ESSAYS ON WORK AND CULTURE
HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE
To Henry Van Dyke
"Along the slender wires of speech Some message from the heart is sent; But who can tell the whole that's meant? Our dearest thoughts are out of reach."
I. Tool or Man? II. The Man in the Work III. Work as Self-Expression IV. The Pain of Youth V. The Year of Wandering VI. The Ultimate Test VII. Liberation VIII. The Larger Education IX. Fellowship X. Work and Pessimism XI. The Educational Attitude XII. Special Training XIII. General Training XIV. The Ultimate Aim XV. Securing Right Conditions XVI. Concentration XVII. Relaxation XVIII. Recreation XIX. Ease of Mood XX. Sharing the Race-Fortune XXI. The Imagination in Work XXII. The Play of the Imagination XXIII. Character XXIV. Freedom from Self-Consciousness XXV. Consummation
Work and Culture
Tool or Man?
A complete man is so uncommon that when he appears he is looked upon with suspicion, as if there must be something wrong about him. If a man is content to deal vigorously with affairs, and leave art, religion, and science to the enjoyment or refreshment or enlightenment of others, he is accepted as strong, sounds and wise; but let him add to practical sagacity a love of poetry and some skill in the practice of it; let him be not only honest and trustworthy, but genuinely religious; let him be not only keenly observant and exact in his estimate of trade influences and movements, but devoted to the study of some science, and there goes abroad the impression that he is superficial. It is written, apparently, in the modern, and especially in the American, consciousness, that a man can do but one thing well; if he attempts more than one thing, he betrays the weakness of versatility. If this view of life is sound, man is born to imperfect development and must not struggle with fate. He may have natural aptitudes of many kinds; he may have a passionate desire to try three or four different instruments; he may have a force of vitality which is equal to the demands of several vocations or avocations; but he must disregard the most powerful impulses of his nature; he must select one tool, and with that tool he must do all the work appointed to him.
If he is a man of business, he must turn a deaf ear to the voices of art; if he writes prose, he must not permit himself the delight of writing verse; if he uses the pen, he must not use the voice. If he ventures to employ two languages for his thought, to pour his energy into two channels, the awful judgment of superficiality falls on him like a decree of fate.
So fixed has become the habit of confusing the use of manifold gifts with mere dexterity that men of quality and power often question the promptings which impel them to use different or diverse forms of expression; as if a man were born to use only one limb and enjoy only one resource in this many-sided universe!
Specialisation has been carried so far that it has become an organised tyranny through the curiously perverted view of life which it has developed in some minds. A man is permitted, in these days, to cultivate one faculty or master one field of knowledge, but he must not try to live a whole life, or work his nature out on all sides, under penalty of public suspicion and disapproval. If a Pericles were to appear among us, he would be discredited by the very qualities which made him the foremost public man of his time among the most intelligent and gifted people who have yet striven to solve the problems of life. If Michelangelo came among us, he would be compelled to repress his tremendous energy or face the suspicion of the critical mind of the age; it is not permitted a man, in these days, to excel in painting, sculpture, architecture, and sonnet-writing. If, in addition, such a man were to exhibit moral qualities of a very unusual order, he would deepen the suspicion that he was not playing the game of life fairly; for there are those who have so completely broken life into fragments that they not only deny the possibility of the possession of the ability to do more than one thing well, but the existence of any kind of connection between character and achievement.
Man is not only a fragment, but the world is a mass of unrelated parts; religion, science, morals, and art moving in little spheres of their own, without the possibility of contact. The arts were born at the foot of the altar, as we are sometimes reminded; but let the artist beware how he entertains religious ideas or emotions to-day; to suggest that art and morals have any interior relation is, in certain circles, to awaken pity that one's knowledge of these things is still so rudimentary. The scholar must beware of the graces of style; if, like the late Master of Balliol, he makes a translation so touched with distinction and beauty that it is likely to become a classic in the language in which it is newly lodged, there are those who look askance at his scholarship; for knowledge, to be pure and genuine, must be rude, slovenly, and barbarous in expression. The religious teacher may master the principles of his faith, but let him beware how he applies them to the industrial or social conditions of society. If he ventures to make this dangerous experiment, he is promptly warned that he is encroaching on the territory of the economist and sociologist. The artist must not permit himself to care for truth, because it has come to be understood in some quarters that he is concerned with beauty, and with beauty alone. To assume that there is any unity in life, any connection between character and achievement, any laws of growth which operate in all departments and in all men, is to discredit one's intelligence and jeopardise one's influence. One field and one tool to each man seems to be the maxim of this divisive philosophy—if that can be called a philosophy which discards unity as a worn-out metaphysical conception, and separates not only men but the arts, occupations, and skills from each other by impassable gulfs.
Versatility is often a treacherous ease, which leads the man who possesses it into fields where he has no sure footing because he has no first-hand knowledge, and therefore no real power; and against this tendency, so prevalent in this country, the need of concentration must continually be urged. The great majority of men lack the abounding vitality which must find a variety of channels to give it free movement. But the danger which besets some men ought not to be made a limitation for men of superior strength; it ought not to be used as a barrier to keep back those whose inward impulse drives them forward, not in one but in many directions. Above all, the limitations of a class ought not to be made the basis of a conception of life which divides its activities by hard and fast lines, and tends, by that process of hardening which shows itself in every field of thought or work, to make men tools and machines instead of free, creative forces in society.
A man of original power can never be confined within the limits of a single field of interest and activity, nor can he ever be content to bear the marks and use the skill of a single occupation. He cannot pour his whole force into one channel; there is always a reserve of power beyond the demands of the work which he has in hand at the moment. Wherever he may find his place and whatever work may come to his hand, he must always be aware of the larger movement of life which incloses his special task; and he must have the consciousness of direct relation with that central power of which all activities are inadequate manifestations. To a man of this temper the whole range of human interests must remain open, and such a man can never escape the conviction that life is a unity under all its complexities; that all activities stand vitally related to each other; that truth, beauty, knowledge, and character must be harmonised and blended in every real and adequate development of the human spirit. To the growth of every flower earth, sun, and atmosphere must contribute; in the making of a man all the rich forces of nature and civilisation must have place.
The Man in the Work
The general mind possesses a kind of divination which discovers itself in those comments, criticisms, and judgments which pass from man to man through a wide area and sometimes through long periods of time. The opinion which appears at first glance to be an expression of materialism often shows, upon closer study, an element of idealism or a touch of spiritual discernment. It is customary, for instance, to say of a man that he lives in his works; as if the enduring quality of his fame rested in and was dependent upon the tangible products of his genius or his skill. There is truth in the phrase even when its scope is limited to this obvious meaning; but there is a deeper truth behind the truism,—the truth that a man lives in his works, not only because they commemorate but because they express him. They are products of his skill; but they are also the products of his soul. The man is revealed in them, and abides in them, not as a statue in a temple, but as a seed in the grain and the fruit. They have grown out of him, and they uncover the secrets of his spiritual life. No man can conceal himself from his fellows; everything he fashions or creates interprets and explains him.
This deepest significance of work has always been divined even when it has not been clearly perceived. Men have understood that there is a spiritual quality even in the most material products of a man's activity, and, even in ruder times, they have discerned the inner relation of the things which a man makes with the man himself. In our time, when the immense significance of this essential harmony between spirit and product has been accepted as a guiding principle in historic investigation, the stray spear-head and broken potsherd are prized by the anthropologist, because a past race lives in them. The lowest and commonest kind of domestic vessels and implements disclose to the student of to-day not only the stage of manual skill which their makers had reached, but also the general ideas of life which those makers held. When it comes to the higher products, character, temperament, and genius are discerned in every mutilated fragment. The line on an urn reveals the spirit of the unknown sculptor who cut it in the enduring stone. It has often been said that if every memorial of the Greek race save the Parthenon had perished, it would be possible to gain a clear and true impression of the spiritual condition and quality of that race.
