My Friends, — I have not come among you to-night to endeavour to give you an entertaining lecture; but to tell you a few plain facts, and ask you some plain, but necessary questions. I have seen and known too much of the struggle for life among our labouring population, to feel at ease, even under any circumstances, in inviting them to dwell on the trivialities of my own studies; but, much more, as I meet to-night, for the first time, the members of a working Institute established in the district in which I have passed the greater part of my life, I am desirous that we should at once understand each other, on graver matters. I would fain tell you, with what feelings, and with what hope, I regard this Institution, as one of many such, now happily established throughout England, as well as in other countries; — Institutions which are preparing the way for a great change in all the circumstances of industrial life; but of which the success must wholly depend upon our clearly understanding the circumstances and necessary limits of this change. No teacher can truly promote the cause of education, until he knows the conditions of the life for which that education is to prepare his pupil. And the fact that he is called upon to address you nominally, as a ‘Working Class,’ must compel him, if he is in any wise earnest or thoughtful, to inquire in the outset, on what you yourselves suppose this class distinction has been founded in the past, and must be founded in the future. The manner of the amusement, and the matter of the teaching, which any of us can offer you, must depend wholly on our first understanding from you, whether you think the distinction heretofore drawn between working men and others, is truly or falsely founded. Do you accept it as it stands? do you wish it to be modified? or do you think the object of education is to efface it, and make us forget it for ever?
Let me make myself more distinctly understood. We call this — you and I— a ‘Working Men’s ‘ Institute, and our college in London, a ‘Working Men’s ‘ College. Now, how do you consider that these several institutes differ, or ought to differ, from ‘idle men’s ‘ institutes and ‘idle men’s’ colleges? Or by what other word than ‘idle’ shall I distinguish those whom the happiest and wisest of working men do not object to call the ‘Upper Classes?’ Are there really upper classes, — are there lower? How much should they always be elevated, how much always depressed? And, gentlemen and ladies — I pray those of you who are here to forgive me the offence there may be in what I am going to say. It is not I who wish to say it. Bitter voices say it; voices of battle and of famine through all the world, which must be heard some day, whoever keeps silence. Neither is it to you specially that I say it. I am sure that most now present know their duties of kindness, and fulfil them, better perhaps than I do mine. But I speak to you as representing your whole class, which errs, I know, chiefly by thoughtlessness, but not therefore the less terribly. Wilful error is limited by the will, but what limit is there to that of which we are unconscious?
Bear with me, therefore, while I turn to these workmen, and ask them, also as representing a great multitude, what they think the ‘upper classes’ are, and ought to be, in relation to them. Answer, you workmen who are here, as you would among yourselves, frankly; and tell me how you would have me call those classes. Am I to call them — would you think me right in calling them — the idle classes? I think you would feel somewhat uneasy, and as if I were not treating my subject honestly, or speaking from my heart, if I went on under the supposition that all rich people were idle. You would be both unjust and unwise if you allowed me to say that; — not less unjust than the rich people who say that all the poor are idle, and will never work if they can help it, or more than they can help.
For indeed the fact is, that there are idle poor and idle rich; and there are busy poor and busy rich. Many a beggar is as lazy as if he had ten thousand a year; and many a man of large fortune is busier than his errand-boy, and never would think of stopping in the street to play marbles. So that, in a large view, the distinction between workers and idlers, as between knaves and honest men, runs through the very heart and innermost economies of men of all ranks and in all positions. There is a working class — strong and happy — among both rich and poor; there is an idle class — weak, wicked, and miserable — among both rich and poor. And the worst of the misunderstandings arising between the two orders come of the unlucky fact that the wise of one class habitually contemplate the foolish of the other. If the busy rich people watched and rebuked the idle rich people, all would be right; and if the busy poor people watched and rebuked the idle poor people, all would be right. But each class has a tendency to look for the faults of the other. A hard-working man of property is particularly offended by an idle beggar; and an orderly, but poor, workman is naturally intolerant of the licentious luxury of the rich. And what is severe judgment in the minds of the just men of either class, becomes fierce enmity in the unjust — but among the unjust only. None but the dissolute among the poor look upon the rich as their natural enemies, or desire to pillage their houses and divide their property. None but the dissolute among the rich speak in opprobrious terms of the vices and follies of the poor.
There is, then, no class distinction between idle and industrious people; and I am going to-night to speak only of the industrious. The idle people we will put out of our thoughts at once — they are mere nuisances — what ought to be done with them, we’ll talk of at another time. But there are class distinctions, among the industrious themselves; tremendous distinctions, which rise and fall to every degree in the infinite thermometer of human pain and of human power — distinctions of high and low, of lost and won, to the whole reach of man’s soul and body.
These separations we will study, and the laws of them, among energetic men only, who, whether they work or whether they play, put their strength into the work, and their strength into the game; being in the full sense of the word ‘industrious,’ one way or another — with a purpose, or without. And these distinctions are mainly four:
I. Between those who work, and those who play.
II. Between those who produce the means of life, and those who consume them.
III. Between those who work with the head, and those who work with the hand.
IV. Between those who work wisely, and who work foolishly.
For easier memory, let us say we are going to oppose, in our examination. —
I. First, then, of the distinction between the classes who work and the classes who play. Of course we must agree upon a definition of these terms, — work and play, — before going farther. Now, roughly, not with vain subtlety of definition, but for plain use of the words, ‘play’ is an exertion of body or mind, made to please ourselves, and with no determined end; and work is a thing done because it ought to be done, and with a determined end. You play, as you call it, at cricket, for instance. That is as hard work as anything else; but it amuses you, and it has no result but the amusement. If it were done as an ordered form of exercise, for health’s sake, it would become work directly. So, in like manner, whatever we do to please ourselves, and only for the sake of the pleasure, not for an ultimate object, is ‘play,’ the ‘pleasing thing,’ not the useful thing. Play may be useful in a secondary sense (nothing is indeed more useful or necessary); but the use of it depends on its being spontaneous.
