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has made considerable proficiency in the art of idleness, and is, with great respect, their most faithful and obedient servant,
On the Art of Idleness.
HAVING often observed, with disgust, the hackneyed subjects of essayists in newspapers and magazines, not excepting those of the professed writers of periodical papers, in imitation of the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians, I had figured to myself, about a dozen of years ago, the possibility of entertaining and instructing the readers of such fugitive pieces, with a series of papers, on the art of employing leisure and fortune, by the idle and opulent.
When I was thus amusing 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 serve me for a text, I shall 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 such a divinity, bless my endeavours to be useful to my brethren and sisters!
Sir James Foulis of Colinton.
This morning only I received your letter of March 12th, so I find myself doubly a debtor, first for a visit, then for the letter; and I find it most for the conveniency of my affairs, first to pay the last debt.
I find that time is passed with you much in the same manner as at my residence.
I never had any ambition for the reputation of an author, yet I have frequently had it in my head, to write a treatise, which should be entitled The Art of Idleness.
The purport of it would be, to teach men, who had no regular business, and were above the necessity of pursuing some occupation, how to pass their time innocently, agreeably, and even usefully. I would begin by shewing, that all gamesters, horseracers, with a great et cætera of such 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 restlessness and anxiety of desires unsatisfied, and are therefore to be counted among men of business. My pupils seek amusements that are innocent, easy, always in their own power to procure; such as improve the mind, and fit it for farther enjoyment, and, finally, are beneficial to mankind. One of them having nothing to do, incloses ten barren acres, worthy only a shilling per acre of yearly rent; and whilst he is pleasing himself with seeing his hedges grow,
and to find a fresh verdure where there was only blasted heath before, he is agreeably surprised 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 surely see some new beauty in Virgil, or other classic, that he had not observed before, find out the cause of some apearance in nature which he had not hitherto explored; feast on a dish of Tacitus, Hume, or Voltaire, or take his pen and write a letter that has nothing in it, to some one whom he hopes "Suas esse aliquid putare nugas," and pleases himself beforehand with the satisfaction he shall receive when he gets an answer. I would choose for the motto of this treatise, or rather, I should say, the text for this sermon,
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 absolutely necessary it is that all three should concur to form the happy hero of idleness, of whom I rather frame to myself an idea, than ever expect to meet with.
1st. Equus amavit Jupiter. He must have a happy natural disposition, as the foundation on which so magnificent a superstructure is to be raised.
2dly. Ardens Virtus: It is impossible for a person to be happy if his mind is gnawed by reflections on an ill spent life, or distracted with unsatisfied desires, and disorderly passions.
3dly, and lastly. Dis geniti, which was an expression used by the ancients to express what we more simply call, men of a good family. Though no descent, however illustrious, can compensate for want of personal merit, yet where that favourable circumstance concurs in a person that has the two foregoing necessary qualifications, it contributes much to elevate the mind, and assists it to contemn low pursuits. Such men too are generally so 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, whose 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 subject of my discourse. But the first visits of ceremony were scarce paid and received, when they and their neighbours were equally dissatisfied with one another, for no other reason, but because the parties on one side having been habituated to business, knew not how to enjoy their leisure with that ease the other could do who had been idle all their lives.
I have made such a progress in this art,
as is scarcely credible. I received some days ago a letter from a friend in London, telling me he had recovered two hundred pounds for me that I had despaired of, and that I might draw for it when I pleased. Most people would have gone to town immediately, but I put off my journey till to-morrow, when I must necessarily 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 business at a banker's. Do I not deserve a distinguished place among the favourite sons of idleness? I am, MY LORD, with regard, Your faithful humble Servant, JAMES FOULIS.
March 26. 1777.
As I propose, in the continuation of this Essay in some future number of the Bee, to enter seriously into the discussion of the proper education and exercise of the legitimate sons and daughters of idleness, I shall content myself in this place to observe, that the idleness I describe is Systematic; that it leads to tranquillity in the midst of variety; that it is epicurean in practice, but in principle stoic; that it is social, yet independent of external circumstances; that it is easy and gay, yet not flippant; multifarious, yet not irregular, or confused in its operations; that it enables its practitioners to be continually amusing to