c. 320 BC

Mencius said, “Master Xu must only eat the grain that he has planted himself?” “Yes.”

“And Master Xu must wear only cloth that he has woven himself?”

“No, Master Xu wears unwoven hemp.”

“Does Master Xu wear a cap?”

“He wears a cap.”

“Does he weave it himself?”

“No, he exchanges grain for it.”

“Why does Master Xu not weave it himself?” “That would interfere with his tilling the soil.”

“To exchange grain for various implements and utensils is not to burden the potter or the founder, nor could the potter and the founder, in exchanging their implements and utensils for grain, be burdening the agriculturalist. Then why doesn’t Master Xu become a potter and a founder so that he can obtain everything he uses from his own household?”

“The work of the craftsman definitely cannot be carried on simultaneously with the work of tilling the soil.”

“Then is governing the world unique in that this alone can be carried out simultaneously with the work of tilling the soil? There are the affairs of the great man and the affairs of the small man. In the case of any individual person, the things that the craftsmen make are available to him; if each person had to make everything he needed for his own use, the world would be full of people chasing after one another on the roads. Therefore it is said, ‘Some labor with their minds, while others labor with their strength. Those who labor with their minds govern others, while those who labor with their strength are governed by others.’ The rightness of this is universally acknowledged in the world.”

John Ruskin

The Crown of Wild Olive,


I must pass now to another condition of separation, between the men who work with the hand and those who work with the head.

And here we have at last an inevitable distinction. There must be work done by the arms, or none of us could live. There must be work done by the brains, or the life we get would not be worth having. And the same men cannot do both. There is rough work to be done, and rough men must do it; there is gentle work to be done, and gentlemen must do it—and it is physically impossible that one class should do, or divide, the work of the other. And it is of no use to try to conceal this sorrowful fact by fine words and to talk to the workman about the honorableness of manual labor and the dignity of humanity. Rough work, honorable or not, takes the life out of us; and the man who has been heaving clay out of a ditch all day, or driving an express train against the north wind all night, or holding a collier’s helm in a gale on a lee shore, or whirling a white-hot iron at a furnace mouth, is not the same man at the end of his day, or night, as one who has been sitting in a quiet room, with everything comfortable about him, reading books, or classing butterflies, or painting pictures. If it is any comfort to you to be told that the rough work is the more honorable of the two, I should be sorry to take that much of consolation from you; and in some sense I need not. The rough work is at all events real, honest, and, generally, though not always, useful; while the fine work is, a great deal of it, foolish and false as well as fine, and therefore dishonorable: but when both kinds are equally well and worthily done, the head’s is the noble work, and the hand’s the ignoble.

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