Old things return with a difference. Nowadays we do not burn Yule logs nor go a-mumming. Our feasting has less of the grand heartiness of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, Christmas, almost alone of all the great feasts, has retained its essential spirit of universal good will. Christmas opens the heart, sweeps away some of the cobwebs from our darker corners. The feast of the family, it reminds us of the greater family to which we all belong, and a tide of good fellowship flows out at Christmas to the poor and the lonely as at no other time of the year. We should all be poorer without it, for there is a fellowship in rejoicing which remains over when the last crumb of the feast has been swept away, when the last sprig of holly has been burned.
Among craftsmen, especially, a spirit of good fellowship makes all the difference. Modern conditions do not always make it easy. Wherever there is a feeling of insecurity a man may easily become distrustful of his fellows, guarding his knowledge with the feeling that it is the one thing he has to arm him against the world. But hoarded knowledge can never be as productive as knowledge which is shared. It is not the man who warns off enquirers with a mutter of “trade secrets” and a “please-keep-off-the-grass” expression who will keep abreast of the times, but the man who will readily exchange experiences, discuss, and, when need be, give guidance to others. It is remarkable, when one comes to think of it, the number of ideas which are generated in conversation. A tradesman can easily, in answering the questions of the novice, be brought to consider for the first time the whys and wherefores of using certain processes. Such was the trade custom, but why? Or, swopping experiences with another old hand, he gets to know of other methods as sound, maybe sounder, than his own. But he has to give as well as take. There has to be fellowship, even in the generation of ideas.
The real expert need never fear the competition of the amateur. He may impart his knowledge but his skill remains his own. There is a story told by Vasari of how Michael Angelo, the great painter and sculptor of the Italian Renaissance once came to the help of a very mediocre painter, commissioned to paint a picture which proved too difficult for him. Labouring on as best he could, the painter reached at last a point where he had to pack a row of soldiers, in various foreshortened attitudes, into a very narrow space, and there he absolutely stuck. He begged Michael Angelo to tell him how to do it. We are told that Michael Angelo, laughing good-humouredly, picked up a piece of charcoal and sketched in the figures he required, “all done with the judgment and excellence peculiar to him.” And, Vasari shrewdly adds, the painter afterwards completed the work “in such a manner that no one would have supposed Michael Angelo had ever looked at it!”
The Italian Renaissance was the golden age of craftsmanship. There was an amazing flowering of genius in painting, sculpture, goldsmith’s and silversmith’s work, in fact in every kind of craft, research and experiment were carried to the limit. Ideas were in the air, bandied about in workshop and studio, till the fertile soil of genius brought them to perfection. And it is significant that it was an age of great good fellowship among craftsmen. Competition was terrific; there were so many of them at the game and the prizes were glittering, but again and again it is evident from the pages of Vasari how freely they pooled their experiences, and how freely criticism, advice and generous appreciation circulated. They were a mixed bunch too. Dullards and plodders worked side by side with talented men, and there were inspired cut-throats among the men of genius. But this much they all had in common: a love of the work they found to their hand and a readiness to pass on the knowledge they had acquired.
On the whole it would seem that gardeners are the least reticent of us all and the readiest of all to share. Whether it is the amateur, passing on roots and cuttings and seedlings to his neighbour next door, or the professional, overflowing with knowledge which he is perfectly willing to impart, undoubtedly the spirit of good fellowship shows among gardeners at its best. It is the kind of spirit we should like to see increase among woodworkers. For we are convinced that it is the best stimulus of all to good craftsmanship.
And woodwork has such fine old traditions. It is a family affair if ever there was one, bound up with the home. In olden times the Yule log, nowadays the fir tree, forms the central feature of Christmas merrymaking:
“Sword of wood and doll of wax,
Little children, sing Nowell.
Swing on the stem was cleft with the axe!
Craftsmen all, a ‘Gloria’.”
— Excerpted from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years“