Lectures to Young Men on
Various Important Subjects
Henry Ward Beecher, 1849
Industry and Idleness
"Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11
"For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat!' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat!" 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12.
The bread which we ask from God — he gives us through our own industry. Prayer sows it — and Industry reaps it.
INDUSTRY is the habitual activity in some useful pursuit. So, not only inactivity — but also all activities without the design of usefulness, are of the nature of IDLENESS. The supine sluggard is no more indolent than the bustling do-nothing. Men may walk much, and read much, and talk much, and pass the day without an unoccupied moment, and yet be substantially idle; because Industry requires, at least, the intention of usefulness. But gadding, gazing, lounging, mere pleasure-mongering, reading for the relief of boredom — these are as useless as sleeping, or dozing, or the stupidity of a glutton.
There are many grades of idleness; and veins of it run through the most industrious life. We shall indulge in some descriptions of the various classes of idlers, and leave the reader to judge, if he is an indolent man — to which class he belongs.
1.The lazy man. He is of a very ancient pedigree; for his family is minutely described by Solomon: "How long will you sleep, O sluggard? when will you awake out of sleep?" This is the language of impatience; the speaker has been trying to awaken him — pulling, pushing, rolling him over, and shouting in his ear; but all to no purpose. He soliloquizes, whether it is possible for the man ever to wake up! At length, the sleeper drawls out a dozing petition to be let alone: "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep;" and the last words confusedly break into a snore — that somnolent lullaby of repose!
Long ago the birds have finished their morning prayers, the sun has advanced full high, the dew has gone from the grass, and the labors of Industry are far in progress — when our sluggard, awakened by his very efforts to maintain sleep, slowly emerges to perform life's great duty of eating — with him, second only in importance to sleep. And now, well rested, and suitably nourished — surely he will abound in labor. Nay, the sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold weather. It is yet early spring; there is ice in the north; and the winds are hearty — his tender skin shrinks from exposure, and he waits for milder days — envying the residents of tropical climates, where cold never comes, and harvests wave spontaneously.
He is valiant at sleeping all the morning; but for other courage, the slothful man says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the street!" He has not been out to see; but he heard a noise, and resolutely betakes himself to prudence. Under so thriving a manager, so alert in the morning, so busy through the day, and so enterprising — we might anticipate the thrift of his farm, "I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins!"
To complete the picture, only one thing more is needed — a description of his house — and then we should have, at one view — the lazy man, his farm, and house. Solomon has given us that also: "If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks!" Let all this be put together, and possibly some reader may find an unpleasant resemblance to his own affairs!
He sleeps long and late, he wakes to slothfulness, with indolent eyes sleepily rolling over neglected work; neglected because it is too cold in spring, and too hot in summer, and too laborious at all times — a great coward in danger, and therefore very boasting in safety. His lands run to waste, his fences are dilapidated, his crops are chiefly of weeds and brambles; his house is sagging, the side leaning over as if wishing, like its owner, to lie down to sleep; the chimney tumbling down; the roof breaking in, with moss and grass sprouting in its crevices; the well without pump or cover, a trap for their children. This is the very castle of Indolence!
2.Another idler as useless — but vastly more active than the last, attends closely to everyone's business — except his own! His wife earns the children's bread — and his; she procures her own clothing — and his; she procures the wood; she procures the water. While he, with hands in his pocket, is busy watching the building of a neighbor's barn; or advising another how to trim and train his vines. Or he has heard of sickness in a friend's family, and is there, to suggest a hundred cures, and to do everything but to help. He is a spectator of all the sports matches in town. He knows all the stories of all the families who live in the village. If he can catch a stranger at the tavern in a rainy day, he pours out a strain of information, a pattering of words, as thick as the rain-drops out side. He has good advice to everybody, how to save, how to make money, how to do everything. He can tell the saddle-maker about his trade; he gives advice to the blacksmith about his work, suggests improvements, advises this paint or that varnish, criticizes the finish, or praises the trimmings. He is a ravenous reader of newspapers, almanacs, and magazines. And with scraps of history and mutilated anecdotes — he faces the very school-master, and gives up only to the articulateness of the oily-tongued village lawyer — few have the hardihood to match him.
