Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 11

Labour


For there is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in Work.
Were he never so benighted, forgetful of his high calling, there
is always hope in a man that actually and earnestly works: in
Idleness alone is there perpetual despair. Work, never so
Mammonish, mean, is in communication with Nature; the real
desire to get Work done will itself lead one more and more to
truth, to Nature's appointments and regulations, which are truth.
The latest Gospel in this world is, Know thy work and do it.
'Know thyself:' long enough has that poor 'self' of thine
tormented thee; thou wilt never get to 'know' it, I believe!
Think it not thy business, this of knowing thyself; thou art an
unknowable individual: know what thou canst work at; and work
at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan.

It has been written, 'an endless significance lies in Work;' a
man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away,
fair seedfields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the
man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome
desert thereby. Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of
Labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real
harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire,
Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these like
helldogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor dayworker, as of
every man: but he bends himself with free valour against his
task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far
off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow
of Labour in him, is it not as purifying fire, wherein all
poison is burnt up, and of sour smoke itself there is made
bright blessed flame!

Destiny, on the whole, has no other way of cultivating us. A
formless Chaos, once set it _revolving,_ grows round and ever
rounder; ranges itself, by mere force of gravity, into strata,
spherical courses; is no longer a Chaos, but a round compacted
World. What would become of the Earth, did she cease to revolve?
In the poor old Earth, so long as she revolves, all inequalities,
irregularities disperse themselves; all irregularities are
incessantly becoming regular. Hast thou looked on the Potter's
wheel,--one of the venerablest objects; old as the Prophet
Ezechiel and far older? Rude lumps of clay, how they spin
themselves up, by mere quick whirling, into beautiful circular
dishes. And fancy the most assiduous Potter, but without his
wheel; reduced to make dishes, or rather amorphous botches, by
mere kneading and baking! Even such a Potter were Destiny, with
a human soul that would rest and lie at ease, that would not work
and spin! Of an idle unrevolving man the kindest Destiny, like
the most assiduous Potter without wheel, can bake and knead
nothing other than a botch; let her spend on him what expensive
colouring, what gilding and enamelling she will, he is but a
botch. Not a dish; no, a bulging, kneaded, crooked, shambling,
squint-cornered, amorphous botch,--a mere enamelled vessel of
dishonour! Let the idle think of this.

Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other
blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it,
and will follow it! How, as a free-flowing channel, dug and torn
by noble force through the sour mud-swamp of one's existence,
like an ever-deepening river there, it runs and flows;--draining
off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the
remotest grass-blade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a
green fruitful meadow with its clear-flowing stream. How blessed
for the meadow itself, let the stream and _its_ value be great or
small! Labour is Life: from the inmost heart of the Worker
rises his god-given Force, the sacred celestial Life-essence
breathed into him by Almighty God; from his inmost heart awakens
him to all nobleness,--to all knowledge, 'self-knowledge' and
much else, so soon as Work fitly begins. Knowledge? The
knowledge that will hold good in working, cleave thou to that;
for Nature herself accredits that, says Yea to that. Properly
thou hast no other knowledge but what thou hast got by working:
the rest is yet all a hypothesis of knowledge; a thing to be
argued of in schools, a thing floating in the clouds, in endless
logic-vortices, till we try it and fix it. 'Doubt, of whatever
kind, can be ended by Action alone.'


