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The Recreations of a Country Parson
Chapter IV. Concerning Work and Play


NOBODY likes to work. I should never work at all if I could help it I mean, when I say that nobody likes work, that nobody does so whose tastes and likings are in a natural and unsophisticated condition. Some men, by long training and by the force of various circumstances, do, I am aware, come to have an actual craving, a morbid appetite for work; but it is a morbid appetite, just as truly as that which impels a lady to eat chalk, or a child to prefer pickles to sugar-plums. Or if my reader quarrels with the word morbid’ and insists that a liking for brisk, hard work is a healthy taste and not a diseased one, I will give up that phrase, and substitute for it the less strong one, that a liking for work is an acquired fas/e, like that which leads you and me, my friend, to like bitter beer. Such a man, for instance, as Lord Campbell, has brought himself to that state that I have no doubt he actually enjoys the thought of the enormous quantity of work which he goes through; but when he does so, he does a thing as completely out of nature as is done by the Indian fakir, who feels a gloomy satisfaction as he reflects on the success with which he has laboured to weed out all but bitterness from life. I know quite well that we can bring ourselves to such a state of mind that we shall feel a sad sort of pleasure in thinking how much we are taking out of ourselves, and how much we are denying ourselves. What college man who ever worked himself to death but knows well the curious condition of mind % He begins to toil, induced by the love of knowledge, or by the desire of distinction; but after he has toiled on for some weeks or months, there gradually steals in such a feeling as that which I have been describing. I have felt it myself, and so know all about it. I do not believe that any student ever worked harder than I did. And I remember well the gloomy kind of satisfaction I used to feel, as all day, and much of the night, I bent over my books, in thinking how much I was foregoing. The sky never seemed so blue and so inviting as when I looked at it for a moment now and then, and so back to the weary page. And never did the green woodland walks picture themselves to my mind so freshly and delightfully as when I thought of them as of something which I was resolutely denying myself. I remember even now, when I went to bed at half-past four in the morning, having risen at half-past six the previous morning, and .having done nearly as much for months, how I was positively pleased to see in the glass the ghastly cheeks, and the deep black circles round the eyes. There is, I repeat, a certain pleasure in thinking one is working desperately hard, and taking a great deal out of one’s-self; but it is a pleasure which is unnatural, which is factitious, which is mor bid. It is not in the healthy, unsophisticated human animal. We know, of course, that Lord Chief-Justice Ellenborough said when he was about seventy, that the greatest pleasure that remained to him in life, was to hear a young barrister, named Follett, argue a point of law; but it was a highly artificial state of mind, the result of very long training, which enabled the eminent judge to enjoy the gratification which he described: and to ordinary men a legal argument, however ably conducted, would be sickeningly tiresome. If you want to know the natural feeling of humanity towards work, see what children think of it Is not the task always a disagreeable necessity, even to the very best boy 1 How I used to hate mine ! Of course, my friendly reader, if you knew who I am, I should talk of myself less freely; but as you do not know, and could not possibly guess, I may ostensibly do what every man tacitly does—make myself the standard of average human nature, the first meridian from which all distances and deflections are to be measured. Well, my feeling towards my school tasks was nothing short of hatred. And yet I was not a dunce. No, I was a clever boy. I was at the head of all my classes. Not more than once or twice have I competed at school or college for a prize which I did not get And I hated work all the while. Therefore I believe that all unsophisticated mortals hate it. I have seen silly parents trying to get their children to say that they liked school-time better than holiday-time; that they liked work better than play. I have seen, with joy, manly little fellows repudiating the odious and unnatural sentiment; and declaring manfully that they preferred cricket to Ovid. And if any boy ever tells you that he would rather learn his lessons than go out to the play-ground, beware of that boy. Either his health is drooping, and his mind becoming prematurely and unnaturally developed; or he is a little humbug. He is an impostor. He is seeking to obtain credit under false pretences. Depend upon it, unless it really be that he is a poor little spiritless man, deficient in nerve and muscle, and unhealthily precocious in intellect, he has in him the elements of a sneak ; and he wants nothing but time to ripen him into a pickpocket, a swindler, a horse-dealer, or a British Bank director.

