Sympathy with the great laboring classes, respect for labor itself, and resolution to do some good work in our day and generation, these are the lessons of this Degree, and they are purely Masonic. Masonry has made a working-man and his associates the Heroes of her principal legend, and himself the companion of Kings. The idea is as simple and true as it is sublime. From first to last, Masonry is work. It venerates the Grand Architect of the Universe. It commemorates the building of a Temple. Its principal emblems are the working tools of Masons and Artisans. It preserves the name of the first worker in brass and iron as one of its pass-words. When the Brethren meet together, they are at labor. The Master is the overseer who sets the craft to work and gives them proper instruction. Masonry is the apotheosis of WORK.
It is the hands of brave, forgotten men that have made this great, populous, cultivated world a world for us. It is all work, and forgotten work. The real conquerors, creators, and eternal proprietors of every great and civilized land are all the heroic souls that ever were in it, each in his degree: all the men that ever felled a forest-tree or drained a marsh, or contrived a wise scheme, or did or said a true or valiant thing therein. Genuine work alone, done faithfully, is eternal, even as the Almighty Founder and World-builder Himself. All work is noble: a life of ease is not for any man, nor for any God. The Almighty Maker is not like one who, in old immemorial ages, having made his machine of a Universe, sits ever since, and sees it go. Out of that belief comes Atheism. The faith in an Invisible, Unnameable, Directing Deity, present everywhere in all that we see, and work, and suffer, is the essence of all faith whatsoever.
The life of all Gods figures itself to us as a Sublime Earnestness,—of Infinite battle against Infinite labor Our highest religion is named the Worship of Sorrow. For the Son of Man there is no noble crown, well-worn, or even ill-worn, but is a crown of thorns. Man's highest destiny is not to be happy, to love pleasant things and find them. His only true _un_happiness should be that he cannot work, and get his destiny as a man fulfilled. The day passes swiftly over, our life passes swiftly over, and the night cometh, wherein no man can work. That night once come, our happiness and unhappiness are vanished, and become as things that never were. But our work is not abolished, and has not vanished. It remains, or the want of it remains, for endless Times and Eternities.
Whatsoever of morality and intelligence; what of patience, perseverance, faithfulness, of method, insight, ingenuity, energy; in a word, whatsoever of STRENGTH a man has in him, will lie written in the WORK he does. To work is to try himself against Nature and her unerring, everlasting laws: and they will return true verdict as to him. The noblest Epic is a mighty Empire slowly built together, a mighty series of heroic deeds, a mighty conquest over chaos. Deeds are greater than words. They have a life, mute, but undeniable; and grow. They people the vacuity of Time, and make it green and worthy.
Labor is the truest emblem of God, the Architect and Eternal Maker; noble Labor, which is yet to be the King of this Earth, and sit on the highest Throne. Men without duties to do, are like trees planted on precipices; from the roots of which all the earth has crumbled. Nature owns no man who is not also a Martyr. She scorns the man who sits screened from all work, from want, danger, hardship, the victory over which is work; and has all his work and battling done by other men; and yet there are men who pride themselves that they and theirs have done no work time out of mind. So neither have the swine.
The chief of men is he who stands in the van of men, fronting the peril which frightens back all others, and if not vanquished would devour them. Hercules was worshipped for twelve labors. The Czar of Russia became a toiling shipwright, and worked with his axe in the docks of Saardam; and something came of that. Cromwell worked, and Napoleon; and effected somewhat.
There is a perennial nobleness and even sacredness in work. Be he never so benighted and forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man who actually and earnestly works: in Idleness alone is there perpetual Despair. Man perfects himself by working. Jungles are cleared away. Fair seed-fields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal, the man himself first ceases to be a foul unwholesome jungle and desert thereby. Even in the meanest sort of labor, the whole soul of man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the moment he begins to work. Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, and even Despair shrink murmuring far off into their caves, whenever the man bends himself resolutely against his task. Labor 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; and awakens him to all nobleness, as soon as work fitly begins. By it man learns Patience, Courage, Perseverance, Openness to light, readiness to own himself mistaken, resolution to do better and improve. Only by labor will man continually learn the virtues. There is no Religion in stagnation and inaction; but only in activity and exertion. There was the deepest truth in that saying of the old monks, "laborare est orare." "He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small;" and can man love except by working earnestly to benefit that being whom he loves?
