Saturday, May 18, 2019

Miners Had Aspirations

Photograph of workmen at the Gould and Curry Mine,taken about 1875. Miners are posing with lanterns and lunch pails. Photo by James H. Crockwell. Courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno.

by Glenn Franco Simmons

Another evening at The Comstock Club found the men discussing idleness and sloth in comparison to the industriousness and hard work of their present generation of miners and others working in the mining industry in The Comstock Lode.

They ponder if their and others' success at unleashing wealth unmatched in the world's history and the rush to material riches was somehow undermining the natural instincts that God imbued humans with to earn a living, along with a moral code to keep rebelliousness in check.

They wonder if such advancements will result in another English-aristocracy-like society, at the expense of the common worker whose hard labor is what provides the rich with riches.

They note the selfless devotion of scientists and others whose inventions were for the sake of humanity as opposed to what they were now seeing as mercantilism for enriching oneself. Lost is the desire to benefit fellow human beings. They could see the slow creep of a societal selfishness that remains with us to this day.

Of course, there are other universal themes in this discussion that you may find for yourself; C.C. Goodwin makes sure of that in "The Comstock Lode" as quoted below:

"And yet," mused Brewster, "there are mighty works going on everywhere. This Nation to-day makes a showing such as this world never saw before. From sea to sea, for three thousand miles, the chariot wheels of toil are rolling and roaring as they never did in any other land. The energy that is exhausted daily amounts to more than all the world's working forces did a hundred years ago."

Comstock miners underground. Photo by Thomas Woodliff. Photo has been lightened. Courtesy of the University of Nevada, Reno.

The thing to grieve about is not that there is not enough work being performed, but that in this intensely practical, and material age, the gentler graces in the hearts of men are being neglected. In the race for wealth the higher aspirations are being smothered.

"If from the 'tongue-less past' there could be awakened the silent voices, the cry which would be heard over all others would be: 'I had some golden thoughts; I meant to have given them expression, but the swiftly moving years with their cares were too much for me, and I died and made no sign.'

"If there is such a thing as a ghost of memory, all the aisles of the past are full of wailing voices, wailing over facts unspoken, over eloquence that died in passionate hearts unuttered, over divine poems that never were set to earthly music. Aside from native indolence, most men are struggling for bread, and when the day's work is completed, brain and hand are too weary for further effort. So the years drift by until the zeal of young ambition loses its electric thrill; until cares multiply; until infirmities of body keep the chords of the soul out of tune, and the night follows, and the long sleep.

"There were great soldiers before Achilles or Hector, but there were no Homers, or if there were, they were dissipated fellows, or they were absorbed in business, or, under the clear Grecian sky, it was their wont to dream the beautiful days away, and so, no sounds were uttered, of the kind which, booming through space, strike at last on the immortal heights, and there make echoes which thrill the earth with celestial music ever after.

"If fortune had not made an actor of Shakespeare, and if his matchless spirit, working in the line of his daily duties, had not felt that all the plays offered were mean and poor, as wanting in dramatic power as they were false to human nature, and so was roused to fill a business need, the chances are a thousand to one that he 'would have died with all his music in him,' and would, to-day, have been as entirely lost in oblivion as are the boors who were his neighbors. Just now there is not much hope for our own country, and probably will not be for another century.

"Present efforts are all for wealth and power and are almost all earthly. Everything is calculated from a basis of coin. Before that, brains are cowed, and for it Beauty reserves her sweetest smiles. The men who are pursuing grand ideas with no motive more selfish than to make the masses of the world nobler, braver and better, or to give new symphonies to life, are wondrously few. There are splendid triumphs wrought, but they are almost every one material and practical.

"The men who created the science of chemistry dreamed of finding the elixir of life; the modern chemist pursues the study until he invents a patent medicine or a baking powder, and then all his energies are devoted to selling his discovery.

"In its youthful vitality the Nation has performed wonders, and from the masses individuals have solved many of nature's mysteries and bridled many elemental forces.