Every one, then, naturally hates work, and loves its opposite, play. And let it be remarked that not idleness, but play, is the opposite of work. But some people are so happy, as to be able to idealise their work into play: or they have so great a liking for their work, that they do not feel their work as effort, and thus the element is eliminated which makes work \ pain. How I envy those human beings who have such enjoyment in their work that it ceases to be work at all 1 There is my friend Mr Tinto the painter; he is never so happy as when he is busy at his canvas, drawing forth from it forms of beauty: he is up at his work almost as soon as he has daylight for it; he paints all day, and he is sorry when the twilight compels him to stop. He delights in his work, and so his work becomes play. I suppose the kind of work which, in the case of ordinary men, never ceases to be work, never loses the conscious feeling of strain and effort, is that of composition. A great poet, possibly, may find much pleasure in writing, and there have been exceptional men who said they never were so happy as when they had the pen in their hand. Buffon, I think, tells us that once he wrote for fourteen hours at a stretch, and all that time was in a state of positive enjoyment; and Lord Macaulay, in the preface to his recently published Speeches, assures us that the writing of his History is the occupation and the happiness of his life. Well, I am glad to hear it Ordinary mortals cannot sympathise with the feeling. To them,, composition is simply hard w’ork, and hard work is pain. Of course, even commonplace men have occasionally had their moments of inspiration, when thoughts present themselves vividly, and clothe themselves in felicitous expressions, without much or any conscious effort But these seasons are short and far between; and although while they last, it becomes comparatively pleasant to write, it never becomes so pleasant as it would be to lay down the pen, to lean back in the easy-chair, to take up the Times or Fraser; and enjoy the luxury of being carried easily along that track of thought which cost its writer so much labour to pioneer through the trackless jungle of the world of mind. Ah, how easy it is to read what it was so difficult to write! There is all the difference between running down from London to Manchester by the railway after it has been made, and of making the railway from London to Manchester. You, my intelligent reader, who begin to read a chapter of Mr Froude’s eloquent History, and get on with it so fluently, are like the snug old gentleman, travelling-capped, railway-rugged, great-coated, and plaided, who leans back in the comer of the softly-cushioned carriage as it flits over Chat Moss; while the writer of the chapter is like George Stephenson, toiling month after month to make the track along which you speed, in the face of difficulties and discouragements which you never think of. And so I say, it may sometimes be somewhat easy and pleasant to write, but never so easy and pleasant as it is not to write. The odd thing, too, about the work of the pen is this: that it is often done best by the men who like it least and shrink from it most, and that it is often the most laborious writing along which the reader’s mind glides most easily and pleasurably. It is not so in other matters. As the general rule, no man does well the work which he dislikes. No man will be a good preacher who dislikes preaching. No man will be a good anatomist who hates dissecting. Sir Charles Napier, it must be confessed, was a great soldier, though he hated fighting; and as for writing, some men have been the best writers who hated writing, and who would never have penned a line but under the pressure of necessity. There is John Foster; what a great writer he was: and yet his biography tells us, in his own words too, scores of times, how he shrunk away from the intense mental effort of composition; how he abhorred it and dreaded it, though he did it so admirably well. There is Coleridge: how that great mind ran to waste, because Coleridge shrank from the painful labour of formal composition: and so Christabel must remain unfinished: and so, instead of volumes of hoarded wisdom and wit, we have but the fading remembrances of hours of marvellous talk. I do not by any means intend to assert that there are not worse things than work, even than very hard work; but I say that work, as work, is a bad thing. It may once have been otherwise, but the curse is in it now. We do it because we must: it is our duty : we live by it; it is the Creator’s intention that we should ; it makes us enjoy leisure and recreation and rest; it stands between us and the pure misery of idleness; it is dignified and honourable; it is the soil and the atmosphere in which grow cheerfulness, hopefulness, health of body and mind. But still, if we could get all these good ends without it, we should be glad.

We do not care for exertion for its own sake. Even Mr Kingsley does not love the north-east wind for itself, but because of the good things that come with it and from it. Work is not an end in itself. “The end of work,” said Aristotle, “is to enjoy leisure;” or, as The Minst7'el hath it, “the end and the reward of toil is rest.” I do not wish to draw from too sacred a source the confirmation of these summer-day fancies ; but I think, as I write, of the descriptions which we find in a certain Volume of the happiness of another world. Has not many an over-wrought and wearied-out worker found comfort in an assurance of which I shall here speak no further, that “there remaineth a rest to the people of God!”

And so, my reader, if it be true that nobody, anywhere, would (in his sober senses) work if he could help it, how especially true is that great principle on this beautiful July day! It is truly a day on which to do nothing. I am here, far in the country, and when I this moment went to the window, and looked out upon a rich summer landscape, everything seemed asleep. The sky is sapphire-blue, without a cloud; the sun is pouring down a flood of splendour upon all things; there is not a breath stirring, hardly the twitter of a bird. All the air is filled with the fragrance of the young clover. The landscape is richly wooded; I never saw the trees more thickly covered with leaves, and now they are perfectly still. I am writing north of the Tweed, and the horizon is of blue hills, which some Southrons would call mountains. The wheat fields are beginning to have a little of the harvest-tinge, and they contrast beautifully with the deep green of the hedge-rows. The roses are almost over, but I can see plenty of honeysuckle in the hedges still, and a perfect blaze of it has covered one projecting branch of a young oak. I am looking at a little well-shaven green (I shall not call it a lawn, because it is not one;) it has not been mown for nearly a fortnight, and it is perfectly white with daisies. Beyond, at a very short distance, through the branches of many oaks, I can see a gable of the church, and a few large gravestones shining white among the green grass and leaves. I do not find all these things any great temptation now, for I have got interested in my work, and I like to write of them. But I found it uncommonly hard to sit down this morning to my work. Indeed, I found it impossible, and thus it is that at five o’clock p.m. I have got no further than the present line. I had quite resolved that this morning I -would sit doggedly down to my essay, in which I have really (though the reader may find it hard to believe it) got something to say; but when I walked out after breakfast, I felt that all nature was saying that this was not a day for work. Come forth and look at me, seemed the message breathed from her beautiful face. And then I thought of Wordsworth’s ballad, which sets out so pleasing an excuse for idleness:—