And again, hast thou valued Patience, Courage, Perseverance,
Openness to light; readiness to own thyself mistaken, to do
better next time? All these, all virtues, in wrestling with the
dim brute Powers of Fact, in ordering of thy fellows in such
wrestle, there and elsewhere not at all, thou wilt continually
learn. Set down a brave Sir Christopher in the middle of black
ruined Stoneheaps, of foolish unarchitectural Bishops, redtape
Officials, idle Nell-Gwyn Defenders of the Faith; and see
whether he will ever raise a Paul's Cathedral out of all that,
yea or no! Rough, rude, contradictory are all things and
persons, from the mutinous masons and Irish hodmen, up to the
idle Nell-Gwyn Defenders, to blustering redtape Officials,
foolish unarchitectural Bishops. All these things and persons
are there not for Christopher's sake and his Cathedral's; they
are there for their own sake mainly! Christopher will have to
conquer and constrain all these,--if he be able. All these are
against him. Equitable Nature herself, who carries her
mathematics and architectonics not on the face of her, but deep
in the hidden heart of her,--Nature herself is but partially for
him; will be wholly against him, if he constrain her not! His
very money, where is it to come from? The pious munificence of
England lies far-scattered, distant, unable to speak, and say, "I
am here;"--must be spoken to before it can speak. Pious
munificence, and all help, is so silent, invisible like the gods;
impediment, contradictions manifold are so loud and near! O
brave Sir Christopher, trust thou in those, notwithstanding, and
front all these; understand all these; by valiant patience,
noble effort, insight, by man's strength, vanquish and compel all
these,--and, on the whole, strike down victoriously the last
topstone of that Paul's Edifice; thy monument for certain
centuries, the stamp 'Great Man' impressed very legibly on
Portland-stone there!--Yes, all manner of help, and pious
response from Men or Nature, is always what we call silent;
cannot speak or come to light, till it be seen, till it be spoken
to. Every noble work is at first impossible. In very truth, for
every noble work the possibilities will lie diffused through
Immensity; inarticulate, undiscoverable except to faith. Like
Gideon thou shalt spread out thy fleece at the door of thy tent;
see whether under the wide arch of Heaven there be any bounteous
moisture, or none. Thy heart and life-purpose shall be as a
miraculous Gideon's fleece, spread out in silent appeal to
Heaven; and from the kind Immensities, what from the poor unkind
Localities and town and country Parishes there never could,
blessed dew-moisture to suffice thee shall have fallen!

Work is of a religious nature:--work is of a _brave_ nature;
which it is the aim of all religion to be. 'All work of man is
as the swimmer's:' a waste ocean threatens to devour him; if he
front it not bravely, it will keep its word. By incessant wise
defiance of it, lusty rebuke and buffet of it, behold how it
loyally supports him, bears him as its conqueror along. 'It
is so,' says Goethe, with all things that man undertakes in
this world.'

Brave Sea-captain, Norse Sea-king,--Columbus, my hero, royalest
Sea-king of all! It is no friendly environment this of thine, in
the waste deep waters; around thee mutinous discouraged souls,
behind thee disgrace and ruin, before thee the unpenetrated veil
of Night. Brother, these wild water-mountains, bounding from
their deep bases (ten miles deep, I am told), are not entirely
there on thy behalf! Meseems _they_ have other work than
floating thee forward:--and the huge Winds, that sweep from Ursa
Major to the Tropics and Equators, dancing their giant-waltz
through the kingdoms of Chaos and Immensity, they care little
about filling rightly or filling wrongly the small shoulder-of-
mutton sails in this cockle-skiff of thine! Thou art not among
articulate-speaking friends, my brother; thou art among
immeasurable dumb monsters, tumbling, howling wide as the world
here. Secret, far off, invisible to all hearts but thine, there
lies a help in them: see how thou wilt get at that. Patiently
thou wilt wait till the mad Southwester spend itself, saving
thyself by dexterous science of defence, the while; valiantly,
with swift decision, wilt thou strike in, when the favouring
East, the Possible, springs up. Mutiny of men thou wilt sternly
repress; weakness, despondency, thou wilt cheerily encourage:
thou wilt swallow down complaint, unreason, weariness, weakness
of others and thyself;--how much wilt thou swallow down! There
shall be a depth of Silence in thee, deeper than this Sea, which
is but ten miles deep: a Silence unsoundable; known to God
only. Thou shalt be a Great Man. Yes, my World-Soldier, thou of
the World Marine-service,--thou wilt have to be _greater_ than
this tumultuous unmeasured World here round thee is: thou, in
thy strong soul, as with wrestler's arms, shalt embrace it,
harness it down; and make it bear thee on,--to new Americas, or
whither God wills!

Thomas Carlyle