And I say with confidence that he is an idle person. I was never more satisfied of the fact than at this moment. For hours he has been engaged in the agreeable task of dodging his duty to The Star. It began quite early this morning—for you cannot help being about quite early now that the clock has been put forward—or is it back? He first went up on to the hill behind the cottage, and there at the edge of the beech woods he lay down on the turf, resolved to write an article en plein air, as Corot used to paint his pictures—an article that would simply carry the intoxication of this May morning into Fleet Street, and set that stuffy thoroughfare carolling with larks, and make it green with the green and dappled wonder of the beech woods.
But first of all he had to saturate himself with the sunshine. You cannot give out sunshine until you have taken it in. That, said he, is plain to the meanest understanding. So he took it in. He just lay on his back and looked at the clouds sailing serenely in the blue. They were well worth looking at—large, fat, lazy, clouds that drifted along silently and dreamily, like vast bales of wool being wafted from one star to another.
How that loafer of genius, he said, would have loved to lie and look at those woolly clouds. And before he had thoroughly examined the clouds he became absorbed in another task. There were the sounds to be considered. You could not have a picture of this May morning without the sounds.
So he began enumerating the sounds that came up from the valley and the plain on the wings of the west wind. He had no idea what a lot of sounds one could hear if one gave one's mind to the task seriously. All these and many other things he heard, still lying on his back and looking at the heavenly bales of wool. Their dreaminess affected him; their billowy softness invited to slumber When he awoke he decided that it was too late to start an article then.
Moreover, the best time to write an article was the afternoon, and the best place was the orchard, sitting under a cherry tree, with the blossoms falling at your feet like summer snow, and the bees about you preaching the stern lesson of labour. Yes, he would go to the bees. He would catch something of their fervour, their devotion to duty. They did not lie about on their backs in the sunshine looking at woolly clouds.
To them, life was real, life was earnest. But the example of these lazy fellows he would ignore. Under the cherry tree he would labour like the honey bee. But it happened that as he sat under the cherry tree the expert came out to look at the hives.
She was quite capable of looking at the hives alone, but it seemed a civil thing to lend a hand at looking. So he put on a veil and gloves and went and looked. It is astonishing how time flies when you are looking in bee-hives. There are so many things to do and see.
You always like to find the queen, for example, to make sure that she is there, and to find one bee in thousands, takes time. It took more time than usual this afternoon, for there had been a tragedy in one of the hives. It was a nucleus hive, made up of brood frames from other hives, and provided with a queen of our best breed. But no queen was visible.
The frames were turned over industriously without reward. At last, on the floor of the hive, below the frames, her corpse was found. This deepened the mystery. Had the workers, for some obscure reason, rejected her sovereignty and killed her, or had a rival to the throne appeared and given her her quietus? The search was renewed, and at last the new queen was run to earth in the act of being fed by a couple of her subjects.
She had been hatched from a queen cell that had escaped notice when the brood frames were put in and, according to the merciless law of the hive, had slain her senior. All this took time, and before he had finished, the cheerful clatter of tea things in the orchard announced another interruption of his task. And to cut a long story short, the article he set out to write in praise of the May morning was not written at all.
But perhaps this article about how it was not written will serve instead. It has at least one virtue. It exhales a moral as the rose exhales a perfume. There was grit in the machine somewhere, and the wheels refused to revolve. I was writing with a pen—a new fountain pen that someone had been good enough to send me, in commemoration of an anniversary, my interest in which is now very slight, but of which one or two well-meaning friends are still in the habit of reminding me.
It was an excellent pen, broad and free in its paces, and capable of a most satisfying flourish. It was a pen, you would have said, that could have written an article about anything. You had only to fill it with ink and give it its head, and it would gallop away to its journey's end without a pause. That is how I felt about it when I sat down. But instead of galloping, the thing was as obstinate as a mule. I could get no more speed out of it than Stevenson could get out of his donkey in the Cevennes.
I tried coaxing and I tried the bastinado, equally without effect on my Modestine. Then it occurred to me that I was in conflict with a habit. It is my practice to do my writing with a pencil. Days, even weeks, pass without my using a pen for anything more than signing my name. On the other hand there are not many hours of the day when I am without a pencil between thumb and finger. It has become a part of my organism as it were, a mere extension of my hand. There, at the top of my second finger, is a little bump, raised in its service, a monument erected by the friction of a whole forest of pencils that I have worn to the stump.
A pencil is to me what his sword was to D'Artagnan, or his umbrella was to the Duke of Cambridge, or his cheroot was to Grant, or whittling a stick was to Jackson or—in short, what any habit is to anybody.
Put a pencil in my hand, seat me before a blank writing pad in an empty room, and I am, as they say of the children, as good as gold.