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife,
Come, hear the woodland linnet!
How sweet his music ! on my life
There’s more of wisdom in it.

“And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

“She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless,—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can!”

Just at my gate, the man who keeps in order the roads of the parish was hard at work. How pleasant, I thought, to work amid the pure air and the sweet smelling clover! And how pleasant, too, to have work to do of such a nature that when you go to it every morning you can make quite sure that, barring accident, you will accomplish a certain amount before the sun shall set; while as for the man whose work is that of the brain and the pen, he never can be certain in the morning how much his day’s labour may amount to. He may sit down at his desk, spread out his paper, have his ink in the right place, and his favourite pen, and yet he may find that he cannot get on, that thoughts will not come, that his mind is utterly sterile, that he cannot see his way through his subject, or that if he can produce anything at all it is poor miserable stuff, whose poorness no one knows better than himself. And so, after hours of effort and discouragement, he may have to lay his work aside, having accomplished nothing, having made no progress at all—wearied, stupified, disheartened, thinking himself a mere blockhead. Thus musing, I approached the roadman. I inquired how his wife and children were. I asked how he liked the new cottage he had lately moved into. Well, he said; but it was far from his work : he had walked eight miles and a half that morning to his work; he had to walk the same distance home again in the evening after labouring all day; and for this his wages were thirteen shillings a-week, with a deduction for such days as he might be unable to work. He did not mention all this by way of complaint; he was comfortably off, he said; he should be thankful he was so much better off than many. He had got a little pony lately very cheap, which would carry himself and his tools to and from his employment, and that would be very nice. In all likelihood, my friendly reader, the roadman would not have been so communicative to you ; but as for me, it is my duty and my happiness to be the sympathising friend of every man, woman, and child in this parish, and it pleases me much to believe that there is no one throughout its little population who does not think of me and speak to me as a friend. I talked a little longer to the roadman about parish affairs. We mutually agreed in remarking the incongruous colours of a pair of ponies which passed in a little phaeton, of which one was cream-coloured and the other dapple-grey. The phaeton came from a friend’s house a little way off, and I wondered if it were going to the railway to bring some one who (I knew) was expected ; for in such simple matters do we simple country-folk find something to maintain the interest of life. I need not go on to describe what other things I did; how I looked with pleasure at a field of oats and another of potatoes in which I am concerned, and held several short conversations with passers-by; but the result of the whole was a conviction that, after all, it was best to set to work at once, though well remembering how much by indoor work in the country on such a day as this one is missing. And the thought of the roadman’s seventeen miles of walking, in addition to his day’s work, was something of a reproof and a stimulus. And thus, determined at least to make a beginning, did I write this much Concerning Work and Play.