Let us, then, enquire together what sort of games the playing class in England spend their lives in playing at.
The first of all English games is making money. That is an all-absorbing game; and we knock each other down oftener in playing at that than at foot-ball, or any other roughest sport; and it is absolutely without purpose; no one who engages heartily in that game ever knows why. Ask a great money-maker what he wants to do with his money — he never knows. He doesn’t make it to do anything with it. He gets it only that he may get it. ‘What will you make of what you have got?’ you ask. ‘Well, I’ll get more,’ he says. Just as, at cricket, you get more runs. There’s no use in the runs, but to get more of them than other people is the game. And there’s no use in the money, but to have more of it than other people is the game. So all that great foul city of London there, — rattling, growling, smoking, stinking, — a ghastly heap of fermenting brick-work, pouring out poison at every pore, — you fancy it is a city of work? Not a street of it! It is a great city of play; very nasty play, and very hard play, but still play. It is only Lord’s cricket ground without the turf, — a huge billiard table without the cloth, and with pockets as deep as the bottomless pit; but mainly a billiard table, after all.
Well, the first great English game is this playing at counters. It differs from the rest in that it appears always to be producing money, while every other game is expensive. But it does not always produce money. There’s a great difference between ‘winning’ money and ‘making’ it; a great difference between getting it out of another man’s pocket into ours, or filling both. Collecting money is by no means the same thing as making it; the tax-gatherer’s house is not the Mint; and much of the apparent gain (so called), in commerce, is only a form of taxation on carriage or exchange.
Our next great English game, however, hunting and shooting, is costly altogether; and how much we are fined for it annually in land, horses, gamekeepers, and game laws, and all else that accompanies that beautiful and special English game, I will not endeavour to count now: but note only that, except for exercise, this is not merely a useless game, but a deadly one, to all connected with it. For through horse-racing, you get every form of what the higher classes everywhere call ‘Play,’ in distinction from all other plays; that is — gambling; by no means a beneficial or recreative game: and, through game-preserving, you get also some curious laying out of ground; that beautiful arrangement of dwelling-house for man and beast, by which we have grouse and black-cock — so many brace to the acre, and men and women — so many brace to the garret. I often wonder what the angelic builders and surveyors — the angelic builders who build the ‘many mansions’ up above there; and the angelic surveyors, who measured that four-square city with their measuring reeds — I wonder what they think, or are supposed to think, of the laying out of ground by this nation, which has set itself, as it seems, literally to accomplish, word for word, or rather fact for word, in the persons of those poor whom its Master left to represent him, what that Master said of himself — that foxes and birds had homes, but He none.
Then, next to the gentlemen’s game of hunting, we must put the ladies’ game of dressing. It is not the cheapest of games. I saw a brooch at a jeweller’s in Bond Street a fortnight ago, not an inch wide, and without any singular jewel in it, yet worth 3,000l. And I wish I could tell you what this ‘play’ costs, altogether, in England, France, and Russia annually. But it is a pretty game, and on certain terms, I like it; nay, I don’t see it played quite as much as I would fain have it. You ladies like to lead the fashion:— by all means lead it — lead it thoroughly, lead it far enough. Dress yourselves nicely, and dress everybody else nicely. Lead the fashions for the poor first; make them look well, and you yourselves will look, in ways of which you have now no conception, all the better. The fashions you have set for some time among your peasantry are not pretty ones; their doublets are too irregularly slashed, and the wind blows too frankly through them.
Then there are other games, wild enough, as I could show you if I had time.
There’s playing at literature, and playing at art — very different, both, from working at literature, or working at art, but I’ve no time to speak of these. I pass to the greatest of all — the play of plays, the great gentlemen’s game, which ladies like them best to play at, — the game of War. It is entrancingly pleasant to the imagination; the facts of it, not always so pleasant. We dress for it, however, more finely than for any other sport; and go out to it, not merely in scarlet, as to hunt, but in scarlet and gold, and all manner of fine colours: of course we could fight better in grey, and without feathers; but all nations have agreed that it is good to be well dressed at this play. Then the bats and balls are very costly; our English and French bats, with the balls and wickets, even those which we don’t make any use of, costing, I suppose, now about fifteen millions of money annually to each nation; all of which, you know is paid for by hard labourer’s work in the furrow and furnace. A costly game! — not to speak of its consequences; I will say at present nothing of these. The mere immediate cost of all these plays is what I want you to consider; they all cost deadly work somewhere, as many of us know too well. The jewel-cutter, whose sight fails over the diamonds; the weaver, whose arm fails over the web; the iron-forger, whose breath fails before the furnace — they know what work is — they, who have all the work, and none of the play, except a kind they have named for themselves down in the black north country, where ‘play’ means being laid up by sickness. It is a pretty example for philologists, of varying dialect, this change in the sense of the word ‘play,’ as used in the black country of Birmingham, and the red and black country of Baden Baden. Yes, gentlemen, and gentlewomen, of England, who think ‘one moment unamused a misery, not made for feeble man,’ this is what you have brought the word ‘play’ to mean, in the heart of merry England! You may have your fluting and piping; but there are sad children sitting in the market-place, who indeed cannot say to you, ‘We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced:’ but eternally shall say to you, ‘We have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.’
