To deliberately sit down in the morning to read a novel, to enjoy yourself, is this not, in New England (I am told they don’t read much in other parts of the country), the sin of sins? Have you any right to read, especially novels, until you have exhausted the best part of the day in some employment that is called practical? Have you any right to enjoy yourself at all until the fag-end of the day, when you are tired and incapable of enjoying yourself? I am aware that this is the practice, if not the theory, of our society,—to postpone the delights of social intercourse until after dark, and rather late at night, when body and mind are both weary with the exertions of business, and when we can give to what is the most delightful and profitable thing in life, social and intellectual society, only the weariness of dull brains and over-tired muscles. No wonder we take our amusements sadly, and that so many people find dinners heavy and parties stupid. Our economy leaves no place for amusements; we merely add them to the burden of a life already full. The world is still a little off the track as to what is really useful.
I confess that the morning is a very good time to read a novel, or anything else which is good and requires a fresh mind; and I take it that nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind. I suppose it is necessary that business should be transacted; though the amount of business that does not contribute to anybody’s comfort or improvement suggests the query whether it is not overdone. I know that unremitting attention to business is the price of success, but I don’t know what success is. There is a man, whom we all know, who built a house that cost a quarter of a million of dollars, and furnished it for another like sum, who does not know anything more about architecture, or painting, or books, or history, than he cares for the rights of those who have not so much money as he has. I heard him once, in a foreign gallery, say to his wife, as they stood in front of a famous picture by Rubens: “That is the Rape of the Sardines!” What a cheerful world it would be if everybody was as successful as that man! While I am reading my book by the fire, and taking an active part in important transactions that may be a good deal better than real, let me be thankful that a great many men are profitably employed in offices and bureaus and country stores in keeping up the gossip and endless exchange of opinions among mankind, so much of which is made to appear to the women at home as “business.” I find that there is a sort of busy idleness among men in this world that is not held in disrepute. When the time comes that I have to prove my right to vote, with women, I trust that it will be remembered in my favor that I made this admission. If it is true, as a witty conservative once said to me, that we never shall have peace in this country until we elect a colored woman president, I desire to be rectus in curia early.