The great artists are the typical and representative men of the race, and whatever is true of them is true, in a lesser degree, of men in general. There is in the work of every great sculptor, painter, writer, composer, architect, a distinctive and individual manner so marked and unmistakable as to identify the man whenever and wherever a bit of his work appears. If a statue of Phidias were to be found without any mark of the sculptor upon it, there would be no delay in determining whose work it was; no educated musician would be uncertain for a moment about a composition of Wagner's if he heard it for the first time without knowledge of its source; nor would a short story from the hand of Hawthorne remain unclaimed a day after its publication. Now, this individual manner and quality, so evident that it is impossible not to recognise it whenever it appears, is not a trick of skill; it has its source in a man's temperament and genius; it is the subtlest and most deep-going disclosure of his nature. In so far as a spiritual quality can be contained and expressed in any form of speech known among men—and all the arts are forms of speech—that which is most secret and sacred in a man is freely given to the world in his work.
Work is sacred, therefore, not only because it is the fruit of self- denial, patience, and toil, but because it uncovers the soul of the worker. We deal with each other on so many planes, and have so much speech with each other about things of little moment, that we often lose the sense of the sanctity which attaches to personality whenever it appears. There come moments, however, when some intimate experience is confided to us, and then, in the pause of talk, we become aware that we are in presence of a human soul behind the familiar face of our friend, and that we are on holy ground. In such moments the quick emotion, the sudden thrill, bear eloquent witness to that deeper and diviner life in which we all share, but of which we rarely seem aware. This perception of the presence of a man's soul comes to us when we stand before a true work of art. We not only uncover our heads, but our hearts are uncovered as well. Here is one who through all his skill speaks to us in a language which we understand, but which we rarely hear. A great work of art not only liberates the imagination, but the heart as well; for it speaks to us more intimately than our friends are able to speak, and that reticence which holds us back from perfect intercourse when we look into each other's faces vanishes. A few lines read in the solitude of the woods, or before the open fire, often kindle the emotion and imagination which slumber within us; in companionship with the greatest minds our shyness vanishes; we not only take but give with unconscious freedom. When we reach this stage we have reached the man who lives not only by but in the work, and whose innermost nature speaks to us and confides in us through the form of speech which he has chosen.
The higher the quality of the work, the clearer the disclosure of the spirit which fashioned it and gave it the power to search and liberate. The plays of Sophocles are, in many ways, the highest and most representative products of the Greek literary genius; they show that genius at the moment when all its qualities were in harmony and perfectly balanced between the spiritual vision which it formed of life, and the art form to which it commits that precious and impalpable possession. One of the distinctive qualities of these plays is their objectivity; their detachment from the moods and experiences of the dramatist. This detachment is so complete that at first glance every trace of the dramatist seems to have been erased. But there are many passages besides the famous lines descriptive of the grove at Colonus which betray the personality behind the plays; and, studied more closely, the very detachment of the drama from the dramatist is significant of character. In the poise, harmony, and balance of these beautiful creations there is revealed the instinct for proportion, the self-control and the subordination of the parts to the whole which betray a nature committed by its very instincts to a passionate devotion to beauty. In one of the poems of our own century which belongs in the first rank of artistic achievements, "In Memoriam," the highest themes are touched with the strength of one who knows how to face the problems of life with impartial and impersonal courage, and with the tenderness of one whose own heart has felt the immediate pressure of these tremendous questions. So every great work, whether personal or impersonal in intention, conveys to the intelligent reader an impression of the thought behind the skill, and of the character behind the thought. Goethe frankly declared that his works constituted one great confession. All work is confession and revelation as well.
Work as Self-Expression
The higher the kind and quality of a man's work, the more completely does it express his personality. There are forms of work so rudimentary that the touch of individuality is almost entirely absent, and there are forms of work so distinctive and spiritual that they are instantly and finally associated with one man. The degree in which a man individualises his work and gives it the quality of his own mind and spirit is, therefore, the measure of his success in giving his nature free and full expression. For work, in this large sense, is the expression of the man; and as the range and significance of all kinds of expression depend upon the scope and meaning of the ideas, forces, skills, and qualities expressed, so the dignity and permanence of work depend upon the power and insight of the worker. All sound work is true and genuine self-expression, but work has as many gradations of quality and significance as has character or ability. Dealing with essentially the same materials, each man in each generation has the opportunity of adding to the common material that touch of originality in temperament, insight, or skill which is his only possible contribution to civilisation.
The spiritual nature of work and its relation to character are seen in the diversity of work which the different races have done, and in the unmistakable stamp which the work of each race bears. First as a matter of instinct, and later as a matter of intelligence, each race has followed, in its activities, the lines of least resistance, and put its energies forth in ways which were most attractive because they offered the freest range and were nearest at hand. The attempt of some historians of a philosophical turn of mind to fit each race into a category and to give each race a sharply defined sphere of influence has been carried too far, and has discredited the effort to interpret arbitrarily the genius of the different races and to assign arbitrarily their functions. It remains true, however, that, in a broad sense, each race has had a peculiar quality of mind and spirit which may be called its genius, and each has followed certain general lines and kept within certain general limits in doing its work. The people who lived on the great plains of Central Asia worked in a different temper and with wide divergence of manner from the people who lived on the banks of the Nile; and the Jew, the Greek, and the Roman showed their racial differences as distinctly in the form and quality of their work as in the temper of their mind and character. And thus, on a great historical scale, the significance of work as an expression of character is unmistakably disclosed.
In this sense work is practically inclusive of every force and kind of life since every real worker puts into it all that is most distinctive in his nature. The moral quality contributes sincerity, veracity, solidity of structure; the intellectual quality is disclosed in order, lucidity, and grasp of thought; the artistic quality is seen in symmetry proportion, beauty of construction and of detail; the spiritual quality is revealed in depth of insight and the scope of relationships brought into view between the specific work and the world in which it is done. In work of the finer order, dealing with the more impressionable material, there are discoverable not only the character and quality of the worker, but the conditions under which he lives; the stage of civilisation, the vigour or languor of vital energy, the richness or poverty of social life, the character of the soil and of the landscape, the pallor or the bloom of vegetation, the shining or the veiling of the skies. So genuinely and deeply does a man put himself into the thing he does that whatever affects him affects it, and all that flows into him of spiritual, human, and natural influence flows into and is conserved by it. A bit of work of the highest quality is a key to a man's life because it is the product of that life, and it brings to light that which is hidden in the man as truly as the flower lays bare to the sun that which was folded in the seed. What a man does is, therefore, an authentic revelation of what he is, and by their works men are fairly and rightly judged.
For this reason no man can live in any real sense who fails to give his personality expression through some form of activity. For action in some field is the final stage of development; and to stop short of action, to rest in emotion or thought, is to miss the higher fruits of living and to evade one's responsibility to himself as well as to society. The man whose artistic instinct is deep cannot be content with those visions which rise out of the deeps of the imagination and wait for that expression which shall give them objective reality; the vision brings with it a moral necessity which cannot be evaded without serious loss. Indeed, the vitality of the imagination depends largely upon the fidelity with which its images are first realised in thought and then embodied by the hand. To comprehend what life means in the way of truth and power, one must act as well as think and feel. For action itself is a process of revelation, and the sincerity and power with which a man puts forth that which is disclosed to him determine the scope of the disclosure of truth which he receives. To comprehend all that life involves of experience, or offers of power, one must give full play to all the force that is in him. It is significant that the men of creative genius are, as a rule, men of the greatest productive power. One marvels at the magnitude of the work of such men as Michelangelo and Rembrandt, as Beethoven and Wagner, as Shakespeare, Balzac, Thackeray, Carlyle, and Browning; not discerning that, as these master workers gave form and substance to their visions and insight, the power to see and to understand deepened and expanded apace with their achievements.
The Pain of Youth
It is the habit of the poets, and of many who are poets neither in vision nor in faculty, to speak of youth as if it were a period of unshadowed gaiety and pleasure, with no consciousness of responsibility and no sense of care. The freshness of feeling, the delight in experience, the joy of discovery, the unspent vitality which welcomes every morning as a challenge to one's strength, invest youth with a charm which art is always striving to preserve, and which men who have parted from it remember with a sense of pathos; for the morning of life comes but once, and when it fades something goes which never returns. There are ample compensations, there are higher joys and deeper insights and relationships; but a magical charm which touches all things and turns them to gold, vanishes with the morning. In reaching its perfection of beauty the flower must part with the dewy promise of its earliest growth.
All this is true of youth, which in many ways symbolises the immortal part of man's nature, and must be, therefore, always beautiful and sacred to him. But it is untrue that the sky of youth has no clouds and the spirit of youth no cares; on the contrary, no period of life is in many ways more painful. The finer the organisation and the greater the ability, the more difficult and trying the experiences through which the youth passes. George Eliot has pointed out a striking peculiarity of childish grief in the statement that the child has no background of other griefs against which the magnitude of its present sorrow may be measured. While that sorrow lasts it is complete, absolute, and hopeless, because the child has no memory of other trials endured, of other sorrows survived. In this fact about the earliest griefs lies the source also of the pains of youth. The young man is an undeveloped power; he is largely ignorant of his own capacity, often without inward guidance towards his vocation; he is unadjusted to the society in which he must find a place for himself. He is full of energy and aspiration, but he does not know how to expend the one or realise the other. His soul has wings, but he cannot fly, because, like the eagle, he must have space on the ground before he rises in the air. If his imagination is active he has moments of rapture, days of exaltation, when the world seems to lie before him clear from horizon to horizon. His hours of study overflow with the passion for knowledge, and his hours of play are haunted by beautiful or noble dreams. The world is full of wonder and mystery, and the young explorer is impatient to be on his journey. No plan is then too great to be accomplished, no moral height too difficult to be attained. After all that has been said, the rapture of youth, when youth means opportunity, remains unexpressed. No poet will ever entirely compass it, as no poet will ever quite ensnare in speech the measureless joy of those festival mornings in June when Nature seems on the point of speaking in human language.
But this rapture is inward; it has its source in the earliest perception of the richness of life and man's capacity to appropriate it. It is the rapture of discovery, not of possession; the rapture of promise, not of achievement. It is without the verification of experience or the corroborative evidence of performance. Youth is possibility; that is its charm, its joy, and its power; but it is also its limitation. There lies before it the real crisis through which every man of parts and power passes: the development of the inward force and the adjustment of the personality to the order of life. The shadow of that crisis is never quite absent from those radiant skies which the poets love to recall; the uncertainty of that supreme issue in experience is never quite out of mind. Siegfried must meet the dragon before he can climb those heights on which, encircled by fire, his ideal is to take the form and substance of reality; and the prelusive notes of that fateful struggle are heard long before the sword is forged or the hour of destiny has come.
There is no test of character more severe or difficult to bear than the suspense of waiting. The man who can act eases his soul under the greatest calamities; but he who is compelled to wait, unless he be of hardy fibre, eats his heart out in a futile despair. Troops will endure losses when they are caught up in the stir of a charge which would demoralise and scatter them if they were compelled to halt under the relentless guns of masked batteries. Now, the characteristic trial of youth is this experience of waiting at a moment when the whole nature craves expression and the satisfaction of action. The greater the volume of energy in the man who has yet to find his vocation and place, the more trying the ordeal. There are moments in the life of the young imagination when the very splendour of its dreams fills the soul with despair, because there seems no hope of giving them outward reality; and the clearer the consciousness of the possession of power, the more poignant the feeling that it may find no channel through which to add itself to the impulsion which drives forward the work of society.
The reality of this crisis in spiritual experience—the adjustment between the personality and the physical, social, and industrial order in which it must find its place and task—is the measure of its possible painfulness. It is due, perhaps, to the charm which invests youth, as one looks back upon it from maturity or age, that its pain is forgotten and that sympathy withheld which youth craves often without knowing why it craves. A helpful comprehension of the phase of experience through which he is passing is often the supreme need of the ardent young spirit. His pain has its roots in his ignorance of his own powers and of the world. He strives again and again to put himself in touch with organised work; he takes up one task after another in a fruitless endeavour to succeed. He does not know what he is fitted to do, and he turns helplessly from one form of work for which he has no faculty to another for which he has less. His friends begin to think of him as a ne'er-do-weel; and, more pathetic still, the shadow of failure begins to darken his own spirit. And yet it may be that in this halting, stumbling, ineffective human soul, vainly striving to put its hand to its task, there is some rare gift, some splendid talent, waiting for the ripe hour and the real opportunity! In such a crisis sympathetic comprehension is invaluable, but it is rarely given, and the youth works out his problem in isolation. If he is courageous and persistent he finds his place at last; and work brings peace, strength, self-comprehension.
The Year of Wandering
Goethe prefaces Wilhelm Meister's travels with some lines full of that sagacity which was so closely related to his insight:
What shap'st thou here at the world? 't is shapen long ago; The Maker shaped it, he thought it best even so; Thy lot is appointed, go follow its hest; Thy way is begun, thou must walk, and not rest; For sorrow and care cannot alter the case; And running, not raging, will win thee the race.
My inheritance, how wide and fair! Time is my estate: to time I'm heir.
Between the preparation and the work, the apprenticeship and the actual dealing with a task or an art, there comes, in the experience of many young men, a period of uncertainty and wandering which is often misunderstood and counted as time wasted, when it is, in fact, a period rich in full and free development. In the days when Wilhelm Meister was written, the Wanderjahr or year of travel was a recognised part of student life, and was held in high regard as contributing a valuable element to a complete education. "The Europe of the Renaissance," writes M. Wagner, "was fairly furrowed in every direction by students, who often travelled afoot and barefoot to save their shoes." These wayfarers were light-hearted and often empty-handed; they were in quest of knowledge, but the intensity of the search was tempered by gaiety and ease of mood. Under a mask of frivolity, however, youth often wears a serious face, and behind apparent aimlessness there is often a steady and final turning of the whole nature towards its goal.
Uncertainty breeds impatience; and in youth, before the will is firmly seated and the goal clearly seen, impatience often manifests itself in the relaxation of all forms of restraint. The richer the nature the greater the reaction which sometimes sets in at this period; the more varied and powerful the elements to be harmonised in a man's character and life, the greater the ferment and agitation which often precede the final discernment and acceptance of one's work. If the pressure of uncertainty with regard to one's gifts and their uses ought to call out patience and sympathy, so ought that experience of spiritual and intellectual agitation which often intervenes between the training for life and the process of actual living. This experience is a true year of wandering, and there is nothing of which the wanderer stands in such need as the friendly hand and the door which stands hospitably open.
It is the born drudge alone who is content to go from the school to the office or the shop without so much as asking the elementary questions about life. The aspiring want to know what is behind the occupation; they must discover the spiritual necessity of work before they are ready to bend to the inevitable yoke. Strong natures are driven by the Very momentum of their own moral impulse to explore the world before they build in it and unite themselves with it; the imagination must be fed with beauty and truth before they are content to choose their task and tools. It is often a sign of greatness in a man that he does not quickly fit into his place or easily find his work. Let him look well at the stars before he bends to his task; he will need to remember them when the days of toil come, as they must come, at times, to every man. Let him see the world with his own eyes before he gives to fortune those hostages which hold him henceforth fast-bound in one place.
