Read A Man's Value to Society Online

Authors: Newell Dwight Hillis

A Man's Value to Society (2 page)

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
2.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

By the influence of the racial element, the laborer in northern Europe, viewed as a producing machine, doubles the industrial output of his southern brother. The child of the tropics is out of the race. For centuries he has dozed under the banana tree, awakening only to shake the tree and bring down ripe fruit for his hunger, eating to sleep again. His muscles are flabby, his blood is thin, his brain unequal to the strain of two ideas in one day. When Sir John Lubbock had fed the chief in the South Sea Islands he began to ask him questions, but within ten minutes the savage was sound asleep. When awakened the old chief said: "Ideas make me so sleepy." Similarly, the warm Venetian blood has given few great men to civilization; but the hills of Scotland and New England produce scholars, statesmen, poets, financiers, with the alacrity with which Texas produces cotton or Missouri corn. History traces certain influential nations back to a single progenitor of unique strength of body and character. Thus Abraham, Theseus, and Cadmus seem like springs feeding great and increasing rivers. One wise and original thinker founds a tribe, shapes the destiny of a nation, and multiplies himself in the lives of future millions. In accordance with this law, tenacity reappears in every Scotchman; wit sparkles in every Irishman; vivacity is in every Frenchman's blood; the Saxon is a colonizer and originates institutions. During the construction of the Suez Canal it was discovered that workmen with veins filled with Teutonic blood had a commercial value two and a half times greater than the Egyptians. Similarly, during the Indian war, the Highland troops endured double the strain of the native forces. Napoleon shortened the stature of the French people two inches by choosing all the taller of his 30,000,000 subjects and killing them in war. Waxing indignant, Horace Mann thinks "the forehead of the Irish peasantry was lowered an inch when the government made it an offense punishable with fine, imprisonment, and a traitor's death to be the teacher of children." A wicked government can make agony, epidemic, brutalize a race, and reaching forward, fetter generations yet unborn. "Blood tells," says science. But blood is the radical element put out at compound interest and handed forward to generations yet unborn.

The second measure of a man's value to society is found in his original endowment of physical strength. The child's birth-stock of vital force is his capital to be traded upon. Other things being equal his productive value is to be estimated mathematically upon the basis of physique. Born weak and nerveless, he must go to society's ambulance wagon, and so impede the onward march. Born vigorous and rugged, he can help to clear the forest roadway or lead the advancing columns. Fundamentally man is a muscular machine for producing the ideas that shape conduct and character. All fine thinking stands with one foot on fine brain fiber. Given large physical organs, lungs with capacity sufficient to oxygenate the life-currents as they pass upward; large arteries through which the blood may have full course, run, and be glorified; a brain healthy and balanced with a compact nervous system, and you have the basis for computing what will be a man's value to society. Men differ, of course, in ways many--they differ in the number and range of their affections, in the scope of conscience, in taste and imagination, and in moral energy. But the original point of variance is physical. Some have a small body and a powerful mind, like a Corliss engine in a tiny boat, whose frail structure will soon be racked to pieces. Others are born with large bodies and very little mind, as if a toy engine were set to run a mudscow. This means that the poor engineer must pole up stream all his life. Others, by ignorance of parent, or accident through nurse, or through their own blunder or sin, destroy their bodily capital. Soon they are like boats cast high and dry upon the beach, doomed to sun-cracking and decay. Then, in addition to these absolute weaknesses, come the disproportions of the body, the distemperature of various organs. It is not necessary for spoiling a timepiece to break its every bearing; one loose screw stops all the wheels. Thus a very slight error as to the management of the bodily mechanism is sufficient to prevent fine creative work as author, speaker, or inventor. Few men, perhaps, ever learn how to so manage their brain and stomach as to be capable of high-pressure brain action for days at a time--until the cumulative mental forces break through all obstacles and conquer success. A great leader represents a kind of essence of common sense, but rugged common sense is sanity of nerve and brain. He who rules and leads must have mind and will, but he must have chest and stomach also. Beecher says the gun carriage must be in proportion to the gun it carries. When health goes the gun is spiked. Ideas are arrows, and the body is the bow that sends them home. The mind aims; the body fires.

Good health may be better than genius or wealth or honor. It was when the gymnasium had made each Athenian youth an Apollo in health and strength that the feet of the Greek race ran most nimbly along the paths of art and literature and philosophy.