I find a great want in all that is written on the subject of recreation. People tell me that I need recreation, that I cannot do without it, that mind and body alike demand it. I know all that, but they do not tell me how to recreate myself. They fight shy of all practical details. Now it is just these I want. All working men must have play; but what sort of play can we have? I envy schoolboys their facility of being amused, and of finding recreation which entirely changes the current of their thoughts. A boy flying his kite or whipping his top is pursued by no remembrance of the knotty line of Virgil which puzzled him a little while ago in school; but when the grown-up man takes his sober afternoon walk— perhaps the only relaxation which he has during the day—he is thinking still of the book which he is writing and of the cares which he has left at home. Then, and all the worse for myself, I can feel no interest in flying a kite, or rigging and sailing a little ship, or making a mill-wheel and setting it going, or in marbles, or ball, or running races, or playing at leap-frog. And even if they did feel interest in athletic sports, the lungs and sinews of most educated men of middle age would forbid their joining in them. I need not therefore suggest the doubt which would probably be cast upon a man’s sanity were he found eagerly knuckling down (how stiff it would soon make him!), or wildly chasing the flying football, or making a rush at a friend and taking a flying leap over his head. Now what recreation, I want to know, is open to the middle-aged man of literary tastes! Shooting, coursing, fishing, says one; but he does not care for shooting, or coursing, or fishing. Gardening, says another; but he does not care for gardening. Watching ferns, caterpillars, frogs, and other common objects of the countrywell, but he lives in town, and if he did not he does not feel the least interest in ferns and caterpillars. Music is suggested j well, he has no great ear, and he may dwell where he can have little or none of it Society! pray what is society? No doubt the conversation of intelligent men and women is a most grateful and stimulating recreation; but is there any recreation in dreary dinner-parties, where one listens to the twaddle of silly old gentlemen and emptier young ones, or in the hothouse atmosphere and crush of most evening parties? These are not play; they are very hard work, and a treadmill work producing no beneficial results, but rather provocative of all manner of ill-tempers. Then, no doubt, there is most agreeable recreation for some people in the excitement of a polka or galop and its attendant light and cheerful talk, not to say flirtation; but then our representative man has got beyond these things: these are for young people—he is married now and sobered down; he probably was never the man to make himself eminently agreeable in such a scene, and he is less so now than ever. Besides, if play be something from which you are to return with renewed strength and interest to work, I doubt whether the ball-room is the place where it is to be found. Late hours, a feverish atmosphere, and excessive exercise, tend to morning slumbers, headaches, crossness, and laziness. To find dancing which answers the end of recreation, we must go to less fashionable places. I like the pictures which Goldsmith gives us of the sunny summer even-mgs of France, where the whole population of the village danced to his flute in the shade; and even the soured Childe Harold melted somewhat into sympathy with the Spanish peasants as they twirled their castanets in the twilight. Southey’s picture is a pretty one, but its description sounds somewhat unreal:—

"But peace was on the cottage, and the fold
From court intrigue, from bickering faction far:
Beneath the chestnut-tree love’s tale was told,
And to the tinkling of the light guitar,
Sweet stoop’d the western sun, sweet rose the evening star!"

Nor let it be fancied that such a scene cannot be represented except in countries to which distance and strangeness give their interest This very season, on a beautiful summer evening, I saw a happy party of eighty country-folk dancing upon a greener little bit of turf than Goldsmith ever saw in France. And I wished such things were more common; though the grave Saxon spirit, equal to the enjoyment of such gaiety now and then, might perhaps flag under it did it come too often. But on the occasion to which I refer, there was no lack of innocent cheerfulness; the enjoyment seemed real; and though there were no castanets and no guitars, but a fiddle for music and reels for dances, there were as pretty faces and as graceful figures among the girls, I warrant, as you would find from the Rhine to the Pyrenees.

But, to resume the somewhat ravelled thread of our discussion,—if a man has come to this, that he can feel no interest in such recreations as those which we have mentioned, what is he to do? And let it be remembered that I am putting no fanciful case: be sorry, if you will, for the man who from taste and habit cannot be easily amused; but remember that such is the lot of a very large proportion of the intellectual labourers of the race. -And what is such a man to do? After using his eyes and exerting his brain all the forenoon in reading and writing by way of work, must he just use his eyes and exert his brain all the evening in reading and writing by way of play? Has it come to this, that he must find the only recreation, that remains for him in the Times, the Quarterly Review, and Fraser’s Magazine? All these things are indeed excellent in their way. They relax and interest the mind: but then they wear out the eyes, they contract the chest, and render the muscles flabby, they ruin the ganglionic apparatus; they make the mind, but unmake the body. Now that will not do. Does nothing remain, in the way of play, but the afternoon walk or drive: the vacant period between dinner and tea, when no one works, notwithstanding Johnson’s warning, that he who resolves that he cannot work between dinner and tea, will probably proceed to the conclusion that he cannot work between breakfast and dinner; a little quiet gossip with your wife, a little romping with your children, if you have a wife and children; and then back again to the weary books!

Think of the elder Disraeli, who looked at printed pages so long, that by and by, wherever he looked, he saw nothing but printed pages, and then became blind. Think what poor specimens of the human animal, physically, many of our noblest and ablest men are. Do not men, by their beautiful, touching, and far-reaching thoughts, reach the heart and form the mind of thousands, who could not run a hundred yards without panting for breath, who could not jump over a five-feet wall though a mad bull were after them, who could not dig in the garden for ten minutes without having their brain throbbing and their entire frame trembling, who could not carry in a sack of coals though they should never see a fire again, who could never find a day’s employment as porters, labourers, grooms, or anything but tailors? Educated and cultivated men, I tell you that you make a terrible mistake; and a mistake which, before the end of the twentieth century, will sadly deteriorate the Anglo-Saxon race. You make your recreation purely mental. You give a little play to your minds after their day’s work; but you give no play to your eyes, to your brains, to your hearts, to your digestion,—in short, to your bodies. And therefore you grow weak, unmuscular, nervous, dyspeptic, near-sighted, out-of-breath, neuralgic, pressure-on-the-brain, thin-haired men. And in time, not only does all the train of evils that follows your not providing proper recreation for your physical nature, come miserably to affect your spirits; but, besides that, it comes to jaundice and pervert and distort all your views of men and things. I have heard of those who, though suffering almost ceaseless pain, could yet think hopefully of the prospects of humanity, and take an unprejudiced view of some political question that appealed strongly to prejudice, and give kindly sympathy and sound advice to a poor man who came to seek advice in some little trouble which is great to him. But I fear that in the majority of instances, the human being whose liver is in a bad way, whose digestion is ruined, or even who is suffering from violent toothache, is prone to snub the servants, to box the children’s ears, to think that Britain is going to destruction, and that the world is coming to an end.