This, then, is the first distinction between the ‘upper and lower’ classes. And this is one which is by no means necessary; which indeed must, in process of good time, be by all honest men’s consent abolished. Men will be taught that an existence of play, sustained by the blood of other creatures, is a good existence for gnats and sucking fish; but not for men: that neither days, nor lives, can be made holy by doing nothing in them: that the best prayer at the beginning of a day is that we may not lose its moments; and the best grace before meat, the consciousness that we have justly earned our dinner. And when we have this much of plain Christianity preached to us again, and enough respect for what we regard as inspiration, as not to think that ‘Son, go work to-day in my vineyard,’ means ‘Fool, go play to-day in my vineyard,’ we shall all be workers, in one way or another; and this much at least of the distinction between ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ forgotten.
II. I pass then to our second distinction; between the rich and poor, between Dives and Lazarus, — distinction which exists more sternly, I suppose, in this day, than ever in the world, Pagan or Christian, till now. I will put it sharply before you, to begin with, merely by reading two paragraphs which I cut from two papers that lay on my breakfast table on the same morning, the 25th of November, 1864. The piece about the rich Russian at Paris is commonplace enough, and stupid besides (for fifteen francs, — 12s. 6d., — is nothing for a rich man to give for a couple of peaches, out of season). Still, the two paragraphs printed on the same day are worth putting side by side.
‘Such a man is now here. He is a Russian, and, with your permission, we will call him Count Teufelskine. In dress he is sublime; art is considered in that toilet, the harmony of colour respected, the chiar’ oscuro evident in well-selected contrast. In manners he is dignified — nay, perhaps apathetic; nothing disturbs the placid serenity of that calm exterior. One day our friend breakfasted chez Bignon. When the bill came he read, “Two peaches, 15f.” He paid. “Peaches scarce, I presume?” was his sole remark. “No, sir,” replied the waiter, “but Teufelskines are."’ Telegraph, November 25, 1864.
‘Yesterday morning, at eight o’clock, a woman, passing a dung heap in the stone yard near the recently-erected alms-houses in Shadwell Gap, High Street, Shadwell, called the attention of a Thames police-constable to a man in a sitting position on the dung heap, and said she was afraid he was dead. Her fears proved to be true. The wretched creature appeared to have been dead several hours. He had perished of cold and wet, and the rain had been beating down on him all night. The deceased was a bone-picker. He was in the lowest stage of poverty, poorly clad, and half-starved. The police had frequently driven him away from the stone yard, between sunset and sunrise, and told him to go home. He selected a most desolate spot for his wretched death. A penny and some bones were found in his pockets. The deceased was between fifty and sixty years of age. Inspector Roberts, of the K division, has given directions for inquiries to be made at the lodging-houses respecting the deceased, to ascertain his identity if possible.’ — Morning Post, November 25, 1864.
You have the separation thus in brief compass; and I want you to take notice of the ‘a penny and some bones were found in his pockets,’ and to compare it with this third statement, from the Telegraph of January 16th of this year:—
‘Again, the dietary scale for adult and juvenile paupers was drawn up by the most conspicuous political economists in England. It is low in quantity, but it is sufficient to support nature; yet within ten years of the passing of the Poor Law Act, we heard of the paupers in the Andover Union gnawing the scraps of putrid flesh and sucking the marrow from the bones of horses which they were employed to crush.’
You see my reason for thinking that our Lazarus of Christianity has some advantage over the Jewish one. Jewish Lazarus expected, or at least prayed, to be fed with crumbs from the rich man’s table; but our Lazarus is fed with crumbs from the dog’s table.
Now this distinction between rich and poor rests on two bases. Within its proper limits, on a basis which is lawful and everlastingly necessary; beyond them, on a basis unlawful, and everlastingly corrupting the framework of society. The lawful basis of wealth is, that a man who works should be paid the fair value of his work; and that if he does not choose to spend it to-day, he should have free leave to keep it, and spend it to-morrow. Thus, an industrious man working daily, and laying by daily, attains at last the possession of an accumulated sum of wealth, to which he has absolute right. The idle person who will not work, and the wasteful person who lays nothing by, at the end of the same time will be doubly poor — poor in possession, and dissolute in moral habit; and he will then naturally covet the money which the other has saved. And if he is then allowed to attack the other, and rob him of his well-earned wealth, there is no more any motive for saving, or any reward for good conduct; and all society is thereupon dissolved, or exists only in systems of rapine. Therefore the first necessity of social life is the clearness of national conscience in enforcing the law — that he should keep who has justly earned.
That law, I say, is the proper basis of distinction between rich and poor. But there is also a false basis of distinction; namely, the power held over those who earn wealth by those who levy or exact it. There will be always a number of men who would fain set themselves to the accumulation of wealth as the sole object of their lives. Necessarily, that class of men is an uneducated class, inferior in intellect, and more or less cowardly. It is physically impossible for a well-educated, intellectual, or brave man to make money the chief object of his thoughts; as physically impossible as it is for him to make his dinner the principal object of them. All healthy people like their dinners, but their dinner is not the main object of their lives. So all healthily minded people like making money — ought to like it, and to enjoy the sensation of winning it; but the main object of their life is not money; it is something better than money. A good soldier, for instance, mainly wishes to do his fighting well. He is glad of his pay — very properly so, and justly grumbles when you keep him ten years without it — still, his main notion of life is to win battles, not to be paid for winning them. So of clergymen. They like pew-rents, and baptismal fees, of course; but yet, if they are brave and well educated, the pew-rent is not the sole object of their lives, and the baptismal fee is not the sole purpose of the baptism; the clergyman’s object is essentially to baptize and preach, not to be paid for preaching. So of doctors. They like fees no doubt, — ought to like them; yet if they are brave and well educated, the entire object of their lives is not fees. They, on the whole, desire to cure the sick; and, — if they are good doctors, and the choice were fairly put to them, — would rather cure their patient, and lose their fee, than kill him, and get it. And so with all other brave and rightly trained men; their work is first, their fee second — very important always, but still second. But in every nation, as I said, there are a vast class who are ill-educated, cowardly, and more or less stupid. And with these people, just as certainly the fee is first, and the work second, as with brave people the work is first and the fee second. And this is no small distinction. It is the whole distinction in a man; distinction between life and death in him, between heaven and hell for him. You cannot serve two masters; — you must serve one or other. If your work is first with you, and your fee second, work is your master, and the lord of work, who is God. But if your fee is first with you, and your work second, fee is your master, and the lord of fee, who is the Devil; and not only the Devil, but the lowest of devils — the ‘least erected fiend that fell.’ So there you have it in brief terms; Work first — you are God’s servants; Fee first — you are the Fiend’s. And it makes a difference, now and ever, believe me, whether you serve Him who has on His vesture and thigh written, ‘King of Kings,’ and whose service is perfect freedom; or him on whose vesture and thigh the name is written, ‘Slave of Slaves,’ and whose service is perfect slavery.