Another test of a man's value is an intellectual one. The largest wastes of any nation are through ignorance. Failure is want of knowledge; success is knowing how. Wealth is not in things of iron, wood and stone. Wealth is in the brain that organizes the metal. Pig iron is worth $20 a ton; made into horse shoes, $90; into knife blades, $200; into watch springs, $1,000. That is, raw iron $20, brain power, $980. Millet bought a yard of canvas for 1 franc, paid 2 more francs for a hair brush and some colors; upon this canvas he spread his genius, giving us "The Angelus." The original investment in raw material was 60 cents; his intelligence gave that raw material a value of $105,000. One of the pictures at the World's Fair represented a savage standing on the bank of a stream, anxious but ignorant as to how he could cross the flood. Knowledge toward the metal at his feet gave the savage an axe; knowledge toward the tree gave him a canoe; knowledge toward the union of canoes gave him a boat; knowledge toward the wind added sails; knowledge toward fire and water gave him the ocean steamer. Now, if from the captain standing on the prow of that floating palace, the City of New York, we could take away man's knowledge as we remove peel after peel from an onion, we would have from the iron steamer, first, a sailboat, then a canoe, then axe and tree, and at last a savage, naked and helpless to cross a little stream. In the final analysis it is ignorance that wastes; it is knowledge that saves; it is wisdom that gives precedence. If sleep is the brother of death, ignorance is full brother to both sleep and death. An untaught faculty is at once quiescent and dead. An ignorant man has been defined as one "whom God has packed up and men have not unfolded. The best forces in such a one are perpetually paralyzed. Eyes he has, but he cannot see the length of his hand; ears he has, and all the finest sounds in creation escape him; a tongue he has, and it is forever blundering." A mechanic who has a chest of forty tools and can use only the hammer, saw, and gimlet, has little chance with his fellows and soon falls far behind. An educated mind is one fully awakened to all the sights and scenes and forces in the world through which he moves. This does not mean that a $2,000 man can be made out of a two-cent boy by sending him to college. Education is mind-husbandry; it changes the size but not the sort. But if no amount of drill will make a Shetland pony show a two-minute gait, neither will the thoroughbred show this speed save through long and assiduous and patient education. The primary fountains of our Nation's wealth are not in fields and forests and mines, but in the free schools, churches, and printing presses. Ignorance breeds misery, vice, and crime. Mephistopheles was a cultured devil, but he is the exception. History knows no illiterate seer or sage or saint. No Dante or Shakespeare ever had to make "his X mark."

When John Cabot Lodge made his study of the distribution of ability in the United States, he found that in ninety years five of the great Western States had produced but twenty-seven men who were mentioned in the American and English encyclopedias, while little Massachusetts had 2,686 authors, orators, philosophers, and builders of States. But analysis shows that the variance is one of education and ideas. Boston differs from Quebec as differ their methods of instruction. The New England settlers were Oxford and Cambridge men that represented the best blood, brain, and accumulated culture of old England. Landing in the forest they clustered their cabins around the building that was at once church, school, library, and town hall. Rising early and sitting up late they plied their youth with ideas of liberty and intelligence. They came together on Sunday morning at nine o'clock to listen to a prayer one hour long, a sermon of three hours, and after a cold lunch heard a second brief sermon of two hours and a half--those who did not die became great. What Sunday began the week continued. We may smile at their methods but we must admire the men they produced. Mark the intellectual history of Northampton. During its history this town has sent out 114 lawyers, 112 ministers, 95 physicians, 100 educators, 7 college presidents, 30 professors, 24 editors, 6 historians, 14 authors, among whom are George Bancroft, John Lothrop Motley, Professor Whitney, the late J.G. Holland; 38 officers of State, 28 officers of the United States, including members of the Senate, and one President.[1] How comes it that this little colony has raised up this great company of authors, statesmen, reformers? No mere chance is working here. The relation between sunshine and harvest is not more essential than the relation between these folk and their renowned descendants. Fruit after his kind is the divine explanation of Northampton's influence upon the nation. "Education makes men great" is the divine dictum. George William Curtis has said: "The Revolutionary leaders were all trained men, as the world's leaders always have been from the day when Themistocles led the educated Athenians at Salamis, to that when Von Moltke marshaled the educated Germans against France. The sure foundations of states are laid in knowledge, not in ignorance; and every sneer at education, at book learning, which is the recorded wisdom of the experience of mankind, is the demagogue's sneer at intelligent liberty, inviting national degeneration and ruin."