It may be said, that the class of intellectual workers have their yearly holiday. August and September in each year bring with them the “Long Vacation.” And it is well, indeed, that most men whose work is brain-work have that blessed period of relief, wherein, amid the Swiss snows, or the Highland heather, or out upon the Mediterranean waves, they seek to reinvigorate the jaded body and mind, and to lay in a store of health and strength with which to face the winter work again. But this is not enough. A man might just as well say that he would eat in August or September all the food which is to support him through the year, as think in that time to take the whole year’s recreation, the whole year’s play, in one bonne bouche. Recreation must be a daily thing. Every day must have its play, as well as its work. There is much sound, practical sense in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia; and nowhere sounder than where he tells us that in his model country he would have “ half the day allotted for work, and half for honest recreation.” Every day, bringing, as it does, work to every man who is worth his salt in this world, ought likewise to bring its play: play which will turn the thoughts into quite new and cheerful channels; which will recreate the body as well as the mind; and tell me, Great Father of Waters, to whom Rasselas appealed upon a question of equal difficulty, or tell me, anybody else, what that play shall be! Practically, in the case of most educated men, of most intellectual workers, heavy reading and writing stand for work, and light reading and writing stand for play.

I can well imagine what a delightful thing it must be for a toil-worn barrister to throw briefs, and cases, and reports aside, and quitting the pestilential air of Westminster Hall, laden with odours from the Thames which are not the least like those of Araby the Blest, to set off to the Highlands for a few weeks among the moors. No schoolboy at holiday-time is lighter-hearted than he, as he settles down into his comer in that fearfully fast express train on the Great Northern Railway. And when he reaches his box in the North at last, what a fresh and happy sensation it must be to get up in the morning in that pure unbreathed air, with the feeling that he has nothing to do,—nothing, at any rate, except what he chooses; and after the deliberately-eaten breakfast, to saunter forth with the delightful sense of leisure,—to know that he has time to breathe and think after the ceaseless hurry of the past months,—and to know that nothing will go wrong although he should sit down on the mossy parapet of the little one-arched bridge that spans the brawling mountain-stream, and there rest, and muse, and dream just as long as he likes! Two or three such men come to this neighbourhood yearly; and I enjoy the sight of them, they look so happy. Every little thing, if they indeed be genial, true, unstiffened men, is a source of interest to them. The total change makes them grow rapturous about matters which we, who are quite accustomed to them, take more coolly. I think, when I look at them, of the truthful lines of Gray:—

See the wretch, that long has tost
On the thorny bed of pain,
At length repair his vigour lost,
And breathe and walk again:
The meanest flowret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening paradise.

Equidem invideo, a little. I feel somewhat vexed when I think how much more beautiful these pleasant scenes around me really are, than what, by any effort, I can make them seem to me. You hard-wrought town-folk, when you come to rural regions, have the advantage of us leisurely country-people.

But, much as that great Queen’s Counsel enjoys his long vacation’s play, you see it is not enough. Look how thin his hair is, how pale his cheeks are, how fleshless those long fingers, how unmuscular those arms. What he needs, in addition to the autumn holiday, is some bond fide play every day of his life. What is his amusement when in town. Why, mainly it consists of going into society, where he gains nothing of elasticity and vigour, but merely injures his digestive organs. Why does he not rather have half-an hour’s lively bodily exercise,—rowing, or quoits, or tennis, or skating, or anything he may have taste for 1 And if it be foolish to take all the year’s play at once, as so many intellectual workers think to do, much more foolish is it to keep all the play of life till the work is over: to toil and moil at business through all the better years of our time in this world, in the hope that at length we shall be able to retire from business, and make the evening of life all holiday, all play. In all likelihood the man who takes this course will never retire at all, except into an untimely grave; and if he should live to reach the long-coveted retreat, he will find that all play and no work makes life quite as wearisome and as little enjoyable as all work and no play. Ennui will make him miserable; and body and mind, deprived of their wonted occupation, will soon break down. After very hard and long-continued work, there is indeed a pleasure in merely sitting still and doing nothing. But after the feeling of pure exhaustion is gone, that will not suffice. A boy enjoys play, but he is miserable in enforced idleness. In writing about retiring from the task-work of life, one naturally thinks of that letter to Wordsworth, in which Charles Lamb told what he felt when he was finally emancipated from his drudgery in the India House:—

“I came home FOR ever on Tuesday week. The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three; that is, to have three times as much real time—time that is my own—in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, and feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys, with their conscious fugitiveness, the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walkings.”