And thus every day he bustles through his multifaceted idleness, and completes his circle of visits, as regularly as the hands of a clock visit each figure on the dial-plate. But alas! the clock forever tells man the useful lesson of time passing steadily away — and returning never. But what useful thing do these busy-buzzing-idlers perform?
3.We introduce another idler. He follows no job; he only follows those who do. Sometimes he sweeps along the streets, with all-important gait; sometimes perfumes it with the unpleasant odors of tobacco. He also frequents sunny benches, or breezy piazzas. His business is to see. His desire to be seen, and no one fails to see him — so gaudily dressed, his hat sitting aslant upon a wilderness of hair, like a bird half startled from its nest, and every thread arranged to provoke attention. He is a man of honor — not that he keeps his word or shrinks from baseness. He defrauds his laundress, his tailor, and his landlord. He drinks and smokes at other men's expense. He gambles and swears, and fights — when he is too drunk to be afraid; but still he is a man of honor, for he has whiskers and looks fierce, wears a large bushy moustache with hair growing down the sides of the mouth, and says, "Upon my honor, sir!" "Do you doubt my honor, sir?"
Thus he appears by day. By night he does not appear; he may be dimly seen flitting around; his voice may be heard loud in the carousal of some tavern — or above the songs and uproar of a midnight return, staggering home.
4.The next of this brotherhood of idlers excites our pity. He began life most thriftily; for his rising family he was gathering an ample subsistence; but, involved in other men's affairs, he went down in their ruin. Late in life he begins once more, and at length, just secure of an easy competence — his ruin is compassed again. He sits down quietly under it, complains of no one, envies no one, refuses the cup, and is even more pure in morals, than in better days. He moves on from day to day, as one who walks under a spell — it is the spell of despondency, which nothing can disenchant or arouse. He neither seeks work nor refuses it. He wanders among men a dreaming gazer, poorly clad, always kind, always irresolute, able to plan nothing for himself, nor to execute what others have planned for him. He lives and he dies a discouraged man, and the most harmless and excusable of all idlers.
5.I have not mentioned the fashionable idler — whose riches defeat every object for which God gave him birth. He has a fine form, and manly beauty, and the chief end of life is to display them. With notable diligence, he ransacks the market for rare and curious clothes, for costly jewelry, and chains, and rings. A poorly-fitted coat is the unpardonable sin of his creed. He meditates upon fine clothes, employs a profound discrimination in selecting a hat, or a vest, and adopts his conclusions upon the tastefulness of a button or a neck-tie, with the deliberation of a statesman.
Thus dressed up, he saunters in fashionable galleries, or flaunts his stylish equipage, or parades the streets with silly belles, or delights their itching ears with compliments of flattery, or with choicely culled scandals. He is a reader of fictions, a player of cards, and is especially conspicuous in games. Mirthful and frivolous, rich and useless, polished until the enamel is worn off — his whole life serves only to make him an animated puppet of pleasure. He is as corrupt in imagination — as he is refined in manners. He is as selfish in private — as he is generous in public; and even what he gives to another, is given for his own sake. He worships where fashion worships — today at the theater, tomorrow at the church, as either exhibits the whitest hand, or the most polished actor. A gaudy, busy and indolent butterfly — he flutters without industry from flower to flower, until summer closes, and frosts sting him, and he sinks down and dies, unthought of and unremembered.
6.One other portrait should be drawn of a business man, who wishes to exist by his occupation, while he attends to everything else. If a sporting club meets — he must go. He has set his fishing-line in every hole in the river, and dozed in a summer day under every tree along its bank. He rejoices in a riding party — a sleigh-ride — a summer frolic — a winter's glee. He is everybody's friend — universally good-natured — forever busy where it will do him no good, and remiss where his interests require activity. He takes amusement for his main business — which other men employ as a relaxation. And the serious labor of life, which other men are mainly employed in — he knows only as a relaxation. After a few years he fails, his good nature is somewhat clouded, and as age sobers his buoyancy, without repairing his profitless habits — he soon sinks to a lower grade of laziness, and to ruin.