However, in every nation there are, and must always be, a certain number of these Fiend’s servants, who have it principally for the object of their lives to make money. They are always, as I said, more or less stupid, and cannot conceive of anything else so nice as money. Stupidity is always the basis of the Judas bargain. We do great injustice to Iscariot, in thinking him wicked above all common wickedness. He was only a common money-lover, and, like all money-lovers, didn’t understand Christ; — couldn’t make out the worth of Him, or meaning of Him. He didn’t want Him to be killed. He was horror-struck when he found that Christ would be killed; threw his money away instantly, and hanged himself. How many of our present money-seekers, think you, would have the grace to hang themselves, whoever was killed? But Judas was a common, selfish, muddle-headed, pilfering fellow; his hand always in the bag of the poor, not caring for them. He didn’t understand Christ; — yet believed in Him, much more than most of us do; had seen Him do miracles, thought He was quite strong enough to shift for Himself, and he, Judas, might as well make his own little bye-perquisites out of the affair. Christ would come out of it well enough, and he have his thirty pieces. Now, that is the money-seeker’s idea, all over the world. He doesn’t hate Christ, but can’t understand Him — doesn’t care for him — sees no good in that benevolent business; makes his own little job out of it at all events, come what will. And thus, out of every mass of men, you have a certain number of bag-men — your ‘fee-first’ men, whose main object is to make money. And they do make it — make it in all sorts of unfair ways, chiefly by the weight and force of money itself, or what is called the power of capital; that is to say, the power which money, once obtained, has over the labour of the poor, so that the capitalist can take all its produce to himself, except the labourer’s food. That is the modern Judas’s way of ‘carrying the bag,’ and ‘bearing what is put therein.’
Nay, but (it is asked) how is that an unfair advantage? Has not the man who has worked for the money a right to use it as he best can? No; in this respect, money is now exactly what mountain promontories over public roads were in old times. The barons fought for them fairly:— the strongest and cunningest got them; then fortified them, and made everyone who passed below pay toll. Well, capital now is exactly what crags were then. Men fight fairly (we will, at least, grant so much, though it is more than we ought) for their money; but, once having got it, the fortified millionaire can make everybody who passes below pay toll to his million, and build another tower of his money castle. And I can tell you, the poor vagrants by the roadside suffer now quite as much from the bag-baron, as ever they did from the crag-baron. Bags and crags have just the same result on rags. I have not time, however, to-night to show you in how many ways the power of capital is unjust; but this one great principle I have to assert — you will find it quite indisputably true — that whenever money is the principal object of life with either man or nation, it is both got ill, and spent ill; and does harm both in the getting and spending; but when it is not the principal object, it and all other things will be well got, and well spent. And here is the test, with every man, of whether money is the principal object with him, or not. If in mid-life he could pause and say, “Now I have enough to live upon, I’ll live upon it; and having well earned it, I will also well spend it, and go out of the world poor, as I came into it,” then money is not principal with him; but if, having enough to live upon in the manner befitting his character and rank, he still wants to make more, and to die rich, then money is the principal object with him, and it becomes a curse to himself, and generally to those who spend it after him. For you know it must be spent some day; the only question is whether the man who makes it shall spend it, or some one else. And generally it is better for the maker to spend it, for he will know best its value and use. This is the true law of life. And if a man does not choose thus to spend his money, he must either hoard it or lend it, and the worst thing he can generally do is to lend it; for borrowers are nearly always ill-spenders, and it is with lent money that all evil is mainly done, and all unjust war protracted.
For observe what the real fact is, respecting loans to foreign military governments, and how strange it is. If your little boy came to you to ask for money to spend in squibs and crackers, you would think twice before you gave it him; and you would have some idea that it was wasted, when you saw it fly off in fireworks, even though he did no mischief with it. But the Russian children, and Austrian children, come to you, borrowing money, not to spend in innocent squibs, but in cartridges and bayonets to attack you in India with, and to keep down all noble life in Italy with, and to murder Polish women and children with; and that you will give at once, because they pay you interest for it. Now, in order to pay you that interest, they must tax every working peasant in their dominions; and on that work you live. You therefore at once rob the Austrian peasant, assassinate or banish the Polish peasant, and you live on the produce of the theft, and the bribe for the assassination! That is the broad fact — that is the practical meaning of your foreign loans, and of most large interest of money; and then you quarrel with Bishop Colenso, forsooth, as if he denied the Bible, and you believed it! though, wretches as you are, every deliberate act of your lives is a new defiance of its primary orders; and as if, for most of the rich men of England at this moment, it were not indeed to be desired, as the best thing at least for them, that the Bible should not be true, since against them these words are written in it: ‘The rust of your gold and silver shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh, as it were fire.’
