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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXX. — The Gospel of Work

page 274

Chapter XXX.
The Gospel of Work.

The Land we Live in.—Its primary condition.—A Fifty years' Work.—A Brilliant Record.—Excessive Borrowing.—Too much in a Hurry.—Advantages of the Colony.—Won and Lost.—Successes and Failures as Nation Makers.—The Stonebreaker and his Hammer.—Workers as Nation Builders.—Work an ennobling Gospel.—Dignity of Labour.—Hands Clean and hearts True.—A Nation after Christ's pattern.—The Boy Carpenter and the Judge's seat.—Duties of Masters and Workmen to each other.—The Lines on which Man must move.

Fifty years ago this colony was occupied by a numerous and warlike race. It was without a road, a bridge, or a European house. It had no cultivated farms; practically no churches or schools; no White inhabitants, save a few Missionaries and runaway sailors and convicts; not a single sheep, horse, or cow in the colony.

In these fifty years what a mighty change has been wrought! We had to conquer the country at a heavy cost of blood and treasure, but we have done it. We have covered the colony with farms, schools, and churches. Our horses, cattle and sheep are page 275counted by millions. We have constructed thousands of miles of roads, 1,700 miles of railway, and many thousand miles of telegraph lines. We have improved our natural harbours, and constructed harbours where Nature never intended them to be. We have filled the colony with villages, towns and cities, and in a country where, little more than fifty years ago, hardly a White settler would be found, over 600,000 White people dwell to-day in safety.

No such record can be shown by any British colony. It is a record of which we have no reason to be ashamed. To do all this, we have manifested marvellous enterprise and undaunted courage. There is nothing morally wrong about us. We have borrowed largely—far too largely—but we mean to pay our debts, and though we have been too enterprising—too much in a hurry—yet with great economy, wise management, common sense, and courage, we shall yet make this New Zealand of ours, what Providence intended it should be, a noble Nation, a happy home for millions of industrious people.

We have a country with a soil at least of average fertility, a climate far above the average of excellency, and a death rate far lower than in any other country in the Old World or the New. Our yield of wheat per acre far exceeds that of any colony in the British dominions, and is very far above that of any country in the world, with the exception of England and Belgium. We have neither the intense cold of American winters nor the fierce heat of Australian summers. Our cattle and sheep need no winter page 276quarters, and our people wear practically the same clothing all the year round. The animals and fruits of all temperate climates grow here in perfection, whilst the fruits of semi-tropical lands thrive well; gold, silver, iron, coal, and almost every other mineral exist in abundance; whilst our forests abound with a great variety of timbers unsurpassed for utility or ornament.

Is a country with such natural advantages to be despaired of?

Is it not a country to be proud of? Is it not a country in which competence, prosperity and happiness ought to be within the reach of all, and a country in which true patriotism ought to flourish?

This then is the Land we Live in. Some of us have worked and won. Some of us have worked hard and lost. No, not lost altogether. The Colony is the better for our labour. Those who come after us will be the better for it. The Making of a Nation is the result of success and failure, the latter not unfrequently being the more valuable of the two. If rightly treated, failures will teach lessons which do not lie within the circle of success. Failures raise their warning voices and bid us beware: they temper daring with a truer courage—the courage needed to bear and conquer adversity. They lower our pride, and make us consider others more.

In the neighbourhood of my residence, are many men, some old or maimed, or have become in life's battle, waifs and strays, who earn their daily bread by breaking the scoria, cast in more fiery days from the page 277volcanic mountain near. They are poor and many of them feeble, but small as is the pittance they can earn by breaking the volcanic débris into metal for the roads, there is nothing of the pauper about them, for their honest pride is greater and nobler than their poverty.

The stonebreaker's hammer has broken many hard masses of rock into road metal. Then, one day, the handle snaps, the steel is worn from the face, and the hammer is worn out. The stonebreaker and his hammer have been close friends for many a long day. Now, the hammer is worn out, and the stonebreaker, old and weary, working long hours in sun, and rain, and storm is worn out also. Their share of work is done. Many are the roads they have made passable for gay equipage, for laden waggon, for humbler dray. Worn out though the man be, he has not laboured in vain. Faring hard and working long, he is one of the toilers, who without knowing it—more's the pity—are Nation Makers. Broad roads now traverse the hitherto trackless plain and the tangled forest, and over them, troops of other Nation Makers wend their way.