It would be endless to describe the wiles of idleness — how it insidiously creeps in upon men, how secretly it mingles with their pursuits, how much time it purloins from the scholar, from the professional man, and from the artisan. It steals minutes, it clips off the edges of hours, and at length takes possession of days. Where it has its will — it sinks and drowns employment. But where necessity, or ambition, or duty resists such extremes — then indolence makes labor heavy; scatters the attention; puts us to our tasks with wandering thoughts, with irresolute purpose, and with dreamy visions. Thus when it may — it plucks out hours and rules over them; and where this may not be — it lurks around them to impede the sway of industry, and turn her seeming toils to subtle idleness.
Against so mischievous an enchantress — we should be duly armed. I shall, therefore, describe the advantages of Industry — and the evils of Indolence.
1. A hearty industry promotes happiness. Some men of the greatest industry, are unhappy from sourness of disposition; they are morose, or suspicious, or envious. Such qualities make happiness impossible under any circumstances.
Health is the platform on which all happiness must be built. Good appetite, good digestion, and good sleep — are the elements of health — and Industry confers them. As use polishes metals, so labor polishes the faculties, until the body performs its unimpeded functions with elastic cheerfulness and hearty enjoyment.
Buoyant spirits are an element of happiness — and activity produces them; but they fly away from sluggishness. Men's spirits are like water, which sparkles when it runs — but stagnates in still pools, and is mantled with green, and breeds corruption and filth.
The applause of conscience,
the self-respect of wholesome pride,
the consciousness of independence,
a manly joy of usefulness,
the consent of every faculty of the mind to one's occupation, and their gratification in it
— these constitute a happiness superior to the fever-flashes of vice in its brightest moments.
After an experience of ages, men should have learned that satisfaction is not the product of excess, or of indolence, or of luxury — but of industry, temperance, and usefulness! Every village has instances which ought to teach young men, that he who goes aside from the simplicity of nature, and the purity of virtue — to wallow in excesses of food or drink, or carousals — at length misses the goal of his life; and sinking with shattered body prematurely to a dishonored grave, mourns that he mistook exhilaration for satisfaction — and abandoned the very home of happiness, when he forsook the labors of useful Industry.
The poor man with Industry — is happier than the rich man in Idleness; for labor makes the one more manly — and riches unmans the other. The slave is often happier than the master, who is nearer undone by luxury — than his vassal by toil. Luxurious couches, plushy carpets from oriental looms, pillows of down, carriages contrived with cushions and springs to make motion imperceptible — is the indolent master of the rich. And often, happy is the slave who wove the carpet, the Indian who hunted the northern flock, and the servant who drives the pampered steeds! Let those who envy the mirthful revels of rich idlers, and pine for their masquerades, their escapades, and their operas — experience for a week the lassitude of their gluttony, the unarousable torpor of their life when not under a fiery stimulus, their desperate boredom, and restless somnolence — and they would gladly flee from their indolent haunts, as from a land of cursed enchantment!
2. Industry is the parent of thrift.In the overburdened states of Europe, the severest toil often only suffices to make life a wretched vacillation between food and famine; but in America, Industry is prosperity.
Although God has stored the world with an endless variety of riches for man's needs, he has made them all accessible only to Industry. The food we eat, the clothing which covers us, the house which protects — must be secured by diligence. To tempt man yet more to Industry — every product of the earth has a susceptibility of improvement; so that man not only obtains the gifts of nature at the price of labor — but these gifts become more precious as we bestow upon them greater skill and cultivation. The wheat and corn which crown our ample fields, were foods fit only for birds, before man perfected them by labor. The fruits of the forest and the hedge, scarcely tempting to extreme hunger — after human skill has dealt with them and transplanted them to the orchard and the garden, allure every sense with the richest colors, fragrances, and flavors. The world is full of sources which man is set to develop; and there is scarcely an assignable limit, to which the hand of skill and labor may not improve the powers of nature.
The scheming speculations of the last ten years have produced an aversion among the young, to the slow accumulations of ordinary Industry — and fired them with a conviction that shrewdness, cunning, and bold ventures, are a more manly way to wealth. There is a swarm of men, bred in the heats of adventurous times, whose thoughts scorn pennies and nickels, and who humble themselves to speak of dollars — hundreds and thousands are their words. They are men of great operations. Forty thousand dollars is a moderate profit of a single speculation. They mean to own the Bank; and to look down, before they die, upon moderately wealthy. The young farmer becomes almost ashamed to meet his schoolmate, whose stores line whole streets, whose stocks are in every bank and company, and whose increasing money is already well near inestimable. But if the butterfly derides the bee in summer — he was never known to do it in the stormy days of autumn.