"Work; and therein have well-being," is the oldest of Gospels; unpreached, inarticulate, but ineradicable, and enduring forever. To make Disorder, wherever found, an eternal enemy; to attack and subdue him, and make order of him, the subject not of Chaos, but of Intelligence and Divinity, and of ourselves; to attack ignorance, stupidity and brute-mindedness, wherever found, to smite it wisely and unweariedly, to rest not while we live and it lives, in the name of God, this is our duty as Masons; commanded us by the Highest God. Even He, with his unspoken voice, more awful than the thunders of Sinai, or the syllabled speech of the Hurricane, speaks to us. The Unborn Ages; the old Graves, with their long-moldering dust speak to us. The deep Death-Kingdoms, the Stars in their never-resting course, all Space and all Time, silently and continually admonish us that we too must work while it is called to-day. Labor, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven. To toil, whether with the sweat of the brow, or of the brain or heart, is worship,—the noblest thing yet discovered beneath the Stars. Let the weary cease to think that labor is a curse an doom pronounced by Deity. Without it there could be no true excellence in human nature. Without it, and pain, and sorrow, where would be the human virtues? Where Patience, Perseverance, Submission, Energy, Endurance, Fortitude, Bravery, Disinterestedness, Self-Sacrifice, the noblest excellencies of the Soul?
Let him who toils complain not, nor feel humiliated! Let him look up, and see his fellow-workmen there, in God's Eternity; they alone surviving there. Even in the weak human memory, they long survive, as Saints, as Heroes, and as Gods: they alone survive, and people the unmeasured solitudes of Time.
To the primeval man, whatsoever good came, descended on him (as in mere fact, it ever does) direct from God; whatsoever duty lay visible for him, this a Supreme God had prescribed. For the primeval man, in whom dwelt Thought, this Universe was all a Temple, life everywhere a Worship.
Duty is with us ever; and evermore forbids us to be idle. To work with the hands or brain, according to our requirements and our capacities, to do that which lies before us to do, is more honorable than rank and title. Ploughers, spinners and builders, inventors, and men of science, poets, advocates, and writers, all stand upon one common level, and form one grand, innumerable host, marching ever onward since the beginning of the world: each entitled to our sympathy and respect, each a man and our brother.
It was well to give the earth to man as a dark mass, whereon to labor. It was well to provide rude and unsightly materials in the ore-bed and the forest, for him to fashion into splendor and beauty. It was well, not because of that splendor and beauty; but because the act creating them is better than the things themselves; because exertion is nobler than enjoyment; because the laborer is greater and more worthy of honor than the idler. Masonry stands up for the nobility of labor. It is Heaven's great ordinance for human improvement. It has been broken down for ages; and Masonry desires to build it up again. It has been broken down, because men toil only because they must, submitting to it as, in some sort, a degrading necessity; and desiring nothing so much on earth as to escape from it. They fulfill the great law of labor in the letter, but break it in the spirit: they fulfill it with the muscles, but break it with the mind.
Masonry teaches that every idler ought to hasten to some field of labor, manual or mental, as a chosen and coveted theatre of improvement; but he is not impelled to do so, under the teachings of an imperfect civilization. On the contrary, he sits down, folds his hands, and blesses and glorifies himself in his idleness. It is time that this opprobrium of toil were done away. To be ashamed of toil; of the dingy workshop and dusty labor-field; of the hard hand, stained with service more honorable than that of war; of the soiled and weather-stained garments, on which Mother Nature has stamped, midst sun and rain, midst fire and steam, her own heraldic honors; to be ashamed of these tokens and titles, and envious of the flaunting robes of imbecile idleness and vanity, is treason to Nature, impiety to Heaven, a breach of Heaven's great Ordinance. TOIL, of brain, heart, or hand, is the only true manhood and genuine nobility.
Labor is a more beneficent ministration than man's ignorance comprehends, or his complainings will admit. Even when its end is hidden from him, it is not mere blind drudgery. It is all a training, a discipline, a development of energies, a nurse of virtues, a school of improvement. From the poor boy who gathers a few sticks for his mother's hearth, to the strong man who fells the oak or guides the ship or the steam-car, every human toiler, with every weary step and every urgent task, is obeying a wisdom far above his own wisdom, and fulfilling a design far beyond his own design.
