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Of course we cannot all laze, since there must be somebody to cook dinners and build houses. This, however, is an unimportant consideration—seeing that few people know (or could, indeed, be taught) how to laze, and that the restlessness of modern life makes everybody anxious to indust. Somebody must work, since no machinery has yet been invented to entirely supersede manual labour : and this, I think, is fortunate, because else there would be no chance for men with the
power to laze.
The picture of Charles Fox, down at his place in the country, lying under a haystack reading Greek, and looking up from the page (Aristophanes, let us hope) to watch the birds eating his cherries, is delightful beyond measure. On the other hand, I hear of one living statesman that he delights to ride about on a bicycle—and of another, that he spends his vacation in cutting down trees. Both these occupations show an incapacity to laze. A politician, after the evil air and erratic hours of a session at St. Stephen's, should get as much ozone as he can ... but he should laze. To expend himself on heavy exercise is a mistake, unless he is physically a giant. So close is the alliance between mind and body, that the work of a session in the House will take all the physical energy out of a man—and he is singularly unwise if he attempt to restore himself by additional expenditure of physical energy. I remember dining with a member of Parliament when Sir Robert Peel was first minister. At nine o'clock, just as we were thinking of leaving, he came in and sat down to a rumpsteak and a pint of port ... the wisest dinner in the world under the circumstances. There was a gridiron in the House in those days.
If we regard philosophically what I venture to call the faculty of laziness, it becomes at once evident that it is the result of a complete nature. The man who can laze (having of course a right to laze) is conscious of his power. He knows he can do what he has to do in less time than the ordinary mortal imagines it will take him. He tacitly accepts the margin. That time is his, and nobody has claim on it: and during that time, if he be wisely idle, he will maturé his powers, and attain a greater speed and mastery of work, and thus broaden his phylactery of idleness.
The world has been driven so fast of late, and everybody, from First Minister to shoeblack, has taken to do his work with such an impetuosity of integrity, that my theory of the value of laziness may at first be unpopular. This, however, is the fate of all great ideas, when they happen to be true. And mine is shown to be true by innumerable examples. Go into a boys' school; note the little rascal who does least work, catches most cockchafers and whippings : depend on it he is the best specimen there. Go (if Miss Pinnock will admit you) into a girls' school : the naughty young minx who can't understand the Use of the Globes, but who draws felicitously abominable caricatures of the Lady Principal and her subordinates, will make a better wife than the stolid young persons who learn their lessons to the latest inch. It would be easy to multiply examples.
Hence, I say to those who desire to live long ... Take life easily. Its troubles are trivial in comparison with its enjoyments. With a clear brain, a good digestion, and no ambition or avarice, a man ought to be perfectly happy. If he is not, it is because he has not learnt the elementary conditions of happiness.
THERE are a thousand things on which I could in this connexion descant most eloquently. Everywhere nature is filled with beautiful devices to make men enjoy life ... and therefore to make them prolong life. Everywhere you are tempted to waste a moment on your way, by some lovely appeal to sight or smell or hearing. The honeysuckle hinders the evening traveller, a mystic fragrance from the hedgerow : the nightingale causes him to linger, a passionate outburst of song beside his ear : the great sunset suddenly causes him to stop, for it is the instant autograph of God. Avarice and ambition tempt men to lose no moment ... to press for