I tick on as tranquilly as an eight-day clock. I may be dismissed from the mind, ignored, forgotten. But the magic wand must be a pencil. Here was I sitting with a pen in my hand, and the whole complex of habit was disturbed. I was in an atmosphere of strangeness.
The pen kept intruding between me and my thoughts. It was unfamiliar to the touch. It seemed to write a foreign language in which nothing pleased me. This tyranny of little habits which is familiar to all of us is nowhere better described than in the story which Sir Walter Scott told to Rogers of his school days.
Day came after day and still he kept his place, do what I would; till at length I observed that, when a question was asked him, he always fumbled with his fingers at a particular button in the lower part of his waistcoat.
To remove it, therefore, became expedient in my eye, and in an evil moment it was removed with a knife. Great was my anxiety to know the success of my measure, and it succeeded too well. When the boy was again questioned his fingers sought again for the button, but it was not to be found.
In his distress he looked down for it—it was to be seen no more than to be felt. He stood confounded, and I took possession of his place; nor did he ever recover it, or ever, I believe, suspect who was the author of his wrong.
Often in after-life has the sight of him smote me as I passed by him, and often have I resolved to make him some reparation; but it ended in good resolutions. Though I never renewed my acquaintance with him, I often saw him, for he filled some inferior office in one of the courts of law at Edinburgh. Poor fellow! I believe he is dead, he took early to drinking. There is no harm in cultivating habits, so long as they are not injurious habits. Indeed, most of us are little more than bundles of habits neatly done up in coat and trousers.
Take away our habits and the residuum would hardly be worth bothering about. We could not get on without them. They simplify the mechanism of life. They enable us to do a multitude of things automatically which, if we had to give fresh and original thought to them each time, would make existence an impossible confusion. The more we can regularise our commonplace activities by habit, the smoother our path and the more leisure we command.
To take a simple case. I belong to a club, large but not so large as to necessitate attendants in the cloakroom. You hang up your own hat and coat and take them down when you want them. For a long time it was my practice to hang them anywhere where there was a vacant hook and to take no note of the place. When I sought them I found it absurdly difficult to find them in the midst of so many similar hats and coats. I would always hang my coat and hat on a certain peg, or if that were occupied, on the vacant peg nearest to it.
It needed a few days to form the habit, but once formed it worked like a charm. I can find my hat and coat without thinking about finding them.
I go to them as unerringly as a bird to its nest, or an arrow to its mark. It is one of the unequivocal triumphs of my life. But habits should be a stick that we use, not a crutch to lean on. We ought to make them for our convenience or enjoyment and occasionally break them to assert our independence. We ought to be able to employ them, without being discomposed when we cannot employ them. I once saw Mr Balfour so discomposed, like Scott's school rival, by a trivial breach of habit. It is his custom in speaking to hold the lapels of his coat.
It is the most comfortable habit in speaking, unless you want to fling your arms about in a rhetorical fashion. It keeps your hands out of mischief and the body in repose.
But the uniform Mr Balfour was wearing had no lapels, and when the hands went up in search of them they wandered about pathetically like a couple of children who had lost their parents on Blackpool sands. They fingered the buttons in nervous distraction, clung to each other in a visible access of grief, broke asunder and resumed the search for the lost lapels, travelled behind his back, fumbled with the glasses on the table, sought again for the lapels, did everything but take refuge in the pockets of the trousers.
It was a characteristic omission. Mr Balfour is too practised a speaker to come to disaster as the boy in Scott's story did; but his discomfiture was apparent. He struggled manfully through his speech, but all the time it was obvious that he was at a loss what to do with his hands, having no lapels on which to hang them. I happily had a remedy for my disquietude. I put up my pen, took out a pencil, and, launched once more into the comfortable rut of habit, ticked away peacefully like the eight-day clock.
And this is the I hope pardonable result. He is no saint, but he is being abused beyond his deserts. He has been unusually prolific this summer, and agitated correspondents have been busy writing to the newspapers to explain how you may fight him and how by holding your breath you may miraculously prevent him stinging you. Now the point about the wasp is that he doesn't want to sting you.
He is, in spite of his military uniform and his formidable weapon, not a bad fellow, and if you leave him alone he will leave you alone. He is a nuisance of course. He likes jam and honey; but then I am bound to confess that I like jam and honey too, and I daresay those correspondents who denounce him so bitterly like jam and honey.
We shouldn't like to be sent to the scaffold because we like jam and honey. But let him have a reasonable helping from the pot or the plate, and he is as civil as anybody. He has his moral delinquencies no doubt. He is an habitual drunkard. He reels away, in a ludicrously helpless condition from a debauch of honey and he shares man's weakness for beer.
