Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931) was a popular English writer of theatre, journalism, propaganda and films. He was a gentleman from modest roots who focused on making it big in London. He taught himself about art and music and literature and became a literary superstar through talent and hard work; not connections or birth. Bennett died in spring of 1931 from typhoid at his home on Baker Street in London, in March 1931, after returning from a visit to Paris where, in defiance of a waiter’s advice, he had drunk tap water in a café. His death is believed to have been one of the last occasions when the practice of spreading straw in the street to dull the sound of traffic outside the home of a dying person was carried out in London.
Bennett wrote in many genres: novels, plays, film adaptations of his fiction, magazine pieces and self-help books. My favorite in How To Live On 24 Hours A Day (1910), where he offers droll, practical advice on how one might live (as opposed to just existing) within the confines of 24 hours a day. In it, Bennett recommends that you set aside 90 minutes each day dedicated to bettering yourself through reading. Bennett:
Those 90 minutes can be claimed in the evening, in the morning, on the train to and from work, or other time that isn’t put to good use. He recommends evenings for most people, but it depends on your schedule.
Use that 90 minutes to improve yourself. Over the course of weeks and months, the knowledge gained in those chunks of time will add up to a significant amount.
Literature is not the only means of self-improvement. Other reading can be very beneficial, including learning more about your business, learning about the causes and effects of things, and learning about history and philosophy.
He also warns against:
…becoming a prig and insisting others follow the same improvement program. It is enough to worry about your own improvement.
Becoming a slave to your program. You should be flexible enough to allow other things in your life. At the same time, it must be rigid enough to actually be called a program. Finding that balance between rigidity and flexibility isn’t easy.
Being rushed and constantly worrying about what one has to do next, which he said is like living in a prison. The evil springs not from persisting without elasticity in what one has attempted, but from originally attempting too much, from filling one’s program till it runs over. The only cure is to reconstitute the program, and to attempt less.
Failing at the beginning of the enterprise, may easily kill outright the newborn impulse towards a complete vitality, and therefore every precaution should be observed to avoid it. The impulse must not be over-taxed. Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be as regular as possible.