Idling away


On Friday I picked up An Apology for Idlers, the Penguin mini-edition (or ‘Great Ideas‘, to use their label) of some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s journalism, prompted in part by a glowing review a while back by Nicholas Lezard. There were other motives as well. I love Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses, which conjures, tenderly, a whole pre-electric childhood, and having been partly educated in Scotland Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was inescapable. I’m sure that I read Treasure Island at some point, of course. But although I’m interested in journalism I’ve never read any of  Stevenson’s.

I’ve only dipped into the title piece over the weekend. It was written in 1877, but there’s a section at the start of it which seems strangely topical:

Just now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree in absence convicting them of lèse-respectability, to enter on some lucrative profession, and labour therein with something not far short of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party, who are content when they have enough, and like to look on and enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little of bravado and gasconade. And yet this should not be. Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do.

The text – now out of copyright – can be found online here.

The picture, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’, is by the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.


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