This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

This instantiation of Samuel is now clearly resident in Leeds or Bradford, and makes no attempt to incorporate material relevant to Cardiff. His description of idleness centres on people who have private means, however slight, to live on. Taken literally, he not only disapproves of puzzles and hobbies which may be useless (except to those who pursue them), but would even prevent scientific investigation. The illustrated capital at the head of the article shows a woman engaged in hard, money-making work, but passes no judgment on the role of a wife of one of the idlers the article presents. The image without the caption would make a point far more acceptable to today’s reader. We cannot know whether it is ‘Samuel’ himself or the editor who incorporates the final illustration, which displays the narrator is a relatively sympathetic light, but which arguably undercuts much of his splenetic discourse? The narrator is scathing about Leeds Town, which was built between 1853 and 1858 to a design by the architect Cuthbert Brodrick, as one of a number of expressions of Victorian civic pride in England. Its pseudo-baroque style was no longer fashionable in 1888. —David Skilton

This lady has no time to be idle – cooking and ironing for sixteen lodgers is not joke.

ERILY, it is surprising what a number of men go through life doing nothing in particular — and always very busily engaged in doing it, too. Certain beings, sir, have a natural taste for extravagance one way or another. Some of them fritter away their monetary resources in a way that is perfectly inexplicable to their friends, who will say that they certainly have never benefitted to the extent of a penny out of the fritterers; certain other men persistently overdraw their account on the bank of health by every species of mad exercise which can, instead of simply developing their energies, only exhaust them. They rush wildly round a track for a cup that is found some time afterwards to be constructed of the same sort of silver that they make pewter spoons of, or they excite the action of their hearts by pulling at a boat against a few other lunatics of the same sort, just for all the world as though they were bargees and had to do it for a living. Then there are other men who go through life as terribly industrious idlers, as men who are always in earnest about some trifle, and who expend as much energy in collecting snails, we will say, as they might be supposed to do were they working out some scheme to promote the general happiness of mankind; and all the three classes of extravagant beings I have mentioned do the thing with ‘the best intentions in the world.’ I am acquainted with many an industrious idler, sir, and have never known one of them yet who would not have been mightily indignant had anyone accused him of wasting his time in miserable trivialities. Sometimes these busy idlers pursue a course which can only end in sowing mischief and discontent, as in the case of the gentleman who is eternally writing letters to the local papers, he having absolutely nothing else to do but to harass everybody in an official position; and at other times they dawdle over inventions which, though they may never come to anything in themselves, at least promote a spirit of investigation, and sometimes form the signal-post which leads men of more practical mind to really valuable results.

An arrant idler who is always nosy – and at restaurant bars.

As an example of the utterly purposeless busy idler, look at the man who is ever purchasing from the boys who hawk such trifles mechanical puzzles made of bits of wire and string. Do you think that children buy such things as these? Not a bit of it. Full-grown men are the usual purchasers, and it would be a fitting subject for inquiry as to how much time each of these paltry and silly puzzles, taking an average all round, absolutely wastes. But it may be said, ‘Oh, well, men only bother with these things when they are enjoying a rest from their usual avocations. But supposing that this is the case, I should myself hold, good sir, that a man whose leisure time was scant ought consequently not to be so lavish of it as to waste it, and thought to boot, upon an idiotic problem which when solved can be of no possible benefit to anyone. As a rule, the true time-waster of the busy order is a man of some means, who can, as the expression goes, ‘afford to live independent,’ but there are [sic] a vast amount of men (men who have to work sufficiently hard for others to enable them to appreciate the value of such little leisure as they are allowed to enjoy) who, with a pretence of occupying every spare moment, neither on the one hand go in for the absolute dolce far niente during any given holiday, nor do the other do anything whatever, despite their apparent expenditure of energy, to benefit either themselves or anybody else. In this regard, how about the ‘cranks,’ such as exist at Bradford just now, who sail toy boats, ‘like a lot of little kids,’ as a plain-spoken man I know of says? Can it be conceived that any being who has arrived at man's estate can so far forget what is due to his manhood and to his supposed intelligence as to go swimming a model boat in a public park before a whole crowd of derisive onlookers? Then again, think of the inconceivable idiocy of the men who quite gravely and earnestly fritter away their time and such faculties as they have been endowed with in making what they are pleased to call anagrams. They get, we will say, the full title of some bill in Parliament, and then they construct some opposite sentence out of the letters comprised in that bill's title, and they actually, especially from newspaper people, expect to be treated with some degree of respectful admiration in consequence. They expect, in fact, to be praised for doing that which any boy of ill-regulated mind might be expected to do when he was for some juvenile offence locked in a room with nothing else to occupy his mind. For my part, when these anagram nincompoops bring to me their drivel, expecting to be complimented on what they doubtless regard as their ingenuity, I always feel such a contempt for my species as never assails me at any other time – save, perhaps, when I listen to the discussions of the Leeds Town Council.