Consider, also, how the misfits of life affect man's value. The successful man grasps the handle of his being. He moves in the line of least resistance. That one accomplishes most whose heart sings while his hand works. Like animals men have varied uses. The lark sings, the ox bears burdens, the horse is for strength and speed. But men who are wise toward beasts are often foolish toward themselves. Multitudes drag themselves toward the factory or field who would have moved toward the forum with "feet as hind's feet." Other multitudes fret and chafe in the office whose desires are in the streets and fields. Whoever scourges himself to a task he hates serves a hard master, and the slave will get but scant pay. If a farmer should hitch horses to a telescope and try to plow with it he would ruin the instrument in the summer and starve his family in the winter. Not the wishes of parent, nor the vanity of wife, nor the pride of place, but God and nature choose occupation. Each child is unique, as new as was the first arrival upon this planet. The school is to help the boy unpack what intellectual tools he has; education does not change, but puts temper into these tools. No man can alter his temperament, though trying to he can break his heart. How pathetic the wrecks of men who have chosen the wrong occupation! The driver bathes the raw shoulder of a horse whose collar does not fit, but when men make their misfits and the heart is sore society does not soothe, but with whips it scourges the man to his fruitless task. This large class may be counted unproductive. John Stuart Mill placed the industrial mismatings among the heavier losses of society.

To this element of wisdom in relating one's self to duties must be added skill in maintaining smooth relations with one's fellows. Men may produce much by industry and ability, and yet destroy more by the malign elements they carry. The proud domineering employer tears down with one hand what he builds up with the other. One foolish man can cost a city untold treasure. How many factories have failed because the owner has no skill in managing men and mollifying difficulties. History shows that stupid thrones and wars go together, while skillful kings bring long intervals of peace. Contrasting the methods of two prominent men, an editor once said: "The first man in making one million cost society ten millions; but the other so produced his one million as to add ten more to society's wealth." A most disastrous strike in England's history had its origin in ignorance of this principle. The miners of a certain coal field had suffered a severe cut in wages. They had determined to accept it, though it took their children out of school, and took away their meat dinner. When the hour appointed for the conference came, prudence would have dictated that every cause of irritation be guarded against. But the employer foolishly drove his liveried carriage into the center of the vast crowd of workmen, and for an hour flaunted his wealth before the sore-hearted miners. When the men saw the footman, the prancing horses, the gold-plated harness, and thought of their starving wives, they reversed their acceptance of the cut in wages. They plunged into a long strike, taking this for their motto: "Furs for his footmen and gold plate for his horses, and also three meals a day for our wives and children." Now, the ensuing strike and riots, long protracted, cost England £5,000,000. But that bitter strike was all needless. These are the men who take off the chariot wheels for God's advancing hosts. When one comes to the front who has skill in allaying friction, all society begins a new forward march. Skill in personal carriage has much to do with a man's value.

Integrity enhances human worth. Iniquities devastate a city like fire and pestilence. Social wealth and happiness are through right living. Goodness is a commodity. Conscience in a cashier has a cash value. If arts and industries are flowers and fruits, moralities are the roots that nourish them. Disobedience is slavery. Obedience is liberty. Disobedience to law of fire or water or acid is death. Obedience to law of color gives the artist his skill; obedience to the law of eloquence gives the orator his force; obedience to the law of iron gives the inventor his tool; disobedience to the law of morals gives waste and want and wretchedness. That individual or nation is hastening toward poverty that does not love the right and hate the wrong. So certain is the penalty of wrongdoing that sin seems infinitely stupid. Every transgression is like an iron plate thrown into the air; gravity will pull it back upon the wrongdoer's head to wound him. It has been said for a man to betray his trust for money, is for him to stand on the same intellectual level with a monkey that scalds its throat with boiling water because it is thirsty. A drunkard is one who exchanges ambrosia and nectar for garbage. A profligate is one who declines an invitation to banquet with the gods that he may dine out of an ash barrel. What blight is to the vine, sin is to a man. When the first thief appeared in Plymouth colony a man was withdrawn from the fields to make locks for the houses; when two thieves came a second toiler was withdrawn from the factory to serve as night watchman. Soon others were taken from productive industry to build a jail and to interpret and execute the law. Every sin costs the state much hard cash. Consider what wastes hatred hath wrought. Once Italy and Greece and Central Europe made one vast storehouse filled with precious art treasures. But men turned the cathedrals into arsenals of war. If the clerks in some porcelain or cut-glass store should attend to their duties in the morning, and each afternoon have a pitched battle, during which they should throw the vases and cups and medallions at each other, and each night pick up a piece of vase, here an armless Venus and there a headless Apollo, to put away for future generations to study, we should have that which answers precisely to what has gone on for centuries through hatreds and class wars. An outlook upon society is much like a visit to Lisbon after an earthquake has filled the streets with debris and shaken down homes, palaces, and temples. History is full of the ruins of cities and empires. Not time, but disobedience, hath wrought their destruction. New civilizations will be reared by coming generations; uprightness will lay the foundations and integrity will complete the structure. The temple is righteousness in which God dwelleth.

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
2.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Deep Water by Corris, Peter
The Army Comes Calling by Darrell Maloney
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol
Into You by Sibarium, Danielle
Me Before You by Sylvia M. Roberts
The Rush by Rachel Higginson