If you ever read a Letter which is sent with the more Pleasure for the Reality of its Complaints, this may have Reason to hope for a favourable Acceptance; and if Time be the most irretrievable Loss, the Regrets which follow will be thought, I hope, the most justifiable. The regaining of my Liberty from a long State of Indolence and Inactivity, and the Desire of resisting the further Encroachments of Idleness, make me apply to you; and the Uneasiness with which I I recollect the past Years, and the Apprehensions with which I expect the Future, soon determined me to it.
Idleness is so general a Distemper that I cannot but imagine a Speculation on this Subject will be of universal Use. There is hardly any one Person without some Allay of it; and thousands besides my self spend more Time in an idle Uncertainty which to begin first of two Affairs, that would have been sufficient to have ended them both. The Occasion of this seems to be the Want of some necessary Employment, to put the Spirits in Motion, and awaken them out of their Lethargy. If I had less Leisure, I should have more; for I should then find my Time distinguished into Portions, some for Business, and others for the indulging of Pleasures: But now one Face of Indolence overspreads the whole, and I have no Land-mark to direct my self by. Were ones Time a little straitned by Business, like Water inclosed in its Banks, it would have some determined Course; but unless it be put into some Channel it has no Current, but becomes a Deluge without either Use or Motion.
When Scanderbeg Prince of Epirus was dead, the Turks, who had but too often felt the Force of his Arm in the Battels he had won from them, imagined that by wearing a piece of his Bones near their Heart, they should be animated with a Vigour and Force like to that which inspired him when living. As I am like to be but of little use whilst I live, I am resolved to do what Good I can after my Decease; and have accordingly ordered my Bones to be disposed of in this Manner for the Good of my Countrymen, who are troubled with too exorbitant a Degree of Fire. All Fox-hunters upon wearing me, would in a short Time be brought to endure their Beds in a Morning, and perhaps even quit them with Regret at Ten: Instead of hurrying away to teaze a poor Animal, and run away from their own Thoughts, a Chair or a Chariot would be thought the most desirable Means of performing a Remove from one Place to another. I should be a Cure for the unnatural Desire of John Trott for Dancing, and a Specifick to lessen the Inclination Mrs. Fidget has to Motion, and cause her always to give her Approbation to the present Place she is in. In fine, no Egyptian Mummy was ever half so useful in Physick, as I should be to these feaverish Constitutions, to repress the violent Sallies of Youth, and give each Action its proper Weight and Repose.
I can stifle any violent Inclination, and oppose a Torrent of Anger, or the Sollicitations of Revenge, with Success. But Indolence is a Stream which flows slowly on, but yet undermines the Foundation of every Virtue. A Vice of a more lively Nature were a more desirable Tyrant than this Rust of the Mind, which gives a Tincture of its Nature to every Action of ones Life. It were as little Hazard to be lost in a Storm, as to lye thus perpetually becalmed: And it is to no Purpose to have within one the Seeds of a thousand good Qualities, if we want the Vigour and Resolution necessary for the exerting them. Death brings all Persons back to an Equality; and this Image of it, this Slumber of the Mind, leaves no Difference between the greatest Genius and the meanest Understanding: A Faculty of doing things remarkably praise-worthy thus concealed, is of no more use to the Owner, than a Heap of Gold to the Man who dares not use it.
To-Morrow is still the fatal Time when all is to be rectified: To-Morrow comes, it goes, and still I please my self with the Shadow, whilst I lose the Reality; unmindful that the present Time alone is ours, the future is yet unborn, and the past is dead, and can only live (as Parents in their Children) in the Actions it has produced.
The Time we live ought not to be computed by the Numbers of Years, but by the Use has been made of it; thus tis not the Extent of Ground, but the yearly Rent which gives the Value to the Estate. Wretched and thoughtless Creatures, in the only Place where Covetousness were a Virtue we turn Prodigals! Nothing lies upon our Hands with such Uneasiness, nor has there been so many Devices for any one Thing, as to make it slide away imperceptibly and to no purpose. A Shilling shall be hoarded up with Care, whilst that which is above the Price of an Estate, is flung away with Disregard and Contempt. There is nothing now-a-days so much avoided, as a sollicitous Improvement of every part of Time; tis a Report must be shunned as one tenders the Name of a Wit and a fine Genius, and as one fears the Dreadful Character of a laborious Plodder: But notwithstanding this, the greatest Wits any Age has produced thought far otherwise; for who can think either Socrates or Demosthenes lost any Reputation, by their continual Pains both in overcoming the Defects and improving the Gifts of Nature. All are acquainted with the Labour and Assiduity with which Tully acquired his Eloquence.
Seneca in his Letters to Lucelius assures him, there was not a Day in which he did not either write something, or read and epitomize some good Author; and I remember Pliny in one of his Letters, where he gives an Account of the various Methods he used to fill up every Vacancy of Time, after several Imployments which he enumerates; sometimes, says he, I hunt; but even then I carry with me a Pocket-Book, that whilst my Servants are busied in disposing of the Nets and other Matters I may be employed in something that may be useful to me in my Studies; and that if I miss of my Game, I may at the least bring home some of my own Thoughts with me, and not have the Mortification of having caught nothing all Day.
Thus, Sir, you see how many Examples I recall to Mind, and what Arguments I use with my self, to regain my Liberty: But as I am afraid tis no Ordinary Perswasion that will be of Service, I shall expect your Thoughts on this Subject, with the greatest Impatience, especially since the Good will not be confined to me alone, but will be of Universal Use. For there is no Hopes of Amendment where Men are pleased with their Ruin, and whilst they think Laziness is a desirable Character: Whether it be that they like the State it self, or that they think it gives them a new Lustre when they do exert themselves, seemingly to be able to do that without Labour and Application, which others attain to but with the greatest Diligence.
I am, SIR, Your most obliged humble Servant, Samuel Slack.
Clytander to Cleone.
Madam, Permission to love you is all I desire, to conquer all the Difficulties those about you place in my Way, to surmount and acquire all those Qualifications you expect in him who pretends to the Honour of being,
Madam, Your most humble Servant,
[Footnote 1: Ep. 2.]
[Footnote 2: Ep. I. 6.]