The insect hunting time-waster; oh, what a fall will there be.

There are mechanical madmen in this country whom it pleases to construct model steam engines, weighing about an eighth of an ounce, and there are caligraphists whose mission seems to be to get the largest possible number of words into the space occupied by a threepenny bit, though who on earth is the better for these time-consuming feats no one would care to say – unless it is the lunacy doctors. The persons who are thus busily idle certainly don't benefit very greatly, so far as I have ever discovered. I once knew an industriously idle man who was always begging old corks from everybody he knew. His predilection for corks puzzled me for some time, till I found out that he was, as he thought, ‘ingeniously’ constructing a model of the Leeds Town-hall by their means. I verily believe that the man in question broke many a day's work in order to go on tinkering with his corks – at any rate, he made every possible excuse to avoid getting out into the fresh air (which he seemed to need much, if I am any judge) in order that be might go on with his cork craze. Now what good is a model of the Leeds Town Hall to anybody, the owner included? And is it not sinful that any man of ripe years should waste his faculties in such trumpery work? Such a man could not even claim that he was constructing a work of art in the true sense, for he was only perpetrating ugliness in following such an original. The last time I saw the cork town-hall, one or two of that man's grandchildren were filling it up with melted tar from the interstices of the pavements, and utilising this sad waste of corks as a wheel-barrow.

This individual has constructed no less than seven thousand words out of the word ‘Timbuctoo,’ and than has been beaten by two words in the competition.

The unspeakable asses who have of late years amused themselves, for no hope of reward in the majority of cases, by trying to construct a given number of words out of one master word are so many living arguments, not only of the cupidity of the human race. but of its love of purposeless and misdirected industry. Will the knowledge of words be materially increased in the case of such persons? Not so, indeed – except, perhaps, in the slightest degree possible. One half of the same time spent with a good author would have done twenty times as much to increase the vocabulary of the contestant, never to speak of the pleasure to be derived from the company of a clever writer.

This is Samuel’s idea of idleness – the attendant refreshments are left out of the picture.

Words by themselves are no good, else might we with advantage read nothing else but a dictionary, as did the man who had nothing else to read at the lonely hotel where he stopped, and who afterwards declared that the book was all right, but that ‘there seemed to be no thread of interest in the story.’ In this same category of folly I would even include all the members of so-called ‘Browning Societies’ and ‘Shelley Societies’ – beings who for a ‘trickey word’ in an author ‘defy the matter;’ men who call themselves ’ommentators,’ and who are perpetually trying to discover that an author meant more than he in reality ever dreamt of meaning, and there are hundreds of these cranks abroad – beings who would like to be thought ‘literary men,’ but who never wrote an article or a metrical copy of verses in their lives – and couldn’t if they tried. There are certain busy idlers who ought to be classified and catalogued (as might easily be done), and made the subject of some punitive acts of the legislature for it seemeth to me that many of them would be even better picking oakum or going up the ‘stepper’ for the benefit of their country than sailing toy boats and making anagrams.

Last modified 13 February 2022