Work consists in the exercise of mind and body. It is a term commonly applied to the labour performed by man in order to earn his daily bread; and as that labour is sometimes irksome and monotonous and overtaxes the powers of the worker, it is by the unthinking considered an evil. What, however, of the man who is born with sufficient wealth to enable him to pass his life without earning a single penny? Is he, on that account, allowed to grow up ignorant arid shirk the toil necessary to make him as well-educated as his fellows? After his school life is over, does his father send him out into the world to enjoy himself, with no further instruction? By no means, the wise parent sees that he chooses himself a profession, or that in some form or other he devotes himself to the service of the state. The parent knows that an idle man gains no respect, and if the son may not be required to work for himself, that is all the more reason why he should devote himself to the service of his fellows. He knows that the idle man degenerates physically and mentally; that man is naturally active, and, if not employed on useful, honest labour, is a sure prey to temptation.
A noble worker once said, “I would rather work out, than rust out.” Schiller said that he found the great happiness in life to consist in the performance of some mechanical duty. One may very distinctly prefer industry to indolence, the healthful exercise of all one’s faculties to allowing them to rest unused drowsy torpor. In the long runit will probably be found that the exercise of the faculties has itself been the source of a more genuine happiness, than has followed the actual attainment of what the exercise was directed to procure. When learning a new accomplishment, the very novelty is an attraction and one comes to it each day with renewed interest. When the hand or the eye or the brain has been trained to do a thing really well, the actual doing gives pleasure.
If everyone did no more than the absolute minimum of work, all the achievements of human, intellect would be impossible. There would be no literature, no science, and no arts. No pictures would be painted, no fine buildings erected. Great ships would not sail across the seas bringing the merchandise of other lands. There would be no railways, nothing more than the rudest courts of justice, no legal codes, and no books. There would be few means of alleviating pain or curing sickness, and man would be little better than the rudest savage. If he would make his existence and that of others tolerable, he must do his share of the world’s work and not skulk in idleness. Retribution comes to the idle in the shape of poverty, impaired health, and enfeebled mind, loss of character and self-control, and damaged reputation.