Spare Moments

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856


Knowledge is power! And this power every young man who makes a good use of his spare moments may obtain. These spare moments accumulate into hours every day, and the further aggregate makes days and weeks in each year days and weeks which might be devoted to an earnest and successful improvement of the mind. We introduce with these few words, the following sketch:

A lean, awkward boy came one morning to the door of the principal of a celebrated school, and asked to see him. The servant eyed his poor clothes, and thinking he looked more like a beggar than anything else, told him to go around to the kitchen. The boy did as he was bidden, and soon appeared at the back door.

"I would like to see Mr. Webster," said he.

"You want a breakfast, more like it," said the servant girl, "and I can give you that without troubling him."

"Thank you," said the boy, "I would have no objections to a bit of bread, but I should like to see Mr. Webster, if he can see me."

"Some old clothes, may perhaps you want," remarked the servant, again eyeing the boy patched trousers. "He has none to spare, he gives away so many," and without minding the boy's request, she went away about her work.

"Can I see Mr. Webster?" again asked the boy, after finishing his bread and butter.

"Well, he's in the library; if he must be disturbed, he must; but he does like to be alone sometimes," said the girl in a peevish tone. She seemed to think it very foolish to admit such an ill-looking fellow into her master's presence; however, she wiped her hands, and bade him to follow. Opening the library door, she said,

"Here's somebody, sir, who is dreadful anxious to see you, and so I let him in."

I don't know how the boy introduced himself, or how he opened his business, but I know that after talking awhile, the principal put aside the volume which he was studying, and took up some Greek books and began to examine the newcomer. The examination lasted some time. Every question which the principal asked, the boy answered as readily as could be.

"Upon my word," exclaimed the principal, "you certainly do well!" looking at the boy from head to foot over his spectacles. "Why, my boy, where did you pick up so much learning?"

"In my spare moments," answered the boy.

In that answer, how much was included! Few become either learned or eminent, who do not make a profitable use of their spare moments. For, if these spare moments are wasted in self-indulgence, they enervate the mind, rendering it less efficient in its tasks when duty requires it to act. It is generally believed that the mind gains strength, after severe labor, by seasons of entire inactivity. There is, we think, an error in this. More real strength, we are sure, will be acquired by the employment of other faculties, while those needing repose are permitted to rest.