The career of industry which the nation has pursued, has also proved its best education. As steady application to work is the healthiest training for every individual, so is it the best discipline of a state. Honourable industry travels the same road with duty; and Providence has closely linked both with happiness. The gods, says the poet, have placed labour and toil on the way leading to the Elysian fields. Certain it is that no bread eaten by man is so sweet as that earned by his own labour, whether bodily or mental. By labour the earth has been subdued, and man redeemed from barbarism; nor has a single step in civilization been made without it. Labour is not only a necessity and a duty, but a blessing: only the idler feels it to be a curse.
The duty of work is written on the thews and muscles of the limbs, the mechanism of the hand, the nerves and lobes of the brain—the sum of whose healthy action is satisfaction and enjoyment. In the school of labour is taught the best practical wisdom; nor is a life of manual employment, as we shall hereafter find, incompatible with high mental culture.
Hugh Miller, than whom none knew better the strength and the weakness belonging to the lot of labour, stated the result of his experience to be, that Work, even the hardest, is full of pleasure and materials for self-improvement. He held honest labour to be the best of teachers, and that the school of toil is the noblest of schools—save only the Christian one,—that it is a school in which the ability of being useful is imparted, the spirit of independence learnt, and the habit of persevering effort acquired.
He was even of opinion that the training of the mechanic,—by the exercise which it gives to his observant faculties, from his daily dealing with things actual and practical, and the close experience of life which he acquires,—better fits him for picking his way along the journey of life, and is more favourable to his growth as a Man, emphatically speaking, than the training afforded by any other condition.
The array of great names which we have already cursorily cited, of men springing from the ranks of the industrial classes, who have achieved distinction in various walks of life—in science, commerce, literature, and art—shows that at all events the difficulties interposed by poverty and labour are not insurmountable.
As respects the great contrivances and inventions which have conferred so much power and wealth upon the nation, it is unquestionable that for the greater part of them we have been indebted to men of the humblest rank. Deduct what they have done in this particular line of action, and it will be found that very little indeed remains for other men to have accomplished.