“He that can work is a born king of something” (Thomas Carlyle).
TO CONTINUE LIVING IN THE WORLD, CERTAIN BASIC THINGS HAVE TO BE PROVIDED: FOOD, CLOTHING, AND SHELTER. When we do honest work to provide these things for ourselves and our loved ones, we do an honorable thing. And though it’s been a long time since the daily necessities had to be grown, caught, or made by very many of us with our own hands, it can hardly be denied that there is still an elemental satisfaction in doing these things personally and directly. “There is,” in the words of Marianne Moore, “no pleasure subtler than the sensation of being a good workman.”
In the 1940s, Harlan Hubbard and his wife, Anna, left the elite social life of Cincinnati and took to the Ohio River. Eventually, they settled in a little cove called Payne Hollow, building a house with the rocks and timbers they found there and living forever afterward on what they could provide with their own hands. Theirs was no experiment, like Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond, but a committed way of life from which they never looked back. On May 7, 1999, I had the privilege of visiting Payne Hollow. The artist to whom the Hubbards gave the property when they died still lived there, single-handedly maintaining a working homestead as Harlan and Anna would have wanted. Payne Hollow is to me a wonderful symbol, a monument to the wholesome pleasure of working and . . . providing.
Jacques Barzun said, “Work is something that engages the heart and the mind as well as the hand, something that involves the surmounting of difficulties for results that are deemed important to the worker.” When we work to provide for our own needs, and especially when we use materials we’ve garnered from our own surroundings, we come into contact with a satisfaction that’s as old as our oldest ancestors. And we’re the losers for not enjoying it more often.
Work itself is not a curse, and manual labor is a far better thing than most people suppose. “Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labor” (Leonardo da Vinci). Today, let’s reconsider the quality of our own work. Let’s recall the pleasure of providing.
“No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem” (Booker T. Washington).