The first essay is entitled On being Idle and from the first sentences the narrator admits that idles has been his most defining characteristic. In his opinion, in order to fully experiment the pleasures of idleness, a man must be always busy. If he is always busy, then the moments of idleness will be sweeter.
The narrator then recalls a moment in his childhood when he had fallen ill. The doctor who came to consult him advised him to rest for a whole month and upon hearing this, the narrator began to think about all the wonderful days he will have doing nothing. He soon became miserable until one day when he left the house and went to a nearby town where he walked around all day and even helped an old man break stones just to have something to do. Because of this, he reached the conclusion that it is best to idle when you have something to do.
The pipe becomes the narrator’s favorite way of idling because the pipe makes it look not so bad. The narrator ends his first essay by revealing his dream that one day, it will be acceptable to lie in bed till noon, read two novels in a day and do nothing else.
The second essay is called On being in love. The narrator expresses his thoughts on how man seem to fall in love only once in their lifetime and they never experience true love again after that. He compares love with a fire that warms those gathered around it.
The narrator then mentions two people, Edwin and Angelina who from the narrator’s point of view, expect too much from love. He warns them that soon, they will see how their partner slowly changes and stops doing the things that they once did for his or her partner. The reason why their love will die is, in the narrator’s opinion, the ideal image both have on love, image created by fiction and untrue tales.
The writer advises women to be fair both in appearance and soul and makes the men remember the time when they would for anything to please the subject of their affections. He then ends his essay by lamenting about the old days and pitying the state of those whose purpose in life is to acquire money and who only care about themselves.
The third part is entitled On being in the blues and it focuses on the emotions the narrator feels during periods of sadness. He confesses that thinking about more tragic things, like the prospect of his own death for example, helps him become more positive. After thinking for a while like this, a person becomes even angrier at everyone and if he is alone, he will spend the rest of his day locked up inside a dark room and is he has a family, he will start to push his family around.
The writer notes how this time of melancholy seems to come only in the evening, when the world is full of life. He also considers that these types of feelings are only suitable for men, as women were made to feel. The writer ends his essay by linking that type of solemn sadness with peace and the feeling of being close to God.
The next essay is entitled On being hard up or about not having enough of something of value and the reason why the writer chose this subject was because he could not think of anything else. He remembers the times when he had little money and had to get by with what he had. He considers that this is a good training for those who have family money and that learning how to live with little money will help them value money more. There is nothing funny in being poor and in the writer’s opinion, if a man is sensitive, he will suffer more because of his financial condition. His suffering will be a result of the way he is perceived by his peers and by society. The poor man will eventually get used to his condition and will starts to pawn his valuables to survive and in the end he will start stealing to make sure that he has enough money to buy food. The writer tells those who never experienced hardship to be grateful for the life they had and tells them not to look down on those who have a hard life.
He ends his essay by telling the readers that he is in need of some money and that if someone wants to help him, to send some money to Messrs. Field & Tuer and he promise to return the money in a week.
The fifth essay talks about vanity and it opens with a little story about the narrator’s niece who one day asked him if he was pleased with her. His negative answer made her angry and she threatened to tell what he said to her mother. What the narrator said to her became a frequent argument she brought up whenever she wanted to receive something.
The idea that every man is the center of the universe appears in this essay. Based on this idea, everyone believes that those around them were born for the sole purpose of serving them and meeting their every request.
Humans can easily be won over if they are flattered. The reason why someone wishes to have a bigger house of prettier clothes is not because he or she needs them, but because he wants to satisfy his or her need to be vain.
The essay ends with the idea that we should all be vain for the right reasons and to find pride in doing good deeds and help those around us.
The sixth essay deals with the desire every human has to get on in life. The writer imagines a universal race run by every person where everyone looks out for himself. But the truth is that even if a man imagines himself running alone, his actions will mold the universe and those around him. He urges everyone to hope that they will end up getting great things in life and always to be overachievers. For him, it is boring to be content and so he urges his readers to remember that many participate, but only a few win the race.
The seventh essay is about the weather and the reason why he started to write about the weather was because when he asked someone to help him find an original subject, that person suggested the weather. Even though the subject was idiotic, Jerome still wrote about it.
He compares the weather with the government saying that society will never be satisfied with neither of them. The weather always seems to be harsher in cities that it is in the rural area and the writer thinks with sadness about all the clothes ruined by the persistent rain and the mud that came with it. The writer detests the most the April weather because of its instability.
The essay ends with the sad Remarque than in the cities, spring never fully comes and when it does, it seems almost out of place.