The great law of human industry is this: that industry, working either with the hand or the mind, the application of our powers to some task, to the achievement of some result, lies at the foundation of all human improvement. We are not sent into the world like animals, to crop the spontaneous herbage of the field, and then to lie down in indolent repose: but we are sent to dig the soil and plough the sea; to do the business of cities and the work of manufactories. The world is the great and appointed school of industry. In an artificial state of society, mankind is divided into the idle and the laboring classes; but such was not the design of Providence.
Labor is man's great function, his peculiar distinction and his privilege. From being an animal, that eats and drinks and sleeps only, to become a worker, and with the hand of ingenuity to pour his own thoughts into the moulds of Nature, fashioning them into forms of grace and fabrics of convenience, and converting them to purposes of improvement and happiness, is the greatest possible step in privilege.
The Earth and the Atmosphere are man's laboratory. With spade and plough, with mining-shafts and furnaces and forges, with fire and steam; midst the noise and whirl of swift and bright machinery, and abroad in the silent fields, man was made to be ever working, ever experimenting. And while he and all his dwellings of care and toil are borne onward with the circling skies, and the splendors of Heaven are around him, and their infinite depths image and invite his thought, still in all the worlds of philosophy, in the universe of intellect, man must be a worker. He is nothing, he can be nothing, can achieve nothing, fulfill nothing, without working. Without it, he can gain neither lofty improvement nor tolerable happiness. The idle must hunt down the hours as their prey. To them Time is an enemy, clothed with armor; and they must kill him, or themselves die. It never yet did answer, and it never will answer, for any man to do nothing, to be exempt from all care and effort, to lounge, to walk, to ride, and to feast alone. No man can live in that way. God made a law against it: which no human power can annul, no human ingenuity evade.
The idea that a property is to be acquired in the course of ten or twenty years, which shall suffice for the rest of life; that by some prosperous traffic or grand speculation, all the labor of a whole life is to be accomplished in a brief portion of it; that by dexterous management, a large part of the term of human existence is to be exonerated from the cares of industry and self-denial, is founded upon a grave mistake, upon a misconception of the true nature and design of business, and of the conditions of human well-being. The desire of accumulation for the sake of securing a life of ease and gratification, of escaping from exertion and self-denial, is wholly wrong, though very common.
It is better for the Mason to live while he lives, and enjoy life as it passes: to live richer and die poorer. It is best of all for him to banish from the mind that empty dream of future indolence and indulgence; to address himself to the business of life, as the school of his earthly education; to settle it with himself now that independence, if he gains it, is not to give him exemption from employment. It is best for him to know, that, in order to be a happy man, he must always be a laborer, with the mind or the body, or with both: and that the reasonable exertion of his powers, bodily and mental, is not to be regarded as mere drudgery, but as a good discipline, a wise ordination, a training in this primary school of our being, for nobler endeavors, and spheres of higher activity hereafter.
There are reasons why a Mason may lawfully and even earnestly desire a fortune. If he can fill some fine palace, itself a work of art, with the productions of lofty genius; if he can be the friend and helper of humble worth; if he can seek it out, where failing health or adverse fortune presses it hard, and soften or stay the bitter hours that are hastening it to madness or to the grave; if he can stand between the oppressor and his prey, and bid the fetter and the dungeon give up their victim; if he can build up great institutions of learning, and academies of art; if he can open fountains of knowledge for the people, and conduct its streams in the right channels; if he can do better for the poor than to bestow alms upon them—even to think of them, and devise plans for their elevation in knowledge and virtue, instead of forever opening the old reservoirs and resources for their improvidence; if he has sufficient heart and soul to do all this, or part of it; if wealth would be to him the handmaid of exertion, facilitating effort, and giving success to endeavor; then may he lawfully, and yet warily and modestly, desire it. But if it is to do nothing for him, but to minister ease and indulgence, and to place his children in the same bad school, then there is no reason why he should desire it.
What is there glorious in the world, that is not the product of labor, either of the body or of the mind? What is history, but its record? What are the treasures of genius and art, but its work? What are cultivated fields, but its toil? The busy marts, the rising cities, the enriched empires of the world are but the great treasure-houses of labor. The pyramids of Egypt, the castles and towers and temples of Europe, the buried cities of Italy and Mexico, the canals and railroads of Christendom, are but tracks, all round the world, of the mighty footsteps of labor. Without it antiquity would not have been. Without it, there would be no memory of the past, and no hope for the future.
