, not so proud as happy."
The maxims of men often reveal their character. That of Sir Walter Scott was, " Never to be doing nothing." Robertson the historian, as early as his fifteenth year, adopted the maxim of " Vita sine literis mors est" (Life without learning is death). Voltaire's motto was, Toujours au travail" (always at work.
The favorite maxim of Lacepede, the naturalist, was, " Vivre c'est veiller" (To live is to observe) : it was also the maxim of Pliny. When Bossuet was at College, he was so distinguished by his ardor in study, that his fellow-students, playing upon his name, designated him as Bos-suetus aratro (the ox used to the plough). The name of Vita-Ms (life a struggle), which the Swedish poet Sjoberg assumed, as Frederik von Hardenberg assumed that of Nova-lis, described the aspirations and the labors of both these men of genius.
We have spoken of work as a discipline: it is also an educator of character. Even work that produces no results, because it is work, is better than torpor inasmuch as it educates faculty, and is thus preparatory to successful work. The habit of working teaches method. It compels economy of time, and the disposition of it: with judicious forethought. And when the art of packing life with useful occupations is once acquired by practice, every minute will be turned to account; and leisure, when it comes, will be enjoyed with all the greater zest.
Coleridge has truly observed, that " if the idle are described as killing time, the methodical man may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. He organizes the hours and gives them a soul; and by that, the very essence of which is to fleet and to have been, he communicates an imperishable and spiritual nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies thus directed are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed that he lives in time than that time lives in him. His days and months and years, as the stops and punctual marks in the record of duties performed, will survive the wreck of worlds, and remain extant when time itself shall be no more."
It is because application to business teaches method most effectually, that it is so useful as an educator of character. The highest working qualities are best trained by active and sympathetic contact with others in the affairs of daily life. It does not matter whether the business relate to the management of a household or of a nation. Indeed, as we have endeavored to show in a preceding chapter, the able housewife must necessarily be an efficient woman of business. She must regulate and control the details of her home, keep her expenditure within her means, arrange everything according to plan and system, and wisely manage and govern those subject to her rule. Efficient domestic management implies industry, application, method, moral discipline, forethought, prudence, practical ability, insight into character, and power of organization--all of which are required in the efficient management of business of whatever sort.
Business qualities have, indeed, a very large field of action. They mean aptitude for affairs, competency to deal successfully with the practical work of life whether the spur of action lie in domestic management, in the conduct of a profession, in trade or commerce, in social organization, or in political government. And the training which gives efficiency in dealing with these various affairs is of all others the most useful in practical life. Moreover, it is the best discipline of character; for it involves the exercise of diligence, attention, self-denial, judgment, tact, knowledge of and sympathy with others.
Such a discipline is far more productive of happiness; as well as useful efficiency in life, than any amount of literary culture or meditative seclusion; for in the long run it will usually be found that practical ability carries it over intellect, and temper and habits over talent. It must, however, be added that this is a kind of culture that can only be acquired by diligent observation and carefully improved experience. " To be a good black-smith," said General Trochu, in a recent publication, " one must have forged all his life: to be a good administrator, one should have passed his whole life in the study and practice of business."
It was characteristic of Sir Walter Scott to entertain the highest respect for able men of business; and he professed that he did not consider any amount of literary distinction as entitled to be spoken of in the same breath with the mastery in the higher departments of practical life least of all with a first-rate captain.
The great commander leaves nothing to chance, but provides for every contingency. He condescends to apparently trivial details. Thus, when Wellington was at the head of his army in Spain, he directed the precise manner in which the soldiers were to cook their provisions. When in India, he specified the exact speed at which the bullocks were to be driven; every detail in equipment was carefully arranged beforehand. And thus not only was efficiency secured, but the devotion of his men, and their boundless confidence in his cornmand.
Like other great captains, Wellington had an almost boundless capacity for work. He drew up the heads of a Dublin Police Bill (being still the Secretary for Ire-land) when tossing off the mouth of the Mondego, with Junot and the French army waiting for him on the shore. So Caesar, another of the greatest commanders, is said to have written an essay on Latin Rhetoric while crossing the Alps at the head of his army. And Wallenstein, when at the head of 6o,000 men, and in the midst of a campaign, with the enemy before him, dictated from •headquarters the medical treatment of his poultry-yard.
Washington, also, was an indefatigable man of business. From his boyhood he diligently trained himself in habits of application, of study, and of methodical work. His manuscript school-books, which are still preserved, show that, as early as the age of thirteen, he occupied himself voluntarily in copying out such things as forms of receipts, notes of hand, bills of exchange, bonds, indentures, leases, land-warrants, and other dry documents, all written out with great care. And the habits which he thus early acquired were, in a great measure, the foundation of those admirable business qualities which he afterwards so successfully brought to bear in the affairs of government.
The man or woman who achieves success in the management of any great affair of business is entitled to honor-it may be, to as much as the artist who paints a picture, or the author who writes a book, or the soldier who wins a battle. Their success may have been gained in the face of as great difficulties, and after as great struggles; and where they have won their battle, it is at least a peaceful one, and there is no blood on their hands.