I recently stumbled across this interesting and thoughtful list constructed by the Reverend Sydney Smith, in early 1820.
To Lady Georgiana Morpeth
Dear Lady Georgiana,
Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done – so I feel for you.
1st Live as well as you dare.
2nd Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°.
3rd Amusing books.
4th Short views of human life – not further than dinner or tea.
5th Be as busy as you can.
6th See as much as you can of those friends who you respect and like you.
7th And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk to them freely – they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th Don’t expect too much from human life – a sorry business at the best.
12th Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.
13th Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.
16th Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th Keep good blazing fires.
19th Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.
Very truly yours,
It is, I think, a beautiful list. It says a lot about both the giver and the receiver, and despite being nearly 200 years old, there aren’t many of the suggestions that feel especially dated.
I also like the brevity of it. So I thought I might try something similar, but shorter, on a different theme.
Dear Secret Writer,
Please, do dare. There are stories only you can tell, and we would like to read them. Are you really going to leave all those fascinating ideas buried in a file on your hard-drive?
1st Visit a good play, and dare to dream.
2nd Write long letters to old friends.
3rd Join a writing group
4th Read everything – even cereal boxes, small-ads on the local notice-board and the fly-posters on lamp-posts and hoardings.
5th Sit in cafes, with a notebook and pen, and imagine what you would do next, if you were, indeed, a writer.
6th Read one new poem, every day, slowly.
7th Listen, really carefully, when other people are speaking, for at least a minute at the time.
8th Join a reading group.
9th Practice telling jokes.
10th Practice saying, ‘No, thank you. I’m not available for an hour on those days.’