( Originally Published 1879 )
MANY moralists have remarked that pride has, of all human vices, the widest dominion, appears in the greatest multiplicity of forms, and lies hid under the greatest variety of disguises—of which disguises, like the moon's veils of brightness, are both its luster and its shade, and betray it to others though they hide it from themselves.
It is not my intention to degrade pride from its preeminence, yet I know not whether idleness may not maintain a very doubtful and obstinate position. Idleness predominates in many lives where it is not suspected, for, being a vice which terminates in itself, it may be enjoyed without injury to others, and therefore is not watched like fraud, which endangers property, or like pride, which naturally seeks its gratification in other's inferiority.
Idleness is a silent and peaceful quality that neither raises envy by ostentation nor hatred by opposition. There are some that profess idleness in its full dignity; they boast because they do nothing, and thank their stars that they have nothing to do—who sleep every night until they cannot sleep any longer, and then rise only that exercise may enable them to sleep again; who prolong the reign of darkness by double curtains, and never see the sun but to tell him how they hate his beams; whose whole labor is to vary the posture of indulgence, and whose day differs from their night but as a couch or a chair differs from a bed. These are the true and open votaries of idleness, who exist in a state of unruffled stupefied laziness, forgetting and forgotten, who have long ceased to live, and at whose death the survivors can only say that they have céased to breathe. Such a person is an annoyance—he is of no use to anybody—he is an intruder in the busy thoroughfare of every-day life—he is of no advantage; he annoys busy men—he makes them unhappy; he may have an income to support his idleness, or he may sponge on his good-natured friends, but in either case he is despised; he is a criminal prodigal, and a prolific author of want and shame; he is a confused work-shop for the devil to tinker in, and no good can ever be expected from him; in short, he is a nuisance in the world, and needs abatement for the public good. Idleness is the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, the chief author of all mischief, one of seven deadly sins—the cushion upon which the devil reposes, and a great cause not only of melancholy but of many other diseases, for the mind is naturally active, and if it be not occupied about some honest business, it rushes into mischief or sinks into melancholy. Of all contemptible things, there is nothing half so wretched as a lazy man. The Turks say the devil tempts everybody, but the idle man tempts the devil. When we notice that a man can be a professional loafer, a successful idler, with less capital, less brains, than are required to succeed in any other profession, we cannot blame him so much after all, for those are things that the idler is generally destitute of; and we can notice it, as an actual fact, that they succeed in their business, and it costs them no energy, no brains, no character, no nothing. They are dead beats; they should not be classed among the living—they are a sort of dead men that cannot be buried.
Idleness is an ingredient in the upper current, which was scarcely known, and never countenanced, in the good old limey woolsey, tow and linen, mush and milk, pork and potato times of the pilgrim fathers, and revolutionary patriots. We now have those among us, who would rather go hungry and be clad in rags, than to work. We also have a numerous train of gentlemen idlers, who pass down the stream of life at the expense of their fellow passengers. They live well, and dress well, as long as possible, bÿ borrowing and sponging, and then take to gambling, swindling, stealing, robbing; and often pass on for years, before justice overtakes them. So long as these persons can keep up fashionable appearances, and elude the police, they are received into the company of the upper ten thousand. Many an idle knave, by means of a fine coat, a lily hand, and a graceful bow, has been received into the polite circles of society with eclat, and walked, rough-shod, over a worthy young mechanic or farmer, who had too much good sense to make a dash, or imitate the monkey shines of an itinerant dandy. A fine dress, in the eyes of some, covers more sins than charity.
If thus the young man wishes to be nobody, his way is easy. He need only go to the drinking saloon to spend his leisure time; he need not drink much at first, only a little beer, or some other drink; in the meantime play dominoes, checkers, or something else, to kill time, so that he is sure not to read any useful books. If he reads at all, let it be some of the dime novels of the day. Thus go on, keep his stomach full and his head empty, and he will soon graduate a nobody, unless (as it is quite likely) he should turn out a drunkard or a professional gambler, which is worse than a nobody.
Young man, if you do not wish to be a nobody, of somebody much worse than nobody, then guard your youth. A lazy youth will be a lazy man, just as sure as a crooked sapling makes a crooked tree. Who ever saw a youth grow up in idleness that did not make a lazy, shiftless vagabond when he was old enough to be a man, though he was not a man by character. The great mass of thieves, paupers and criminals have come to what they are by being brought up to do nothing useful. Laziness grows on people; it begins in cob-web and ends in iron chains. If you will be nothing, just wait to be somebody. That man that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and finally regret his useless intentions and barren zeal—a young man idle, an old man needy. Idleness travels very leisurely along, and poverty soon overtakes her—to be idle is to be poor. It is said that pride and poverty are inconsistent companions, but when idleness unites them the depth of wretchedness is complete. Leisure is sweet to those who have earned it, but burdensome to those who get it for nothing.
Arouse yourself, young man! Shake off the wretched and disgraceful habits of the do-nothing, if you have been so unfortunate as to incur them, and go to work at once! "But what shall I do?" you perhaps ask. Anything, rather than continue in dependent, and enfeebling, and demoralizing idleness. If you can get nothing else to do, sweep the streets. But you are "ashamed" to do that. If so, your shame has been very slow in manifesting itself, seeing how long you have been acting, on life's great stage, the despicable parts of drone and loafer, without shame !
Idler! Take the foregoing home to yourself. Don't try to persuade yourself that the cap doesn't fit you. Honestly acknowledge its fitness. It will be a great point gained, to become honest with yourself. It will be a step forward—a step toward that justice to others which your present conduct absolutely ignores!