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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Time Wasted

By Seneca (c. 4 B.C.–65 A.D.)

Paraphrased from Seneca by Sir Roger L’Estrange

IN the distribution of human life, we find that a great part of it passes away in evil-doing, a greater yet in doing just nothing at all, and in effect, the whole in doing things beside our business. Some hours we bestow upon ceremony and servile attendance, some upon our pleasures, and the remainder runs to waste. What a deal of time is it that we spend in hopes and fears, love and revenge; in balls, treats, making of interests, suing for offices, soliciting of causes, and slavish flatteries! The shortness of life, I know, is the common complaint both of fools and philosophers,—as if the time we have were not sufficient for our duties. But it is with our lives as with our estates—a good husband makes a little go a great way; whereas, let the revenue of a prince fall into the hand of a prodigal, it is gone in a moment. So that the time allotted us, if it were well employed, were abundantly enough to answer all the ends and purposes of mankind; but we squander it away in avarice, drink, sleep, luxury, ambition, fawning addresses, envy, rambling voyages, impertinent studies, change of councils, and the like: and when our portion is spent we find the want of it, though we give no heed to it in the passage; insomuch that we have rather made our life short than found it so. You shall have some people perpetually playing with their fingers, whistling, humming, and talking to themselves; and others consume their days in the composing, hearing, or reciting of songs and lampoons. How many precious mornings do we spend in consultation with barbers, tailors, and tire-women, patching and painting betwixt the comb and the glass? A council must be called upon every hair we cut, and one curl amiss is as much as a body’s life is worth. The truth is, we are more solicitous about our dress than our manners, and about the order of our periwigs than that of the government. At this rate let us but discount, out of a life of a hundred years, that time which has been spent upon popular negotiations, frivolous amours, domestic brawls, saunterings up and down to no purpose, diseases that we have brought upon ourselves,—and this large extent of life will not amount, perhaps, to the minority of another man. It is a long being, but perchance a short life. And what is the reason of all this? We live as if we should never die, and without any thought of human frailty; when yet the very moment we bestow upon this man or thing may peradventure be our last.