Even utter indolence reposes on treasures that labor at some time gained and gathered. He that does nothing, and yet does not starve, has still his significance; for he is a standing proof that somebody has at some time worked. But not to such does Masonry do honor. It honors the Worker, the Toiler; him who produces and not alone consumes; him who puts forth his hand to add to the treasury of human comforts, and not alone to take away. It honors him who goes forth amid the struggling elements to fight his battle, and who shrinks not, with cowardly effeminacy, behind pillows of ease. It honors the strong muscle, and the manly nerve, and the resolute and brave heart, the sweating brow, and the toiling brain. It honors the great and beautiful offices of humanity, manhood's toil and woman's task; paternal industry and maternal watching and weariness; wisdom teaching and patience learning; the brow of care that presides over the State, and many-handed labor that toils in workshop, field, and study, beneath its mild and beneficent sway.
God has not made a world of rich men; but rather a world of poor men; or of men, at least, who must toil for a subsistence. That is, then, the best condition for man, and the grand sphere of human improvement. If the whole world could acquire wealth, (and one man is as much entitled to it as another, when he is born); if the present generation could lay up a complete provision for the next, as some men desire to do for their children; the world would be destroyed at a single blow. All industry would cease with the necessity for it; all improvement would stop with the demand for exertion; the dissipation of fortunes, the mischiefs of which are now countervailed by the healthful tone of society, would breed universal disease, and break out into universal license; and the world would sink, rotten as Herod, into the grave of its own loathsome vices.
Almost all the noblest things that have been achieved in the world, have been achieved by poor men; poor scholars, poor professional men, poor artisans and artists, poor philosophers, poets, and men of genius. A certain staidness and sobriety, a certain moderation and restraint, a certain pressure of circumstances, are good for man. His body was not made for luxuries. It sickens, sinks, and dies under them. His mind was not made for indulgence. It grows weak, effeminate, and dwarfish, under that condition. And he who pampers his body with luxuries and his mind with indulgence, bequeaths the consequences to the minds and bodies of his descendants, without the wealth which was their cause. For wealth, without a law of entail to help it, has always lacked the energy even to keep its own treasures. They drop from its imbecile hand. The third generation almost inevitably goes down the rolling wheel of fortune, and there learns the energy necessary to rise again, if it rises at all; heir, as it is, to the bodily diseases, and mental weaknesses, and the soul's vices of its ancestors, and not heir to their wealth. And yet we are, almost all of us, anxious to put our children, or to insure that our grandchildren shall be put, on this road to indulgence, luxury, vice, degradation, and ruin; this heirship of hereditary disease, soul malady, and mental leprosy.
If wealth were employed in promoting mental culture at home and works of philanthropy abroad; if it were multiplying studies of art, and building up institutions of learning around us; if it were in every way raising the intellectual character of the world, there could scarcely be too much of it. But if the utmost aim, effort, and ambition of wealth be, to procure rich furniture, and provide costly entertainments, and build luxurious houses, and minister to vanity, extravagance, and ostentation, there could scarcely be too little of it. To a certain extent it may laudably be the minister of elegancies and luxuries, and the servitor of hospitality and physical enjoyment: but just in proportion as its tendencies, divested of all higher aims and tastes, are running that way, they are running to peril and evil.
Nor does that peril attach to individuals and families alone. It stands, a fearful beacon, in the experience of Cities, Republics, and Empires. The lessons of past times, on this subject, are emphatic and solemn. The history of wealth has always been a history of corruption and downfall. The people never existed that could stand the trial. Boundless profusion is too little likely to spread for any people the theatre of manly energy, rigid self-denial, and lofty virtue. You do not look for the bone and sinew and strength of a country, its loftiest talents and virtues, its martyrs to patriotism or religion, its men to meet the days of peril and disaster, among the children of ease, indulgence, and luxury.
In the great march of the races of men over the earth, we have always seen opulence and luxury sinking before poverty and toil and hardy nurture. That is the law which has presided over the great processions of empire. Sidon and Tyre, whose merchants possessed the wealth of princes; Babylon and Palmyra, the seats of Asiatic luxury; Rome, laden with the spoils of a world, overwhelmed by her own vices more than by the hosts of her enemies; all these, and many more, are examples of the destructive tendencies of immense and unnatural accumulation: and men must become more generous and benevolent, not more selfish and effeminate, as they become more rich, or the history of modern wealth will follow in the sad train of all past examples.
