There can be no doubt that the tendency to idleness in this sense is most prejudicial to virtue, happiness, and success in life. The boy who allows himself at school or college to contract idle habits, is laying a sure foundation for failure and unhappiness in his future life. In the first place, his idleness prevents him from educating himself thoroughly for his future career. In the second place, the idle habits he has formed by wasting his time in the past, will make it extremely difficult for him to work steadily in his profession or calling.
Thus both at school and in after-life the idle man finds himself distanced in the race by others of inferior abilities, who have the advantage of being endowed with industrious habits. The idle man’s predominant feeling is aversion to work, but by the course he pursues he often defeats his own object. Few people are able to live in this world without having the necessity of labour imposed upon them, and those who through idleness neglect to work at the proper time often have to work all the harder in the end. The farmer who neglects to mend his damaged fences will have to work hard in hunting for his wandering sheep or cattle, and after all finds he must mend sooner or later the gaps through which they escaped.
The hardest and most painful work is that which we might have done with thoroughness and comfort, if we had industriously commenced it at the right time. But, it may be urged, there are some men who are so wealthy that they need not work. Even such men gain nothing by idleness. They may indeed avoid labour, but total abstinence from labour is the surest way to unhappiness. Interchange of labour and rest is the normal state of mankind, and whoever tries to go through his life without labour will be despised by himself and others as an idler, and lose his self-respect. Men are plunged into melancholy more by want of occupation than by any other cause. The feeling of this want often drives men into evil courses. This fact is expressed in the proverb that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.
” Of course the idle man, who thus takes refuge in folly or vice to escape from the melancholy state of listlessness with which he is threatened, only changes the form of his unhappiness. In order to get a fair proportion of happiness, it is absolutely necessary that we should work. It is about as impossible to enjoy rest and amusement without earning them by hard work, as to enjoy our meals without a previous interval of abstinence from food. When the idle man thinks of making himself happy by continual indulgence in the lazy inclinations, he is as foolish as a child who imagines he would be perfectly happy if he were allowed to eat sweetmeats all day long. Whatever poetry may feign of Lotus- eaters or dwellers in the Earthly Paradise, it is not on such easy terms that we are allowed to secure for ourselves contentment and happiness in this workaday world.