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HENRY CABOT LODGE
USES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF LEISURE
(Address by Henry Cabot Lodge, historical and biographical writer, United States Senator from Massachusetts since 1893 (born in Boston, Mass., May 12, 1850; -), delivered to the students of Harvard College, March 23, 1886.)
I remember hearing Mr. Lowell say in his most charming way, some years since, of his friend Edmund Quincy, that“ early in life Mr. Quincy devoted himself to the arduous profession of gentleman, and certainly in the practice of it he achieved as great success as is possible in a country where we have business in the blood, and where leisure is looked down upon as the larceny of time that beiongs to other people.”
The theory of life in vogue in the United States, and especially in New England, when Mr. Quincy was young, and indeed, until within a few years, was in some ways a very peculiar one. It was firmly believed that any young man who did not have some regular occupation involving money-getting was doomed to perdition. Literature was barely tolerated; the learned professions, of course, passed muster; but business was much preferred. Any one who did not conform his life to the habits of a trading community was assumed to be totally idle, and in consequence thereof to be drawing his amusement from the source pointed out by Dr. Watts.
What a fine refutation to this doctrine is the life of Mr. Quincy himself! A graceful writer of some very charming stories with the perfume of the Eighteenth century sweet upon them, the author of one of the very best of American biographies, he holds a secure and honorable
Copyright, by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Published by permission. 777
place in our literature. An early Abolitionist, he put his name, his talents, and his character at the service of a despised cause, and never in the hour of its triumph asked or wished reward. By his brilliant correspondence in the New York “Tribune," covering many years, and by his witty and effective speech, he helped to fight the antislavery battle. No account of our literature is complete without him, and no history of the great movement which resulted in the abolition of slavery can be written without ample mention of his name and services. The busy money-getters, the worthy citizens who shrugged their shoulders and disapproved him and his ways, are forgotten, but the gentleman of leisure is remembered, and holds an honorable place in the literature and the history of his country. It is a noble record of well-doing, one that any man might be content to leave as a heritage to his children. What, then, was the secret? He used his leisure, that was all. Leisure well employed is of high worth. Leisure unemployed is mere idleness and helpless drifting along the stream of life. The disapprobation of men of leisure which was common in New England in Mr. Quincy's youth erred only because it was narrow, and could not believe that a man was usefully employed unless he worked in a few well-recognized and accepted ways.
It is easy enough to show the error of the old doctrine, and yet it would be quite as great an error to condemn it. Like most Puritan theories, it has at bottom a sound and vital principle, and the danger to-day of forgetting that underlying principle of action is far greater than of our being warped by its too rigid application. A mere idler is a very poor creature. Leisure is nothing in itself. It is only an opportunity, and, like other opportunities, if wasted or abused, it is harmful and often fatal.
The increase of wealth in this country and the multiplication of great fortunes has produced a corresponding increase in the number of young men who, fortunately or unfortunately, are in fact or in prospect the heirs of large estates. Money in itself is worthless, and gets value only through its purchasing power. When its real purpose is misunderstood it is a perilous possession, and the stern necessity of earning a living has proved a strong safeguard and help to many men. Given the command of
time and of one's own life, and there is nothing so easy as to let years slip by in indecision and infirmity of purpose until it is too late. The worst outcome, of course, is when a man uses his great opportunity for nothing but selfish and sensual gratification, with no result but evil to himself and to others. Far better than this cumberer of the ground is the man who, if he does not use his intellectual powers, at least employs his physical gifts in some way. A taste, an amusement, a pursuit of any kind, even if only for amusement's sake, is infinitely better than nothing, or than mere sensual enjoyment. It is manly and wholesome to ride boldly and well, to be a good shot, a successful yachtsman, an intelligent and enterprising traveler. These things are good in themselves, and it may be fairly said that the bold rider, the good shot, the skilful seaman, if he loves these sports for their own sake, has in him, in all probability, the stuff of which a soldier or sailor may be made in the hour of the country's need.
Then, again, there are the men of leisure who devote themselves to some intellectual pursuit, but without any idea of earning money or of any practical result. Such men sometimes do valuable work, but they nevertheless remain amateurs all their lives. They may be credited with an honest effort for something better than idleness or physical amusement, sometimes with fruitful work, but there the commendation ceases. The first thing for a man of leisure to do, who really wishes to count in his day and generation, is to avoid being an amateur. In other words, the first thing necessary is to acquire the habit of real work, and this can be done well only by working to obtain money, reputation, or some other solid value. You can only find out if your work is really worth doing, is in truth current gold, by bringing it to the touchstone of competition and an open market.
The essential thing at the start is the habit of thinking and working. The subject of work or thought is not essential, for, the habit once attained, a man will soon find that for which he is best fitted. Even at this very first step we are likely to be met with objections, and perhaps it is as well to clear them from the path at once.
There is one theory which says that life at best is short and evil; that we are not responsible for it, and that as at
our utmost we can effect so little, the correct course is to get as much pleasure out of existence as possible. Accepting this statement, the next proposition is that work or labor is an evil, and should be dispensed with. There is a conclusive answer to this doctrine, even if we take pleasure only as a test, for there is no man so discontented as the idle man, and unless he is witless, the older he grows the more bitter and unhappy he becomes. The only charm of a holiday comes from working before and after it. Your idle man has no holidays; nothing but “the set gray life and apathetic end.” It is not easy at the outset to labor with no taskmaster except one's own determination, but the effort grows steadily and rapidly less, so that in a very short time work becomes a necessity, and brings more solid and lasting pleasure and more interest than anything else human ingenuity can devise for our diversion.
The next question is as to the particular work to which a man of leisure can best devote his time and his energies. I have known men who, without any spur from necessity, have addressed themselves to the professions or to business, and have earned there both money and distinction. It is needless to say that these men deserve the very highest credit and the entire respect of all who know them. At the same time, while we may not criticise such men, it is impossible to doubt that they might be more effective in other fields than those which are primarily and essentially money-getting
It is better for the man of leisure in learning to work and think, or when he has acquired that most precious education, to turn to the fields where men are needed who can labor, without pecuniary profit, for the public benefit. This is not only proper abstractly, but it is a duty and an obligation. Every gentleman pays his debts just as he tells the truth and keeps faith. We all owe a debt to our country, and none so large a debt as the man of leisure. That those who have gone before him have been enabled to accumulate property and leave it to him in secure enjoyment, is due to the wise laws and solid institutions of his State and country, and to the sound and honest character of the American people. That we have a country at all is due to those who fought for her. To them we