I suspect that his favourite author is Mr Belloc—not because he writes so wisely about the war, nor so waspishly about Puritans, but because he writes so boisterously about beer. This weakness for beer is one of the causes of his undoing. An empty beer bottle will attract him in hosts, and once inside he never gets out.
He is indeed the easiest creature to deal with that flies on wings. He is excessively stupid and unsuspicious. A fly will trust nobody and nothing, and has a vision that takes in the whole circumference of things; but a wasp will walk into any trap, like the country bumpkin that he is, and will never have the sense to walk out the way he went in. And on your plate he simply waits for you to squeeze his thorax. You can descend on him as leisurely as you like. He seems to have no sight for anything above him, and no sense of looking upward.
His intelligence, in spite of the mathematical genius with which he fashions his cells, is contemptible, and Fabre, who kept a colony under glass, tells us that he cannot associate entrance and exit. If his familiar exit is cut off, it does not occur to him that he can go out by the way he always comes in. A very stupid fellow. If you compare his morals with those of the honey bee, of course, he cuts a poor figure. The bee never goes on the spree.
It avoids beer like poison, and keeps decorously outside the house. It doesn't waste its time in riotous living, but goes on ceaselessly working day and night during its six brief weeks of life, laying up honey for the winter and for future generations to enjoy. But the rascally fellow in the yellow stripes just lives for the hour. No thought of the morrow for him, thank you. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, he says, for to-morrow——.
He runs through his little fortune of life at top speed, has a roaring time in August, and has vanished from the scene by late September, leaving only the queen behind in some snug retreat to raise a new family of 20, or so next summer. But I repeat that he is inoffensive if you let him alone. Of course, if you hit him he will hit back, and if you attack his nest he will defend it. But he will not go for you unprovoked as a bee sometimes will.
Yet he could afford this luxury of unprovoked warfare much better than the bee, for, unlike the bee, he does not die when he stings. I feel competent to speak of the relative dispositions of wasps and bees, for I've been living in the midst of them.
There are fifteen hives in the orchard, with an estimated population of a quarter of a million bees and tens of thousands of wasps about the cottage. I find that I am never deliberately attacked by a wasp, but when a bee begins circling around me I flee for shelter.
There's nothing else to do. For, unlike the wasp, the bee's hatred is personal. It dislikes you as an individual for some obscure reason, and is always ready to die for the satisfaction of its anger.
And it dies very profusely. The expert, who has been taking sections from the hives, showed me her hat just now. It had nineteen stings in it, planted in as neatly as thorns in a bicycle tyre. It is not only in his liking for beer that the wasp resembles man. Like him, too, he is an omnivorous eater. Calmness only returns when Gardiner develops a routine or habit. Picking the same peg or the nearest peg to it all the time.
This may be significant as Gardiner may be suggesting that there are benefits to having a routine or habit. However it is worth nothing that Gardiner believes that habits should be occasionally broken. In order for one to remain independent of their routine and not let their habits control them. Which can very easily be the case for an individual who does not keep their eye on their practices.
Not only will an individual become dependent on a routine but they may also be limiting the freedom that they have. Forever under obligation to habits and the possibility of negativity that can come with forming habits. In reality an individual who does not occasionally break their habits or become independent of them.
Leaves themselves open to a restless and unfulfilling life. Habits are fine when they are controlled but become cumbersome or a burden when not kept in check. A person who does not continuously monitor their habits may isolate those around them and cause problems for themselves in their life.
It is time for the individual to change their pattern and to reflect on their life. Ensuring that things will continue to run smoothly. It is for this reason that Gardiner suggests that an individual should not let habits control them. Instead the individual should be in charge of their lives regardless of their routines or patterns. By remaining in control the individual will ensure not only that they remain in control of their lives but they will be happier knowing that they have a sense of balance in their lives.
They will be more productive and if anything along with being in control and happier they will also be able to handle situations that are outside their control because they are not allowing their habits to be their one and only routine in life. An individual needs to adjust to their circumstances and not adhere to habits all the time. An individual needs to have the ability to change. Allowing them to adjust calmly and without complaint.He loves butcher's meat, raw or cooked, and I like to see the workman-like way in which he saws off his little joint, usually fat, and sails away with it for home. So he began enumerating the sounds that came up from the valley and the plain on the wings of the west wind. But they will carry with them a secret music. Only satisfying himself when he is able to resort to his normal practice of using a pencil.
But I repeat that he is inoffensive if you let him alone. The art of defence is attack.
The Sitting Bee, 19 Nov. It needed a few days to form the habit, but once formed it worked like a charm. It has at least one virtue. For, unlike the wasp, the bee's hatred is personal. And it dies very profusely. That, said he, is plain to the meanest understanding.