Tuesday, December 15, 2009

About Loafers

The loafer bears the same relation to the genuine man that the shadow does to the substance, and thus there are loafers of all grades and hovering about the borders of all avocations. There is the Celtic loafer at the sunny street corner, loitering [stolidly] at his own expense, or that of Biddy, but quite willing to loiter at the expense of any one else who shall be so misguided at to hire him. There is the military loafer, who remains in camp till there is some prospect of active service, and then suddenly falls ill or discovers that he is too young or too old, or otherwise unfit for military duty. There is the loafer of the rural districts, who likes to drive team and trade cattle and go to mill, and is sure to be present at all the town meetings and auction sales, bidding for goods which he cannot buy and voting heavy taxes on property which he never owns. Then there are loafers in the dry-goods line, on each side of the counter, with no positive wish either to buy or sell, but with only a languid desire to kill time and be impertinent to each other, or a desire that usually attains fulfillment. There are literary loafers that haunt libraries and newspaper offices, turning over books and papers and asking questions of the man that is busiest; for all though nature is said to abhor a vacuum, the nature of the loafer delights in it, and to block the wheels of business and obliterate the traces of thought is his especial pleasure.

One of the mission schools in New York is infested by the “religious loafer,” who calls because he has nothing to do, and can have a chair, morning paper, warm office, write a letter, “borrow” a stamp and perhaps get an invitation to dinner. The same individual sometimes appears as a supernumerary delegate at conventions, or a colporteur of tracts and Bibles where the good books lie in the parlor and are vended across the way. It was one of this class who once advertised for board in some family where in some family where his Christian deportment would be accepted as an equivalent for the demolished beef and bannocks. If he is a clergyman he extemporizes on the pulpit, droning forth any quantity of religious platitudes to the drowsy cares below. If he is a layman, he happens in to talk about the deplorable lethargy of the church, a lethargy for which he is to a certain extent responsible, since on one can look at him without feeling disposed to yawn; or he interrupts all the avocations of time by talking cheerily of eternity, forgetting there is no devise in the grave, we are to do with our might whatsoever our hands find to do. The loafer, whatever may be his especial department, never willingly finds anything to do except to eat or drink and enjoy the good of other men’s labor. He has something of the reptile in his nature, for he is torpid and fond of basking in the sun, can live a long time without food, and thrives upon the general disgust. His chief and social utility is to point the contrast between idleness and labor, and to consume the bad tobacco and worse whisky that might weaken the energies of the more effective men.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, April 26, 1862, p. 3

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