There are unhappy beings in the world, who secretly stand in fear of all play, on the hateful and wicked notion, which I believe some*men regard as being of the essence of Christianity, though in truth it is its contradiction, that everything pleasant is sinful,—that God dislikes to see His creatures cheerful and happy. I think it is the author of Friends in Council who says something to the effect, that many people, infected with that Puritan falsehood, slink about creation, afraid to confess that they ever are enjoying themselves. It is a sad thing when such a belief is entertained by even grown-up men; but it stirs me to absolute fury when I know of it being impressed upon poor little children, to repress their natural gaiety of heart Did you ever, my reader, read that dreary and preposterous book in which Thomas Clarkson sought to shew that Quakerism is not inconsistent with common sense 1 Probably not; but perhaps you may have met with Jeffrey’s review of it Nothing short of a vehement kicking could relieve my feelings if I heard some sly, money-making old rascal impressing upon some merry children that

“Stillness and quietness both of spirit and body are necessary, as far as they can be obtained. Hence, Quaker children arc rebuked for all expressions of anger, as tending to raise those feelings which ought to be suppressed; a raising even of the voice beyond due bounds is discouraged, as leading to the disturbance of their minds. They are taught to rise in the morning in quietness ; to go about their ordinary occupations with quietness ; and with quietness to retire to their beds. ”

Can you think of more complete flying in the face of the purposes of the kind Creator? Is it not His manifest intention that childhood should be the time of merry laughter, of gaiety, and shouts, and noise ? There is not a sadder sight than that of a little child prematurely subdued and “ quiet” Let me know of any drab-coated humbug impressing such ideas on any child of mine; and though from circumstances I cannot personally see him put under the pump, I know certain quarters in which it is only needful to drop a very faint hint, in order to have him first pumped upon, and then tarred and feathered.

But there is another class of mortals, who are free from the Puritan principle, and who have no objection to amusement for themselves, but who seem to have no notion that their inferiors and their servants ought ever to do anything but work. The reader will remember the fashionable governess in The Old Curiosity Shop, who insisted that only genteel children should ever be permitted to play. The well-known lines of Dr Isaac Watts,—

“In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be pass’d,”—

were applicable, she maintained, only to the children of families of the wealthier sort: while for poor children there must be a new reading, which she improvised as follows :—

“In work, work, work. In work alway,
Let my first years be pass’d,
That I may give, for every day,
Some good account at last.”

And as for domestic servants, poor creatures, I fear there is many a house in which there is no provision whatever made for play for them. There can be no drearier round of life than that to which their employers destine them. From the moment they rise, hours before any member of the family, to the moment when they return to bed, it is one constant push of sordid labour,—often in chambers to which air and light and cheerfulness can never come. And if they ask a rare holiday, what a fuss is made about it! Now, what is the result of all this? Some poor solitary beings do actually sink into the spiritless drudges which such a life tends to make them : but the greater number feel that they cannot live with all work and no play; and as they cannot get play openly, they get it secretly: they go out at night, when you, their mistress, are asleep; or they bring in their friends at those unseasonable hours: they get that amusement and recreation on the sly, and with the sense that they are doing wrong and deceiving, which they ought to be permitted to have openly and honestly: and thus you break down their moral principle, you train them to cheat you, you educate them into liars and thieves. Of course, your servants thus regard you as their natural enemy: it is fair to take any advantage you can of a gaoler: you are their task-imposer, their driver, their gaoler,—anything but their friend; and if they can take advantage of you in any way, they will And serve you right

I have known injudicious clergymen who did all they could to discourage the games and sports of their parishioners. They could not prevent them; but one thing they did,—they made them disreputable. They made sure that the poor man who ran in a sack, or climbed a greased pole, felt that thereby he was forfeiting his character, perhaps imperilling his salvation: and so he thought that having gone so far, he might go the full length: and thus he got drunk, got into a fight, thrashed his wife, smashed his crockery, and went to the lock-up. How much better it would have been had the clergyman sought to regulate these amusements; and since they would go on, try to make sure that they should go creditably and decently! Thus, poor folk might have been cheerful without having their conscience stinging them all the time: and let it be remembered, that if you pervert a man's moral sense (which you may quite readily do with the uneducated classes) into fancying that it is 'wicked to use the right hand or the right foot, while the man still goes on using the right hand and the right foot, you do him an irreparable mischief: you bring on a temper of moral recklessness; and help him a considerable step toward the gallows. Since people must have amusement, and will have amusement, for any sake do not get them to think that amusement is wicked. You cannot keep them from finding recreation of some sort: you may drive them to find it at a lower level, and to partake of it soured by remorse, and by the wretched resolution that they will have it right or wrong. Instead of anathematising all play, sympathise with it genially and heartily; and say, with kind-hearted old Burton—