Every few years, Commerce has its earthquakes, and the tall and toppling warehouses which haste ran up — are the first to be shaken down. The hearts of men fail them for fear; and the suddenly rich, made more suddenly poor — fill the land with their loud laments. But nothing strange has happened. When the whole story of commercial disasters is told, it is only found out that they, who slowly amassed the gains of useful Industry, built upon a rock; and they, who flung together the imaginary millions of commercial speculations, built upon the sand. When times grew dark, and the winds came, and the floods descended and beat upon them both — the rock sustained the one, and the shifting sand let down the other.
If a young man has no higher ambition in life than riches — then Industry — plain, rugged, brown-faced, homely clad, old-fashioned Industry — must be courted. Young men are pressed with a most unprofitable haste. They wish to reap — before they have ploughed or sown. Everything is driving at such a rapid rate, that they have become giddy. Laborious occupations are avoided. Money is to be earned in genteel leisure, with the help of fine clothes, and by the soft seductions of smooth hair and luxuriant whiskers.
Parents, equally wild, foster the delusion. Shall the promising lad be apprenticed to his uncle, the blacksmith? The sisters think the blacksmith so very smutty; the mother shrinks from the ungentility of his swarthy labor; the father, weighing the matter prudentially deeper, finds that a whole life had been spent in earning the uncle's property. These sagacious parents, wishing the tree to bear its fruit before it has ever blossomed — regard the long delay of industrious trades as a fatal objection to them. The son, then, must be a rich merchant, or a popular lawyer, or a broker; and these, only as the openings to business speculation.
Young business men are often educated in two very unthrifty species of contempt — a contempt for small gains, and a contempt for hard labor. To do one's own errands, to wheel one's own barrow, to be seen with a bundle, bag, or burden — is considered disreputable. Men are so sharp now-a-days, that they can compass by their shrewd heads — what their fathers used to do with their heads and hands.
3. Industry gives character and good reputation to the young.The reputable portions of society have maxims of prudence, by which the young are judged and admitted to their good opinion. Does he regard his word? Is he industrious? Is he economical? Is he free from immoral habits? The answer which a young man's conduct gives to these questions, settles his reception among good men. Experience has shown that the other good qualities of veracity, frugality, and modesty — are usually associated with industry. A prudent man would scarcely be persuaded that a listless, lounging fellow — would be economical or trust-worthy. An employer would judge wisely, that where there was little regard for time, or for occupation — there would be as little, upon temptation, for honesty or veracity. Pilferings of the till, and robberies, are fit deeds for idle clerks, and lazy apprentices. Industry and dishonesty are sometimes found associated; but men wonder at it, as at a strange thing. The epithets of society, which betoken its experience, are all in favor of Industry. Thus, the terms "a hard-working man;" "an industrious man;" "a laborious artisan;" are employed to mean, an honest man; a trustworthy man.
I may here, as well as anywhere, impart the secret of what is called good and bad luck. There are men who, supposing Providence to have an implacable spite against them, bemoan the misfortunes of their lives, in the poverty of a wretched old age. Luck forever ran against them — and for others. One with a good profession, lost his luck in the river, where he idled away his time a fishing, when he should have been in the office. Another, with a good trade, perpetually burnt up his luck by his hot temper, which provoked all his employers to fire him. Another, with a lucrative business, lost his luck by amazing diligence at everything but his business. Another, who steadily followed his trade — as steadily followed his bottle. Another, who was honest and constant to his work, erred by perpetual misjudgments — he lacked discretion. Hundreds lose their luck by expectant speculations; by trusting fraudulent men; and by dishonest gains.
A man never has good luck — who has a bad wife.
I never knew an early-rising, hard-working, prudent man, careful of his earnings, and strictly honest — who complained of bad luck. A good character, good habits, and iron industry — are impregnable to the assaults of all the bad luck which fools ever dreamed of. But when I see a ragamuffin, creeping out into the street late in the forenoon, with his hands stuck into his pockets, the rim of his hat turned up, and the crown knocked in — I know he has had bad luck — for the worst of all luck, is to be a sluggard, a knave, or a drunkard.