It is as natural for ardent and courageous youth to wish to know what is in life, what it means, and what it holds for its children, as for a child to reach for and search the things that surround and attract it. Behind every real worker in the world is a real man, and a man has a right to know the conditions under which he must live, and the choices of knowledge, power, and activity which are offered him. In the education of many men and women, therefore, there comes the year of wandering; the experience of travelling from knowledge to knowledge and from occupation to occupation. There are men and women, it is true, who are born under conditions so free and prosperous that the choice of work is made almost instinctively and unconsciously, and apprenticeship merges into mastery without any intervening agitation or uncertainty. At long intervals Nature not only sends a great talent into the world, but provides in advance for its training and for its steady direction and unfolding; but Nature is not often so minute in her provision for her children. Those who receive most generously from her hand are, for the most part, compelled to discover their gifts and find their places in the general order as the result of much searching, and often of many failures.
And even in the most harmonious natures the elements of agitation and ferment are rarely absent. The forces which go to the making of a powerful man can rarely be adjusted and blended without some disturbance of relations and conditions. This disturbance is sometimes injurious, because it affects the moral foundations upon which character rests; and for this reason the significance of the experience in its relation to development ought to be sympathetically studied. The birth of the imagination and of the passions, the perception of the richness of life, and the consciousness of the possession of the power to master and use that wealth, create a critical moment in the history of youth,—a moment richer in possibilities of all kinds than comes at any later period. Agitation and ferment of soul are inevitable in that wonderful moment. It is as idle to ask youth to be calm and contented in that supreme moment as to ask the discoverer who is catching his first glimpse of a new continent to avoid excitement. There are times when agitation is as normal as is self-control at other and less critical times. There are days in June when Nature seems to betray an almost riotous prodigality of energy; but that prodigality is always well within the limits of order. In youth that which is to be feared is not the explosive force of vitality, but its wrong direction; and it is at this crisis that youth so often makes its mute and unavailing appeal to maturity. The man who has left his year of wandering behind him forgets its joys and perils, and regards it as a deflection from a course which is now perfectly plain, although it may once have been confused and uncertain. He is critical and condemnatory where he ought to be sympathetic and helpful. If he reflects and comprehends, he will hold out the hand of fellowship; for he will understand that the year of wandering is not a manifestation of aimlessness, but of aspiration, and that in its ferment and uncertainty youth is often guided to and finally prepared for its task.
The Ultimate Test
"I have cut more than one field of oats and wheat," writes M. Charles Wagner, "cradled for long hours under the August sky to the slow cadence of the blade as it swung to and fro, laying low at every stroke the heavy yellow heads. I have heard the quail whistle in the distant fields beyond the golden waves of wheat and the woods that looked blue above the vines. I have thought of the clamours of mankind, of the oven-like cities, of the problems which perplex the age, and my insight has grown clearer. Yes, I am Positive that one of the great curatives of our evils, our maladies, social, moral, and intellectual, would be a return to the soil, a rehabilitation of the work of the fields." In these characteristically ardent words one of the noblest Frenchmen of the day has brought out a truth of general application. To come once more into personal relations with mother earth is to secure health of body and of mind; and with health comes clarity of vision. To touch the soil as a worker is to set all the confined energies of the body free, to incite all its functions to normal activity, to secure that physical harmony which results from a full and normal play of all the physical forces on an adequate object.
In like manner, true work of mind or technical skill brings peace, composure, sanity, to one to whom the proper outlet of his energy has been denied. To youth, possessed by an almost riotous vitality, with great but unused powers of endurance and of positive action, the finding of its task means concentration of energy instead of dissipations directness of action instead of indecision, conscious increase of power instead of deepened sense of inefficiency, and the happiness which rises like a pure spring from the depths of the soul when the whole nature is poised and harmonised. The torments of uncertainty, the waste and disorder of the period of ferment, give place to clear vision, free action, natural growth. There are few moments in life so intoxicating as those which follow the final discovery of the task one is appointed to perform. It is a true home-coming after weary and anxious wandering; it is the lifting of the fog off a perilous coast; it is the shining of the sun after days of shrouded sky.
The "storm and stress" period is always interesting because it predicts the appearance of a new power; and men instinctively love every evidence of the greatness of the race, as they instinctively crave the disclosure of new truth. In the reaction against the monotony of formalism and of that deadly conventionalism which is the peril of every accepted method in religion, art, education, or politics, men are ready to welcome any revolt, however extravagant. Too much life is always better than too little, and the absurdities of young genius are nobler than the selfish prudence of aged sagacity. The wild days at Weimar which Klopstock looked at askance, and not without good reason; the excess of passion and action in Schiller's "Robbers;" the turbulence of the young Romanticists, with long hair and red waistcoats, crowding the Theatre Francais to compel the acceptance of "Hernani,"—these stormy dawns of the new day in art are always captivating to the imagination. Their interest lies, however, not in their turbulence and disorder, but in their promise. If real achievements do not follow the early outbreak, the latter are soon forgotten; if they herald a new birth of power, they are fixed in the memory of a world which, however slow and cold, loves to feel the fresh impulse of the awakening human spirit. The wild days at Weimar were the prelude to a long life of sustained energy and of the highest productivity; "The Robbers" was soon distanced and eclipsed by the noble works of one of the noblest of modern spirits; and to the extravagance of the ardent French Romanticists of 1832 succeeded those great works in verse and prose which have made the last half-century memorable in French literary history.
It is the fruitage of work, not the wild play of undirected energy, which gives an epoch its decisive influence and a man his place and power. Both aspects of the "storm and stress" period need to be kept in mind. When it is tempted to condemn too sternly the extravagance of such a period, society will do well to recall how often this undirected or ill-directed play of energy has been the forerunner of a noble putting forth of creative power. And those who are involved in such an outpouring of new life, on the other hand, will do well to remember that extravagance is never the sign of art; that licence is never the liberty which sets free the creative force; that "storm and stress" is, at the best, only a promise of sound work; and that its importance and reality depend entirely upon the fruit it bears.
The decisive test, in other words, comes when a man deals, in patience and fidelity, with the task which is set before him. Up to this point his life, however rich and varied, has been a preparation; now comes that final trial of strength which is to bring into clear light whatever power is in him, be that power great or small. If work had no other quality, the fact that it settles a man's place among men would invest it with the highest dignity; for a man's place can be determined only by a complete unfolding and measurement of all the powers that are in him, and this process of development must have all the elements of the highest moral process. So great, indeed, is the importance of work from this point of view that it seems to involve, under the appearance of a provisional judgment, the weight and seriousness of a final judgment of men. Such a judgment, as every man knows who has the conscience either of a moralist or of an artist, is being hourly registered in the growth which is silently accomplished through the steady and skilful doing of one's work, or in the gradual but inevitable decline and decay which accompany and follow the slovenly, indifferent, or unfaithful performance of one's task.
We make or unmake ourselves by and through our work; marring our material and spiritual fortunes or discovering and possessing them at will. The idle talk about the play of chance in the world, the futile attempt to put on the broad back of circumstances that burden of responsibility which rests on our own shoulders, deceives no man in his saner moments. The outward fruits of success are not always within our reach, no matter how strenuous our struggles to pluck them; but that inward strength, of which all forms of outward prosperity are but visible evidences, lies within the grasp of every true worker. Fidelity, skill, energy—the noble putting forth of one's power in some worthy form of work—never fail of that unfolding of the whole man in harmonious strength which is the only ultimate and satisfying form of success.
Work is the most continuous and comprehensive form of action; that form which calls into play and presses into steady service the greatest number of gifts, skills, and powers. Into true work, therefore, a man pours his nature without measure or stint; and in that process he comes swiftly or slowly to a clear realisation of himself. Work sets him face to face with himself. So long as he is getting ready to work he cannot measure his power, nor take full account of his resources of skill, intelligence, and moral endurance; but when he has closed with his task and put his entire force into the doing of it, he comes to an understanding not only of but with himself. Under the testing process of actual contact with materials and obstacles, his strength and his weakness are revealed to him; he learns what lies within his power and what lies beyond it; he takes accurate account of his moral force, and measures himself with some degree of accuracy against a given task or undertaking; he discovers his capacity for growth, and begins to see, through the mist of the future, how far he is likely to go along the road he has chosen. He discerns his lack of skill in various directions, and knows how to secure what he needs; in countless ways he measures himself and comes to know himself.
