“Only an hour a day!” that does not seem much; it hardly seems worth mentioning.
But let us consider a little. An hour a day may mean more than we think. In a year it represents three hundred and sixty-five hours, and, allowing sixteen hours for a waking day, three hundred and sixty-five hours gives nearly twenty-three days,—waking days, too, which is worth taking note of, not days one third of which is spent in necessary sleep.
Now, time is a possession to be parted with for something else; indeed, it forms a large part of the capital with which we trade. We give it and labor, and in exchange get education, money, dexterity, and almost all other things of value. To be watchful of time, then, is wise economy. A person who had astonished many by his achievements was once asked how he had contrived to do so much.
“The year,” he replied, “has three hundred and sixty-five days, or eight thousand seven hundred and sixty hours. In so many hours great things may be done; the slow tortoise makes a long journey by losing no time.”
Just think what an hour’s reading daily would amount to in a year. You can read easily a page of an ordinary youth’s paper in twenty minutes, and at that rate could get through, in three hundred and sixty-five hours, no fewer than one thousand and ninety-five pages. And suppose the matter were printed in small pages, of, say, three hundred words apiece, your daily reading for one hour would in a year cover something like twelve thousand pages.
As to the books in which the year’s reading is to be found, let every one take his choice, remembering that people are known by the company they keep, and that to lead a noble life one should associate as much as possible with the noble.
Instead of reading, suppose one took to writing: an hour a day would then produce quite as remarkable results. Even the short rule of “no day without a line,” has resulted in the production of volumes—we might say almost of libraries.
What results may, indeed, be arrived at by an hour’s daily industry in anything! “An hour in every day,” says a writer, “withdrawn from frivolous pursuits, would, if properly employed, enable a person of ordinary capacity to go far toward mastering a science. It would make an ignorant man a well-informed one in less than ten years.”
Of course, the hour’s work must not be done listlessly. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” It is an advantage, too, to work at intervals instead of a long period at a time. We come to the work fresher, and in better condition to do it justice. When working hours come together, the best work is usually done during the first hour; after that even the most energetic fall off.
In music, an hour’s practising every day will carry one far in a year. But remember that practising must be gone through with strict attention. An hour with strict attention is worth more than three hours with carelessness; and if a girl who wants to get on has only one hour to spare each day, she must be to herself a very exacting music master.
It is wise to spend an hour a day in exercise. In an hour one can, without making too great haste, walk three miles. At this rate, a year’s walking represents over a thousand miles. Relaxation is essential to keep up the spirit and prevent life from becoming monotonous, as if one were sentenced to perpetual treadmill. Recreation is necessary, and the pursuit of pleasure is sometimes a duty.
If we had but an hour a day to spare, what would be the best conceivable use to put it to?—The best use, perhaps, would be to sit down and think. Suppose we came every day to a full stop for an hour, and thought: “What am I doing? What is to be the end of all this busy life for me? How may I so act that when I go out of the world, it will be the better for my having been in it?” This thinking and planning would make us better characters altogether, would prepare us to face the future, ready for anything that might happen, and would fit us for coming duties. An hour a day spent thus would be a bright streak running through the year.
You say it is easy to talk about devoting an hour a day to anything, and easy to make a start, but very difficult to keep it up. True enough, but there is no end of wonders that can be wrought by the exercise of the human will.
“We all sorely complain,” says Seneca, “of the shortness of time. And yet we have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives are either spent in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as if there would be no end to them.”
An hour a day for a year squandered in idleness or in foolish pursuits means the sacrifice of all the advantages just mentioned. And any one who keeps up idleness or folly for a year, usually ends in having a lifetime of it.