Never enough free time? (1824)

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“If I had leisure.”

Ah, yes, if you had leisure, what would you do? Why, says the man who is engaged in business, if I had leisure, I’d prosecute this charitable object — I’d aid in such and such good and benevolent plans — I would do a great deal of good. But I am so much engaged that I have never a spare moment to devote to anything but my business.

The man is innocent in his declarations — he really believes what he says — he doesn’t know, because he never experienced it, that leisure is the mother of indolence,and that if he had plenty of the one, he would, ninety chances of a hundred, have the other in exact proportion.

If I had leisure, says the merchant, I would pay more attention to my accounts, and try to collect my debts more punctually. Chance if you are not mistaken, friend; if you had leisure probably you would pay less attention to the matter than you now do. The thing you want is not more leisure, but more resolution. The spirit to do — to do now — my word for it, after all, you waste, actually waste, more time than would be necessary to accomplish all you desire.

If I had leisure, says a mechanic, I should have had your work done in season. The man thinks his time has all been occupied when he was not at work at sunrise — quit work an hour before dark — smoke a cigar after dinner — and spend two hours at a time in the street, talking nonsense with an idler.

If I had leisure, I’d repair that weak place in my fence, said a farmer — he had no leisure, however, and while he was drinking cider with a neighbor, the cows broke in and destroyed his crop. He found leisure to plant another.

If I had leisure, said my friend the wheelwright, last winter, I’d alter my stove pipe. He did not find leisure, though — but when his shop took fire and burnt it down, he had to take time to build another.

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If I had leisure, I’d sometimes go to meeting, old Tim Rattle used to say; but he found so much “better business,” as he called it, on Sunday, that he never got there. He’s dead and gone now, poor soul — but he regretted at his dying day that he had played a cheat off on himself in that matter.

People are apt to be very much mistake in this affair of “leisure;” there are very few men who put every hour of their time to the best possible use. Often those who have the least to do don’t do have of that little, while those who are most engaged do everything thoroughly.

I’ll give a plain illustration, drawn from everyday experience. If you want any matter, whether of profit or charity, or of what description so ever done — done expeditiously, and well done, too, go to not the man who, half his time, stands or sits with his hands in his breeches pockets, but to the very identical person who, being a through business doing man, is always at work. That’s the man for you.

An idler from habit regards every little thing that requires a little labor, study or confinement as an ant looks at a mole hill; it seems a mountain. But an industrious, active man, from habit, looks at the labor with the eye of man; is not afraid of it; and herein lies the secret of his ability. He does not loiter or hesitate; he acts, promptly, spiritedly, immediately.

– Oliver Oakwood
Green Lane, June 1824

Illustration: President James Monroe, c1824

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