INDOLENCE

READING occupies a very important place in education. It is one of the
principal means of treasuring up knowledge. It is, therefore, highly
necessary that a taste for reading should be early cultivated. But a
mere _taste for reading_, uncontrolled by intelligent principle, is
a dangerous appetite. It may lead to ruinous consequences. The habit
of reading _merely for amusement_, is a dangerous habit. _Reading
for amusement_ furnishes a constant temptation for reading what is
injurious. It promotes, also, an _unprofitable manner_ of reading.
Reading in a hasty and cursory manner, without exercising your own
thoughts upon what you read, induces a bad habit of mind. To profit
by reading depends, not so much on the _quantity_ which is read, as
upon the _manner_ in which it is read. You may read a great deal, in
a gormandizing way, as the glutton consumes food, and yet be none the
better, but the worse for what you read.

If you would profit by reading, you must, in the first place, be
careful _what you read_. There are a multitude of books, pamphlets,
periodicals, and newspapers, in circulation at the present day, which
cannot be read, especially by the young, without great injury, both to
the mind and heart. If any one should propose to you to associate with
men and women of the lowest and most abandoned character, you would
shrink from the thought–you would be indignant at the proposition. But
it is not the mere bodily presence of such characters that makes their
society dangerous. It is the communion which you have with their minds
and hearts, in their conduct and conversation. But a great portion
of the popular literature of the day is written by such characters.
By reading their writings, you come into communion with their minds
and hearts, as much as if you were personally in their company. In
their writings, the fancies which fill their corrupt minds, and the
false and dangerous principles which dwell in their depraved hearts,
are transferred to paper, to corrupt the unwary reader. Here are,
likewise, glowing descriptions of evil conduct, more fascinating to the
youthful heart than the example itself would be, because the mischief
is artfully concealed behind the drapery of fine literary taste, and
beautiful language. There are, likewise, many such writings, the
productions of persons of _moral lives_, but of _corrupt principles_,
which are equally dangerous. You would not associate with a person
whom you knew to be an unprincipled character, even though he might be
outwardly moral. He would be the more dangerous, because you would be
less on your guard. If it is dangerous to keep company with persons of
bad character or bad principles, it is much more so to keep company
with bad books.

I have treated at large on the subject of _novel-reading_, and other
objectionable writings, in my “Young Lady’s Guide;” and to that I must
refer you, for my reasons, more at length, for condemning such reading.
I shall here only suggest, for the regulation of your reading, a few
simple rules.

1. ALWAYS HAVE SOME DEFINITE OBJECT IN VIEW, IN YOUR READING.–While
pursuing your education, you will be so severely taxed with hard study,
that reading merely for diversion or amusement does not furnish the
relaxation which you need. It keeps the body idle and the mind still in
exercise; whereas, the diversion which you need, is something that will
exercise the body and relax the mind. If your object is _diversion_,
then it is better to seek it in useful labor, sprightly amusements, or
healthful walks. I can think of nothing more injurious to the young
than spending the hours in which they are released from study, bending
over novels, or the light literature of our trashy periodicals. Not
only is the health seriously injured by such means, but the mind loses
its vigor. The high stimulus applied to the imagination creates a kind
of mental intoxication, which renders study insipid and irksome. But
reading is an important part of education, and some time should be
devoted to it. Instead of mere amusement, however, there are higher
objects to be aimed at. These are, 1st, to store the mind with useful
knowledge; 2d, to cultivate a correct taste; 3d, to make salutary
impressions upon the heart. For the first, you may read approved works
on all the various branches of knowledge; as history, biography,
travels, science, and religious truth. For the second, you may read
such works of imagination and literary taste as are perfectly free
from objection, on the score of religion and morality,–and these but
sparingly at your age; for the third, such practical works of piety
as you will find in the Sabbath school library. But, for all these
purposes, the _Bible_ is the great Book of books. It contains history,
biography, poetry, travels, and doctrinal and practical essays.
Any plan of reading will be essentially defective, which does not
contemplate the daily reading of the Bible. You ought to calculate on
reading it through, in course, every year of your life.

