FLOTSAM & JETSAM: From our overstocked archives: The start of this pub

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

From our overstocked archives: The start of this pub

Before the Progressive Review and Undernews was the DC Gazette and before that a magazine called The Idler. Here's why I chose that name

Sam Smith, 1964 -  While looking around for a good title for this magazine, I happened to run across some of the writings of old Sam Johnson. Sam Johnson wrote a series of essays from I753 to 1760 in a paper called The Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette. The pieces appeared as The Idler.

The name seemed to fit as comfortably as a pair of sneakers after a good summer’s use. In his first essay, Johnson described The Idler: “The Idler, who habituates himself to be satisfied with what he can most easily obtain, not only escapes labours that are often fruitless, but sometimes succeeds better than those who despise all that is within their reach, and think everything more valuable as it is harder to be acquired… The Idler, tho’ sluggish is yet alive, arid may descend into profoundness, or tower into sublimity; for the diligence of an Idler is rapid and impetuous, as ponderous bodies forced into velocity move with violence proportionate to their weight.”

Sitting on a New England wharf some months back, watching the water lazily lap at the pilings below, I could not help but feel a certain kinship with The Idler, for I felt sluggish and yet alive, content with what I could most easily attain: a fresh breeze on that portion of my body facing to the northwest, a view of the harbor, and the right to conduct uninterrupted inspections of every tree, crab pot, rock, and seagull within sight. We too often are led to believe that the only true contentment is that which man constructs artificially. We ignore the satisfactions of nature, of good conversation and good friends, because they are too easy to obtain.

They can’t be worthy goals in life because we don’t have to suffer for them as we suffer to buy a new house, a new car, or to rise in the firm. We have been taught how to run but not where to find the finish line, and so we dash past it every day. There is real pain, real poverty, real unhappiness and real danger in life. These are our proper concern and The Idler, for all its apparent slothfulness, will not ignore them. But surely man’s task is to eradicate these evils, not create his own varieties of them. The hunger and disease-ridden of the world caii not stand up and say, ”I am a free and happy man.” But if the well-fed, comfortable, American, living in the world’s most advanced civilization, can not say it either, then evolution has played a dirty trick on all of us.

Running around the track a few more laps will not help us make this declaration. We must stop, find out where we are, why we are, and who we are. We must, if you will, be idle for a bit. If you prefer to follow the current practice of action for action’s sake you will pass The Idler by many times. No matter, it does not bother The Idler that you run ahead of him. By pure sweat and determination, you will soon be right back where he’s been all along.