4. Industry is a substitute for Genius.Where one or more faculties exist in the highest state of development and activity — as the faculty of music in Mozart — invention in Fulton — idealism in Milton — we call their possessor a genius. But a genius is usually misunderstood to be a creature of such rare facility of mind — that he can do anything without labor. According to the popular notion — he learns without study, and knows without learning. He is eloquent without preparation; exact without calculation; and profound without reflection. While ordinary men toil for knowledge by reading, by comparison, and by minute research — a genius is supposed to receive it as the mind receives dreams. His mind is like a vast cathedral, through whose colored windows the sunlight streams, painting the aisles with the varied colors of brilliant pictures.
Such geniuses may exist. But so far as my observations have ascertained the species — they abound in academies, colleges, and actor societies; in village debating clubs; in coteries of young artists, and among young professional aspirants. They are to be known by a reserved air, excessive sensitiveness, and utter indolence; by very long hair, and very open shirt collars; by the reading of much wretched poetry, and the writing of much — yet more wretched; by being very conceited, very ostentatious, very disagreeable, and very useless — beings whom no man wants for friend, pupil, or companion!
The occupations of the truly great man, and of the common man, are necessarily, for the most part, the same; for the business of life is made up of minute affairs, requiring only judgment and diligence. A high order of intellect is required for the discovery and defense of truth — but this is an infrequent task. Those who enlarge the bounds of knowledge, must push out with bold adventure beyond the common walks of men. But only a few pioneers are needed for the largest armies, and a few profound men in each occupation may herald the advance of all the business of society.
The vast bulk of men are required to discharge the common duties of life; and they have less need of genius than of intellectual Industry and patient Enterprise. Young men should observe, that those who take the honors and emoluments of mechanical crafts, of commerce and of professional life — are rather distinguished for a sound judgment and a close application — than for a brilliant genius. In the ordinary business of life — Industry can do anything which Genius can do; and very many things which it cannot. Genius is usually impatient of application, irritable, scornful of men's dullness, squeamish at petty disgusts — it loves a conspicuous place, a short work, and a large reward. It loathes . . .
the sweat of toil,
the vexations of life,
and the dull burden of care.
Industry has a firmer muscle, is less annoyed by delays and repulses; and, like water, bends itself to the shape of the soil over which it flows; and if checked, will not rest — but accumulates, and mines a passage beneath, or seeks a side-track, or rises above and overflows the obstruction. What Genius performs at one impulse — Industry gains by a succession of blows. In ordinary matters, they differ only in rapidity of execution, and are upon one level before men — who see the result, but not the process.
It is admirable to know that those things which in skill, in art, and in learning, the world has been unwilling to let die, have not only been the conceptions of genius — but the products of toil. The masterpieces of antiquity, as well in literature, as in art — are known to have received their exquisite finish, from an almost incredible continuance of labor upon them. I do not remember a book in all the departments of learning, nor a scrap in literature, nor a work in all the schools of art, from which its author has derived a permanent renown, that is not known to have been long and patiently elaborated.
Genius needs Industry — as much as Industry needs Genius. If only Milton's imagination could have conceived his visions, his consummate industry only could have carved the immortal lines which enshrine them. If only Newton's mind could reach out to the secrets of Nature, even his could only do it by the severest toil. The works of Bacon are not midsummer-night dreams — but, like coral islands, they have risen from the depths of truth, and formed their broad surfaces above the ocean by the minutest accretions of persevering labor. The conceptions of Michelangelo would have perished like a night's phantasy, had not his industry given them permanence.
From enjoying the pleasant walks of Industry — we turn reluctantly to explore the paths of Indolence.
All degrees of Indolence incline a man to rely upon others — and not upon himself; to eat their bread — and not his own. His carelessness — is somebody's loss; his neglect — is somebody's downfall; his promises — are a perpetual stumbling block to all who trust them. If he borrows — the article remains borrowed; if he begs and gets — it is as the letting out of waters — no one knows when it will stop. He . . .
spoils your work;
disappoints your expectations;
exhausts your patience;
eats up your substance;
abuses your confidence; and
hangs a dead weight upon all your plans!
