« PreviousContinue »
IMPROVEMENT OF TIME.
To be careful how we manage and employ time, is one of the first precepts that is taught in the school of wisdom, and one of the last that is learnt. The first and leading dictate of prudence is, to propose to ourselves our true and best interest as our end; and the next is, to make use of all the means and opportunities by which that end is to be attained. And betwixt these two there is such a close connection, that he who does not do the latter, cannot be supposed to intend the former. He that is not careful of his actions shall never persuade me that he seriously proposes to himself his best interest as his end; for if he did, he would as seriously apply himself to the regulation of the other as the means : so he that is not careful of his time, cannot in reason be supposed to be careful of his actions, VOL. I.
for if he were, he would certainly have a special regard to the opportunity of their performance.
But though this precept be one of the elementary dictates of prudence, and stands written in the first page of the book of wisdom; yet such is the sottishness and stupidity of the world, that none is more slowly learned. And it is a stupendous consideration, that although among all the talents which are committed to our stewardship, Time on several accounts is the most precious; yet there is none of which the generality of men
more profuse and regardless. Though it be a thing of such inestimable value that it is not distributed to use entirely and alone, like other blessings; but is dealt out in minutes and little parcels,as if we were not fit to be trusted with the entire possession of such a choice treasure; yet there are many who think themselves so overstocked with it, that instead of husbanding it to advantage, the principal business of their thoughts is how to rid their hands of it. Accordingly they catch at every shadow and opportunity of relief; strike in at a venture with the next companion, and provided the dead commodity be taken off, care not who is the chapman. Nay, it is obvious, that even those who are frugal and thrifty in every thing else, are yet extrensely prodigal of their best revenue, Time, of " which alone (as Seneca well observes) it is a virtue to be covetous.”
Neither may this censure be justly applied to the unthinking multitude, the sphere of whose consideration is supposed to be very narrow,
and their apprehension short-sighted; but I observe, that many of those who set up for wits, and pretend to more than ordinary sagacity, and delicacy of sense, do, notwithstanding, spend their time very unaccountably, and live away whole days, weeks, and sometimes months together, to as little purpose (though it may not be so innocently) as if they had been asleep. And this they are so far from being ashamed to own, that they freely boast of it, and pride themselves in it, thinking that it tends to their reputation, and commends the greatness of their parts; that they can support themselves upon the natural stock, without being beholden to the interest that is brought in by study and industry.
But if their parts be so good as they would have others believe, sure they are worth improvement; if not, they have more need of it. And though it be an argument of a rich mind to be able to maintain itself without labour, and subsist without the advantages of study, yet there is no man that has such a portion of sense but will
understand the use of his time better than to put it to the trial.
Greatness of parts is so far from being an exemption from industry, that I find men of the most exquisite sense in all ages were always most sparing of their time. I therefore much suspect the excellency of those men's parts who are dissolute and careless mis-spenders of their time.
He who considers these things and surely he must needs be a very unthinking man who does not) will certainly be choice of his time, and look upon
it no longer as a bare state of duration, but as an opportunity; and consequently will let no part, or at least no considerable part, of it slip away either unobserved or unimproved. This is the most effectual way to secure the character of a wise man here, and the reward of one hereafter. Whereas the vain enthusiastic pretenders to the gift of wit, that trifle away their time, betray the shallowness aud poverty of their sense to the discerning few.
A RECTITUDE of judgment in the arts, which may be called a good taste, in a great measure depends on sensibility; because if the nind has no bent to the pleasures of the imagination, it will never apply itself sufficiently to works of that species to acquire a competent knowledge in them. But though a degree of sensibility is requisite to form a good judgment, yet a good judgment does not necessarily arise from a quick sensibility of pleasure. On the contrary, it frequently happens that a very poor judge, merely by force of a greater complexional sensibility, is more affected by a very poor piece, than the best judge by the most perfect; for as every thing new, extraordinary, grand or passionate, is well calculated to affect such a person, and that the faults do not affect him, his plea