"The winds have been forced to swing open the doors to their caves and show where they are brewed; the lightnings have submitted to curb and rein; the ship goes out against the tempest, carried forward on its own iron arms; the secret of the sunlight has been fathomed and a counterfeit light created; the laws which govern sound have been mastered until the human voice now thrills a wire and is caught with perfect distinctness sixty miles away, and a thousand other such triumphs have been achieved.

"But no deathless poem has been written, no immortal picture has been called to life on canvas; no master hand has touched the cold stone and transfigured it into something which seems ready, like the fabled statue of the old master, to warm into life and smiles.

"Souls surcharged at first with celestial fire have waited for the work of the bodies to be finished, that they might materialize into words of form and splendor, waited until the tenement around them fell away and left them unvoiced, to seek a purer sphere, and a generation, three generations have died with their deepest tints unpainted, their sweetest music unsung.

"This is one of the penalties attached to the laying of the foundations of new States. There is too much to be accomplished, too many purely material struggles to be made, and so hearts are stifled and souls, glowing with celestial fervor, are forbidden an altar on which to kindle their sacred flame.

"England struggled a thousand years before a man appeared to shame wealth, power and titles with the majesty of a divine mind. Perhaps it will be as long in the United States before some glorified spirit will appear to show by example that the things which this generation is struggling most for are mere dust, which, when obtained, are but Dead Sea apples to the lips of hope."

"But Brewster," said Harding, "do you not think that a good miner is of more use to the world than a bad sculptor?"

"Suppose," said Carlin, "we were all to stop this four dollars a day business of ours and go to writing poetry, who would pay the {domestic employee} and settle the grocery bills at the end of the month?" "Were not the Argonauts making pretty good use of their time," asked Miller, "when in twelve years they dug up and gave to the world nearly a thousand millions of dollars and caused such a change in the business of the country as comes to the fainting man's circulation through a transfusion of healthy blood into his veins?"

"Did you not tell us last evening," said Ashley, "that when a poor man earned a home for his wife and babies, that to him came the perfume and the light?"

... "There is a mirage before Brewster's eyes to-night," said Miller; "the business of most men is to earn bread."

Then Brewster, bristling up, responded: "My answer to all of you is this: Man's first duty is to provide for himself, and for those dependent upon him, by honest toil, either of hand or brain, or both.

"For a long time you have each worked eight hours out of the twenty-four; perhaps eight hours more have been absorbed in eating and sleeping. What have you done with the other eight hours? You are miners. You can set timbers in line, you can lie on your backs and hit a drill above you with perfect precision; but could you make a draught of a mine, or clothe a description of one in good language on paper? You look upon a piece of ore, but can you test it and tell how much it is worth? These are all legitimate parts of your business as miners, and I refer to them merely to illustrate that in the excitements of this city, and the dream of getting rich in stock speculations, you have not only neglected your better natures, but have failed to thoroughly accomplish yourselves in your real business.

"You can see what you have actually lost, but you cannot estimate the pleasure you have been denying yourselves. Then when you are too old to work, what amusements and diversions are you preparing for old age?"

"For that, matter," said Miller, "ask the man who fell down the Alta shaft last week, 800 feet to the sump, and the pieces of whose body, that could be found, were sewed up in canvas to be brought to the surface."

Virginia and Truckee Locomotive No. 27 in 1945 at Gold Hill; Miners Union Hall. Courtesy of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Then there was a silence for several minutes until a freight train, with two locomotives (a double header), came up the heavy grade from Gold Hill and, when opposite the house of the Club, both locomotives whistled.

Then there was a silence for several minutes until a freight train, with two locomotives (a double header), came up the heavy grade from Gold Hill and, when opposite the house of the Club, both locomotives whistled.

At this Corrigan said: "Hear those black horses neigh! What a hail they give to the night! What a power they have under their black skins! I wonder if they don't think sometimes, the off-colored monsters."