The very best thing an honest man can do with a lazy man, is to get rid of him! Solomon says: "Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle — you will not remove his folly from him!" He does not mention what kind of a fool he meant; but as he speaks of a fool by preeminence, I take it for granted he meant a lazy man; and I am the more inclined to the opinion, from another expression of his experience: "As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes — so is a sluggard to those who send him!"
Indolence is a great spendthrift.An indolently inclined young man, can neither make nor keep property. I have Scriptural authority for this: "One who is slack in his work — is brother to one who is a great waster!"
When Satan would put ordinary men to a crop of mischief, like a wise gardener, he clears the ground and prepares it for seed; but he finds the idle man already prepared, and he has scarcely the trouble of sowing; for vices, like weeds, need little fertilizing, except what the wind gives their ripe and winged seeds, shaking and scattering them all abroad. Indeed, lazy men may fitly be likened to a tropical prairie, over which the wind of temptation perpetually blows, drifting every vagrant seed from hedge and hill, and which — without a moment's rest through all the year — waves its rank harvest of luxuriant weeds.
First, the imagination will be haunted with unlawful visitants. Upon the outskirts of towns are shattered houses, abandoned by reputable people. They are not empty, because thieves, vagabonds and villains haunt them, in joint possession with rats, bats, and vermin. Such are idle men's imaginations — full of unlawful company.
The imagination is closely related to the passions, and fires them with its heat. The day-dreams of indolent youth, glow each hour with warmer colors, and bolder adventures. The imagination fashions scenes of enchantment, in which the passions revel; and it leads them out, in shadow at first, to deeds which soon they will seek in earnest. The brilliant colors of far-away clouds, are but the colors of the storm; the evil day-dreams of indolent men, rosy at first and distant, deepen every day, darker and darker, to the color of actual evil. Then follows the blight of every habit. Indolence promises, without redeeming the pledge; a mist of forgetfulness rises up and obscures the memory of vows and oaths. The negligence of laziness breeds more falsehoods than the cunning of the swindler. As poverty waits upon the steps of Indolence, so, upon such poverty, brood equivocations, subterfuges, lying denials. Falsehood becomes the instrument of every plan. Negligence of truth, next occasional falsehood, then wanton mendacity — these three traverse the whole road of lies.
Indolence as surely runs to dishonesty, as to lying.Indeed, they are but different parts of the same road, and not far apart. In directing the conduct of the Ephesian converts, Paul says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer — but must work, doing something useful with his own hands." The men who were thieves — were those who had ceased to work. Industry was the road back to honesty. When stores are robbed — the idle are first suspected. The desperate forgeries and swindlings of past years have taught men, upon their occurrence, to ferret their authors among the unemployed, or among those vainly occupied in wicked pleasures.
The terrible passion for stealing rarely grows upon the young, except through the necessities of their idle pleasures. Business is first neglected for amusement — and amusement soon becomes the only business. The appetite for wicked pleasure — outruns the means of procuring it. The theater, the circus, the card-table, the midnight carouse — all demand money. When scanty earnings are gone, the young man pilfers from the til. First, because he hopes to repay, and next, because he despairs of paying. For the disgrace of stealing, ten dollars or a thousand will be the same — but not their respective pleasures. Next, he will gamble, since it is only another form of stealing. Gradually excluded from reputable society, the vagrant takes all the badges of vice, and is familiar with her paths; and, through them, enters the broad road of crime.
Society precipitates its lazy members, as water does its filth; and they form at the bottom, a pestilent sediment, stirred up by every breeze of evil, into riots, robberies and murders. Into it, drains all the filth — and out of it, as from a morass, flow all the streams of pollution. Brutal wretches, desperately hunted by the law, crawling in human filth, brood their villain schemes here, and plot mischief to man. Here resorts the violent demagogue, to stir up the putrid filth against his adversaries, or to bring up mobs out of this sea, which cannot rest — but casts up mire and dirt.
The results of Indolence upon communities, are as marked as upon individuals.