III. I pass now to our third condition of separation, between the men who work with the hand, and those who work with the head.
And here we have at last an inevitable distinction. There must be work done by the arms, or none of us could live. There must be work done by the brains, or the life we get would not be worth having. And the same men cannot do both. There is rough work to be done, and rough men must do it; there is gentle work to be done, and gentlemen must do it; and it is physically impossible that one class should do, or divide, the work of the other. And it is of no use to try to conceal this sorrowful fact by fine words, and to talk to the workman about the honourableness of manual labour and the dignity of humanity. That is a grand old proverb of Sancho Panza’s, ‘Fine words butter no parsnips;’ and I can tell you that, all over England just now, you workmen are buying a great deal too much butter at that dairy. Rough work, honourable or not, takes the life out of us; and the man who has been heaving clay out of a ditch all day, or driving an express train against the north wind all night, or holding a collier’s helm in a gale on a lee-shore, or whirling white hot iron at a furnace mouth, that man is not the same at the end of his day, or night, as one who has been sitting in a quiet room, with everything comfortable about him, reading books, or classing butterflies, or painting pictures. If it is any comfort to you to be told that the rough work is the more honourable of the two, I should be sorry to take that much of consolation from you; and in some sense I need not. The rough work is at all events real, honest, and, generally, though not always, useful; while the fine work is, a great deal of it, foolish and false as well as fine, and therefore dishonourable; but when both kinds are equally well and worthily done, the head’s is the noble work, and the hand’s the ignoble; and of all hand work whatsoever, necessary for the maintenance of life, those old words, ‘In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread,’ indicate that the inherent nature of it is one of calamity; and that the ground, cursed for our sake, casts also some shadow of degradation into our contest with its thorn and its thistle; so that all nations have held their days honourable, or ‘holy,’ and constituted them ‘holydays’ or ‘holidays,’ by making them days of rest; and the promise, which, among all our distant hopes, seems to cast the chief brightness over death, is that blessing of the dead who die in the Lord, that ‘they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.’
And thus the perpetual question and contest must arise, who is to do this rough work? and how is the worker of it to be comforted, redeemed, and rewarded? and what kind of play should he have, and what rest, in this world, sometimes, as well as in the next? Well, my good working friends, these questions will take a little time to answer yet. They must be answered: all good men are occupied with them, and all honest thinkers. There’s grand head work doing about them; but much must be discovered, and much attempted in vain, before anything decisive can be told you. Only note these few particulars, which are already sure.
As to the distribution of the hard work. None of us, or very few of us, do either hard or soft work because we think we ought; but because we have chanced to fall into the way of it, and cannot help ourselves. Now, nobody does anything well that they cannot help doing: work is only done well when it is done with a will; and no man has a thoroughly sound will unless he knows he is doing what he should, and is in his place. And, depend upon it, all work must be done at last, not in a disorderly, scrambling, doggish way, but in an ordered, soldierly, human way — a lawful way. Men are enlisted for the labour that kills — the labour of war: they are counted, trained, fed, dressed, and praised for that. Let them be enlisted also for the labour that feeds: let them be counted, trained, fed, dressed, praised for that. Teach the plough exercise as carefully as you do the sword exercise, and let the officers of troops of life be held as much gentlemen as the officers of troops of death; and all is done: but neither this, nor any other right thing, can be accomplished — you can’t even see your way to it — unless, first of all, both servant and master are resolved that, come what will of it, they will do each other justice. People are perpetually squabbling about what will be best to do, or easiest to do, or adviseablest to do, or profitablest to do; but they never, so far as I hear them talk, ever ask what it is just to do. And it is the law of heaven that you shall not be able to judge what is wise or easy, unless you are first resolved to judge what is just, and to do it. That is the one thing constantly reiterated by our Master — the order of all others that is given oftenest — ‘Do justice and judgment.’ That’s your Bible order; that’s the ‘Service of God,’ not praying nor psalm-singing. You are told, indeed, to sing psalms when you are merry, and to pray when you need anything; and, by the perversion of the Evil Spirit, we get to think that praying and psalm-singing are ‘service.’ If a child finds itself in want of anything, it runs in and asks its father for it — does it call that, doing its father a service? If it begs for a toy or a piece of cake — does it call that serving its father? That, with God, is prayer, and He likes to hear it: He likes you to ask Him for cake when you want it; but He doesn’t call that ‘serving Him.’ Begging is not serving: God likes mere beggars as little as you do — He likes honest servants, not beggars. So when a child loves its father very much, and is very happy, it may sing little songs about him; but it doesn’t call that serving its father; neither is singing songs about God, serving God. It is enjoying ourselves, if it’s anything; most probably it is nothing; but if it’s anything, it is serving ourselves, not God. And yet we are impudent enough to call our beggings and chauntings ‘Divine Service:’ we say ‘Divine service will be “performed”’ (that’s our word — the form of it gone through) ‘at eleven o’clock.’ Alas! — unless we perform Divine service in every willing act of our life, we never perform it at all. The one Divine work — the one ordered sacrifice — is to do justice; and it is the last we are ever inclined to do. Anything rather than that! As much charity as you choose, but no justice. ‘Nay,’ you will say, ‘charity is greater than justice.’ Yes, it is greater; it is the summit of justice — it is the temple of which justice is the foundation. But you can’t have the top without the bottom; you cannot build upon charity. You must build upon justice, for this main reason, that you have not, at first, charity to build with. It is the last reward of good work. Do justice to your brother (you can do that, whether you love him or not), and you will come to love him. But do injustice to him, because you don’t love him; and you will come to hate him. It is all very fine to think you can build upon charity to begin with; but you will find all you have got to begin with, begins at home, and is essentially love of yourself. You well-to-do people, for instance, who are here to-night, will go to ‘Divine service’ next Sunday, all nice and tidy, and your little children will have their tight little Sunday boots on, and lovely little Sunday feathers in their hats; and you’ll think, complacently and piously, how lovely they look! So they do: and you love them heartily and you like sticking feathers in their hats. That’s all right: that is charity; but it is charity beginning at home. Then you will come to the poor little crossing-sweeper, got up also, — it, in its Sunday dress, — the dirtiest rags it has, — that it may beg the better: we shall give it a penny, and think how good we are. That’s charity going abroad. But what does Justice say, walking and watching near us? Christian Justice has been strangely mute, and seemingly blind; and, if not blind, decrepit, this many a day: she keeps her accounts still, however — quite steadily — doing them at nights, carefully, with her bandage off, and through acutest spectacles (the only modern scientific invention she cares about). You must put your ear down ever so close to her lips to hear her speak; and then you will start at what she first whispers, for it will certainly be, ‘Why shouldn’t that little crossing-sweeper have a feather on its head, as well as your own child?’ Then you may ask Justice, in an amazed manner, ‘How she can possibly be so foolish as to think children could sweep crossings with feathers on their heads?’ Then you stoop again, and Justice says — still in her dull, stupid way — ‘Then, why don’t you, every other Sunday, leave your child to sweep the crossing, and take the little sweeper to church in a hat and feather?’ Mercy on us (you think), what will she say next? And you answer, of course, that ‘you don’t, because every body ought to remain content in the position in which Providence has placed them.’ Ah, my friends, that’s the gist of the whole question. Did Providence put them in that position, or did you? You knock a man into a ditch, and then you tell him to remain content in the ‘position in which Providence has placed him.’ That’s modern Christianity. You say — ’We did not knock him into the ditch.’ How do you know what you have done, or are doing? That’s just what we have all got to know, and what we shall never know, until the question with us every morning, is, not how to do the gainful thing, but how to do the just thing; nor until we are at least so far on the way to being Christian, as to have understood that maxim of the poor half-way Mahometan, ‘One hour in the execution of justice is worth seventy years of prayer.’
Supposing, then, we have it determined with appropriate justice, who is to do the hand work, the next questions must be how the hand-workers are to be paid, and how they are to be refreshed, and what play they are to have. Now, the possible quantity of play depends on the possible quantity of pay; and the quantity of pay is not a matter for consideration to hand-workers only, but to all workers. Generally, good, useful work, whether of the hand or head, is either ill-paid, or not paid at all. I don’t say it should be so, but it always is so. People, as a rule, only pay for being amused or being cheated, not for being served. Five thousand a year to your talker, and a shilling a day to your fighter, digger, and thinker, is the rule. None of the best head work in art, literature, or science, is ever paid for. How much do you think Homer got for his Iliad? or Dante for his Paradise? only bitter bread and salt, and going up and down other people’s stairs. In science, the man who discovered the telescope, and first saw heaven, was paid with a dungeon; the man who invented the microscope, and first saw earth, died of starvation, driven from his home: it is indeed very clear that God means all thoroughly good work and talk to be done for nothing. Baruch, the scribe, did not get a penny a line for writing Jeremiah’s second roll for him, I fancy; and St. Stephen did not get bishop’s pay for that long sermon of his to the Pharisees; nothing but stones. For indeed that is the world-father’s proper payment. So surely as any of the world’s children work for the world’s good, honestly, with head and heart; and come to it, saying, ‘Give us a little bread, just to keep the life in us,’ the world-father answers them, ‘No, my children, not bread; a stone, if you like, or as many as you need, to keep you quiet.’ But the hand-workers are not so ill off as all this comes to. The worst that can happen to you is to break stones; not be broken by them. And for you there will come a time for better payment; some day, assuredly, more pence will be paid to Peter the Fisherman, and fewer to Peter the Pope; we shall pay people not quite so much for talking in Parliament and doing nothing, as for holding their tongues out of it and doing something; we shall pay our ploughman a little more and our lawyer a little less, and so on: but, at least, we may even now take care that whatever work is done shall be fully paid for; and the man who does it paid for it, not somebody else; and that it shall be done in an orderly, soldierly, well-guided, wholesome way, under good captains and lieutenants of labour; and that it shall have its appointed times of rest, and enough of them; and that in those times the play shall be wholesome play, not in theatrical gardens, with tin flowers and gas sunshine, and girls dancing because of their misery; but in true gardens, with real flowers, and real sunshine, and children dancing because of their gladness; so that truly the streets shall be full (the ‘streets,’ mind you, not the gutters) of children, playing in the midst thereof. We may take care that working-men shall have at least as good books to read as anybody else, when they’ve time to read them; and as comfortable fire-sides to sit at as anybody else, when they’ve time to sit at them. This, I think, can be managed for you, my working friends, in the good time.
IV. I must go on, however, to our last head, concerning ourselves all, as workers. What is wise work, and what is foolish work? What the difference between sense and nonsense, in daily occupation?