"If the steam engine has not reflective faculties it ought to have," said Harding. "The highest pleasures which a man, in his normal state, can have are the approving whispers of his own soul. If in the iron frame of the steam engine there could be hidden a soul, what whispers would thrill it in these days! Methinks they would be something like this:

"'When I was born Invention gave to Progress a child which was to be to the modern world what the Genii were to the ancient world, except that I am real, while the Genii were but dreams. In me man finds the materialization of a dream which haunted mortals through the centuries, while the world was slowly pressing onward to a better state.

"'At my birth men were glad to give to me their burdens, because I could carry them without fatigue. They thought me but a dumb slave to do their bidding; they saw that I could add greatly to their achievements by enabling them to overcome heavy matter, and with tireless feet to chase the swift hours. I cannot add to man's actual years, but I can make one hour for him equal to a day in the olden time.

"'At first my work was confined to the closely peopled regions. But at length I was pushed out beyond the settlements of men, and then something of the divinity within me began to assert itself. {... W}hen the path was made for me into the immemorial hills, before my scream the scream of the eagle died away. The lordly bird spread his wings to seek more impenetrable crags. Following in my wake, civilization came; homes sprang up, temples to art and to learning were upreared, and on the air, which but a year before was startled only by barbarous cries, there fell the benediction of children's voices, as with swinging satchels in their hands, they sang their songs going to and returning from schools. Then man began to discover that there was more to me than polished iron and brass; more than a heart of fire and a breath of steam. In my headlight they began to discover a faint reflection of the Infinite light, and in whispers began to say: "It is not a dumb slave; rather it is to Progress an evangel."

"'As my power increased, it was seen that as the wild man and wild beast fled before me, old bigotries and old superstitions likewise fled, snarling like wolves, from my path; man moved up to a higher plane, and as he comprehended himself better, his thoughts were led upward; with enlarged ideas and deeper reverence, he turned to the contemplation of the First Great Cause who thrilled the dull matter of the universe with His own celestial light and order, and established that nothing was made in vain. And now a path is to be made down where the terrible Spaniard wrested an empire from the Aztecs; where, with the sword, he hewed down the altars on which human sacrifices were made, and built up new altars consecrated to Christianity. The people there will gather around me and rejoice. They think only of material things; how I will carry their burdens, take from them the fatigue of travel and increase their trade. They do not know that mine is a higher mission; that as I do their work there is to gradually fade from the faith that holds them, the superstitions which for centuries have environed their better selves and benumbed their grander energies. They will not realize, what is true, that angels still walk with men; that it is the near presence of the angels of Progress, Truth, Free Thought, Mercy and Eternal Justice, all rejoicing, which will give the thrill to their hearts.

"'As yet my work has hardly commenced. It is not yet fifty years since I became a power in the world. Wait until I am better understood, until the smooth paths are made for me through all the wilderness, over all the rivers and hills, and I am given dominion over all the deep seas, that I may swiftly bring together the children of men, till gradually the nations will take on common thoughts and return to that tongue which was universal when the world was young, and, as yet, man walked in the clear image of his Creator. Then armies will melt away before me as savage tribes now do; then no more cannons will be cast, no more swords fashioned. Then, through my example, labor in the walks of peace will become exalted; then the thirst for gold will cease, because I will till the field, drive the loom, and take from man all that is servile or gross in toil; and gradually the wild beast in men's souls will be bred out, and in the peace of perfect brotherhood men will possess the earth, and I will be the good angel that will take away the burdens.'

"As if in response to the words of Harding, just as he finished, the whistles all up and down the great lode sounded for the eleven o'clock change of shift, and the Club retired with this remark from Corrigan:

"Harding, they heard what yez was remarkin' upon, and now hear the whole row of them cheerin' your spache."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Spam comments will not make it to publication, so please do not spam this blog. All comments are moderated. Thank you for your consideration.