All men desire distinction, and feel the need of some ennobling object in life. Those persons are usually most happy and satisfied in their pursuits, who have the loftiest ends in view. Artists, mechanicians, and inventors, all who seek to find principles or develop beauty in their work, seem most to enjoy it. The farmer who labors for the beautifying and scientific cultivation of his estate, is more happy in his labors than one who tills his own land for a mere subsistence. This is one of the signal testimonies which all human employments give to the high demands of our nature. To gather wealth never gives such satisfaction as to bring the humblest piece of machinery to perfection: at least, when wealth is sought for display and ostentation, or mere luxury, and ease, and pleasure; and not for ends of philanthropy, the relief of kindred, or the payment of just debts, or as a means to attain some other great and noble object.
With the pursuits of multitudes is connected a painful conviction that they neither supply a sufficient object, nor confer any satisfactory honor. Why work, if the world is soon not to know that such a being ever existed; and when one can perpetuate his name neither on canvas nor on marble, nor in books, nor by lofty eloquence, nor statesmanship?
The answer is, that every man has a work to do in himself, greater and sublimer than any work of genius; and works upon a nobler material than wood or marble—upon his own soul and intellect, and may so attain the highest nobleness and grandeur known on earth or in Heaven; may so be the greatest of artists, and of authors, and his life, which is far more than speech, may be eloquent.
The great author or artist only portrays what every man should be. He conceives, what we should do. He conceives, and represents moral beauty, magnanimity, fortitude, love, devotion, forgiveness, the soul's greatness. He portrays virtues, commended to our admiration and imitation. To embody these portraitures in our lives is the practical realization of those great ideals of art. The magnanimity of Heroes, celebrated on the historic or poetic page; the constancy and faith of Truth's martyrs; the beauty of love and piety glowing on the canvas; the delineations of Truth and Right, that flash from the lips of the Eloquent, are, in their essence only that which every man may feel and practise in the daily walks of life. The work of virtue is nobler than any work of genius; for it is a nobler thing to be a hero than to describe one, to endure martyrdom than to paint it, to do right than to plead for it. Action is greater than writing. A good man is a nobler object of contemplation than a great author. There are but two things worth living for: to do what is worthy of being written; and to write what is worthy of being read; and the greater of these is the doing.
Every man has to do the noblest thing that any man can do or describe. There is a wide field for the courage, cheerfulness, energy, and dignity of human existence. Let therefore no Mason deem his life doomed to mediocrity or meanness, to vanity or unprofitable toil, or to any ends less than immortal. No one can truly say that the grand prizes of life are for others, and he can do nothing. No matter how magnificent and noble an act the author can describe or the artist paint, it will be still nobler for you to go and do that which one describes, or be the model which the other draws.
The loftiest action that ever was described is not more magnanimous than that which we may find occasion to do, in the daily walks of life; in temptation, in distress, in bereavement, in the solemn approach to death. In the great Providence of God, in the great ordinances of our being, there is opened to every man a sphere for the noblest action. It is not even in extraordinary situations, where all eyes are upon us, where all our energy is aroused, and all our vigilance is awake, that the highest efforts of virtue are usually demanded of us; but rather in silence and seclusion, amidst our occupations and our homes; in wearing sickness, that makes no complaint; in sorely-tried honesty, that asks no praise; in simple disinterestedness, hiding the hand that resigns its advantage to another.
Masonry seeks to ennoble common life. Its work is to go down into the obscure and unsearched records of daily conduct and feeling; and to portray, not the ordinary virtue of an extraordinary life; but the more extraordinary virtue of ordinary life. What is done and borne in the shades of privacy, in the hard and beaten path of daily care and toil, full of uncelebrated sacrifices; in the suffering, and sometimes insulted suffering, that wears to the world a cheerful brow; in the long strife of the spirit, resisting pain, penury, and neglect, carried on in the inmost depths of the heart;—what is done, and borne, and wrought, and won there, is a higher glory, and shall inherit a brighter crown.
On the volume of Masonic life one bright word is written, from which on every side blazes an ineffable splendor. That word is DUTY.
To aid in securing to all labor permanent employment and its just reward: to help to hasten the coming of that time when no one shall suffer from hunger or destitution, because, though willing and able to work, he can find no employment, or because he has been overtaken by sickness in the midst of his labor, are part of your duties as a Knight of the Royal Axe. And if we can succeed in making some small nook of God's creation a little more fruitful and cheerful, a little better and more worthy of Him,—or in making some one or two human hearts a little wiser, and more manful and hopeful and happy, we shall have done work, worthy of Masons, and acceptable to our Father in Heaven.
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