2. BE EXCEEDINGLY CAREFUL WHAT YOU READ.–Do not take up a book,
paper, or periodical, that happens to fall in your way, because you
have nothing else to read. By so doing, you will expose yourself to
great evils. But, though a book be not decidedly objectionable, it may
not be _worth reading_. There are so many good books, at the present
day, that it is not worth while to spend time over what is of little
value; and it is better to read the Bible alone, than to spend time
over a poor book. Avoid, especially, the fictitious stories that you
will find in newspapers and popular magazines. They are generally the
worst species of fiction, and tend strongly to induce a vitiated taste,
and an appetite for novel-reading. If you once become accustomed to
such reading, you will find it produce a kind of _moral intoxication_,
so that you will feel as uneasy without it, as the drunkard without
his cups, or the smoker without his pipe. It is much the safer way
for young people to be wholly directed by their parents, (or their
teachers, if away from home,) in the choice of their reading. Make it
a rule never to read any book, pamphlet, or periodical, till you have
first ascertained from your parents, teachers, or minister, that it is
safe, and worth reading.

3. THINK AS YOU READ.–Do not drink in the thoughts of others as you
drink water; but examine them, and see whether they carry conviction
to your own mind; and if they do, think them over, till they become
incorporated with your own thoughts, part and parcel of your own mind.
Lay up facts and principles in your memory. Let the beautiful thoughts
and striking ideas that you discover be treasured up as so many gems
and precious stones, to enrich and beautify your own mind. And let your
heart be impressed and benefited by the practical thoughts you find
addressed to it.

4. REDEEM TIME FOR READING.–Although it would be improper for you to
take the time appropriated for study, or to rob yourself of needful
diversion, yet you may, by careful economy, save some time every day
for reading. A great deal of time is thrown away by the indulgence of
dilatory habits, or consumed in a careless, sauntering vacancy. If you
follow system, and have a time for every thing, and endeavor to do
every thing with despatch, in its proper season, you will have time
enough for every thing that is necessary to be done.

WRITING, or COMPOSING, is one of the best exercises of the mind. It is,
however, I am sorry to say, an exercise to which young people generally
show a great aversion. One reason, perhaps, is, that, to write well,
requires _hard thinking_. But I am inclined to think the chief reason
is, that the difficulties of writing are magnified. There is, also,
a want of wisdom in the choice of subjects. Themes are frequently
selected for first efforts, which require deep, abstract thinking; and
the mind not being able to grasp them, there is a want of thought,
which discourages new beginners. The first attempts should be made upon
subjects that are easy and well understood; such as a well-studied
portion of history, a well-known story, or a description of some
familiar scene; the object being to clothe it in suitable language,
and to make such reflections upon it as occur to the mind. Writing is
but _thinking on paper_; and if you have any thoughts at all, you may
commit them to writing.

Another fault in young beginners is, viewing composition as a _task_
imposed on them by their teachers, and making it their chief object
to cover a certain quantity of paper with writing; and so the sooner
this task is discharged the better. But you must have a higher aim than
this, or you will never be a good writer. Such efforts are positively
injurious. They promote a careless, negligent habit of writing. One
well-written composition, which costs days of hard study, is worth
more, as a discipline of mind, than a hundred off-hand, careless
productions. Indeed, one good, successful effort will greatly diminish
every succeeding effort, and make writing easy. You will do well, then,
first to select your subject some time before you write, and think it
over and study it, and have your ideas arranged in your mind before
you begin. Then write with care, selecting the best expressions, and
clothing your thoughts in the best dress. Then carefully and repeatedly
read it over, and correct it, studying every sentence, weighing every
expression, and making every possible improvement. Then lay it aside
awhile, and afterwards copy it, with such improvements as occur at the
time. Then lay it aside, and after some days revise it again, and see
what further improvements and corrections you can make, and copy it a
second time. If you repeat this process half a dozen times, it will be
all the better. Nor will the time you spend upon it be lost. One such
composition will conquer all the difficulties in the way of writing;
and every time you repeat such an effort, you will find your mind
expanding, and your thoughts multiplying, so that, very soon, writing
will become an easy and delightful exercise; and you will, at length,
be able to make the first draught so nearly perfect that it will not
need copying. But you never will make a good writer by off-hand,
careless efforts.