For work speedily turns inward power into outward achievement, and so makes it possible to take accurate account of what has hitherto lain wholly within the realm of the potential. In a very deep and true sense an artist faces his own soul when he looks at his finished work. He sees a bit of himself in every book, painting, statue, or other product of his energy and skill. What was once concealed in the mystery of his own nature is set in clear light in the work of his hands; the reality or unreality of his aspirations is finally settled; the question of the possession of original power or of mere facility is answered. The worker is no longer an unknown force; he has been developed, revealed, measured, and tested.
In this process one of his highest gains is the liberation of his inward power and the attainment of self-knowledge and self-mastery. No man is free until he knows himself, and whatever helps a man to come to clear understanding of himself helps him to attain freedom. A man does not command his resources of physical strength until he has so trained and developed his body that each part supplements every other part and bears the strain with equal power of resistance. When every part has been developed to its highest point of efficiency, and the whole body answers the command of the will with that completeness of strength which has its source in harmony of parts through unity of development, the man has come into full possession of his physical resources. In like manner a man comes into complete mastery of himself when through self-knowledge he presses every force and faculty into activity, and through activity secures for each its ultimate perfection of power and action.
When every force within has been developed to its highest efficiency, complete liberation has been effected. The perfectly developed and trained man would have the poise and peace which come from the harmonious expression of the soul through every form of activity, and the freedom which is the result of complete command of all one's resources and the power to use them at will. This ultimate stage of power and freedom has, perhaps, never been attained by any worker under the conditions of this present life; but in the exact degree in which the worker approaches this ideal does he secure his own freedom. The untrained man, whose sole resource is some kind of unskilled labour, is in bondage to the time and place in which and at which he finds himself, and to the opportunities and rewards close at hand; the trained man has the freedom of the whole world of work. Michael Angelo receives commissions from princes and popes; Velasquez paints with kings looking over his shoulder; Tesla can choose the place where he will work; Mr. Gladstone would have found fame and fortune at the end of almost any road he chose to take. In the case of each of these great workers inward power was matured and harmonised by outward work, and through work each achieved freedom.
No man is free until he can dispose of himself; until he is sought after instead of seeking; until, in the noblest sense of the words, he commands his own price in the world. There are men in every generation who push this self-development and self-mastery so far, and who obtain such a large degree of freedom in consequence, that the keys of all doors are open to them. We call such men masters, not to suggest subjection to them, but as an instinctive recognition of the fact that they have secured emancipation from the limitations from which most men never escape. In a world given over to apprenticeship these heroic spirits have attained the degree of mastership. They have not been carried to commanding positions by happy tides of favourable circumstance; they have not stumbled into greatness; they have attained what they have secured and they hold it by virtue of superior intelligence, skill, and power. They possess more freedom than their fellows because they have worked with finer insight, with steadier persistence, and with more passionate enthusiasm. They are masters because they are free; but their freedom was bought with a great price.
The Larger Education
The old idea that the necessity of working was imposed upon men as a punishment is responsible, in large measure, for the radical misunderstanding of the function and uses of work which has so widely prevailed. In the childhood of the world a garden for innocence to play in secured the consummation of all deep human longings for happiness; but there is a higher state than innocence: there is the state to which men attain through knowledge and trial. Knowledge involves great perils, but it is better than innocuous ignorance; virtue involves grave dangers, but it is nobler than innocence. Character cannot be secured if choice between higher and lower aims is denied; and without character the world would be meaningless. There can be no unfolding of character without growth, and growth is inconceivable without the aid of work. The process of self- expression through action is wrought, therefore, into the very structure of man's life; it is not a penalty, but a spiritual opportunity of the highest order. It is the most comprehensive educational process to which men are subjected, and it has done more, probably, than all other processes to lift the moral and social level of the race.
Instead of being a prison, the workshop has been a place of training, discipline, and education. The working races have been the victorious races; the non-working races have been the subject races. Wandering peoples who trust to what may be called geographical luck for a living often develop strong individual qualities and traits, but they never develop a high degree of social or political organisation, nor do they produce literature and art. The native force of imagination which some semi-civilised races seem to possess never becomes creative until it is developed and directed by training. Education is as essential to greatness of achievement in any field as the possession of gifts of genius. An untrained race, like an untrained man, is always at an immense disadvantage, not only in the competition of the world, but in the working out of individual destiny. The necessity for work is so far from being a penalty that it must be counted the highest moral opportunity open to men, and, therefore, one of the divinest gifts offered to the race. The apparent freedom of nomadic peoples is seen, upon closer view, to be a very hard and repulsive bondage; the apparent servitude of working peoples is seen to be, upon closer view, an open road to freedom.
There is no real freedom save that which is based upon discipline. The chance to do as one pleases is not liberty, as so many people imagine; liberty involves knowledge, self-mastery, capacity for exertion, power of resistance. Emerson uncovered the fundamental conception when he declared that character is our only definition of freedom and power. Now, character is always the product of an educational process of some kind; its production involves tests, trials, temptations, toils. It does not represent innocence, but that which is higher and more difficult of attainment, virtue. Innocence is the starting-point in life; virtue is the goal. Between these two points lies that arduous education which is effected, for most men, chiefly by and through work. In comparison with the field, the shop, the factory, the mine, and the sea, the school has educated a very inconsiderable number; the vast majority of the race have been trained by toil. On the farm, in the innumerable factories, in offices and stores, on sea-going craft of all kinds, and in the vast field of land transportation, the race, as a rule, has had its education in those elemental qualities which make organised society possible. When the race goes to its work in the morning, it goes to its school; and the chief result of its toil is not that which it makes with its hands, but that which it slowly and unconsciously creates within itself. It is concerned with the product of its toil; with soil, seed, or grain; with wood, paper, metal, or stone; with processes and forces; but in the depths of the worker's nature there is a moral deposit of habit, quality, temper, which is the invisible moral result of his toil. The real profit of a day's work in the world can never be estimated in terms of money; it can be estimated only in terms of character.
The regularity, promptness, obedience, fidelity, and skill demanded in every kind of work, skilled or unskilled, compels the formation of a certain degree of character. No worker can keep his place who does not develop certain moral qualities in connection with his work. Honesty, truthfulness, sobriety, and skill are essential to the most elementary success,—the getting of the bare necessities of life; and these fundamental qualities, upon which organised society rests as on an immovable foundation, are the silent deposit of the work of the world. Through what seems to be the bondage of toil the race is emancipated from the ignorance, the licence, and the dull monotony of savagery; through what seems to be a purely material dealing with insensate things men put themselves in the way of the most thorough moral training.
The necessity of working gives society steadiness and stability; when large populations are freed from this necessity, irresponsible mobs take the place of orderly citizens, and the crowd of idlers must be fed and amused to be kept out of mischief. A man can never be idle with safety and advantage until he has been so trained by work that he makes his freedom from times and tasks more fruitful than his toil has been. When work has disciplined a man, he may safely be left to himself; for he will not only govern himself, but he will also employ himself. There are few worse elements in society than an idle leisure class,—a body of men and women who make mere recreation the business of living, and so reverse or subvert the natural order of life.
On the other hand, there is no more valuable element in society than a working leisure class,—a body of men and women who, emancipated from the harder and more mechanical work of the world, give themselves to the higher activities and enrich the common life by intelligence, beauty, charm of habit and manners, dignity of carriage, and distinction of character and taste. So long as men need other food than bread, and have higher necessities than those of the body, a leisure class will be essential to the richest and completest social development. What society does not need is an idle class.
The comradeship of work is an element which is rarely taken into account, but which is of great importance from many points of view. Men who work together have not only the same interests, but are likely to develop a kinship of thought and feeling. Their association extends beyond working hours, and includes their higher and wider interests. There seems to be something in the putting forth of effort upon the same material or for the same end which binds men together with ties which are not wholly the result of proximity. Those who have given no thought to the educational side of work, and who are ignorant that it has such a side, are, nevertheless, brought within the unifying influence of a process which, using mainly the hands and the feet, is insensibly training the whole nature.
