On writing Idleposts
Everyone knows that everything George does, ends badly. (From charity, I conceal his real name.) We might not know how badly, were he not always whining about his fate. I raised a laugh at a public drinking table, by referring to him as, “a lucky man.” That might mean many things, but in this case it meant, “bad lucky.” Normally, “lucky” implies good luck, but context is all.
The two conditions do not fail to be ambiguous. What is good luck for some, may be bad luck for others. Or good luck in prospect may prove bad luck in retrospect, for the same man. I have often lamented my own good luck, upon harvesting its fruit. The angel that led me turned demon, as I should have expected.
Aeschylus may be right, that the gods are with the willing and eager. But he did not intend this as a moral axiom. There are bad wills, and good, and the gods are often demons, as Plato observed. The sort of luck that leads to any sort of worldly success is, generally speaking, a jilt, and while there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, one is more often lost at sea.
Hence my solemn commitment to Idleness. Many are the stupid things one might not do. The world would be a better place if they were not done. We should try harder not to do them. We should set an example, in resisting temptation.
In my days as a hack pundit for the gutter press, annually some time around my birthday, I would write a self-indulgent column touching on some aspect of “why I write.” George Orwell got me started; I blame him. He wrote the inaugural essay in this subtle form of moral posturing; or perhaps it was Luther in 1517. Adam, we are sure, did not write columns.
I can’t remember ever having hit upon a good reason. The best, I reflect, was never tried: that I had a family to support at the time. My duties seem since to have contracted. Doctor Johnson, my Virgil in the English hack trade, said, “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” By which he meant earning, not thieving it, I suppose.
He also said, “Only a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
Elsewhere he glossed: “A man who writes a book thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.”
Looking back over these Idleposts, from the height of a short Easter vacation, I find it hard to discern how they could make me any money. By acts of purest charity, some strangely trickles in. I’ve been told that the long ones are particularly ignored, and so I am trying to write shorter. Really, I am lucky to survive at all.