Saturday, July 21, 2007

On How Idleness Causes Melancholy

(One of my favourite book covers ever)

Some Wisdom from Anatomy of Melancholy about the evils of idleness:

Opposite to exercise is idleness (the badge of gentry) or want of exercise, the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, stepmother of discipline, the chief author of all mischief, one of the seven deadly sins, and a sole cause of this and many other maladies, the devil's cushion, as Gualter calls it, his pillow and chief reposal. For the mind can never rest, but still meditates on one thing or other, except it be occupied about some honest business, of his own accord it rusheth into melancholy. As too much and violent exercise offends on the one side, so doth an idle life on the other (saith Crato), it fills the body full of phlegm, gross humours, and all manner of obstructions, rheums, catarrhs, &c. Rhasis, cont. lib. 1. tract. 9, accounts of it as the greatest cause of melancholy. I have often seen (saith he) that idleness begets this humour more than anything else. Montaltus, c. 1, seconds him out of his experience, They that are idle are far more subject to melancholy than such as are conversant or employed about any office or business. Plutarch reckons up idleness for a sole cause of the sickness of the soul: There are they (saith he) troubled in mind, that have no other cause but this. Homer, Iliad. 1, brings in Achilles eating of his own heart in his idleness, because he might not fight. Mercurialis, consil. 86, for a melancholy young man urgeth, it as a chief cause; why was he melancholy? because idle. Nothing begets it sooner, increaseth and continueth it oftener than idleness. A disease familiar to all idle persons, an inseparable companion to such as live at ease, Pingui otio desidiose agentes, a life out of action, and have no calling or ordinary employment to busy themselves about, that have small occasions; and though they have, such is their laziness, dullness, they will not compose themselves to do aught; they cannot abide work, though it be necessary; easy as to dress themselves, write a letter, or the like; yet as he that is benumbed with cold sits still shaking, that might relieve himself with a little exercise or stirring, do they complain, but will not use the facile and ready means to do themselves good; and so are still tormented with melancholy. Especially if they have been formerly brought up to business, or to keep much company, and upon a sudden come to lead a sedentary life; it crucifies their souls, and seizeth on them in an instant; for whilst they are any ways employed, in action, discourse, about any business, sport or recreation, or in company to their liking, they are very well; but if alone or idle, tormented instantly again; one day's solitariness, one hour's sometimes, doth them more harm, than a week's physic, labour, and company can do good. Melancholy seizeth on them forthwith being alone, and is such a torture, that as wise Seneca well saith, Malo mihi male quam molliter esse, I had rather be sick than idle. This idleness is either of body or mind. That of body is nothing but a kind of benumbing laziness, intermitting exercise, which, if we may believe Fernelius, causeth crudities, obstructions, excremental humours, quencheth the natural heat, dulls the spirits, and makes them unapt to do any thing whatsoever.

Neglectis urenda filix innascitur agris.
———for, a neglected field
Shall for the fire its thorns and thistles yield.

As fern grows in untilled grounds, and all manner of weeds, so do gross humours in an idle body, Ignavum corrumpunt otia corpus. A horse in a stable that never travels, a hawk in a mew that seldom flies, are both subject to diseases; which left unto themselves, are most free from any such encumbrances. An idle dog will be mangy, and how shall an idle person think to escape? Idleness of the mind is much worse than this of the body; wit without employment is a disease Aerugo animi, rubigo ingenii: the rust of the soul, a plague, a hell itself, Maximum animi nocumentum, Galen, calls it. As in a standing pool, worms and filthy creepers increase, (et vitium capiunt ni moveantur aquae, the water itself putrefies, and air likewise, if it be not continually stirred by the wind) so do evil and corrupt thoughts in an idle person, the soul is contaminated.


bhupinder said...

Russel has a different take on idleness in his essay "In Praise of Idleness", and considers it to be useful for humanity.

Alok said...

personal experience makes me believe Burton more :)