11 DECEMBER 1909, Page 8


AZINESS is certainly not the vice of to-day. Even the idle are active, and let off their energies in odd jobs. Occasionally these are found for them by Satan, but more often by that angel of good nature who attends continually upon the underviorked comfortable. There are in the world certain able people who are sometimes counted with the "odd jobbers," but who ought perhaps to come under some other category. Owing to some temperamental peculiarity, they cannot do their best unless their work is varied. Sometimes they have a dash of quixotry in their natures. There is a delightful ill-judged goodness about them, a goodness with which such a profitable quality as sustained industry seems incompatible. They have many irons in the fire, and they hammer upon each in turn with hopeful and fervent activity, but of long concentration they are incapable. As a rule they are without the capacity to make money, and without the desire to do so. If they are born with enough to live on, they are often delightful characters, free of the self-interest which it is so difficult to divorce from ambition, and of the frirolity which idleness fosters. But suppose they belong to the working classes ? The thought of them brings us face to face with one of the most difficult and dis- couraging of modern problems, the question of the effect of poverty and wealth upon the moral nature. Born in the upper classes, such men belong to the best; born below a certain level, and they sink almost inevitably to the bottom, involving their families in their ruin. The present writer was talking lately of these energetic haters of monotony to an educated woman living among the poor of Southwark. The . only hope for such men lies, she said, in a trade which offers constant change and entertainment, such as costermongering. Even here, if they cannot stand some monotony, they cannot keeps their heads above water. The coster who sells one thing always, and is always to be found in the same place or on the same beat, is usually a very respectable man. If he sells two or three things, according to the season, he may still do well. But if he sells what he calls "everything," and that all over the place, there is no hope for him; he must become a tramp.

But to return to the idle men and women who delight in odd jobs. The best of them are attracted by philanthropy in the technical sense—i.e., by benevolence towards the poor— and very often they put through a really good piece of work, if only it is short. "Odd jobbers" come fresh and full of the high spirits which hard work inevitably breaks to whatever job they undertake, and very often they come with some very useful illusions. The first of these is that all persons suffering from signal misfortunes, especially if those misfortunes are connected with oppression, are good, or at least lovable. This is one of those noble illusions which the regular worker loses with the greatest pang, but it is one which while it lasts gives a wonderful zest to the righter of wrongs. It is true that it sometimes leads to injustice, but it is an injustice which falls as a rule upon two very broad backs,—that of the oppressor, who does not care, and that of the hard-working philanthropist, who is used to it.

With those spasmodically energetic persons who look for odd jobs chiefly within their own circle match-making is a great favourite. The desire to " match-make " is natural to most women, and probably on the whole it is beneficial to society. Generally it is undertaken with mixed motives. Without cynicism, we believe that the most prevalent motive is simply a wish for entertainment. A match in making, if only one can watch it from close by, is the most interesting of all comedies. According to the match-maker's character, she enjoys the sight of happiness or the unfold- ing of plot and intrigue. The spectacle renews her youth. It is a piece of work which may have great results, may be productive of a good deal of gratitude, and at least can never be undone. The riile of Providence is intensely attractive. We doubt whether there is any woman who does not hope to play it and shine in it before her death. Not that men never give their attention to match- making, but we think their point of view is somewhat different. They are actuated as a rule by a great desire to serve or please one of the parties concerned, not by the delight of the drama. They desire the end, they do not want to see the working. Match-making on the part of a mother is not, of course, an odd job. It is, or she thinks it to be, part of her regular work,—the finishing touch to the happiness of her child, which has been her duty since its birth.

Prominent among those who love odd jobs are hardy persons, who mix themselves up in quarrels with a view to effecting reconciliations. Sometimes they are actuated by a noble desire for peace, mitigated, no doubt, by a wish to be in the thick of any interesting situation. Sometimes also they do good—when the quarrel is not a family affair. From such a quarrel friends, acquaintances, and even " in-law " relations had better stand aside, not so much lest the fate of the rash person who interposes befall them, but lest they make the breach worse. No physician from the outside can judge of the seriousness of wounds given in a family fight. Wounds which seem fatal to affection heal at once, and scratches fester and cannot be mollified. The affection which is the natural and usual outcome of relationship may be counted on with too much certainty; but the members of one family, though they may not like, do in a marvellous way under- stand one another. It is true that sympathy is the great enlightener, but it is not the only one. Blood gives a comprehension which common interests, and even great affection, often fail to impart. Not every quarrel is a misunderstanding. It is possible for two persons to know one another so well as to make each sure that his aversion is unconquerable. There are people whose only chance of mutual forgiveness lies in their not meeting ; to bring them together in person is a sure method of parting them for ever in soul. They can act justly, even generously, if they do not see one another. The man or woman bent upon a job of reconciliation never realises this.

A few people who are not positively bad are born with a horrible desire to punish. The love of justice is tainted in their hearts. Like a vicious horse, they do best in steady work. Laziness is not in them, and if they are free of the necessity of earning their bread they let off nefarious steam in odd jobs. No one believes himself to be malevolent, or even revengeful; and these intrinsically unkind people hide from their consciences behind a screen upon which they write the words "public spiritedness." They never have so good an appetite, nor feel so happy or so much alive, as when they are holding up to public ignominy some unhappy clerk or public servant, or even shopman, who has done them some trifling wrong. With them there is no forgiveness for a rough word, a mistake, a moment's unpunctuality, or the slightest derelic- tion of duty. The offender is hunted to justice, and the accuser loves the sport. It is big game, this destruction of prospects and reputations, and it is dangerous, for the victims, how- ever humble, live to hate. Probably these malevolent "odd jobbers" are not quite so bad as they seem. The worst of all " odd jobbing" is that it destroys the power of mental focus. Regular work as a rule enables a man to measure the im- portance of his own undertakings. Without it the power to weigh our own wrongs and other men's rights in a just balance is rare. The perpetual refastening of the attention upon new work destroys the sense of proportion.