Well, wise work is, briefly, work with God. Foolish work is work against God. And work done with God, which He will help, may be briefly described as ‘Putting in Order’ — that is, enforcing God’s law of order, spiritual and material, over men and things. The first thing you have to do, essentially; the real ‘good work’ is, with respect to men, to enforce justice, and with respect to things, to enforce tidiness, and fruitfulness. And against these two great human deeds, justice and order, there are perpetually two great demons contending, — the devil of iniquity, or inequity, and the devil of disorder, or of death; for death is only consummation of disorder. You have to fight these two fiends daily. So far as you don’t fight against the fiend of iniquity, you work for him. You ‘work iniquity,’ and the judgment upon you, for all your ‘Lord, Lord’s,’ will be ‘Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ And so far as you do not resist the fiend of disorder, you work disorder, and you yourself do the work of Death, which is sin, and has for its wages, Death himself.
Observe then, all wise work is mainly threefold in character. It is honest, useful, and cheerful.
I. It is honest. I hardly know anything more strange than that you recognise honesty in play, and you do not in work. In your lightest games, you have always some one to see what you call ‘fair-play.’ In boxing, you must hit fair; in racing, start fair. Your English watchword is fair-play, your English hatred, foul-play. Did it ever strike you that you wanted another watchword also, fair-work, and another hatred also, foul-work? Your prize-fighter has some honour in him yet; and so have the men in the ring round him: they will judge him to lose the match, by foul hitting. But your prize-merchant gains his match by foul selling, and no one cries out against that. You drive a gambler out of the gambling-room who loads dice, but you leave a tradesman in flourishing business, who loads scales! For observe, all dishonest dealing is loading scales. What does it matter whether I get short weight, adulterate substance, or dishonest fabric? The fault in the fabric is incomparably the worst of the two. Give me short measure of food, and I only lose by you; but give me adulterate food, and I die by you. Here, then, is your chief duty, you workmen and tradesmen — to be true to yourselves, and to us who would help you. We can do nothing for you, nor you for yourselves, without honesty. Get that, you get all; without that, your suffrages, your reforms, your free-trade measures, your institutions of science, are all in vain. It is useless to put your heads together, if you can’t put your hearts together. Shoulder to shoulder, right hand to right hand, among yourselves, and no wrong hand to anybody else, and you’ll win the world yet.
II. Then, secondly, wise work is useful. No man minds, or ought to mind, its being hard, if only it comes to something; but when it is hard, and comes to nothing; when all our bees’ business turns to spiders’; and for honeycomb we have only resultant cobweb, blown away by the next breeze — that is the cruel thing for the worker. Yet do we ever ask ourselves, personally, or even nationally, whether our work is coming to anything or not? We don’t care to keep what has been nobly done; still less do we care to do nobly what others would keep; and, least of all, to make the work itself useful instead of deadly to the doer, so as to use his life indeed, but not to waste it. Of all wastes, the greatest waste that you can commit is the waste of labour. If you went down in the morning into your dairy, and you found that your youngest child had got down before you; and that he and the cat were at play together, and that he had poured out all the cream on the floor for the cat to lap up, you would scold the child, and be sorry the milk was wasted. But if, instead of wooden bowls with milk in them, there are golden bowls with human life in them, and instead of the cat to play with — the devil to play with; and you yourself the player; and instead of leaving that golden bowl to be broken by God at the fountain, you break it in the dust yourself, and pour the human blood out on the ground for the fiend to lick up — that is no waste! What! you perhaps think, ‘to waste the labour of men is not to kill them.’ Is it not? I should like to know how you could kill them more utterly — kill them with second deaths, seventh deaths, hundredfold deaths? It is the slightest way of killing to stop a man’s breath. Nay, the hunger, and the cold, and the little whistling bullets — our love-messengers between nation and nation — have brought pleasant messages from us to many a man before now; orders of sweet release, and leave at last to go where he will be most welcome and most happy. At the worst you do but shorten his life, you do not corrupt his life. But if you put him to base labour, if you bind his thoughts, if you blind his eyes, if you blunt his hopes, if you steal his joys, if you stunt his body, and blast his soul, and at last leave him not so much as to reap the poor fruit of his degradation, but gather that for yourself, and dismiss him to the grave, when you have done with him, having, so far as in you lay, made the walls of that grave everlasting (though, indeed, I fancy the goodly bricks of some of our family vaults will hold closer in the resurrection day than the sod over the labourer’s head), this you think is no waste, and no sin!
III. Then, lastly, wise work is cheerful, as a child’s work is. And now I want you to take one thought home with you, and let it stay with you.
Everybody in this room has been taught to pray daily, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ Now, if we hear a man swear in the streets, we think it very wrong, and say he ‘takes God’s name in vain.’ But there’s a twenty times worse way of taking His name in vain, than that. It is to ask God for what we don’t want. He doesn’t like that sort of prayer. If you don’t want a thing, don’t ask for it: such asking is the worst mockery of your King you can mock Him with; the soldiers striking Him on the head with the reed was nothing to that. If you do not wish for His kingdom, don’t pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it. And, to work for it, you must know what it is: we have all prayed for it many a day without thinking. Observe, it is a kingdom that is to come to us; we are not to go to it. Also, it is not to be a kingdom of the dead, but of the living. Also, it is not to come all at once, but quietly; nobody knows how. ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.’ Also, it is not to come outside of us, but in the hearts of us: ‘the kingdom of God is within you.’ And, being within us, it is not a thing to be seen, but to be felt; and though it brings all substance of good with it, it does not consist in that: ‘the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost:’ joy, that is to say, in the holy, healthful, and helpful Spirit. Now, if we want to work for this kingdom, and to bring it, and enter into it, there’s just one condition to be first accepted. You must enter it as children, or not at all; ‘Whosoever will not receive it as a little child shall not enter therein.’ And again, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’
Of such, observe. Not of children themselves, but of such as children. I believe most mothers who read that text think that all heaven is to be full of babies. But that’s not so. There will be children there, but the hoary head is the crown. ‘Length of days, and long life and peace,’ that is the blessing, not to die in babyhood. Children die but for their parents sins; God means them to live, but He can’t let them always; then they have their earlier place in heaven: and the little child of David, vainly prayed for; — the little child of Jeroboam, killed by its mother’s step on its own threshold, — they will be there. But weary old David, and weary old Barzillai, having learned children’s lessons at last, will be there too: and the one question for us all, young or old, is, have we learned our child’s lesson? it is the character of children we want, and must gain at our peril; let us see, briefly, in what it consists.
