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Efay on the Art of Idleness.
HAVING often obferved with difguft, the hackneyed fubjects of effayifts in newfpapers and magazines, not excepting those of the profeffed writers of periodical papers, in imitation of the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians, I had figured to myself, about a dozen of years ago, the poffibility of entertaining and inftructing the readers of fuch fugitive pieces, with a series of papers, on the art of employing leifure and fortune, by the idle and opulent.
When I was thus amufing my imagination with a project of future authorship, in the end of March 1777, I received from a worthy Baronet of my acquaintance, the following letter, which, as it will ferve me for a text, I fhall present a copy of it to my readers, and then proceed to make my reflections; and may the god or goddess of idleness, if there is, or ever was fuch a faint, bless my endeavours to be useful to my brethren and fifters!
"THIS morning only I received your letter of March 12th, fo I find myfelf doubly a debtor, firft for a vifit, then for the letter; and I find it moft for the conveniency of my affairs, firft to pay the last debt.
"I find that time is paffed with you, much in the fame manner as at my refidence.
"I never had any ambition for the reputation of an author, yet I have frequently had it in my head, to write a treatife, which fhould be entitled The Art of Idleness.
"The purport of it would be, to teach men, who had no regular business, and were above the neceffity of pursuing fome occupation, how to pass their time innocently, agreeably, and even ufefully. I would begin by fhewing that all gamefters, horferacers, with a VOL. III.
great et cætera of fuch useless and pernicious people, did not fall under the head of my treatise, as not being idle men, but ill employed ones, who have all the restlefsness and anxiety of defires unsatisfied, and are therefore to be counted among men of bufinefs. My pupils feek amusements that are innocent, eafy, always in their own power to procure; fuch as improve the mind, and fit it for farther enjoyment, and finally are beneficial to mankind. One of them having nothing to do, inclofes ten barren acres worthy only a fhilling per acre of yearly rent; and whilft he is pleafing himself with feeing his hedges grow, and to find a fresh verdure where there was only blasted heath before, he is agreeably furprised to find his ten acres now yield ten pounds a-year. If a rainy day confine him at home to his house, that is a day of high entertainment, for he will furely fee fome new beauty in Virgil, or other claffic, that he had not obferved before, find out the cause of fome appearance in nature which he had not hitherto explored, feast on a difh of Tacitus, Hume, or Voltaire, or take his pen and write a letter that has nothing in it, to fome one whom he hopes "Suas esse aliquid putare nugas," and pleafes himself before hand with the fatisfaction he shall receive when he gets an anfwer. I would choose for the motto of this treatise, or rather, I should say the text for this fermon,
Pauci quos æquus amavit
Jupiter, et ardens evexit ad æthera virtus,
"Observe, my beloved, how my text naturally divides itself into three heads, and how abfolutely neceffary it is that all three fhould concur to form the happy hero of idlenefs, whom I rather frame to myself in idea, than ever expect to meet with.
"Ift. Equus amavit Jupiter. He must have a happy natural difpofition, as the foundation on which fo magnificent a fuperftructure is to be raised.
"2dly, Ardens Virtus. It is impoffible for a perfon to be happy if his mind is gnawed by reflections on ill spent life, or diftracted with unfatisfied defires, and diforderly paffions.
3dly, and laftly. Dis geniti, which was an expreffion ufed by the ancients to express what we more fimply call, men of a good family. Though no defcent, however illustrious, can compenfate for want of perfonal merit, yet where that favourable circumftance concurs in a person that has the two foregoing neceffary qualifications, it contributes much to elevate the mind, and affifts it to contemn low purfuits. Such men too are generally fo early initiated in the art of idleness, that it becomes habitual to them, and they enjoy it with an ease and elegance that can scarcely ever be attained by others.
"I have often known worthy men whofe industry had raised them to a great fortune, who then purchased an estate in the country in hopes of enjoying that happy idleness that is the fubject of my difcourfe. But the firft vifits of ceremony were scarce paid and received, when they and their neighbours were equally diffatisfied with one another, for no other reason, but because the parties on one fide having been habituated to bufinefs, knew not how to enjoy their leisure with that ease the other could do who had been idle all their lives.
"I have made fuch a progrefs in this art, as is scarcely credible. I received fome days ago a letter from a friend in London, telling me he had recovered two hundred pounds for me that I had defpaired of, and that I might draw for it when I pleafed. Most people would have gone to town immediately, but I put off my journey till to-morrow, when I muft neceffarily go however, and if it were not that I am obliged to pay away part of it, I would almost rather want the money than be at the trouble of negotiating the bufinefs at a
banker's. Do I not 'deferve a diftinguished place a. mong the favourite fons of idleness?
"I am, Sir, with regard, 'your faithful humble
March 26th 7
As I propofe, in the continuation of this Effay in fome future Number of the Bee, to enter seriously into the difcuffion of the proper education and exercise of the legitimate fons and daughters of idleness, I shall content myself in this place to obferve, that the idlenefs I defcribe is fyftematic; that it leads to tranquillity in the midft of variety; that it is epicurean in practice, but in principle ftoic; that it is focial, yet independent of external circumflances; that it is eafy and gay, yet not flippant; multifarious, yet not irregular, or confufed in its operations; that it enables its practitioners to be continually amufing to others without preffing upon their time, and more important occupations; that it is ferviceable in town, in the country, at home and abroad; travels with you, and follows you in your night gown to your elbow-chair, leaves you not on your pillow, awakes with you in the morn ing, and carries you through all the viciffitudes of yor existence.
A detached thought.
THE perfon we love is always more efteemed than he deferves; the perfon we do not love, we always efteem the least it is in our power; we even feek to defpife him, and for ordinary fucceed in it. At first, that contempt is not fincere ; but infenfibly it becomes more fo; and at laft we grow to hate in good earneft, to despise an estimable perfon against whom we have fome cause of hatred: If, however, we are forced to esteem him, we hate him the more for that,
On the Hiftory of Authors by Profeffion.
I HAVE attempted to establish in my laft paper*, that authors by profeffion, or a clafs of men who derive their chief fubliftence from literary exertion, have ever exifted in fociety, among the rudeft, as well as the most refined nations, under the moft venerable, as well as the most contemned fortas. Homer chaunting his ballads, or Socrates delivering his moral inftructions, correfpond in this particular with the unfkilful bard of the moft favage tribe, or the venal fophift of the most corrupted age. But it is to be remarked, that there are two diftinct modes in which the profeffion of letters has exifted, either by becoming objects of the munificence of individuals, or by miniftering to the pleasure of the public. The firft is the ftate of patronage: The second that to which has been annexed the vulgar obloquy of authorship. Under no other form can the literary profeffion appear; and the alternation of these conftitutes its hiftory. It is not a little remarkable, that this alternation affords a new example of that circle in human affairs, that return to the point from which their progrefs began; which, in other provinces, has attracted the attention of enlightened obfervers.
Authorship is the form which appears in the earliest period of fociety; it is fucceeded by patronage, which again, in a fucceffion equally uniform and inevitable, gives place to authorship, the ftate which occupies the rudeft and the moft refined portions of the focial progrefs. This may be obviously illuftrated in detail. The bard muft owe his fubfiftence to the grateful hospitality of his whole tribe. He is therefore completely in a ftate of authorship. He minifters pleasure to that pub
* Vol. I.