There is a deeper unity in the work of the world than has been clearly understood as yet; there is that vital unity which binds together those who are not only engaged in a common task, but who are also involved in a common spiritual process. The very necessity of work carries with it the implication of an incomplete world and an imperfectly developed society. The earth was not finished when it was made ready for the appearance of man; it will not be finished until man has done with it. In the making of the world man has his part; here, as elsewhere, he meets God and co- operates with him; the divine and the human combining to perfect the process of unfolding and evolution. Until the work of men has developed it, the earth is raw material. It is full of power, but that power is not conserved and directed, it is full of the potentialities of fertility, but there are no harvests; all manner of possibilities both of material and spiritual uses are in it,—food, ore, force, beauty,—but these possibilities must await the skill of man before they can be turned into wealth, comfort, art, civilisation. God gives the earth as a mine, and man must work it; as a field, and man must till it; as a reservoir of force, and man must make connection with it; as the rough material out of which order, symmetry, utility, beauty, culture may be wrought, and men must unfold these higher uses by intelligence, skill, toil, and character. At some time every particle of the civilised world has been like the old frontier on this continent, and men have reclaimed either the desert or the wilderness by their heroic sacrifices and labours. It is a misuse of language, therefore, to say that the world is made; it is not made, because it is being made century by century through the toil of successive generations.
Now, this creative process, in which God and men unite, is what we call work. It is not a process introduced among men as an afterthought or as a form of punishment; it was involved in the initial creative act, and it is part of the complete creative act. The conception of a process of development carries with it the idea, not of a finished but of an unfinished world; it interprets history not as a record of persons and events separate from the stage upon which they appear, like actors on the boards, but as the story of the influence of an unfinished world upon an undeveloped race, and of the marvellous unfolding through which the hidden powers and qualities of the material and the worker are brought into play. Work becomes, therefore, not only a continuation of the divine activity in the world, but a process inwrought in the very constitution of that world. Growth is the divinest element in life, and work is one of the chief factors in growth.
The earth is, therefore, in its full unfolding and its final form, the joint product of the love and power of God and of the toil and sacrifice of men; the creative purpose is not accomplished in a single act; it is being wrought out through a long progression of acts; and in this continuous process God and men are brought together in a way which makes the labour of the hand the work also of the spirit. If one reflects on all that this intimate cooperation of the divine and the human in the fields, the factories, and the shops means, the nobility of work and its possibilities of spiritual education become impressively clear. In this fellowship men are trained in ways of which they are insensible; spiritual results are accomplished within them of which they are unconscious. The Infinite is nowhere more beneficently present than in the strain and anguish of toil; and the necessity of putting forth one's strength in some form of activity is not a hardship but a divine opportunity.
To well-conditioned men work is a joy; under normal conditions, for healthful men, it is always a joy. The spiritual meaning behind the hard face which toil wears makes itself dimly understood at times, and men sing at their tasks not only out of pure exuberance of good spirits and sound health, but because there is something essentially rhythmical and harmonious in their toil. The song of the sailor at the windlass is a song of fellowship; an expression of the deepened consciousness of strength and exhilaration which come from standing together in a joint putting forth of strength. When a man honestly gives himself to any kind of work he makes himself one with his fellows in the creative process; he enters into deepest fellowship with the race. And, as in the intimacy of the family, in its structure and habit, there lies a very deep and rich educational process, so in the community of work there lies a training and enrichment which go to the very centre of the individual life. The ideal development involves harmonious adjustment of the man to the world, through complete development of his personality and through complete unity with the race; and the deepest and most fruitful living is denied those who fail of entire unfolding in either of these hemispheres, which together make up the perfect whole. In genuine culture solitude and society must both find place; a man must secure the strength and poise which enable him to stand alone, and he must also unite himself in hand, mind, and heart with his fellows. In isolation the finer parts of nature wither; in fellowship they bear noble fruitage. To work in one's day with one's fellows; to accept their fortune, bear their burdens, perform their tasks, and accept their rewards; to be one with them in the toil, sorrow, and joy of life,—is to put oneself in the way of the richest growth and the purest happiness.
Work and Pessimism
When perils thickened about him and the most courageous grew faint- hearted, Francis Drake's favourite phrase was: "It matters not; God hath many things in store for us." No man ever wore a more dauntless face in the presence of danger than the great adventurer who destroyed the foundations of Spanish power in this continent, and whose smile always grew sweeter as the situation grew more desperate. That smile carried the conviction of ultimate safety to a crew which was often on the verge of despair; its serenity and confidence were contagious; it conveyed the impression, in the blackest hour, that the leader knew some secret way of escape from encircling peril. He knew, as a rule, no more than his men knew; but as danger deepened, his genius became energised to the utmost quickness of discernment and the utmost rapidity of action. He had no time for despair; he had only time for decision and action. In his dying hour, on a hostile sea, half a hemisphere from home, he arose, dressed himself, and called for his arms; falling before the only foe to whom he ever yielded with the same dauntless courage which had made him the master of untravelled seas and the terror of a continent. He so completely identified himself with the work he had in hand that he sapped the very sources of fear.
Such heroic self-forgetfulness is not the exclusive possession of men of action; it lies within the reach of any man who is strong enough to grasp it. Two writers of our time have nobly worn this jewel of courage in the eyes of the world. John Addington Symonds was for many years an invalid whose life hung on a thread. He had youth, gifts of a high order, culture, ambition, but a desolating shadow blackened the landscape of his life; he might have yielded to the lassitude which came with his disease; he might have become embittered and poured his sorrows into the ear of the world, as too many less burdened men and women have done in these recent decades. Instead of accepting these weak alternatives and wasting his brief years in useless complainings, he plucked opportunity out of the very jaws of death; found in the high Alps the conditions most favourable for activity, and poured his life out in work of such sustained interest and value that he laid the English-reading peoples under lasting obligations. In spite of his invalidism he achieved more than most men who live out the full period of life in complete possession of their powers.
In like manner disease touched Robert Louis Stevenson in his early prime, and would have daunted a spirit less gallant than his. He bore himself in the presence of death as a dashing leader bears himself in the presence of an overwhelming foe; he was intrepid, but he was also wise. He sought such alleviations as climates afforded a man in his condition, and then gave himself to his work with a kind of passionate ardour, as if he would pluck the very heart out of time and toil before the night fell. Neither of these men was blind to his condition; neither was indifferent; both loved life and both had their moments of revolt and depression; but both found in work resource from despair, and both made the world richer not only by the fruits of self-conquest, but by the contagious power of heroic example. Such careers put to shame the self-centred, egotistic, morbid pessimism which has found so many voices in recent years that its cowardly outcries have almost drowned the great, sane, authoritative voices of the world.
Despair has many sources, but one of its chief sources is the attempt to put an incomplete in the place of a complete life, and to substitute a partial for a full and rounded development. The body keeps that physical unconsciousness which is the evidence of health only so long as every part of it is normally used and exercised; when any set of organs is ignored and neglected, some form of disorder begins, and sooner or later physical self-consciousness in some part announces the appearance of disease. In like manner, intellectual and spiritual self-unconsciousness, which is both the condition and the result of complete intellectual and spiritual health, is preserved only so long as a man lives freely and naturally in and through all his activities. Expression of the whole nature through every faculty is essential to entire sanity of mind and spirit. Every violation of this fundamental law is followed by moral or spiritual disorder, loss of balance, decline of power. To see the world with clear eyes, as Shakespeare saw it, instead of seeing it through distorted vision, as Paul Verlaine saw it, one must think, feel, and act. To compress one's vital power into any one of these forms or channels of expression is to limit growth, to destroy the balance and symmetry of development, to lose clarity of vision, and to invite that devastating disease of our time and of all times, morbid self-consciousness. The man who lives exclusively in thought becomes a theorist, an indifferent observer, or a cynic; he who lives exclusively in feeling becomes a sentimentalist or a pessimist; he who lives exclusively in action becomes a mere executive energy, a pure objective force in society. These types are found in all times, and exhibit in a great variety of ways the perils of incomplete development.
