Play, as well as work, may bring out hand-craft. The gun, the bat, the rein, the rod, the oar, all manly sports, are good training for the hand. Walking insures fresh air, but it does not train the body or mind like games and sports which are played out of doors. A man of great fame as an explorer and as a student of nature (he who discovered, in the West, bones of horses with two, three, and four toes, and who found the remains of birds with teeth) once told me that his success was largely due to the sports of his youth. His boyish love of fishing gave him his manly skill in exploration.
I speak as if hand-craft was to be learned by sport. So it may. It may also be learned by labor. Day by day for weeks I have been watching from my study window a stately inn rise from the cellar just across the road. A bricklayer has been there employed whose touch is like the stroke of an artist. He handled each brick as if it were porcelain, balanced it carefully in his hand, measured with his eye just the amount of mortar which it needed, and dropped the block into its bed, without staining its edge, without varying from the plumb line, by a stroke of hand-craft as true as the sculptor's. Toil gave him skill.
The second point I make is this: If you really value hand-craft, buy that which shows hand-craft, encourage those who are engaged in hand-craft, help on with your voice and with your pocket, those who bring taste and skill and art into the works of their hand. If your means are so small that you only buy what you need for your daily wants, you cannot have much choice, you must buy that which is cheapest; but hardly any one within the sound of my voice is so restricted as that; almost if not quite every one buys something every year for his pleasure, a curtain, a rug, a wall paper, a chair, or a table not certainly needed, a vase, a clock, a, mantel ornament, a piece of jewelry, a portrait, an etching, a picture. Now whenever you make such a purchase, to please your taste, to make your parlor or your chamber more attractive, choose that which shows good handiwork. Such a choice will last. You will not tire of it as you will of that which has but a commonplace form or pattern.
I come now to a third point. That which has just been said applies chiefly to things whose price is fixed by beauty. But handicraft gives us many works not pleasing to the eye, yet of the highest skill--a Jacquard loom, a Corliss engine, a Hoe printing press, a Winchester rifle, an Edison dynamo, a Bell telephone. Ruskin may scout the work of machinery, and up to a certain point may take us with him. Let us allow that works of art marked by the artist's own touch--the gates of Paradise by Ghiberti, a shield by Cellini, a statue by Michael Angelo, are better than all reproductions and imitations, better than plaster casts by Eichler, electrotypes by Barbedienne, or chromos by Prang. But even Ruskin cannot suppress the fact that machinery brings to every thrifty cottage in New England comforts and adornments which, in the days of Queen Bess, were not known outside of the palace. Be mindful, then, that handicraft makes machines which are wonders of productive force--weaving tissues such as Penelope never saw, of woolen, cotton, linen, and silk, to carpet our floors, cover our tables, cushion our chairs, and clothe our bodies; machines of which Vulcan never dreamed, to point a needle, bore a rifle, cut a watch wheel, or rule a series of lines, measuring forty thousand to an inch, with sureness which the unaided hand can never equal.
Machinery is a triumph of handicraft as truly as sculpture and architecture. The fingers which can plan and build a steamship or a suspension bridge, which can make the Quinebaug and the Blackstone turn spindles by the hundred thousand, which can turn a rag heap into spotless paper, and make myriads of useful and artful articles from rough metal, are fingers which this age alone has evolved. The craft which makes useful things cheap can make cheap things beautiful. The Japanese will teach us how to form and finish, if we do not first teach them how to slight and sham.
A fourth point is this. If hand-craft is of such worth, boys and girls must be trained in it. This, I am well aware is no new thought. Forty years ago schools of applied science were added to Harvard and Yale colleges; twenty years ago Congress gave enough land-scrip to aid in founding at least one such school in every state; men of wealth, like many whom you have known and whom you honor, have given large sums for like ends. Now the people at large are waking up. They see their needs; they have the means to supply what they want. Is there the will? Know they the way? Far and near the cry is heard for a different training from that now given in the public schools. Many are trying to find it. Almost every large town has its experiment--and many smaller places have theirs. Nobody seems to know just what is best. Even the words which express the want are vague. Bright and thoughtful people differ as to what might, can, and should be done. A society has been formed in New York to bring together the needed data. The Slater trustees, charged with the care of a large fund for the training of freedmen, have said that manual training must be given in all the schools they aid.
The town of Toledo in Ohio opened, some time since, a school of practical training for boys, which worked so well that another has lately been opened for girls. St. Louis is doing famously. Philadelphia has several experiments in progress. Baltimore has made a start. In New York there are many noteworthy movements--half a dozen at least full of life and hope. Boston was never behindhand in knowledge, and in the new education is very alert, the efforts of a single lady deserving praise of high degree. These are but signs of the times.
Some things may be set down as fixed; for example, most of those who have thought on this theme will agree on the points I am about to name, though they may or may not like the names which I venture to propose: