Busy Brains: A Chapter of Literary Anecdote

OF all working systems, the Mind seems most pertinacious in concealing the method of its operations. “ No admittance ” is inscribed upon the door of the laboratories of the brain. Approaching a psychological inquiry is like entering a manufactory : curious to observe its ingenious processes, we find that, though we may penetrate its court-yard and ware-rooms, every precaution is taken by its polite proprietors to prevent our interrogating its workmen or understanding its methods. The intellect often displays proudly her works ; she has the assurance to attempt to answer questions about all things else in heaven and earth ; but when her life is the subject of inquiry, that life seems to elude her own observation. We see in the evening sky stars so dim that the eye cannot fix upon them ; we only catch glimpses of them when we are looking at some other point aside ; the moment we turn the eye full upon them, they are lost to our sight. This covert and transient vision is the best which men have ever yet caught of the Mind, which they have studied so long to know. The metaphysicians look directly at it, and to them it is invisible, and they cannot agree what it is, nor haw it moves. And when we look aside at the anatomy and physiology of the human frame, or, on the other hand, at the complex and endless variety of human actions and human experience, we catch only a partial and unsatisfactory glimpse of the soul which is beyond.

Thought, as we have suggested, will uncover to us almost anything sooner than the secrets of its own power. It has explained much about the conditions of rapid vegetation, and how to procure profitable crops from the earth ; but how little has it yet disclosed of the conditions which secure vigorous thinking, and best promote the development of truth !

But some one may say : “ I supposed that the conditions of mental activity were well known ; they are quiet, peace of mind, neither too much nor too little food, and a subject which interests the feelings, or effectually calls forth the powers of the mind.”

Though you know all this, you are in ignorance still. Truly a savage might profess the art of agriculture in this fashion ; for all this is only as if one were to say that the conditions of success in farming were to be where there were no earthquakes or avalanches, that is, to be quiet ; to have the ground cleared of trees, that is, to have the mind free from cares and the shadows of sorrows ; to have neither too much nor too little sunshine and rain, that is, to be properly fed ; and to have good seed to put into the ground, that is, to engage the mind with a topic which it will expand and reproduce. After all these things have been secured, it is only a sort of barbaric husbandry that we have practised. The common and rude experience of men, laboring without thinking about their labor, teaches these things, and the very beginnings of the art and science of Intellectual Economy come beyond and after these.

What shall we say of those moods which every student passes through, which turn and return upon the mind, irresistible and mysterious ? What are the causes of those strange and delightful exaltations of mind in which thought runs like a clock when the pendulum is off, and crowds a week of existence into an hour of time ? Whence are those dull days which come so unexpectedly, and sometimes lead a troop of dull followers, to interrupt our life’s work for a week at a time ? Where are we to search for obstructions in the channels of the mind when ideas will not flow ? How is it that, after a period of clearness and activity in thought, the brain grows indolent, and, without a feeling of illness, or even of fatigue, work lags and stops ? By what right is it that, at times, each faculty in our possession seems to grow independent, and refuses to return to its task at our call ? What are the secret psychological conditions which influence the mental powers as strangely as if there were a goblin who had power to mesmerize Fancy and put it to sleep, to lock up Imagination in a dreary den of commonplaces, to blindfold Attention and make sport of his vain groping, and to send sober Reason off on foolish errands, so that Mistress Soul has not a servant left ?

Such variations of mental power, which we call moods of mind, are often caused, doubtless, by ill-health, or by fatigue, or by some irregularity of habit, or by anxiety of mind ; but the experience of every student will probably attest the existence of such variations where none of these causes can be assigned. There are moods which we cannot trace to illness, or weariness, or external circumstances. Men are prone to regard them as whims, which sometimes they struggle against and sometimes they yield to, but at all times wonder at.

The connection of the mind and body, and the dependence of the mind upon the health and vigor of the body, have been much dwelt upon ; and we cannot be too deeply sensible of the debt which the student owes to those who have made this truth prominent to him. But, after all, it is wonderful with how much independence of bodily suffering — and even of suffering in the brain — the mind carries itself, and this fact seems worthy of more distinct recognition than it has received. It significantly confirms our belief in the existence of an immaterial principle, or soul, superior to the mere functions of the brain. Great and healthful mental activity often exists in a disordered body ; and biographical literature is full of illustrations of the power of a strong will to accomplish brilliant results while the system is agitated by physical distress.

Campbell, the poet, pursued his regular habit of writing every day, even under the pressure of much bodily pain.

Cowper never, when it was possible to perform his task, excused his frail and desponding body from attendance in his little summer-house, morning and afternoon, until his forty lines of Homer were arrayed in English dress. The ballad of ‘‘John Gilpin” originated during one of his illnesses. With the hope of diverting his mind during an unusually severe attack of gloom, Lady Austen related to him the history of the renowned citizen, which she had heard in her childhood. The tale made a vivid impression, and the next morning he told her that the ludicrous incident had convulsed him with laughter during the night, and that he had embodied the whole into a ballad.

Paley’s last, and perhaps, for his day, his greatest work, — his “Natural Theology,” — was principally composed during the period in which he was subject to attacks of that terribly malady, nephralgia.

So great was the delicacy of John Locke’s constitution, that he was not capable of a laborious application to the medical art, which was his profession ; and it is not improbable that his principal motive in studying it was that he might be qualified, when necessary, to act as his own physician. His difficulty was a lung complaint, or asthma ; but his biographer says : “It occasioned disturbance to no person but himself, and persons might be with him without any other concern than that created by seeing him suffer.” Notwithstanding this permanent suffering, his works are alike laborious and voluminous.

Robert Hall, in the period when his intellectual power Was most vigorous, pursued his daily studies almost regardless of the pain which was his companion through life. Dr. Gregory pursued a course of study with him in metaphysics and in mathematics ; and he writes : “ On entering his room in the morning, I could at once tell whether or not his night had been refreshing ; for if it had, I found him at the table, the books to be studied ready, and a vacant chair set for me. If his night had been restless, and the pain still continued, I found him lying on the sofa, or, more frequently, upon three chairs, on which he could obtain an easier position. At such seasons, scarcely ever did a complaint issue from his lips ; but, inviting me to take the sofa, our reading commenced. . . . . Sometimes, when he was suffering more than usual, he proposed a walk in the fields, where, with the appropriate book as our companion, we could pursue the subject. If he was the preceptor, as was commonly the case in these peripatetic lectures, he soon lost the sense of pain, and nearly as soon escaped from our author, whoever he might be, and expatiated at large upon some train of inquiry or explication which our course of reading had suggested. As his thoughts enkindled, both his steps and his words became quicker, until erelong it was difficult to say whether the body or the mind were brought most upon the stretch in keeping up with him.”

Hannah More, who wrote many volumes, and accumulated a fortune of nearly a hundred and fifty thousand dollars from them, was an invalid. In her early life, as well as in her declining years, she was subject to successive illnesses, which threw great impediments in the way of her intellectual exertions. Morning headaches prevented her from rising early. She used to say that her frequent attacks of illness were a great blessing to her. independently of the prime benefit of cheapening life and teaching patience ; for they induced a habit of industry not natural to her, and taught her to make the most of her well days. She laughingly added, it had taught her also to contrive employments for her sick ones ; that from habit she had learned to suit her occupations to every gradation of the measure of capacity she possessed. " I never, " she said, " afford a moment of a healthy day to transcribe, or put stops, or cross t’s, or dot my i’s. So that I find the lowest stage of my understanding may be turned to some account, and save better days for better things. I have learned from it also to avoid procrastination, and that idleness which often attends unbroken health.”

Baxter, one of the most voluminous of English writers, was an invalid. After speaking of his multifarious labors as pastor, preacher, and also surgeon to the poor in general, he says these were but his relaxation ; his writing was his chief labor, which went slowly on, for he had no amanuensis, and his weakness took up so much of his time. " All the pains that my infirmities ever brought on me,” he adds, " were never half so grievous and afflictive as the unavoidable loss of time which they occasioned. I could not bear, through the weakness of my stomach, to rise before seven, and afterwards not till much later ; and some infirmities I labored under made it above an hour before I could be dressed. An hour I must have of necessity to walk before dinner, and another before supper, and after supper I could seldom study.” He is described as one of the most diseased men that ever reached the full limit of human life, entering upon mature life diseased and sore from head to foot, and with the symptoms of old age. His " Saint’s Rest ” was written as his meditation in a severe illness, and after he had been given up by his physicians.

Lindley Murray commenced his work as a grammarian, and his other writings, after disease had fixed upon his declining years. Having successively engaged in the practice of law, and in mercantile pursuits, and having retired from the latter with some property, he fell into ill-health, which compelled him to go abroad, and kept him an exile through the remainder of his long life. The disease with which he was afflicted was a weakness in the lower limbs, which precluded him from walking, and, after a time, from taking any exercise whatever. He was thus imprisoned, as it were, in a countryseat, near York, in England ; and here he commenced those literary labors, which, so far from being forbidden by his illness, did much to alleviate his sufferings. He says : " In the course of my literary labors, I found that the mental exercise which accompanied them was not a little beneficial to my health. The motives which excited me to write, and the objects which I hoped to accomplish, were of a nature calculated to cheer the mind, and to give the animal spirits a salutary impulse. I am persuaded that, if I had suffered my time to pass away with little or no employment, my health would have been still more impaired, my spirits depressed, and perhaps my life considerably shortened.”

Of Lord Jeffrey, who was a very hardworking man, it is said that one of his cures for a headache was to sit down and clear up a deep legal question.

The cases of Pascal, Dr. Johnson, Channing, and others, will doubtless occur to the reader. It will suffice-here to mention one more,—that of William of Orange, whose vigorous, comprehensive, and untiring intellect through a long course of years wielded and shaped the destinies of England, and enabled him, if not to make a more brilliant page in history, yet to leave a more enduring monument in human institutions than any other man of his age. Macaulay thus graphically describes him : “The audacity of his spirit was the more remarkable, because his physical organization was unusually delicate. From a child he had been weak and sickly. In the prime of manhood, his complaints had been aggravated by a severe attack of small-pox. He was asthmatic and consumptive. His slender frame was shaken by a constant hoarse cough. He could not sleep unless his head was propped by several pillows, and could scarcely draw his breath in any but the purest air. Cruel headaches frequently tortured him. Exertion soon fatigued him. The physicians constantly kept up the hopes of his enemies by fixing some date beyond which, if there were anything certain in medical science, it was impossible that his broken constitution could hold out. Yet, through a life which was one long disease, the force of his mind never failed, on any great occasion, to bear up his suffering and languid body.”

Let the weak and feeble of body, therefore, take courage of heart ; and let the robust student be admonished that he cannot excuse all his inactive days upon the ground of indisposition.

Fatigue is an enemy which every hard-working brain knows of ; but it is an enemy, not of the workman, but only of the taskmaster. The student may resort to what healthful contrivances he pleases to avoid fatigue ; but when it appears, he should not excuse himself, but yield to its impulse. He should learn to distinguish indolence, and other counterfeits, from that genuine weariness which makes the sleep of a laboring man sweet. Weariness is the best friend of labor, just as the toothache is the best friend of sound teeth. Weariness is an angel. When the proper end of your day has come, she hovers over your desk, and, if you are careless of the time, she breathes a misty breath upon your eyelids, and loads your pen with an invisible weight ; the shadow of her gray wings dims your page, and her throbbing hand upon your forehead admonishes you of her presence. Let her visits be few and far between, and it is well ; but you will never regret that you entertained her even unawares. You may avoid, but never resist her. She comes from Heaven to save life.

But comes there never into your study a little imp of darkness, — of intellectual darkness, we mean, — whose efforts to imitate the gentle interference of fatigue are as grotesque as they are vexatious, and who does not succeed in deceiving, however readily one may sometimes fall in with his humor ? The heavy pen, the dull page, the wandering thoughts, sometimes interrupt the most successful currents of labor, in those morning hours, and in the fresh days after vacations, when we cannot find the excuse of weariness. There is an indisposition to continuous labor, which is utterly different from fatigue.

John Foster declared : “I have no power of getting fast forward in any literary task ; it costs me far more labor than any other mortal who has been in the habit so long. I have the most extreme and invariable repugnance to all literary labors of any kind, and almost all mental labor. When I have anything of the kind to do, I linger hours and hours before I can resolutely set about it, and days and weeks if it is some task more than ordinary.”

Dr. Humphrey recommends that the unwilling thoughts be frightened to their task by the same means which Lord Jeffrey used to drive out a headache. He says, in his letters to his son : “When you sit down to write, you sometimes will, no doubt, find it difficult to collect your scattered thoughts at the moment, and fix them upon the subject. If, in these cases, you take up a newspaper, or whatever other light reading may happen to be at hand, with the hope of luring the truants back, you will be disappointed. Nothing but stern and decided measures will answer. I would advise you to resort at once to geometry or conic sections, or some other equally inexorable discipline to settle the business. I have myself often called in the aid of Euclid for a few moments, and always with good success. A little wholesome schooling of the mind upon lines and angles and proportions, when it is not in the right mood for study, will commonly make it quite willing to exchange them for the labor oi composition, as the easier task of the two.”

There is sound philosophy perhaps in this recommendation. Many persons have observed that the preliminary process of " composing the thoughts ” is one which requires a little time and effort, especially where one comes to his subject from a period of exercise, or repose, or any other condition in which the brain has not been active. The functional activity of the brain depends on the copious supply of the arterial blood, its activity varying with that supply, increasing as that supply is greater, and relaxing when it is diminished. But unlike other organs of the body, the brain is densely packed in an unyielding cavity, and there must be room made for this increased volume of circulation whenever it takes place. This is accomplished, physiologists tell us, in the cerebro-spinal fluid, the quantity of which has been estimated at two ounces. This fluid is readily absorbed and as readily reproduced, and thus its quantity varies in a certain inverse proportion to the volume of the circulation of blood in the brain ; and by this means an equality of pressure is secured throughout all the variations in the force of the circulation. The act of adjustment between this balancing fluid and the blood requires a little period for its completion, and therefore the brain cannot instantaneously be brought to its maximum action.

Hence, where the circulation has been diverted from the brain, and the proposed mental effort requires it to be vigorously revived in the brain, time must be allowed for this process of adjustment, and room must be made tor the needed supply of blood ; and perhaps a familiar demonstration in mathematics, which fixes the attention, and will instantly detect any delinquency of that faculty, may often be one of the best modes of employing this transition period, and aiding the change.

We may observe here the singular paradox, which we believe that the philosophy of the mind and the experience of the scholar equally establish, that what are usually called the heaviest or severest subjects of thought are the least exhausting to the thinker. How many students, like Chief-Justice Parsons, have been accustomed, when fatigued with the labor of deep research, or exhausted by continued train of thought upon one subject, to relax the mind with arithmetical or geometrical problems. Isaac Newton could, month after month, spend in the profoundest problems of pure mathematics twice as many hours in the day as Walter Scott could give to the composition of what we call light reading ; and it will be found that mathematicians, theologians, and metaphysicians have been able to sustain more protracted labor, and with less injury, than have poets and novelists. There are not wanting reasons which aid us to understand this paradox, but we will not enter upon them here.

Irregularities of habit will doubtless disturb the action of the mind. The mental power that is thrown away and wasted by recklessness in this respect is incalculable. But there are variations in mental power in the midst of health, in the absence of fatigue, and under the most regular habits. Perhaps few authors have more carefully adapted their habits to their work, or ordered their method of life with a more quiet equality, than did Milton. He went to bed uniformly at nine o’clock.1 He rose in the summer generally at four, and in winter at five. When, Contrary to his usual custom, he indulged himself with longer rest, he employed a person to read to him from the time of his waking to that of his rising. The opening of his day was uniformly consecrated to religion. A chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures being read to him as soon as he was up. he passed the subsequent interval till seven o’clock in private meditationFrom seven till twelve he either studied, listened while some author was read to him, or dictated as some friendly hand supplied him with its pen. At twelve commenced his hour of exercise, which before his blindness was usually passed in his garden or in walking, and afterward for the most part in the swing which he had contrived for the purpose of exercise. His early and frugal dinner succeeded, and when it was finished he resigned himself to the recreation of music, by which he found his mind at once gratified and restored. He played on the organ, and sang, or his wife sang for him. From his music he returned with fresh vigor to his books or his composition. At six he admitted the visits of his friends ; he took his abstemious supper, of olives or some light thing, at eight; and at nine, having smoked a pipe and drank a glass of water, he retired. Yet in the midst of this clock-like regularity his labors were broken by frequent unfruitful seasons. Symmons says of him, that “he frequently composed in the night, when his unpremeditated verse would sometimes flow in a torrent, under the impulse, as it were, of some strange poetical fury ; and in these peculiar moments of inspiration, his amanuensis, who was generally his daughter, was summoned by the bell to arrest the verses as they came, and to commit them to the security of writing. . . . . Some days would elapse undistinguished by a verse, while on others he would dictate thirty or forty lines. . . . . Labor would often be ineffectual to obtain what often would be gratuitously offered to him ; and his imagination, which at one instant would refuse a flower to his most strenuous cultivation, would at another time shoot up into spontaneous and abundant vegetation.” He seldom wrote any in the summer.

Cowper said that he composed best in winter, because then he could find nothing else to do but think ; and he contrasted himself in this respect with other poets, who have found an inspiration in the attractive scenes of the more genial seasons.

The biographer of Campbell has given us the following anecdote with respect to the oft-quoted lines,

“ 'T is the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,
And coming events cast their shadows before,”

The happy thought first presented itself to his mind during a visit at Minto. He had gone early to bed, and, still meditating on “ Lochiel’s Warning,” fell fast asleep. During the night he suddenly awoke, repeating, “ Events to come cast their shadows before ” ! This was the very thought for which he had been hunting the whole week. He rang the bell more than once with increasing force. At last, surprised and annoyed by so unseasonable a peal, the servant appeared. The poet was sitting with one foot in the bed, and the other on the floor, with an air of mixed impatience and inspiration. “ Sir, are you ill ? ” inquired the servant. “ Ill ! never better in my life. Leave me the candle, and oblige me with a cup of tea as soon as possible.” He then started to his feet, seized hold of his pen, and wrote down the happy thought, but as he wrote changed the words “ events to come ” into “ coming events,” as it now stands in the text. Looking at his watch he observed that it was two o’clock, the right hour for a poet’s dream ; and over his cup of tea he completed his first sketch of “ Lochiel.”

Nor is this capriciousness exclusively the attribute of the poetic Muse.

Calvin, who studied and wrote in bed, if he felt his facility of composition quitting him, as not unfrequently he did, gave up writing and composing, and went about his out-door duties for days, weeks, and months together. But as soon as he felt the inspiration again, he went back to his bed, and his secretary set to work forthwith.

Dr. Edward Robinson was always under the necessity of waiting upon his moods in composition. He wondered at the men who can write when they will. Sometimes for days together he could make no headway in his higher tasks.

There are avocations, like those of the advocate, the preacher, the journalist, which must be pursued continuously, well or ill, and in spite of such variations of feeling. In these labors men doubtless learn to disregard in some degree these moods of mind ; but the variable quality of the productions of one man on different days confirms what testimony we have of their existence.

The zeal or the indifference, the clearness or the dulness, the quickness or the sluggishness of thought, are doubtless to some degree determined by the methods of labor into which the person falls, and by the incidental habits and circumstances of his life. It is wonderful what a vast fund of information and suggestion upon these and kindred points of mental phenomena is found in the experience of the great industrial class of the intellectual world recorded in biographical and historical literature. Let us then visit some of the busiest and most successful scholars, philosophers, poets, writers, and preachers ; let us peep through the window of biography into the library, the cabinet, and the office. Let us watch the habits of some of these busy-brained men, these great masters of the intellectual world. Let us note what helps and what hindrances they have found ; how they have driven their work, or how they have been driven by it, and what is the nature and degree of the systems which they have adopted in ordering their hours of labor and of relaxation.

We will visit them ns we find them, without looking for examples of excellence or warnings of carelessness, and will leave the reader to make his own inferences.

The poet Southey, who is said to have been, perhaps, more continually employed than any other writer of his generation, was habitually an . early riser, but he never encroached upon the hours of the night. He gives the following account of his day, as he employed it at the age of thirty-two: “ Three pages of history after breakfast (equivalent to five in small quarto printing), then to transcribe and copy for the press, or to make my selections and biographies, or what else suits my humor, till dinner-time. From dinner till tea, I write letters, read, see the newspaper, and very often indulge in a siesta, for sleep agrees with me, and I have a good substantial theory to prove that it must; for as a man who walks much requires to sit down and rest himself, so does the brain, if it be the part most worked, require its repose. Well, after tea I go to poetry, and correct and rewrite and copy till I am tired, and then turn to anything else till supper.” At the age of fiftyfive, his life varied but little from this sketch. When it is said that Iris breakfast was. at nine, after a little reading, his dinner at four, tea at six, and supper at half past nine, and that the intervals, except the time regularly devoted to a walk, between two and four, and a short sleep before tea, were occupied with reading and writing, the outline of his day during those long seasons when he was in full work will have been given. After supper, when the business of the day seemed to be over, though he generally took a book, he remained with his family, and was ready to enter into conversation, to amuse and to be amused. During the several years that he was partially employed upon the life of Dr. Bell, he devoted two hours before breakfast to it in the summer, and as much time as there was daylight for during the winter months, that it might not interfere with the usual occupations of the day. Of himself, at the age of sixty, at a time when he was thus engaged every morning at work away from his home, he says : “ I get out of bed as the clock strikes six, and shut the house door after me as it strikes seven. Alter two hours’ work, home to breakfast ; after which, my son engages me till about half past ten, and, when the post brings no letters that interest or trouble me, by eleven I have done with the newspaper, and can then set about what is properly the business of the day. But I am liable to frequent interruptions, so that there are not many mornings in which I can command from two to three unbroken hours at the desk. At two I take my daily walk, be the weather what it may, and when the weather permits, with a book in my hand. Dinner at four, read about half an hour, then take to the sofa with a different book, and after a few pages get my soundest sleep, till summoned to tea at six. My best time during the winter is by candlelight ; twilight interferes with it a little, and in the season of company I can never count upon an evening’s work. Supper at half past nine, after which I read an hour, and then to bedThe greatest part of my miscellaneous work is done in the odds and ends of time.”

Shelley rose early in the morning, walked and read before breakfast, took that meal sparingly, wrote and studied the greater part of the morning, walked and read again, dined on vegetables (for he took neither meat nor wine), conversed with his friends (to whom his house was ever open), again walked out, and usually finished with reading to his wife till ten o’clock, when he went to bed. This was his daily existence. His book was generally Plato, or Homer, or one of the Greek tragedians, or the Bible, in which last he took a great interest. Out of twenty-four hours he frequently read sixteen. “ He wrote his Prometheus,” says Willis, “ in the baths of Caracalla, near the Coliseum.” It was his favorite haunt in Rome.

The poet Campbell thus describes his labors, when in London, at the age of fifty-five : “I get up at seven, write letters for the Polish Association until half past nine, breakfast, go to the club and read the newspapers till twelve. Then I sit down to my studies, and, with many interruptions, do what I can till four. I then walk round the Park and generally dine out at six. Between nine and ten I return to chambers, read a book or write a letter, and go to bed always before twelve.” “ His correspondence,” says his biographer, “ occupied four hours every morning, in French, German, and Latin. He could seldom act with the moderation necessary for his health. Whatever object he once took in hand, he determined to carry out, and found no rest until it was accomplished.” Whatever he wrote during his connection with the New Monthly and the Metropolitan was written hurriedly. If a subject was proposed for the end of a month, he seldom gave it a thought until it was no longer possible to delay the task. He would then sit down in the quietest corner of his chambers, or, if quiet was not to be found in town, be would start off to the country, and there, shut in among tire green fields, complete his task. When sixty-two years old, he says : " I am only six hours out of the twenty-four in bed. I study twelve, and walk six. Oranges, exercise, and early rising serve to keep me flourishing.”

“ Procter (Barry Cornwall) usually writes,” says Willis, “ in a small closet adjoining his library. There is just room enough in it for a desk and two chairs, and his favorite books, miniature likenesses of authors, manuscripts, &c., piled around in true poetical confusion.” Pie confines his labors to the daytime, eschewing evening work. In a letter to a friend, some years ago, he wrote : “ I hope you will not continue to give up your nights to literary undertakings. Believe me (who have suffered bitterly for this imprudence) that nothing in the world of letters is worth the sacrifice of health and strength and animal spirits which will certainly follow this excess of labor.”

Cowper, at the age of fifty-three, and at a busy period of his life, says : “ The morning is my writing time, and in the morning I have no spirits. So much the worse for ray correspondents. Sleep, that refreshes my body, seems to cripple me in every other respect. As the evening approaches I grow more alert, and when I am retiring to bed am more fit for mental occupation than at any other time. So it tares with us whom they call nervous.”

He was very assiduous in labor. While he was translating Homer, he says : “ As soon as breakfast is over, I retire to my nutshell of a summer-house, which is my verse manufactory, and here I abide seldom less than three hours, and not often more.” This little summer-house, which he called his boudoir, was not much bigger than a sedan-chair ; the door of it opened into the garden, which was covered with pinks, roses, and honeysuckles. The window opened into his neighbor s orchard. He says : “ It formerly served an apothecary, now dead, as a smokingroom ; and under my feet is a trapdoor, which once covered a hole in the ground where he kept his bottles. At present, however, it is dedicated to sublimer uses. Having lined it with garden mats, and furnished it with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I write in summer-time, whether to my friends or to the public. . . . . In the afternoon I return to it again, and all the daylight that follows, except what is sometimes devoted to a walk, is given to Homer.” In the evening he devoted himself to transcribing, so that his mornings and evenings were, for the most part, completely engaged. He read also, but less than he wrote ; “ for I must have bodily exercise,” he said, “and therefore never let a day pass without it.” His walk was usually in the afternoon.

Lord Byron, who used to sit up at night writing “ Don Juan,” (which he did under the influence of gin and water,) rose late in the morning. Leigh Hunt thus describes him : “He breakfasted, read, lounged about, singing an air, generally out of Rossini, and in a swaggering style, though in a voice at once small and veiled ; then took a bath and was dressed, and coming down stairs, was heard, still singing, in the court-yard, out of which the garden ascended at the back of the -house. The servants at the same time brought out two or three chairs. We then lounged about, or sat and talked. In the course of an hour or two, being an early riser, I used to go in to dinner. Lord Byron either stayed a little longer, or went up stairs to his books and his couch. When the heat ’of the day declined we rode out, either on horseback or in a barouche, generally towards the forest. He was a good rider, graceful, and kept a firm seat. In the evening I seldom saw him. He recreated himself in the balcony, or with a book ; and at night, when I went to bed, he was just thinking of setting to work with ‘ Don Juan.’ His favorite reading was history and travels. His favorite authors were Bayle and Gibbon. His favorite recreation was boating.” Byron had prodigious facility of composition. He was fond of suppers, and in London, after supping at Rogers’s and eating heartily, he would go home and throw off sixty or eighty verses, which he would send to press the next morning.

Goldsmith’s desultory habits are quite characteristic. Irving says : “ It was his custom during the summertime, when pressed by a multiplicity of literary jobs, or urged to the accomplishment of some particular task, to take country lodgings a few miles from town, generally on the Harrow or Edgeware road, and bury himself there for weeks and months together. Sometimes he would remain closely occupied in his room, at other times he would stroll out along the lanes and hedgerows, and, taking out paper and pencil, note down thoughts to be expanded and corrected at home.” Though he engaged to board with the family, his meals were generally sent to him in his room, in which he passed the most of his time, negligently dressed, with his shirt-collar open, busily engaged in writing. Sometimes, probably when in moods of composition, he would wander into the kitchen, without noticing any one, stand musing with his back to the fire, and then hurry off again to his room, no doubt to commit to paper some thought which had struck him. He was subject to fits of wakefulness, and read much in bed ; if not disposed to read, he still kept the candle burning ; if he wished to extinguish it, and it was out of his reach, he flung his slipper at it, which would be found in the morning near the overturned candlestick, daubed with grease. He is said to have considered four lines of poetry a day good work.

He commenced his poem of “ The Traveller” in Switzerland, but long kept it back from publication, till Johnson’s praise of it induced him to prepare it for the press. It is said that, while for two years previous to its publication he was employed in the drudgery of laborious compilations for the booksellers, his few vacant hours were fondly devoted to the patient revisal and correction of this his greatest poem ; pruning its luxuriances, or supplying its defects, till it appeared at length finished with exactness and polished into beauty. While writing his History of England, he would read Hume, Rapin-Thoyras, Carte, and Kennet, in the morning, make a few notes, ramble with a friend into the country about the skirts of “Merry Islington,” return to a temperate dinner and cheerful evening, and, before going to bed, write off what had arranged itself in his head from the studies of the morning. In this way he took a more general view of the subject, and wrote in a more free and fluent style than if he had been mousing at the time among authorities. The influence of this way of composing history is plainly seen in the entertaining, but not immortal, volumes it produced.

Douglas Jerrold’s day of labor may be sketched thus. At eight o’clock he breakfasts on cold new milk, toast, bacon, watercresses, and perhaps strawberries. Then he makes long examination of the papers, cutting out bits of news. The study is a snug room filled with books and pictures ; its furniture is of solid oak. There work begins. If it be a comedy, he will now and then walk rapidly up and down the room, talking wildly to himself, and laughing as he hits upon a good point. Suddenly the pen will be put down, and through a little conservatory, without seeing anybody, he will pass out into the garden for a little while, talking to the gardeners, walking, &c. In again, and vehemently to work. The thought has come ; and, in letters smaller than the type in which they shall be set, it is unrolled along the little blue slips of paper. A crust of bread and glass of wine are brought in, but no word is spoken. The work goes rapidly forward, and halts at last suddenly. The pen is dashed aside, a few letters, seldom more than three lines in each, are written and despatched to the post, and then again into the garden, visits to the horse, cow, and fowls, then another long turn around the lawn, and at last a seat with a quaint old volume in the tent under the mulberry-tree. Friends come, — walks and conversation. A very simple dinner at four. Then a short nap — forty winks — upon the great sofa in the study ; another long stroll over the lawn while tea is prepared. Over the tea-table are jokes of all kinds, as at dinner. In the later years of his life, Jerrold seldom wrote after dinner ; and his evenings were usually spent alone in his study, reading, writing letters, &c. Sometimes he would join the family circle for half an hour before going to bed at ten ; but his rule was a solitary evening in the study with his books.

Dickens’s favorite time for composition is said to be in the morning. Powell, in his “Notices of Living Authors of England,” says that he writes till about one or two o’clock, when he lunches, and afterwards takes a walk for a couple of hours ; returns to dinner, and gives the evening to his own or a friend’s fireside. Sometimes his method of labor is much more intense and unremitting. Of his delightful little Christmas book, “ The Chimes,” the author says, in a letter to a friend, that he shut himself up for one month close and tight over it. “ All my affections and passions got twined and knotted up in it, and I became as haggard as a murderer long before I wrote, ' The End.’ When I had done that, like ' The Man of Thessaly,’ who, having scratched his eyes out in a quickset hedge, plunged into a bramble-bush to scratch them in again, I fled to Venice to recover the composure I had disturbed.” When his imagination begins to outline a new novel, with vague thoughts rife within him, he goes “wandering about at night into the strangest places,” he says, “ seeking rest and finding none.”

Bulwer accomplishes his voluminous productions in about three hours a day, usually from ten until one, and seldom later, writing all with his own hand. Composition was at first very laborious to him, but he gave himself sedulously to mastering its difficulties ; and is said to have rewritten some of his briefer productions eight or nine times before publication. He now writes very rapidly, averaging, it is said, twenty octavo pages a day. He says of himself in a letter to a friend : “ I literatize away the morning, ride at three, go to bathe at five, dine at six, and get through the evening as I best may, sometimes by correcting a proof.”

Charles Anthon, so well known to the classical students of this generation, was accustomed, for many years at least, constantly to retire at ten and rise at four, so that a large part of his day’s work was done by breakfast-time; and it was this untiring industry that enabled him, despite his incessant labors both in college and in school, to produce some fifty volumes.

Gibbon always studied with his pen in hand, and for the purpose of his history he practised laboriously the formation of his style of writing. The first chapter of his history lie rewrote three times, and the second and third chapters twice, before he was satisfied with them ; but after thus getting under way, the greater part of his manuscript was sent to the press in the first rough draft, without any intermediate copy being made. After completing his great history, he congratulated himself upon having accomplished a long, but temperate labor, without fatiguing either the mind or the body. “ Happily for my eyes,” he said, “ I have always closed my studies with the day and commonly with the morning.” When he had accomplished the labors of the morning in the library, he preferred recreation and social enjoyments rather than any exercise of mind. He gives the following account of his sensations on accomplishing his great work. “It was on the day, or rather night, of June 27, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a covered walk of acacias. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion.”

This reminds us of the emotions which Noah Webster describes as overwhelming him when he reached the close of his dictionary. “When I finished my copy,” says Dr. Webster, “ I was sitting at my table in Cambridge, England, January, 1825. When I arrived at the last word, I was seized with a tremor that made it difficult to proceed. I, however, summoned up my strength to finish the work, and then, walking about the room, I soon recovered.”

Buckle, even more systematically and laboriously than ever did Gibbon, devoted himself to the formation of his style of writing as a special preparation, for entering upon the composition of his history. In his later years he abandoned the custom of writing at night, and it was his usual practice to lay aside his pen by three o'clock in the afternoon. When at home in London, he spent an hour or so at noon in walking about the city, frequently dined out, and read an hour after coining home. He went to dinner-parties exclusively, it is said, because they took less time than others.

Sir William Jones while in India began his studies with tire dawn, and in seasons of intermission from professional duty continued them throughout the day ; meditation retraced and confirmed what reading had collected or investigation discovered. With respect to the division of his time, he wrote on a small piece of paper these lines : —

“ Six hours in sleep, in law’s grave study six,
Four spend in prayer, — the rest on nature fix.”
“ Seven hours to law, to soothing slumber seven,
Ten to the World allot, — and all to heaven.”

Of Chief-Justice Parsons of Massachusetts, his son says : “ It is literally true that tor fifty years he was always reading or writing when not obliged to be doing something else. He had, fortunately for himself, many interruptions, but he avoided them as far as he could ; and there were weeks, and I believe consecutive months, when be passed nearly two thirds of his day with books and papers. . . . . He very seldom took exercise for exercise’ sake. Excepting an infrequent walk of some minutes in the long entry which ran through the middle of his house, he almost never walked for mere exercise, until an attack of illness. After that he sometimes, though rarely, took a walk about the streets or on the Common. . . . . His office was always in his dwelling-house. There he sat all the day, but his evenings were invariably spent in the large common sitting-room. He had his chair by the fireside, and a small table near it on which the evening’s supply of books was placed. There he sat, always reading, (seldom writing in the evening or out of his office,) but never disturbed by any noise or frolic which might be going on. If anybody, young or old, appealed to him, he was always ready to answer ; and sometimes, though not very often, would join in a game or play, and then return to his books. . . . . I have never known him wholly unoccupied at any time whatsoever. He was always doing something, with books, pen, or instrument, or engaged in conversation.”

Judge Story arose at seven in summer and at half past seven in winter, — never earlier. If breakfast was not ready, he went at once to His library, and occupied the interval, whether it was five minutes or fifty, in writing. When the family assembled, he was called, and breakfasted with them. After breakfast he sat in the drawingroom, and spent from half to three quarters of an hour in reading the newspapers of the day. He then returned to his study, and wrote until the bell sounded for his lecture at the Law School. After lecturing for two, and sometimes three hours, he returned to his study, and worked until two o’clock, when he was called to dinner. To his dinner — which on his part was always simple — he gave an hour, and then again betook himself to his study, where in the winter time he worked as long as the daylight lasted, unless called away by a visitor, or obliged to attend a moot - court. Then he came down and joined the family, and work for the day was over. During the evening he was rarely without company ; but if alone he read some new publication, sometimes corrected a proof-sheet, listened to music, talked with the family, or played backgammon. In the summer afternoons he left his library towards twilight. Generally the summer afternoon was varied three or four times a week in fair weather by a drive of about an hour in the country in an open chaise. At ten or half past he retired for the night, never varying a half-hour from this time. The exercise he took was almost entirely incidental to his duties, and consisted in driving to Boston to hold his court, or attend to other business, and in walking to and from the Law School. His real exercise was in talking. His diet was exceedingly simple. His lectures were wholly extemporary, or delivered without minutes, and no record was ever made of them by himself. After an interruption of hours, and even of days, he could take up the pen and continue a sentence which he had left half-written, without reading back, going on with the same certainty and rapidity as if he had never been stopped.

While Lord Jeffrey was judge, during the sittings of the court, the performance of his official duties exhausted nearly his whole day, the evenings especially; and his spare time, whether during his sittings or in vacation, was given to society, to correspondence, to walking, to lounging in his garden, and to reading.

John C. Calhoun was an arduous student, and very simple in his habits. He avoided all stimulants. When at home, he rose at daybreak, and. if weather permitted, took a walk over his farm. He breakfasted at half past seven, and then retired to his office, which stood near his house, where he wrote till dinner-time, or three o'clock. After dinner he read or conversed with his family till sunset, when he took another walk. His tea hour was eight. He then joined the family, and read or talked till ten, when he retired.

Dr. Arnold of Rugby began lessons at seven ; and, with the interval of breakfast, they lasted till nearly threeThen he would walk with his pupils, and dine at half past five. At seven he usually had some lessons on hand ; and “ it was only when they were all gathered up in the drawing-room after tea,” says Mr. Stanley, “ amidst young men on all sides of him, that he would commence work for himself in writing his sermons or Roman History. In a letter Dr. Arnold said: “ From about a quarter before nine till ten o’clock every evening I am at liberty, and enjoy my wife’s company fully; during this time I read aloud to her, I am now reading to her Herodotus, translating as I go on, — or write my sermons, or write letters.” His favorite recreations were horseback-riding, walking, and playing with his children.

Florence Nightingale, in advising that the sick be not suddenly interrupted so as to distract their attention, says that the rule applies to the well quite as much as to the sick. She adds : “ I have never known persons who exposed themselves for years to constant interruptions who did not muddle away their intellects by it at last.” Dr. Arnold seems to be an exception.

The elder Alexander, the Princeton theologian, was another exception to Florence Nightingale’s rule. It was his peculiarity that he seemed incapable of being interrupted. Except in hours of devotion, his study was always free to his children, even the youngest ; noise made no difference ; their books and toys were on his floor, and two or three would be clambering upon him while he was handling a folio or had the pen in his hand. Nor was. this while engaged in the mechanical part of an author’s work. His door was always open to the children ; they burst in freely without any signal, and he always looked up with a smile of welcome ; and he declared that he often could think to most purpose when there was a clatter of little voices around him. His voluminous works, which lie commenced to publish late in life, do not indicate that he underwent a “ muddling ” process.

Johnson used to assert that a man could write just as well at one time as another, and as well in one place as another, if he would only set himself doggedly about it.

