I VENTURED to give you some advice respecting the employment of your time ; perhaps I ought to follow up that letter with a few remarks upon PUNCTUALITY. Unless you acquire the habit of punctuality, you will be apt, not only to lose your own time, but to make unjustifiable inroads upon the time of other persons.
Endeavour, therefore, to keep to your time in every appointment, whether the appointment be made by yourself or by others, (the college authorities for instance)) whether it be with a superior, an equal, or an inferior. Whether it be in a matter of business or in a matter of pleasure, try always to be true to it. Let this be your system and your habit. Some deviations from punctuality may now and then be unavoidable ; but do not let them occur unless they really are unavoidable in fairness and reason.
If you have yourself made an appointment, your word is, to a certain degree, pledged to your keeping to it. The case is in some measure the same, when, though the appointment is actually made by others, you have acceded to it.
Want of punctuality seems to proceed either from pride and superciliousness, or from some infirmity, some weakness of character. Most men try to be punctual in any appointment with a man of rank superior to themselves, especially if they have any object, any interest, in conciliating his favour. And, on the other hand, too many persons seem to feel themselves at liberty to be unpunctual in an appointment with an inferior. It is not worth while, they think, to care about being exact with one so much beneath them. ” Let him wait till I am at leisure to attend to him,” exclaims such a man, in the proud consciousness of superiority; and, perhaps, some trifle, or mere indolence, is all that he has to plead for his neglect.
You, my dear nephew, have, I trust, long since learned, that you have no right to treat any man, however low his rank may be, with disrespect, with any thing approaching to contempt. You well know, that both reason and religion require us to regard all men as our brothers, and that one of the golden rules of the latter is, in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself. Whatever a man’s rank in life may be, he has a right to punctuality as he has a right to truth; and you have no right, by your unpunctuality, to rob him either of his time or his patience.
Certainly you have no right to give him by such means the painful feeling that he is neglected, and neglected because he is despised. And thus, also, with men of your own age and your own rank in life ; in all the little engagements and appointments, whether of business or of pleasure, which occur in the common intercourse of society, endeavour still to maintain the habit of punctuality.
As every man wishes to have the character of being true to his word, so it will be to your credit to have the character of being true to your engagements, whether those engagements relate to great matters or to small.
But though want of punctuality is sometimes occasioned by pride, it must more frequently proceed from a certain degree of weakness of character, or from mere indolence. A man acknowledges punctuality to be right and desirable, but cannot muster up sufficient energy and resolution. He cannot prevail upon himself to quit his bed, or his easy chair, or his fireside, or the employment by which he chances to be occupied, till the time fixed on has passed away.
His friends are kept waiting ; those who have business to transact with him lose their temper ; they, again, are perhaps disappointing others, and all because he had not sufficient of character, sufficient command of himself, to be punctual.
You may remember seeing at my house my friend Mr. M. He was at Oxford a very good-humoured fellow, and every body liked him ; but he never could contrive to be in time for any thing. He got imposition upon imposition for being too late for chapel ; he came to dine in hall when other men were going away ; and his friends were almost afraid of making an appointment with him, either for business or for amusement, because they knew beforehand that he would not keep it. When, after leaving Oxford, he established himself as a country gentleman in his paternal mansion, the same habit still clung to him. No time was fixed for any thing, or if it was fixed, it was never kept. Neither his guests nor his servants knew at what hour either breakfast, or dinner, or any other domestic arrangement, would take place. Consequently, their time and their spirits were wasted in uncertainty. When engaged to dine at a neighbour’s, perhaps he would forget the engagement altogether ; or, if he chanced to remember it, would not arrive till the master of the feast had given him up in despair, after allowing possibly an extra half hour, during which, the solemn pause which sometimes takes place before dinner, had become more solemn, from the annoyance of seeing a whole party kept waiting by the unpunctuality of one person. The servants, meanwhile, were yawning and fidgetting backwards and forwards in the listlessness of expectation ; the cook perplexed with the sore dilemma of seeing all the productions of her skill, either chilled with cold from being kept back, or burnt to a cinder ; and the temper even of the lady of the house a little out of tune, from the certainty that the dinner would be spoiled. Of all these various vexations, the sole cause was to be found in Mr. M.’s want of energy. He could not bring himself, perhaps, either to shorten a pleasant ride, or to lay down a book which interested him, or to quit his own chair by the fireside, in order to dress. The convenience and comfort, and for a time the good humour, of a whole company, were to be sacrificed to his indolence, his vis inertia, and unpunctuality.
Never permit yourself, my dear nephew, thus to trifle with the time or the temper of any persons, whether high or low, with whom you have any intercourse. Make a point of always being in time. I think it is said of Lord Nelson (though I cannot hit upon the passage in his life), that when some friend was fixing an appointment of importance at a certain hour, the hero added, ” Say a quarter before — to that quarter before, I have owed all my success in life.” I do not advise you actually to be before the time of an engagement, which some people will complain of as being worse than being too late, but be so much beforehand as to be master of your time, or to have it in your power to be punctual almost to a minute. When you are received as a guest in a friend’s house, consider compliance with the hours and habits of the family, as a natural return for the hospitality which is shown to you.
There is something incongruous in seeing a young person deranging, by his unpunctuality, the economy and regularity of a whole household.
And do not suffer the kindness and indulgence of your parents to induce you, when with them, to be less attentive to punctuality than you are, when with other persons of superior age or rank to yourself. Never let them wait for you; make a point of being always ready. An excellent friend of mine lays it down as a maxim, that habitual unpunctuality is positive incivility.
I have alluded to the unpunctuality of one of my college friends : I will contrast it with the punctuality of another. The latter when at Oxford was distinguished for lively talents, and for an exuberance of spirits bursting forth into every possible variety of fun. Fie is now the owner of a spacious and splendid mansion, with a large establishment of servants, and often a considerable number of guests, attracted by his many amiable and excellent qualities. He still retains his playfulness of wit, but his domestic arrangements are a model of punctuality. Family prayers, and every meal, are to a minute. His guests and servants, consequently, know exactly what they have to depend on, the arrangements of the day, whether for business or for amusement, can be made with precision, and every thing is done at its proper time. This is punctuality on a greater scale. You and I, my dear nephew, must attend to it in smaller matters.
My dear Nephew,
Your affectionate Uncle.