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- Essays On Work And Culture - 6/15 -

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.

Chapter X

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.

Chapter XI

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

Essays On Work And Culture - 6/15

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