Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Jerome K. Jerome. 1889. 112 pages.
Now, this is a subject on which I flatter myself I really am au fait. The gentleman who, when I was young, bathed me at wisdom's font for nine guineas a term—no extras—used to say he never knew a boy who could do less work in more time; and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.
I am afraid I have somewhat belied half the dear old lady's prophecy. Heaven help me! I have done a good many things that I ought not to have done, in spite of my laziness. But I have fully confirmed the accuracy of her judgment so far as neglecting much that I ought not to have neglected is concerned. Idling always has been my strong point. I take no credit to myself in the matter—it is a gift. Few possess it. There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.
It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.
Is Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow worth reading? Is it as good as Three Men in a Boat? Is it as good as Diary of a Pilgrimage? I do think it's worth reading, just reading in a different way. It is not as good, in my opinion, as Three Men in a Boat or Diary of a Pilgrimage. Both Three Men in a Boat and Diary of a Pilgrimage were travel books, travel books written more to amuse and delight, perhaps, but the books had structure, they were going somewhere, they were doing something. Idle Thoughts for an Idle Fellow, well, it's a book about nothing and everything. Some essays were good--very, very good. Others not so much. But I did like this one!!!

On idling:
I like idling when I ought not to be idling; not when it is the only thing I have to do. That is my pig-headed nature. The time when I like best to stand with my back to the fire, calculating how much I owe, is when my desk is heaped highest with letters that must be answered by the next post. When I like to dawdle longest over my dinner is when I have a heavy evening's work before me. And if, for some urgent reason, I ought to be up particularly early in the morning, it is then, more than at any other time, that I love to lie an extra half-hour in bed.
On sleeping late:
Ah! how delicious it is to turn over and go to sleep again: "just for five minutes." Is there any human being, I wonder, besides the hero of a Sunday-school "tale for boys," who ever gets up willingly? 
I think myself that I could keep out of bed all right if I once got out. It is the wrenching away of the head from the pillow that I find so hard, and no amount of over-night determination makes it easier. I say to myself, after having wasted the whole evening, "Well, I won't do any more work to-night; I'll get up early to-morrow morning;" and I am thoroughly resolved to do so—then. In the morning, however, I feel less enthusiastic about the idea, and reflect that it would have been much better if I had stopped up last night.
On alarm clocks: 
artful contrivances that go off at the wrong time and alarm the wrong people
On love:
Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching it a second time.
A man's heart is a firework that once in its time flashes heavenward.
On affection:
Affection will burn cheerily when the white flame of love is flickered out. Affection is a fire that can be fed from day to day and be piled up ever higher as the wintry years draw nigh.
On blame:
But we are so blind to our own shortcomings, so wide awake to those of others. Everything that happens to us is always the other person's fault.
 On truth:
Speak truth, and right will take care of itself.
 On blogging writing:
It is a most remarkable thing. I sat down with the full intention of writing something clever and original; but for the life of me I can't think of anything clever and original—at least, not at this moment.
On cats:
As for cats, they nearly equal human beings for vanity. I have known a cat get up and walk out of the room on a remark derogatory to her species being made by a visitor, while a neatly turned compliment will set them purring for an hour.
I do like cats. They are so unconsciously amusing. There is such a comic dignity about them, such a "How dare you!" "Go away, don't touch me" sort of air. Now, there is nothing haughty about a dog. They are "Hail, fellow, well met" with every Tom, Dick, or Harry that they come across. When I meet a dog of my acquaintance I slap his head, call him opprobrious epithets, and roll him over on his back; and there he lies, gaping at me, and doesn't mind it a bit.
Fancy carrying on like that with a cat! Why, she would never speak to you again as long as you lived. No, when you want to win the approbation of a cat you must mind what you are about and work your way carefully. If you don't know the cat, you had best begin by saying, "Poor pussy." After which add "did 'ums" in a tone of soothing sympathy. You don't know what you mean any more than the cat does, but the sentiment seems to imply a proper spirit on your part, and generally touches her feelings to such an extent that if you are of good manners and passable appearance she will stick her back up and rub her nose against you. Matters having reached this stage, you may venture to chuck her under the chin and tickle the side of her head, and the intelligent creature will then stick her claws into your legs; and all is friendship and affection...
On sympathy:
It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch one another and find sympathy. We differ widely enough in our nobler qualities. It is in our follies that we are at one.
 On flattery:
Fill a person with love for themselves, and what runs over will be your share, says a certain witty and truthful Frenchman whose name I can't for the life of me remember. (Confound it! I never can remember names when I want to.)
On novels:
But then not one novelist in a thousand ever does tell us the real story of their hero. It is in the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.
On babies:
Odd little people! They are the unconscious comedians of the world's great stage. They supply the humor in life's all-too-heavy drama. Each one, a small but determined opposition to the order of things in general, is forever doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the wrong place and in the wrong way. Give an average baby a fair chance, and if it doesn't do something it oughtn't to a doctor should be called in at once.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Bev Hankins 5:56 PM  

This sounds worth it for quotations alone!

Sherry 10:56 PM  

Becky, have you read The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. If you liked Mr. Jerome's thoughts on idleness, I think you would like Lin Yutang's essays on the same topic and more from a Chinese American perspective.

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