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- Essays On Work And Culture - 4/15 -

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.

Chapter VI

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.

Chapter VII


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

Essays On Work And Culture - 4/15

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