The next essay is about the narrator’s cat and dog, Tittums and Gustavus. The dog is always wreaking havoc inside the house and that happened as well in the morning described in the essay. The tiny cat Tittums appears and the writer takes the cat with him. Then another dog appears, named Tim and starts to fight with the little cat.
The essay then becomes more philosophical as the narrator confesses that despite the mess they create, he likes dogs and cats very much. Those animals will always listen to you, be there for you and never judge you. They are not as smart as humans but they are more loyal than them.
Rats are the animals that make the narrator uncomfortable yet he is attracted by them and reads about them mainly because they are always liked with death and suffering. He then mentions the story of the piper and how he always found it interesting.
He criticizes those who give too much attention to their pets and those who let themselves be controlled by their pets.
The ninth essay talks about shyness and from the beginning the writer presents it as being the most painful curse a man can have on him because it will enable other people to isolate him. His shyness affects those around him as well because he makes other people feel uncomfortable and this is considered as being his revenge. Shyness is compared with a disease from which a person dies if he is unable to find a cure for it.
The narrator assures the shy men that there is a cure for shyness and that he stands proof that shy people can overcome their emotions and act normal in a social situation.
The narrator points out that being shy have its advantages as well. For example, a shy man will always be considered as being a good person, incapable of doing harm to anyone and he can use this to slowly make himself be liked by those around him. On the other hand, those who are not shy are more prone to temptations and sin because of their nature.
Despite this, a shy person will always be made fun of, by strangers and acquaintances behind his back and by close friends and relatives in a more direct manner.
Women are never shy and the reason behind this is that it goes against their nature. Their main purpose in life is to find a suitable man and in order to do this, they have to lay aside the inhibitions they might have when conversation with a person from the opposite sex.
The next essay is about babies and the writer begins by writing about the way babies are dressed and how the clothes they wear are always too big for them. Another subject discussed is the gender of the babies and how the family gets offended if someone mistakes the gender of their child. In order to solve this problem, the narrator proposes that from that point to simply call all the babies ‘’it’’ in order to avoid offending the parents. He also suggests calling the infants angel and beauties in order to impress the parents and to never make remarks at how the babies looks.
The narrator agrees that a house without children is a sad house and despite all the destruction they sometimes cause, they are the most innocent creatures on earth and everyone should love them.
The eleventh essay is about drinking and eating and the writers remember that he was an avid eater since he was a child. He admits that he is always more sentimental after eating and that a story affects him more in the evening after a good meal than in the morning. In his opinion, hunger is a luxury that makes men appreciate food more. In order to support his idea, he tells the reader a story about the time he was a child and his landlady offered to cook him a duck. In that day, he ate at breakfast but refused to eat anything else because he was always thinking about that duck. When he got home however, he found the duck to be hard to eat because the old bird’s meet was like rubber.
He then talks about drinking and how the rich seem to indulge in this practice. On the other hand, the poor will never have the chance of tasting fine drinks because some of them will be born only to die in their infancy.
The essay ends on a happy note, the narrator wishing that all his readers to be happy and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The next essay is about furniture and the writer expresses his love for old furniture because it makes a house seem more homely and with more character. Old furniture becomes after a while part of the family and receives a charm that new things don’t have.
The narrator then recalls a story with a landlady who wanted to rent a room to a young man. He notes how the landlady’s always seem to exaggerate the price they used to receive for one room as to make the potential inhabitant feel ashamed for the apparent much cheaper rent. The attic is reserved for the ‘’rich’’ and in order to sustain his idea, the writer gives examples of well-known writers who lived and died in attics. He confesses that he likes attics but would not like to live in one because it would mean that he would have to make an extra afford going up and down the stairs. Despite this, the narrator used to live in an attic at one point in his life with a friend and even though it was unpleasant, he enjoyed his time spent there.
The essay ends with the observation that life is the same, not matter if a person lives in a small attic or if he lives in a big house.
The next essay deals with the way a person should behave in a social situation and with the way a person should dress. He tells the reader that since he was a young he liked to dress in his finest clothes when he was depressed because that seemed to help him feel better. Clothes also can help a young man when he courts someone because having the right clothes is half the battle. Clothes also affect the way we look at ourselves.
Women in particular like to dress in fine clothes and try to look always good but unfortunately, more often than not, their clothes don’t fit and are either to large or too small.
The last essay is entitled On Memory and he begins his essay by remembering the first poem he learned. Memory is not always reliable and much of the things we would like to remember are forgotten. Men will always want to return back in time but that is impossible so we must try to enjoy the life we have.
The collection of essays ends with the author’s realization that he had grown into himself and that he changed at a rapid pace.