_Letter-writing_, however, is a very different affair. Its beauty
consists in its simplicity, ease, and freedom from formality. The best
rule that can be given for letter-writing is, to imagine the person
present whom you are addressing, and write just what you would say in
conversation. All attempts at effort, in letter-writing, are out of
place. The detail of particulars, such as your correspondent would
be interested to know, and the expression of your own feelings, are
the great excellences of this kind of writing. Nothing disappoints
a person more than to receive a letter full of fine sentiments, or
didactic matter, such as he might find in books, while the very
information which he desired is left out, and perhaps an apology at the
close for not giving the news, because the sheet is full. In a letter,
we want _information of the welfare of our friends_, together with
the warm gush of feeling which fills their hearts. These are the true
excellences of epistolary writing.

There is no greater enemy to improvement than an indolent spirit. An
aversion to effort paralyzes every noble desire, and defeats every
attempt at advancement. If you are naturally indolent, you must put
on resolution to overcome it, and strive against it with untiring
vigilance. There is not a single point, in the process of education, at
which this hydra-headed monster will not meet you. “The slothful man
saith there is a lion without, I shall be slain in the street.” There
is always a lion in the way, when slothful spirits are called upon
to make any exertion. “_I can’t_,” is the sovereign arbiter of their
destiny. It prevents their attempting any thing difficult or laborious.
If required to write a composition, they _can’t_ think of any thing
to write about. The Latin lesson is difficult; this word they _can’t_
find; that sentence they _can’t_ read. The sums in arithmetic are _so
hard_, they _can’t_ do them. And so this lion in the way defeats every
thing. But those who expect ever to be any thing, must not suffer such
a word as _can’t_ in their vocabulary.

It is the same with labor. The indolent dread all exertion. When
requested to do any thing, they have something else to do first, which
their indolence has left unfinished; or they have some other reason to
give why they should not attempt it. But if nothing else will do, the
sluggard’s excuse, “_I can’t_,” is always at hand. Were it not for the
injury to them, it would be far more agreeable to do, one’s self, what
is desired of them, than to encounter the painful scowls that clothe
the brow, when they think of making an effort. Solomon has described
this disposition to the life:–“The slothful man putteth his hand in
his bosom: _it grieveth him to take it out again_.”

But indolence is a source of great misery. There are none so happy as
those who are _always active_. I do not mean that they should give
themselves no relaxation from severe effort. But relaxation does not
suppose _idleness_. To sit and fold one’s hands, and do nothing,
serves no purpose. Change of employment is the best recreation. And
from the idea of employment, I would not exclude active and healthful
sports, provided they are kept within due bounds. But to sit idly
staring at vacancy is intolerable. There is no enjoyment in it. It is
a stagnation of body and mind. An indolent person is, to the active
and industrious, what a stagnant pool is to the clear and beautiful
lake. Employment contributes greatly to enjoyment. It invigorates the
body, sharpens the intellect, and promotes cheerfulness of spirits;
while indolence makes a torpid body, a vacant mind, and a peevish,
discontented spirit.

Indolence is a great waste of existence. Suppose you live to the age
of seventy years, and squander in idleness one hour a day, you will
absolutely throw away about three years of your existence. And if we
consider that this is taken from the waking hours of the day, it should
be reckoned six years. Are you willing, by idleness, to shorten your
life six years? Then take care of the moments. Never fritter away time
in doing nothing. Whatever you do, whether study, work, or play, enter
into it with spirit and energy; and never waste your time in sauntering
and doing nothing. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy
might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in
the grave, whither thou goest.”

You may also like