Signs of the Times

["Paper and Gold," an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, U.S.A.]

There is a common saying, which of late has tended to crystallize into a proverb, to the effect that wealth is stored up labor. Such a statement, however, like most accepted economic formulas, is either entirely unsound, or capable of being maintained only by an altogether new definition of labor. One of the most curious phases of the development of language is this appropriation of words in a limited sense. The tendency is so subtle and so irritating that Ruskin himself once declared that the more purely a man wrote, the greater was his danger of being misunderstood. One of those amazing people who find time for such curious calculations claims to have discovered that the ordinary man does his thinking on two hundred and fifty words. A reference to the Oxford dictionary with its twelve colossal volumes will indicate exactly what this means. Mrs. Gamp made aggravation synonymous with irritation. Dominie Sampson compressed a whole library of emotions into the one word "Prodigious!" accentuated to order. And, in the same way, the labor unions have segregated the word "labor" to the kindred occupations of "the grand old gardener."

Now, as a matter of fact, a man cannot labor at all unless he thinks. Even an elephant piling teak has to make use of its intelligence. Disraeli was on the side of the angels as opposed to the monkeys, not entirely becuse they had wings instead of tails, but because he endowed one with the beauty of holiness, and the other with the animality of mischief. Which of the two men, does anybody suppose, was most responsible for the French Revolution, Voltaire, the philosopher, or Santerre, the brewer? The medieval mind did, unquestionably, some very curious thinking. But it at any rate recorded the entirely fundamental fact that all true Science was an understanding of principle. And, as this is true of a relative understanding of Truth as well as of an absolute, it means that the man who invented the steam engine knows more about it than the man who merely runs it. In plain English, that the wealth produced by the railways of the world is not merely, is not even primarily, the stored up energy of the laborer and the mechanic: it is, on the contrary, the accumulated fruits of the intelligence which first invented the steam engine, next evolved the locomotive, then built and organized the great systems, and finally supplied the "labor" for running them.

Enjoy 1 free Sentinel article or audio program each month, including content from 1898 to today.

April 26, 1919

We'd love to hear from you!

Easily submit your testimonies, articles, and poems online.