In a town of industrious people — the streets would be clean; houses neat and comfortable; fences in repair; school-houses swarming with rosy-faced children, decently clad, and well-behaved. The laws would be respected, because justly administered. The church would be thronged with devout worshipers. The tavern would be silent, and for the most part empty, or a welcome retreat for weary travelers. Liquor-sellers would fail — and mechanics grow rich. Labor would be honorable — and loafing a disgrace. For music, the people would have the blacksmith's anvil, and the carpenter's hammer; and at home, the spinning wheel, and girls cheerfully singing at their work. Debts would be seldom paid — because seldom made; but if contracted, no grim officer would be invited to the settlement. Town-officers would be respectable men, taking office reluctantly, and only for the public good. Public days would be full of sports, without fighting; and elections would be as orderly as weddings or funerals.
In a town of lazy men — I would expect to find crazy-houses, shingles and weather-boards knocked off; doors hingeless, and all a-creak: windows stuffed with rags, hats, or pillows. Instead of flowers in summer, and warmth in winter — every house would swarm with vermin in hot weather — and with starveling pigs in cold; fences would be curiosities of lazy contrivance, and gates hung with ropes, or lying flat in the mud. Lanky cattle would follow every loaded wagon, supplicating a morsel, with famine in their looks. Children would be ragged, dirty, brash. The school-house would be empty — and the jail full. The the church would be silent — and the taverns noisy. Lawyers would reign; constables flourish, and hunt sneaking criminals. The peace-officers would wink at tumults, arrest rioters in fun, and drink with them in good earnest. Good men would be obliged to keep hidden — and bad men would swear, fight, and rule the town. Public days would be scenes of confusion, and end in fights; elections would be drunken, illegal, boisterous and brutal.
The young abhor the last results of Idleness; but they do not perceive that the first steps lead to the last. They are in the opening of this career; but with them . . .
it is genteel leisure — not laziness;
it is relaxation — not sloth;
it is amusement — not indolence.
But leisure, relaxation, and amusement, when men ought to be usefully engaged — are Indolence. A spurious Industry — is the worst Idleness. A young man perceives that the first steps lead to the last — with everybody but himself! He sees others become drunkards by social tippling — he sips socially, as if he could not be a drunkard. He sees others become dishonest, by petty habits of fraud; but will indulge slight aberrations, as if he could not become thievish. Though others, by lying, lose all character — he does not imagine that his little dalliances with falsehood will make him a liar. He knows that indecent imaginations, immoral pictures, and illicit familiarities — have led thousands to the harlot's door, whose house is the way to Hell; yet he never sighs or trembles lest these things should take him to this inevitable way of damnation!
In reading these strictures upon Indolence, you will abhor it in others — without suspecting it in yourself! While you read, I fear you are excusing yourself! You are supposing that your leisure has not been laziness; or that, with your disposition, and in your circumstances — Indolence is harmless. Be not deceived! If you are idle — you are on the fast road to ruin — and there are few stopping places upon it. It is rather a precipice, than a road. While I point out the temptation to Indolence, scrutinize your course, and pronounce honestly upon your risk.
1.Some are tempted to Indolence by their wretched training — or rather, wretched lack of it. How many families are the most remiss — whose base condition and sufferings are the strongest inducement to Industry. The children have no inheritance — yet never work; they have no education — yet are never sent to school. It is hard to keep their rags around them — yet none of them will earn better clothing. If ever there was a case when a Government should interfere between parent and child — that seems to be the one, where children are started in life with an education of vice! If, in every community, three things should be put together, which always work together — the front would be a tavern — the middle a jail — the rear a gallows — an infernal trinity! And the recruits for this three-headed monster, are largely drafted from the lazy children of worthless parents!
2.The children of rich parents are apt to be reared in Indolence. The ordinary motives to industry are lacking — and the temptations to sloth are multiplied. Other men labor to provide support; to secure homage; to obtain power; to multiply the elegant products of wealth. But the child of affluence inherits these things. Why should he labor — who may command universal service, whose money exhausts the luxuries of society, and makes rarities common by their abundance? Only the blind would not see, that riches and ruin run in one channel to prodigal children! The most rigorous regimen, the most confirmed industry, and steadfast morality — can alone disarm inherited wealth, and reduce it to a blessing.