“Let the world have their May-games, wakes, Whitsunales; their dancings and concerts; their puppet-shows, hobby-horses, tabors, bagpipes, balls, barley-breaks, and whatever sports and recreations please them best, provided they be followed with discretion.”

Let it be here remarked, that recreation can be fully enjoyed only by the man who has some earnest occupation. The end of work is to enjoy leisure; but to enjoy leisure you must have gone through work. Play-time must come after school-time, otherwise it loses its savour. Play, after all, is a relative thing; it is not a thing which has an absolute existence. There is no such thing as play, except to the worker. It comes out by contrast Put white upon white, and you can hardly see it: put white upon black, and how plain it is. Light your lamp in the sunshine, and it is nothing: you must have darkness round it to make its presence felt And besides this, a great part of the enjoyment of recreation consists in the feeling that we have earned it by previous hard work. One goes out for the afternoon walk with a light heart when one has done a good task since breakfast It is one thing for a dawdling idler to set off to the Continent or to the Highlands, just because he is sick of everything-around him; and quite another thing when a hard-wrought man, who is of some use in life, sets off, as gay as a lark, with the pleasant feeling that he has brought some worthy work to an end, on the selfsame tour. And then a busy man finds a relish in simple recreations; while a man who has nothing to do finds all things wearisome, and thinks that life is used upit takes something quite out of the way to tickle that indurated palate : you might as well think to prick the hide of a hippopotamus with a needle, as to excite the interest of that blase being by any amusement which is not highly spiced with the cayenne of vice. And t/iaty certainly, has a powerful effect. It was a glass of water the wicked old Frenchwoman was drinking when she said, “Oh that this were a sin, to give it a relish!”

So it is worth while to work, if it were only that we might enjoy play. Thus doth Mr Heliogabalus, my next neighbour, who is a lazy man and an immense glutton, walk four miles every afternoon of his life. It is not that he hates exertion less, but that he loves dinner more; and the latter cannot be enjoyed unless the former is endured. And the man whose disposition is the idlest may be led to labour when he finds that labour is his only chance of finding any enjoyment in life. James Montgomery sums up much truth in a couple of lines in his Pelican Island\ which run thus:—

“Labour, the symbol of man’s punishment;
Labour, the secret of man’s happiness.”

Why on earth do people think it fine to be idle and useless? Fancy a drone superciliously desiring a working bee to stand aside, and saying, “Out of the way, you miserable drudge; I never made a drop of honey in all my life!” I have observed too, that some silly people are ashamed that it should be known that they are so useful as they really are, and take pains to represent themselves as more helpless, ignorant, and incapable than the fact I have heard a weak old lady boast that her grown-up daughters were quite unable to fold up their own dresses; and that as for ordering dinner, they had not a notion of such a thing. This and many similar particulars were stated with no small exultation, and that by a person far from rich, and equally far from aristocratic. “What a silly old woman you are!” was my silent reflection; “and if your daughters really are what you represent them, woe betide the poor man who shall marry one of the incapable young noodles! ” Give me the man, I say, who can turn his hand to all things, and who is not ashamed to confess that he can do so; who can preach a sermon, nail up a paling, prune a fruit-tree, make a water-wheel or a kite for his little boy, write an article for Fraser or a leader for the Times or the Saturday Review. What a fine, genial, many-sided life did Sydney Smith lead at his Yorkshire parish! I should have liked, I own, to have found in it more traces of the clergyman ; but perhaps the biographer thought it better not to parade these. And in the regard of facing all difficulties with a cheerful heart, and nobly resolving to be useful and helpful in little matters as well as big, I think that life was as good a sermon as ever was preached from pulpit

I have already said, in the course of this rambling discussion, that recreation must be such as shall turn the thoughts into a new channel, otherwise it is no recreation at all. And walking, which is the most usual physical exercise, here completely fails. Walking has grown by long habit a purely automatic act, demanding no attention : we think all the time we are walking; Southey even read while he took his daily walk. But Southey’s story is a fearful warning. It will do a clergyman no good whatever to leave his desk and to go forth for his constitutional, if he is still thinking of his sermon, and trying to see his way through the treatment of his text. You see in Gray’s famous poem how little use is the mere walk to the contemplative man, how thoroughly it falls short of the end of play. You see how the hectic lad who is supposed to have written the Elegy employed himself when he wandered abroad:—

“There, at the foot of yonder nodding beech,
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies, he would rove;
Now drooping, woful, wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross’d in hopeless love.”