Dr. Channing’s habits of labor when at home in Boston are thus described. “The sun is just rising, and the fires are scarcely lighted, when, with a rapid step, Dr. Channing enters his study. He has been watchful during many hours, his brain teeming, and under the excitement of his morning bath he longs to use the earliest hours for work. . . . . His first act is to write down the thoughts which have been given in his vigils ; next he reads a chapter or more in Griesbach’s edition of the Greek Testament, and, after a quick glance over the newspapers of the day, he takes his light repast. Morning prayers follow, and then he retires to his study-table. It he is reading, you will at once notice this peculiarity, that he studies pen in hand, and that his book is crowded with folded sheets of paper, which continually multiply as trains of thought are suggested. These notes are rarely quotations, but chiefly questions and answers, qualifications, condensed statements, germs of interesting views ; and when the volume is finished, they are carefully selected, arranged, and under distinct heads placed among other papers in a secretary. If he is writing, unless making preparation for the pulpit or for publication, the same process of accumulating notes is continued, which, at the end of each day or week, are filed. The interior of the secretary is filled with heaps of similar notes, arranged in order, with titles over each compartment. When a topic is to be treated at length in a sermon or essay, these notes are consulted, reviewed, and arranged. He first draws up a skeleton of his subject, selecting with special care and making prominent the central principle that gives it unity, and from which branch forth correlative considerations. Until perfectly clear in his own mind as to the essential truth of this main view, he cannot proceed. Questions are raised, objections considered, etc., the ground cleared, in a word, and the granite foundation laid bare for the cornerstone. And now the work goes rapidly forward. With flying pen he makes a rough draft of all that he intends to say, on sheets of paper folded lengthwise, leaving half of each page bare. He then reads over what he has written, and on the vacant half-page supplies defects, strikes out redundances, indicates the needless qualification, and modifies expressions. Thus sure of his thought and aim, conscientiously prepared, he abandons himself to the ardor of composition. . . . . By noon his power of study is spent, and he walks, visits, etc. After dinner he lies for a time upon the sofa, and walks again, or drives into the country. Sunset he keeps as a holy hour. During the winter twilight he likes to be silent and alone. . . . . At tea he listens to reading for an hour or more, leading conversation, etc. Evenings he gives up to social enjoyments.” Mr. Buckle’s method of making his researches, and preserving memoranda of the results for subsequent use in composition, was similar to Dr. Channing’s, as we may infer from a note in his History. Dr. Channing spent his vacations at Newport, where his time was thus allotted: — Rose very early, walked, etc. Breakfasted on coarse wheat-bread and cream, with a cup of tea. Then went to his study. Every hour or half-hour, more or less, he threw his gown around him, and took a turn in the garden for a few minutes. After a few hours of work he was exhausted for the day, and read and conversed till dinner. The afternoon was given up to excursions, and the evening to society.

Dr. Doddridge, in reference to his work, “The Paraphrase on the New Testament,” said that its being written at all was owing to the difference between rising at five and at seven o’clock in the morning. “ A remark similar to this,” says Albert Barnes, “will explain all that I have done. Whatever I have accomplished in the way of commenting on the Scriptures is to be traced to the fact of rising at four in the morning, and to the time thus secured, which I thought might properly be employed in a work not immediately connected with my pastoral labors. That habit I have now pursued for many years. . . . . All my Commentaries on the Scriptures have been written before nine o’clock in the morning. At the very beginning, now more than thirty years ago, I adopted a resolution to stop writing on these Notes when the clock struck nine. This resolution I have invariably adhered to, not unfrequently finishing my morning task in the midst of a paragraph, and sometimes even in the midst of a sentence. . . . . In the recollection now of the past, I refer to these morning hours, to the stillness and quiet of my room in this house of God, when I have been permitted to ‘prevent the dawning of the morning’ in the study of the Bible, while the inhabitants of the great city were slumbering round about me, and before the cares of the day and its direct responsibilities came upon me, — I refer to these scenes as among the happiest portions of my life. . . . . Manuscripts, when a man writes every day, even though he writes but little, accumulate. Dr. Johnson was once asked how it was that the Christian Fathers, and the men of other times, could find leisure to fill so many folios with the productions of their pens. ‘ Nothing is easier,’ said he ; and he at once began a calculation to show what would be the effect, in the ordinary term of a man’s life, if he wrote only one octavo page in a day ; and the question was solved. . . . . In this manner manuscripts accumulated on my hands until I have been surprised to find that, by this slow and steady process, I have been enabled to prepare eleven volumes of Commentary on the New Testament, and five on portions of the Old Testament.”

Isaac Barrow was a very early riser, and with two exceptions very temperate in his habits. He indulged greatly in all kinds of fruit ; alleging that, if the immoderate use of it killed hundreds in autumn, it was the means of preserving thousands throughout the year. But he was fonder still of tobacco. He believed that it helped to compose and regulate his thoughts. (He died, we may add, from the use of opium.) It was his plan, in whatever he was engaged, to prosecute it till he had brought it to a termination. He said he could not easily draw his thoughts from one thing to another. The morning was his favorite time for study. He kept a tinder-box in his apartment, and, during all of the winter and some of the autumn months, rose before it was light. He would sometimes rise at night, burn out his candle, and return to bed.

Zwingli is described as indefatigable in study. From daybreak until ten o’clock he used to read, write, and translate. After dinner he listened to those who had any news to give him, or who required his advice ; he then would walk out with some of his friends, and visit his flock. At two o’clock he resumed his studies. He took a short walk after supper, and then wrote his letters, which often occupied him until midnight. He always worked standing, and never permitted himself to be disturbed except for some very important cause.

Melancthon was usually in his study at two or three o’clock in the morning, both in summer and winter. “It was during these early hours,” says D’Aubigné, “ that his best works were written.” During the day he read three or four lectures, attended to the conferences of the professors, and after that labored till supper-time. He retired about nine. He would not open any letters in the evening, in order that his sleep might not be disturbed. He usually drank a glass of wine before supper. He generally took one simple meal a day, and never more than two, and always dined regularly at a fixed hour. He enjoyed but few healthy days in his life, and was frequently troubled with sleeplessness. His manuscripts usually lay on the table, exposed to the view of every visitor, so that he was robbed of several. When he had invited any of his friends to his house, he used to beg one of them to read, before sitting down to table, some small composition in prose or verse.

There is an interest of a peculiar nature in thus visiting the haunts and witnessing the labors of scholars, philosophers, and poets, which arises from the stimulus it affords us in turning again to our own humbler but kindred work. Whatever brings us into sympathy with the great and the noble thinkers enlarges and lifts our thoughts.

  1. In his youth he studied till midnight ; but, warned by the early decay of sight and his disordered health, he afterwards changed his hours.