In our time the chief peril for men of imagination and the artistic temperament comes from that aloofness of temper which separates its victim from his fellows, isolates him in the very heart of society, and turns his energy inward so that he preys upon himself. The root of a great deal of that pessimism which has found expression in modern literature is found in inactivity. He who contents himself with looking at life as a spectator sees its appalling contradictions and its baffling confusions, and misses the steadying power of the common toil, the comprehension through sympathy, the slow but deep unfolding and education which come from participation in the world's work. He who approaches life only through his feelings is bruised, hurt, and finally exhausted by a strain of emotion unrelieved by thought and action. No man is sound either in vision or in judgment who holds himself apart from the work of society. Participation in that work not only liberates the inward energy which preys upon itself if repressed; it also, through human fellowship, brings warmth and love to the solitary spirit; above all, it so identifies the man with outward activities that his personal force finds free access to the world, and he is delivered from the peril of self-consciousness. He who cares supremely for some worthy activity and gives himself to it has no time to reflect on his own woes, and no temptation to exaggerate his own claims. He sees clearly that he is an undeveloped personality to whom the supreme opportunity comes in the guise of the discipline of work. To forget oneself in heroic action as did Drake, or in heroic toil as did Symonds and Stevenson, is to make even disease contribute to health and mastery.
The Educational Attitude
The man whose life is intelligently ordered is always preparing himself for the highest demands of his work; he is not only doing that work with adequate skill from day to day, but he is always fitting himself in advance for more exacting and difficult tasks.
If a man is to become an artist in his work, his specific preparation for particular occasions and tasks must be part of a general preparation for all possible occasions and tasks. It is not only impossible to foresee opportunities, but it is often impossible to recognise their importance until they are past. It is well to know by heart Emerson's significant lines,—
"Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days, Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes, And marching single in an endless file, Bring diadems and fagots in their hands. To each they offer gifts after his will, Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all. I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp, Forgot my mourning wishes, hastily Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day Turned and departed silent. I, too late, Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn."
The Days, which come so unobtrusively and go so silently, are opportunities in disguise, and to enable a man to penetrate that disguise and discern the royal figure in the meanest dress is one of the great ends of that education which must always, in some form, precede real success. For nothing which endures is ever done without some kind of preliminary training. Men do not happen, by chance, upon greatness; they achieve it. Noble work of any kind is the fruit of laborious apprenticeship, and from the higher forms of success the idler and the amateur are for ever shut out. A man often enters a new field or takes up a new tool with surprising facility and power; but in these cases the man is only carrying into a fresh field the skill already acquired elsewhere. It has sometimes happened that a sudden occasion has called an obscure man to his feet, and he has sat down famous. In such instances it is the custom to say that the orator has spoken without preparation; as a matter of fact, the man knows that he has been all his life preparing for that critical moment. If he had not risen full of his theme, with the rich material of noble speech within reach of his memory or imagination, he would have left the hour empty and unmarked. In such a moment a man rises as high as the reach of his nature and no higher, and the reach of his nature depends on the training he has given himself.
The hour for commanding speech comes to the politician, whose study of public affairs is chiefly a study of the management of his constituents, and he sits down as empty as he arose; the same hour, arriving unexpectedly to Burke or Webster, draws upon vast accumulations of knowledge, thought, and illustration. In the famous debate with Hayne, Webster had practically but one day in which to prepare his reply to his persuasive and accomplished adversary; but when he spoke it was to put into language for all time the deep conviction of the reality of the national idea. The great orator had scant time to make ready for the greatest opportunity of his life, but, in reality, he had been preparing from boyhood to make that immortal speech. Brilliant speeches are often made extemporaneously; but such speeches are never made without long and arduous preparation. "The gods sell anything and to everybody at a fair price," says Emerson; and he might have added that they give nothing away. Whatever a man secures in the way of power or fame he pays for in preliminary preparation; nothing is given him except his native capacity; everything else he must pay for. To recognise opportunity when it comes, or to make the highest use of it when it is not to be recognised at the moment, involves constant enrichment and education of the whole nature.
It is one of the secrets of the higher kind of success to make life interesting, and this secret is committed mainly to those who get the educational value of events, conditions, and relationships. The man who can rationalise his entire experience is in the way of learning the deepest lesson of life and of keeping the keenest interest in all its happenings. A mass of facts exhausts and wearies the student, but when they fall into order, disclose connections, and reveal truth they awaken enthusiasm. The body of fact without the soul of truth is a dead and repellent thing; but if the soul of truth shine through straightway it becomes vital, companionable, stimulating. Now, the most fruitful preparation for opportunities and tasks of all degrees of importance is that attitude towards life which habitually secures from it the truth behind the experience and the principle behind the fact. Some men are enriched by everything they touch because they seem instinctively to get at the spiritual meaning of events; other men get nothing but material results from their dealing with the world. One man takes nothing off his broad acres but crops; another harvests his crops with as large results, but harvests also knowledge of the chemistry of nature, appreciation of the landscape beyond his own fields, and those qualities of character which have their root in honest work in the open fields.
A striking difference is discernible between two classes of men of business; one class is shrewd, keen, successful, but entirely uninteresting, because it fastens its attention exclusively upon the bare, hard facts of the situation; the other class is not only equally successful, but possesses a rare interest, because it penetrates behind the facts of trade to the laws of trade, studies general conditions, and continually deals with the situation from the point of view of large intelligence. No human being is so entirely devoid of interest to his fellows as the trader who barters one commodity for another without any comprehension of higher values or wider connections; on the other hand, few men are more interesting than the great merchants whose vision penetrates to the principles behind business, and who acquire a kind of wisdom which is the more engaging because it is constantly verified by contact with affairs. The man who is a trader never gets beyond the profit of his shrewd bargain; the man who trains himself to study general conditions puts himself in the way, not only of great wealth, but of leadership and power.
Behind every trade and occupation there are the most intimate human connections; beneath every trade and occupation there are deep human relationships; and it is only as we discern these fundamental relations and connections that we get at a true conception of the magnitude of the practical activities of society and of their significance in civilisation. The man who treats his trade as mere opportunity of making money, without taking into account the service of that trade to men or its relation to the totality of social activities, is as truly anti-social in his spirit and methods as an anarchist. Such a man breaks society into selfish fragments, and turns commerce into vulgar bartering. The penalty of such a sordid and narrow view of life is never evaded; the trader makes gains and often swells them by hoarding; but he rarely secures great wealth,—for great fortunes are built by brains and force,—and he never secures leadership. He who is to win the noblest successes in the world of affairs must continually educate himself for larger grasp of principles and broader grasp of conditions.