The first character of right childhood is that it is Modest. A well-bred child does not think it can teach its parents, or that it knows everything. It may think its father and mother know everything, — perhaps that all grown-up people know everything; very certainly it is sure that it does not. And it is always asking questions, and wanting to know more. Well, that is the first character of a good and wise man at his work. To know that he knows very little; — to perceive that there are many above him wiser than he; and to be always asking questions, wanting to learn, not to teach. No one ever teaches well who wants to teach, or governs well who wants to govern; it is an old saying (Plato’s, but I know not if his, first), and as wise as old.
Then, the second character of right childhood is to be Faithful. Perceiving that its father knows best what is good for it, and having found always, when it has tried its own way against his, that he was right and it was wrong, a noble child trusts him at last wholly, gives him its hand, and will walk blindfold with him, if he bids it. And that is the true character of all good men also, as obedient workers, or soldiers under captains. They must trust their captains; — they are bound for their lives to choose none but those whom they can trust. Then, they are not always to be thinking that what seems strange to them, or wrong in what they are desired to do, is strange or wrong. They know their captain: where he leads they must follow, what he bids, they must do; and without this trust and faith, without this captainship and soldiership, no great deed, no great salvation, is possible to man. Among all the nations it is only when this faith is attained by them that they become great: the Jew, the Greek, and the Mahometan, agree at least in testifying to this. It was a deed of this absolute trust which made Abraham the father of the faithful; it was the declaration of the power of God as captain over all men, and the acceptance of a leader appointed by Him as commander of the faithful, which laid the foundation of whatever national power yet exists in the East; and the deed of the Greeks, which has become the type of unselfish and noble soldiership to all lands, and to all times, was commemorated, on the tomb of those who gave their lives to do it, in the most pathetic, so far as I know, or can feel, of all human utterances: ‘Oh, stranger, go and tell our people that we are lying here, having obeyed their words.’
Then the third character of right childhood is to be Loving and Generous. Give a little love to a child, and you get a great deal back. It loves everything near it, when it is a right kind of child — would hurt nothing, would give the best it has away, always, if you need it — does not lay plans for getting everything in the house for itself, and delights in helping people; you cannot please it so much as by giving it a chance of being useful, in ever so little a way.
And because of all these characters, lastly, it is Cheerful. Putting its trust in its father, it is careful for nothing — being full of love to every creature, it is happy always, whether in its play or in its duty. Well, that’s the great worker’s character also. Taking no thought for the morrow; taking thought only for the duty of the day; trusting somebody else to take care of to-morrow; knowing indeed what labour is, but not what sorrow is; and always ready for play — beautiful play, — for lovely human play is like the play of the Sun. There’s a worker for you. He, steady to his time, is set as a strong man to run his course, but also, he rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. See how he plays in the morning, with the mists below, and the clouds above, with a ray here and a flash there, and a shower of jewels everywhere; that’s the Sun’s play; and great human play is like his — all various — all full of light and life, and tender, as the dew of the morning.
So then, you have the child’s character in these four things — Humility, Faith, Charity, and Cheerfulness. That’s what you have got to be converted to. ‘Except ye be converted and become as little children’ — You hear much of conversion now-a-days; but people always seem to think they have got to be made wretched by conversion, — to be converted to long faces. No, friends, you have got to be converted to short ones; you have to repent into childhood, to repent into delight, and delightsomeness. You can’t go into a conventicle but you’ll hear plenty of talk of backsliding. Backsliding, indeed! I can tell you, on the ways most of us go, the faster we slide back the better. Slide back into the cradle, if going on is into the grave — back, I tell you; back — out of your long faces, and into your long clothes. It is among children only, and as children only, that you will find medicine for your healing and true wisdom for your teaching. There is poison in the counsels of the men of this world; the words they speak are all bitterness, ‘the poison of asps is under their lips,’ but, ‘the sucking child shall play by the hole of the asp.’ There is death in the looks of men. ‘Their eyes are privily set against the poor;’ they are as the uncharmable serpent, the cockatrice, which slew by seeing. But ‘the weaned child shall lay his hand on the cockatrice den.’ There is death in the steps of men: ‘their feet are swift to shed blood; they have compassed us in our steps like the lion that is greedy of his prey, and the young lion lurking in secret places,’ but, in that kingdom, the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the fatling with the lion, and ‘a little child shall lead them.’ There is death in the thoughts of men: the world is one wide riddle to them, darker and darker as it draws to a close; but the secret of it is known to the child, and the Lord of heaven and earth is most to be thanked in that ‘He has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes.’ Yes, and there is death — infinitude of death in the principalities and powers of men. As far as the east is from the west, so far our sins are — not set from us, but multiplied around us: the Sun himself, think you he now ‘rejoices’ to run his course, when he plunges westward to the horizon, so widely red, not with clouds, but blood? And it will be red more widely yet. Whatever drought of the early and latter rain may be, there will be none of that red rain. You fortify yourselves, you arm yourselves against it in vain; the enemy and avenger will be upon you also, unless you learn that it is not out of the mouths of the knitted gun, or the smoothed rifle, but ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ that the strength is ordained which shall ‘still the enemy and avenger.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59