The following is excerpted from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years,” a collection of the storied editor’s Chips From the Chisel, column, which ran in the front of every issue of The Woodworker for three decades.
What our full powers are—we shall never know exactly this side of the grave, but we can have a wonderfully interesting time trying to find out.
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There are times when, looking back on our lives, we get a sudden sense of pattern. The kind of thing that happens when an artist, who has been plotting out a design in a series of small dots, which to the eye of the beholder look quite unrelated, joins them up with lines and curves and we become aware of the design, which he will enrich with colour and other decoration till the whole thing glows with life. It seems as though, in our own lives, the tiny dots, the small pointers which give direction to the whole, are the choices we make, those deliberate choices which in however small a way are strong enough to give some new direction to our activities or to the thoughts governing our activities which will end by colouring the whole.
The lines may not always be clear. There are always forces combining to pull us away from any deliberate choice. We may feel we need to make some real creative effort in our lives and to take up woodwork seriously in our spare time, having already dabbled in it a little, so that we become considerable craftsmen. But time is not elastic and the claims of family and friends and our own tendency to take the line of least resistance can easily divert us altogether from our programme unless we firmly dig in our heels. There is a world of difference between the just claims of others in daily living and the tendency to annex us altogether. You know the kind of thing—it is always happening. Only the other day I heard a group of youngsters discussing a popular boy, Jack, who had refused to accompany them on some projected expedition because he was studying for an examination. “Oh,” said one of his friends, “He must come. We’ll see to that.” I happened to know that examination meant a lot to Jack, who is desperately anxious to be a doctor, and wondered who would win. It is not easy for a popular sixteen-year-old to shut his head in textbooks, but that is the kind of decision in some shape or form that has so often to be made if we are going to achieve anything at all, and not only when we are young.
It is always easier to take the line of least resistance and go with the crowd, with the danger then that, instead of a design, the pattern of our lives may come to resemble a child’s meaningless scribble. We have to make choices and stick to them, even when it is not easy, if we are going to get any kind of satisfaction out of the business of living.
It is as though each of us is king of a little kingdom, which is ourselves. We have to keep control, prevent undue encroachments, give away to just claims, know when to relax and when to be firm, to keep a check over the foes within, which are our own weaknesses of temperament that, unchecked, could soon produce anarchy, and keep a particularly watchful eye on the thieves and snatchers of our time under whatever guise they come, time being the most precious commodity we have. Being human we shall fail often, but so long as we continue to make the effort, and in proportion to the amount of that effort, something worth while will evolve. The complete enthusiast, which includes all men of genius, has far less of a problem. His enthusiasm shows itself in a passion for his chosen work which refuses to be daunted by obstacles or hindrances, but must always be practising and experimenting. The custom of late years of publishing separate details of some of the pictures painted by the world’s greatest artists has been particularly revealing in this respect. It enables one to see the loving care, the passionate interest and powers of observation which have gone into the minutest part of a picture, the veins of a hand, the shimmer of light on silk and velvet, a dog quivering with excitement, a chandelier solidly and exactly portrayed, in all and every manner of thing each tiny detail perfect of its kind, and each representing not only the time spent in immediate execution but the hours beyond count which the artist has spent in acquiring his skill by drawing and painting everything within reach. For many of us enthusiasm is more fitful, wonderful when it comes sweeping us along on a glowing tide but liable to leave us stranded high and dry, our skill a mere adequacy or a job half completed. And it is at that point where determination has to step in to fill the gap.
But it is worth it. Only so can we hope to come within sight of our full powers, of our capacity for living. What these are in their fullness we shall never know exactly this side of the grave, but we can have a wonderfully interesting time trying to find out. Because the only way of finding out is by doing things and keeping on doing things as creatively and imaginatively as we can, and not scattering ourselves too much. Always remembering that we have to be like the gardener, who sacrifices most of his rosebuds by careful pruning in order to develop the few buds of his choice to their fullest extent. In a limited lifetime one cannot do everything, but it is safe to say that the choice of a craft like woodwork is sufficient to send one’s interests stemming out in all manner of directions, adding enough colour to one’s pattern of life to give a wonderful zest to living.
– Charles H. Hayward, 1952