22 August 2013

The Habits of Highly Effective People

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 152-153:
Little books are occasionally published in which we are told that it is a sin to lose a minute. From the intellectual point of view this doctrine is simply stupid. What the Philistines call wasted time is often rich in the most varied experience to the intelligent. If all that we have learned in idle moments could be suddenly expelled from our minds by some chemical process, it is probable that they would be worth very little afterwards. What, after such a process, would have remained to Shakespeare, Scott, Cervantes, Thackeray, Dickens, Hogarth, Goldsmith, Molière? When these great students of human nature were learning most, the sort of people who write the foolish little books just alluded to would have wanted to send them home to the dictionary or the desk. Töpffer and Claude Tillier, both men of delicate and observant genius, attached the greatest importance to hours of idleness. Töpffer said that a year of downright loitering was a desirable element in a liberal education; whilst Claude Tillier went even farther, and boldly affirmed that “le temps le mieux employé est celui que l’on perd [the time best spent is the time that one loses].”
Let us not think too contemptuously of the miscalculators of time, since not one of us is exempt from their folly. We have all made miscalculations, or more frequently have simply omitted calculation altogether, preferring childish illusion to a manly examination of realities; and afterwards as life advances another illusion steals over us not less vain than the early one, but bitter as that was sweet. We now begin to reproach ourselves with all the opportunities that have been neglected, and now our folly is to imagine that we might have done impossible wonders if we had only exercised a little resolution. We might have been thorough classical scholars, and spoken all the great modern languages, and written immortal books, and made a colossal fortune. Miscalculations again, and these the most imbecile of all; for the youth who forgets to reason in the glow of happiness and hope, is wiser than the man who overestimates what was once possible that he may embitter the days which remain to him.