The ploughman opens the furrow, and the strokes of the axe of the woodman ring through the forest. Both, when the day is done, go, toilworn to their humble homes. There, the soft voices of women, the merry prattle of children meet them. Before their humble meal is taken, it may be, the reverent tones of thankfulness are heard, and then, the silent page 278shadows of the night descend upon their humble homes—the homes of Nation Makers.

Wage earners, though not so independent as the men who wisely cultivate their little farms, have some advantages. They are fighting the world behind the walls of the workshop. It is their employer who descends into the arena, and fights the wild beasts there, who are seeking whom they may devour. The Wage earner is often looked down upon. He is said to look for Saturday night. And why not?

He that has worked honestly all the week at the furrow, the bench, the mine, the factory or at the sweating dens—without events, without excitement, often without hope—why should he not look for rest when his work is done? Why should he not hail the Rest Day, the Sabbath as one of God's best gifts to man, in this toiling world?

The Gospel of Work is an ennobling gospel, if those who employ, and those who labour, will but cast away the selfish spectacles through which both, too often take jaundiced views of each other. The Wage earner, if he gives a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, has no need to hang his head. The employer, if he has done his duty to his workmen, may look them and the world in the face, without flinching.

Both are Nation Makers, whether they spend their day in working or directing, at the bench, at the quarry, in the mine, in the forest, on the ocean, in the factory or on the farm, in making shoes or shirts, in grinding wheat or baking bread, or in keeping the page 279accounts of those who labour, or in any other of the thousand and one ways in which men and women work. Nation Makers every one, and of a nobler kind than he who wins a battle, smites down the strong man and breaks the hearts of women to set up one dynasty or to pull down another.

The humble unknown toiler, who has made a garment that protects one of the atoms of humanity from the winter's cold; the man or woman who writes a line which cheers a drooping spirit, warns the tempted of his danger, or helps to expose and right a wrong is a nobler benefactor, a greater Nation Maker than he, who through blood, hypocrisy and tears,, wades with soiled feet and hardened heart to a fortune or a crown.

What we all need, is a clearer knowledge that we are all fellow workers from the loftiest to the lowliest, that so long as our hands are clean and our hearts are true, that every one of us is engaged in a great work: that though apparently we are trying to earn a mouthful of bread for ourselves, our wives and our little ones, we are all the while doing another work, not less necessary nor less noble.

We are building up a Nation.

And if we see clearly what we are doing besides earning our daily bread, and do our work rightly and wisely, with kindness and consideration for others in our hearts, then, we are building up a Nation after Christ's pattern—a Christian nation in something more than the name.

page 280

It is said of a certain Judge, that in his early days when, as a carpenter's boy, he was asked why he took so much trouble to make smooth the bench for the Judges to sit upon in one of the Courts, replied,

'Because I intend to sit upon it myself.'

Stripped of its selfishness, the saying of the apprentice was not without a certain element of nobility.

With a not less lofty, and a more noble idea, why may not every toiler by thought or hand, say,

'I am making a Nation and cannot help but do my work-well.'

In this way, the humblest toiler may bring more real nobility into his life, than gilded coronet or kingly patent can confer, for these, too often are but the trappings which flattery, money, vice or selfish ambition have earned and wear.

Whenever, if ever, these ideas penetrate humanity, 'a man will be a man for a' that.' The master will not regard his fellow Nation Maker as a slave or a machine, to be cast aside when he is worn out and can work no more; the workman will not in return, envy or hate his employer. The system of 'caste' which we zealously denounce in India, and as zealously practise nearer home, will then begin to disappear.

This may be yet a long way off. It will be frowned at, or laughed at as transcendental, Utopian, or as nonsense. A visionary dream it will be called, as it has been called before. Say rather, a faint tracing of the lines on which Man must move, if he is ever to attain to a developement worthy of himself; if he is ever to Make a Nation truly Christian, truly noble.