It is a very superficial conception of workmanship which sets it in conflict with originality. There is often an inherent antagonism between the impulse for freedom and spontaneity which is characteristic of genius, and a conventional, hard-and-fast rule or method of securing certain technical results; but there is no antagonism between the boldest originality and the most complete mastery of craftsmanship. There is, rather, a deep and vital relationship between the two. For every art is a language, and to secure power and beauty and adequacy of expression a man must command all the secrets and resources of the form of speech which he has chosen. The power of the great artist rests, in the last analysis, upon the freedom with which he uses his material; and this freedom does not come by nature; it comes by training. It is fatal to the highest success to have the command of a noble language and to have nothing to say in it; it is equally fatal to have noble thoughts and to lack the power of giving them expression. Technical skill is not, therefore, an exterior, mechanical possession; it is the fitting of tools and material to heart and mind; it is the fruit of character; it is the evidence of sincerity, thoroughness, truthfulness. In his characteristically suggestive comment upon the Japanese artist Hokusai, Mr. John La Farge gives an interesting account of the training established and enforced in the school of the Kanos, a family of painters which survived the vicissitudes of more than four centuries. The course of study in a Kano school covered at least ten years, and the average age of graduation was thirty. The rules of conduct were rigid; the manner of life simple to the point of bareness; the discipline of work severe and unbroken. During the first year and a half of study the pupil devoted his entire time to copying certain famous works in the possession of the school; making, in the first instance, a copy from the picture set before him, and then reproducing his own copy again and again until every stroke and detail was thoroughly comprehended and mastered. In the course of eighteen months sixty pictures were studied with this searching thoroughness; the secrets of skill in each were uncovered, the sources of beauty or power discerned; and the eye and hand of the pupil gained intelligence, quickness, penetration. Month after month passed in what seemed to be a monotony of mechanical imitation; but in this arduous and literal reproduction of the skill of others was laid the sure foundations of individual skill. This devout attention to methods secured for a considerable number of men a technical expertness for which we look, as a rule, only in the work of the greatest artists. The result of this training was not mechanical skill, but truth and freshness of observation. The signature of the artist in question reveals not an imitative but an original nature, not a faculty absorbed in accuracy but in passion for expression: "Hokusai, the Old Man Crazy about Painting."
The arduous patience of these Oriental students of painting bore its fruit in a tradition of skill which was in itself an immense stimulus to the aspiring and ambitious; it established standards of craftsmanship which made the possession of expert knowledge a necessity on the part of every one who seriously attempted to practice the art. Mr. La Farge comments upon the level of superior artistic culture which these Japanese artists had attained. They had advanced their common skill so far that a superior man began at a great height of attainment, and was compelled to exhibit power of a very rare order before he could claim any kind of prominence among his fellows.
The establishment of such a standard in any art, profession, or occupation has the immense educational value of making clear to the student, at the very beginning of his career, the prime importance of mastering in detail every part of the work which he has undertaken to do. There is no place in the modern working world for the sloven, the indifferent, or the unskilled; no one can hope for any genuine success who fails to give himself the most thorough technical preparation, the most complete special education. Good intentions go for nothing, and industry is thrown away, if one cannot infuse a high degree of skill into his work. The man of medium skill depends upon fortunate conditions for success; he cannot command it, nor can he keep it. In the fierce competition of the day the trained man has all the advantages on his side; the untrained man invites all the tragic possibilities of industrial and economic failure. He is always at the mercy of conditions. To know every detail, to gain an insight into every secret, to learn every method, to secure every kind of skill, are the prime necessities of success in any art, craft, or trade. No time is too long, no study too hard, no discipline too severe for the attainment of complete familiarity with one's work and complete ease and skill in the doing of it. As a man values his working life, he must be willing to pay the highest price of success in it,—the price which severe training exacts.
The external prosperity which is called success is of value because it evidences, as a rule, thoroughness and ability in the man who secures it, and because it supplies the ease of body and of mind which is essential to the fullest and most effective putting forth of one's power; and the sane man, even while he subordinates it to higher things, never entirely ignores or neglects success. The possession of skill is to-day the inexorable condition of securing this outward prosperity; and, as a rule, the greater a man's skill the more enduring his success. But skill has other and deeper uses and ends. Thoroughness and adequacy in the doing of one's work are the evidences of the presence of a moral conception in the worker's mind; they are the witnesses to the pressure of his conscience on his work. Slovenly, careless, and indifferent work is dishonest and untruthful; the man who is content to do less than the best he is capable of doing for any kind of compensation—money, reputation, influence—is an immoral man. He violates a fundamental law of life by accepting that which he has not earned.
Skill in one's art, profession, or trade is conscience applied; it is honesty, veracity, and fidelity using the eye, the voice, and the hand to reveal what lies in the worker's purpose and spirit. To become an artist in dealing with tools and materials is not a matter of choice or privilege; it is a moral necessity; for a man's heart must be in his skill, and a man's soul in his craftsmanship.
It was the habit of an American statesman who rose to the highest official position, to prepare himself in advance upon every question which was likely to come before Congress by thorough and prolonged study. His vacations and his leisure hours during the session were spent in familiarising himself with pending questions in all their aspects. He was not content with a mastery of the details of a measure; he could not rest until he had mastered the principle behind it, had studied it in the light of history, and in its relation to our political institutions and character. His voluminous note-books show the most thorough study, not only of particular measures and questions as they came before the country from time to time, but of a wide range of related subjects. He once said that for every speech he had delivered he had prepared five; and the statement throws clear light on a career of extraordinary growth and success.
For the characteristic of this career was its steady expansion along intellectual lines. It was exceptional in its disclosure of that inward energy which carries the man who possesses it over all obstacles, enables him to master adverse conditions, to secure education without means and culture without social opportunity; but it was not unexampled in a country which has seen many men of ultimate distinction emerge from entire obscurity. Its material success has been paralleled many times; but its intellectual success has rarely been paralleled. It disclosed inward distinction; a passion for the best in life and thought; an eager desire to see things in their largest relations. And so out of conditions which generally breed the politician the statesman was slowly matured. History, religion, literature, art were objects of his constant and familiar study; and he made himself rich in general knowledge as well as in specific information. This ample background of knowledge of the best which the world has known and done in all the great fields of its activity gave his discussions of specific questions breadth, variety, charm, and literary interest. He brought to the particular measure largeness of view, dispassionateness of temper, and the philosophic mind; and his work came to have cultural significance and quality.
Such a career, the record of which may be clearly traced not only in public history but in a vast mass of preparatory notes and memoranda of every description, illustrates in a very noble way the importance of that constant and general preparation which ought to include special preparation as a landscape includes the individual field. That field may have great value and ought to have the most careful tillage; but it cannot be separated, in any just and true vision, from the other fields which it touches and which run, in unbroken continuity, to the horizon; and this preparation not only involves the fruitful attitude towards life upon which comment has been made, but it involves also constant study in many directions with the definite purpose of enrichment and enlargement. No kind of knowledge comes amiss in this larger training. History, literature, art, and science have their different kinds of nurture to impart, and their different kinds of material to supply; and the wise man will open his mind to their teaching and his nature to their ripening touch. The widely accepted idea that a man not only needs nothing more for a specific task than the specific skill which it demands, but that any larger skill tends to superficiality, is the product of that tendency to excessive specialisation which has impaired the harmony of modern education and dwarfed many men of large native capacity.
In some departments of knowledge and activity the demands are so great on time and strength that the man who works in them can hardly venture outside of them without impairing the totality of his achievement; but even in these cases it is often a question whether too great a price has not been paid for a narrow and highly specialised skill. There is not only no conflict between a high degree of technical skill and wide interests and knowledge; there is a clear and definite connection between the two. For in all those higher forms of work which involve not only expert workmanship but a spiritual content of some kind, the worker must bring to his task not only skill but ideas, force, personality, temperament; and, sound workmanship being secured, his rank will depend not on specific expertness, but on the depth, energy, and splendour of the personality which the work reveals.
Creative men feel the necessity of many interests and of wide activities. Their natures require rich pasturage; they must be fed from many sources. They secure the skill of the specialist, but they never accept his limitations of interest and work. The clearer their vision of the unity of all forms of human action and expression, the deeper their need of studying at first hand these different forms of action and expression. Goethe did not choose that comprehensiveness of temper which led him into so many fields; it was the necessity of a mind vast in its range and deep in its insight. Herbert Spencer has done work which discloses at every point the tireless industry and rigorous method of the specialist; but the field in which he has concentrated his energy has included practically the development of the universe and of human life and society. Mr. Gladstone was a master of all the details, skill, and knowledge of his profession; but how greatly he gained in power by the breadth of his interests, and what charm there was in the disclosure of the man of religious enthusiasm, of ardent devotion, and of ripe culture behind the politician and statesman!