Habits: Comparing Franklin and Lewis

One of my fascinations, and an inspiration for starting this project, is the daily routine of other people. It’s interesting to see how others lay out their day, what they prioritise, how much time they leave for certain activities. Two of the most popular are the daily routines of Benjamin Franklin and C.S. Lewis, both of which I read about some time ago, and both of which stuck with me. I thought it would be a good idea, as I think about my own daily routine, to consider why both of theirs seem to have struck a chord.

First, Franklin. His daily routine has been discussed by a number of bloggers, and his ‘moral perfection’ plan inspired Gretchen Rubin in her Happiness Project, which is also one of my inspirations. Here is the ideal day he lays out for himself:

From Autobiography, 1791

From Autobiography, 1791

What do we have? Three hours for getting up, breakfasting and preparing for the day; eight hours of work in total; two hours for dinner; four hours for supper, entertainment and relaxation, and reflection; seven hours sleep.

Meanwhile, C.S. Lewis describes his ‘ideal’ daily routine based on the time he spent at a place called Bookham:

I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better…  At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road…  The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude, as I took it as Bookham on those (happily numerous) occasions when Mrs. Kirkpatrick was out; the Knock himself disdained this meal. For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably… At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. (Surprised by Joy, 1955: extract found at Daily Routines.)

He gives us a little less specific detail than Franklin, but we can still see that we have four hours of work in the morning, and two in the evening, an hour each for breakfast and lunch, a two-hour walk in the afternoon, and four hours in the evening for supper and entertainment. He goes to bed a little later than Franklin did, but also rises later – he doesn’t tell us exactly when, but my guess would be not before seven if he has breakfast at eight, making eight hours of sleep.

It’s interesting to see how they compare. Franklin has two extra hours of work, and also ‘looks over accounts’ during his lunch hour, while Lewis has lighter reading after he returns from his walk for an hour before he settles to work again at five. Both have four hours in the evening to enjoy a meal and relaxation, but Franklin adds a longer period of reflection in the morning, while Lewis suggests that the time for solitary reflection is during his afternoon walk.

It’s striking how balanced both these days seem to be. In each twenty-four hour period, there is a healthy dose each of work, rest and fun – exactly what we might consider a balanced life to be. When I read something like this and compare it to my own current daily routine, I rather despair of myself.

But hang on. Review both Lewis and Franklin again and think about what is missing. There is no mention of housework, cooking, running errands, preparing meals, tidying up, speaking to family or friends, nor the myriad of other tasks that can consume a significant chunk of my day. Let’s not forget, both Franklin and Lewis had staff – people who took on household chores so they didn’t have to.

Much as I would love to think that employing a housekeeper or two would be the solution to all my problems, it’s clearly not an option. But it puts a rather different perspective on these idealised days. How would their routines look if they lived the life that I live? It may not be realistic to strive for a day like theirs, because the list of things I have to fit into my day, and the balance of life in the modern world, has shifted. It’s worth keeping this in mind as I try to craft a new routine, one that brings balance to my life as it is now – not a life as it would have been fifty or two hundred years ago.



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