The profligate wretch, who fondly watches his father's advancing decrepitude, and secretly curses the lingering steps of death, (seldom too slow except to hungry heirs,) at last is over-blessed in the tidings that the loitering death has come — and the estate is finally his. When the golden shower has fallen — he rules as a prince in a court of expectant parasites. All the sluices by which pleasurable vice drains an estate — are opened wide. A few years complete the ruin. The hopeful heir, avoided by all whom he has helped, ignorant of useful labor, and scorning a knowledge of it, fired with an incurable appetite for wicked excitement, sinks steadily down — a profligate, a wretch, a villain-scoundrel, a convicted felon! Let parents who hate their offspring — rear them to hate labor, and to inherit riches — and before long they will be stung by every vice, racked by its poison, and damned by its penalty!
3.Another cause of Idleness, is found in the secret effects of youthful indulgence. The purest pleasures lie within the circle of useful occupation. Mere pleasure — sought outside of usefulness — existing by itself — is fraught with poison! When its exhilaration has thoroughly kindled the mind, the passions thenceforth refuse a simple food; they crave and require an excitement, higher than any ordinary occupation can give. After reveling all night in wine-dreams, or amid the fascinations of the dance, or the deceptions of the drama — what does the dull store, or the dirty shop have — which can continue the pulse at this fever-heat of delight? The face of Pleasure to the youthful imagination — is the face of an angel, a paradise of smiles, a home of love; while the rugged face of Industry, embrowned by toil, is dull and repulsive: but at the end it is not so. These are harlot charms which Pleasure wears. At last, when Industry shall put on her beautiful garments, and rest in the palace which her own hands have built — Pleasure, blotched and diseased with indulgence, shall lie down and die upon the dunghill.
4. Bad example leads to Idleness.The children of industrious parents at the sight of vagrant rovers seeking their sports wherever they will — disrelish labor, and envy this unrestrained leisure. At the first relaxation of parental vigilance, they shrink from their odious tasks. Idleness is begun — when labor is a burden, and industry a bondage, and only idle relaxation a pleasure.
The example of famous people is not usually conducive to Industry. The idea insensibly fastens upon the mind, that greatness and hard labor are not companions. The inexperience of youth imagines that great men — are men of great leisure. They see them much in public, often applauded, and greatly followed. How disgusting in contrast is the mechanic's life; a tinkering shop — dark and smutty — is the only theater of his exploits; and labor, which covers him with sweat and fills him with weariness, brings neither notice nor praise. The ambitious apprentice, sighing over his soiled hands, hates his ignoble work — neglecting it, he aspires to better things — resorts to a bar-room; fights in a tavern; and dies in a ditch.
5. Men become Indolent through the reverses of fortune.Surely, despondency is a grievous thing, and a heavy load to bear. To see disaster and wreck in the present, and no light in the future; but only storms, ghastly by the contrast of past prosperity, and growing darker as they advance — to wear a constant expectation of woe like a belt; to see poverty at the door, imperiously knocking, while there is no strength to repel, or courage to bear its tyranny — indeed, this is dreadful enough!
But there is a thing more dreadful. It is more dreadful if the man is wrecked with his fortune. Can anything be more poignant in anticipation, than one's own self, unnerved, and helplessly drifting and driven down the troubled sea of life? Of all things on earth, next to his God, a broken man should cling to a courageous Industry. If it brings nothing back, and saves nothing — it will save him. To be pressed down by adversity has nothing in it of disgrace; but it is disgraceful to lie down under it like a scared dog. Indeed, to stand composedly in the storm, amidst its rage and wildest devastations; to let it beat over you, and roar around you, and pass by you, and leave you undismayed — this is to be a man.
Adversity is the mint in which God stamps upon us his image and superscription. In this matter, men may learn from insects. The ant will repair his dwelling as often as the mischievous foot crushes it; the spider will exhaust life itself, before he will live without a web; the bee can be decoyed from his labor neither by plenty nor scarcity. If summer is abundant, it toils none the less; if it be parsimonious of flowers, the tiny laborer sweeps a wider circle, and by Industry, repairs the frugality of the season. Man should be ashamed to be rebuked in vain by the spider, the ant, and the bee.
"Do you see a man diligent in his business? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men!"