Commonplace Book - Autumn 2011

Idleness

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By Anne Matthews

August 25, 2011


 

 

The first strong external revelations of the Dry Rot in men, is a tendency to lurk and lounge.

Charles Dickens, “The Uncommercial Traveller,” 1860–69


The student “never stops learning”; the gambler “never has enough”; for the flâneur “there is always something more to see.” Idleness has in view an unlimited duration, which fundamentally distinguishes it from simple sensuous pleasure of whatever variety. … The spontaneity common [to all] is perhaps that of the hunter—which is to say, that of the oldest type of work, which may be intertwined closest of all with idleness.

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 1927–40


When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, obey.

Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, 1936


The Drone … hath beene alwaies reputed a greedy lozell: (and therefore hee that is quicke at meat and slow at worke is fitted with this title) for however he brave it with his round velvet cap, his fine gowne, his full paunch, and his lowd voice; yet is he but an idle companion, living by the sweat of others brows. … In the heat of the day he flieth abroad, aloft, and about, and that with no small noise, as though he would doe some great act: but it is onely for his pleasure. …
But for all this there is such necessary use of him, that he may not be spared, as without whom the Bee cannot bee.

Charles ButlerThe Feminine Monarchie, or the historie of bees, 1609


Soft Quilts on Quilts, on Carpets Carpets spread,
And Couches stretch around in seemly Band;
And endless Pillows rise to prop the Head;
So that each spacious Room was one full-swelling Bed.

James Thomson, “The Castle of Indolence,” 1748


Thomson … was once seen lounging round Lord Burlington’s garden, with his hands in his waistcoat pockets, biting off the sunny sides of the peaches.

Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, Autobiography, 1861


Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard. Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless and vulgar and bad—and because all their children admired him so. … He slept on doorsteps in fine weather and in empty hogsheads in wet; he did not have to go to school or to church, or call any being master or obey anybody … he never had to wash, nor put on clean clothes; he could swear wonderfully. In a word, everything that goes to make life precious that boy had. So thought every harassed, hampered, respectable boy in St. Petersburg.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876


Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but … they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847


I am the little red rooster
Too lazy to crow for day
Keep everything in the farmyard upset in every way
Watch out strange cat people
Little red rooster’s on the prowl.

Willie Dixon (1915–1992)


Humanists cannot be trained; they must be allowed to mature or, if I may use so homely a simile, to marinate. It is not the reading matter assigned for Course 301 but a line of Erasmus of Rotterdam, or Spenser, or Dante, or some obscure mythographer of the fourteenth century, which will “light our candle,” and it is mostly where we have no business to seek that we shall find. Liber non est, says a delightful Latin proverb, qui non aliquando nihil agit: “He is not free who does not do nothing once in a while.”

Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts, 1955


Winter comes fast on the lazy.

—Irish proverb


Is God’s idle slaughter of Job’s entire family an isolated instance of such behavior in him? … [E]ven as world destroyer he did not stoop to wanton personal torture … [yet] he has subjected a just man to torture on a whim. The question then becomes, as the creature lies naked in his agony, listening to his creator boast of his power to tame whales: Will Job be taken in? … The Lord’s speeches to Job may be, in short, Job’s last trial, a test by calculated deception in a book that, taken as a whole, is a gigantic test by calculated deception.

Jack Miles, God: A Biography, 1995


Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return. … I do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people’s lives. They would be happier if he were dead. … He poisons life at the well-head.

Robert Louis Stevenson, “An Apology for Idlers,” 1877


The rain rinses the last thoughts from one’s head. Thoughts are impurities. That’s why they start up in winter. Paper has lost its power to stimulate me. I hang like a bat in a turret of idleness: mouth downwards.

Bertolt Brecht, 1920


I heard the slow scrape of his chair-legs on the uncarpeted floor, and soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his hermitage. “What is wanted?” said he mildly. “The copies, the copies,” said I hurriedly. “We are going to examine them. There”—and I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate. “I would prefer not to,” he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen.

Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” 1853


Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 6: 28–29


Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.


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