That was the fashion in which the poor fellow took his daily recreation and exercise! His mother no doubt packed him out to take a bracing walk; she ought to have set him to saw wood for the fire, or to dig in the garden, or to clean the door-handles if he had muscle for nothing more. These things would have distracted his thoughts from their grand flights,

and prevented his mooning about in that listless manner. Of course while walking he was bothering away about the poetical trash he had in his desk at home; and so he knocked up his ganglionic functions, he encouraged tubercles on his lungs, and came to furnish matter for the “hoary-headed swain’s” narrative, the silly fellow!

Riding is better than walking, especially if you have a rather skittish steed, who compels you to attend to him on pain of being landed in the ditch, or sent, meteor-like, over the hedge. The elder Disraeli has preserved the memory of the diversions in which various hard thinkers found relaxation. Petavius, who wrote a deeply learned book, which I never saw, and which no one I ever saw ever heard of, twirled round his chair for five minutes every two hours that he was at work. Samuel Clarke used to leap over the tables and chairs. It was a rule which Ignatius Loyola imposed on his followers, that after two hours of work, the mind should always be unbent by some recreation. Every one has heard of Pale/s remarkable feats of rapid horsemanship. Hundreds of times did that great man fall off. The Sultan Mahomet, who conquered Greece, unbent his mind by caning . wooden spoons. In all these things you see, kindly reader, that true recreation was aimed at: that is, entire change of thought and occupation. Izaak Walton, again, who sets forth so pleasantly the praise of angling as the “Contemplative Man’s Recreation,” wrongly thinks to recommend the gentle craft by telling us that the angler may think all the while he plies it. I do not care for angling; I never caught a minnow; but still I joy in good old Izaak’s pleasant pages, like thousands who do not care a pin for fishing, but who feel it like a cool retreat into green fields and trees to turn to his genial feeling and hearty pictures of quiet English scenery. He, however, had a vast opinion of the joys of angling in a pleasant country: only let him go quietly a-fishing—

“And if contentment be a stranger then,
I’ll ne’er look for it, but in heaven, again.”

And he repeats with much approval the sentiments of “Jo. Davors, Esq.,” in whose lines we may see much more of scenery than of the actual fishing:—

“Let me live harmlessly; and near the brink
Of Trent or Avon have a dwelling-place,
Where I may see my quill or cork down sink,
With eager bite of perch, or bleak, or dace:
And on the world and my Creator think:
While some men strive ill-gotten goods to embrace;
And others spend their time in base excess
Of wine, or worse, in war and wantonness.

“Let them that list, these pastimes still pursue,
And on such pleasing fancies feed their fill;
So I the fields and meadows green may view,
And daily by fresh rivers walk at will,
Among the daisies and the violets blue,
Red hyacinth and yellow daffodil;
Purple narcissus like the morning’s rays,
Pale gander-grass, and azure culver-keys.

"All these, and many more of His creation,
That made the heavens, the angler oft doth see;
Taking therein no little delectation,
To think how strange, how wonderful they be!
Framing thereof an inward contemplation,
To set his heart from other fancies free:
And whilst he looks on these with joyful eye,
His mind is rapt above the starry sky.”

Who shall say that the terza-rima stanza was not written in English fluently and gracefully, before the days of Whistlecraft and Don Jnan?

If thou desirest, reader, to find a catalogue of sports from which thou mayest select that which likes thee best, turn up Burton’s 4naiomy f Melancholy, or Joseph Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. There mayest thou read of Rural Exercises practised by Persons of Rank, of Rural Exercises Generally practised: (note how ingeniously Strutt puts the case: he does not say practised by Snobs, or the Lower Orders, or the Mobocracy.) Next are Pastimes Exercised in Towns and Cities; and finally, Domestic Amusements, and Pastimes Appropriated to particular Seasons. Were it not that my paper is verging to its*close, I could surprise thee with a vast display of curious erudition; but I must content myself with having laid down the conditions which all true play must fulfil; and let every man choose the kind of play which hits his peculiar taste. There never has been in England any lack of sports in nominal existence: I heartily wish they were all (except the cruel ones of baiting and torturing animals) still kept up. The following lines are from a little book published in the reign of James I.:—

“Man, I dare challenge thee to Throw the Sledge,
To Jump or Leape over ditch or hedge:
To Wrastle, play at Stooleball, or to Runne,
To Pitch the Barre, or to shoote off a Gunne:
To play at Loggetts, Nine Holes, or Ten Pinnes,
To try it out at Football by the shinnes:
At Ticktack, Irish Noddie, Maw, and Ruffe,
At Hot Cockles, Leapfrog, or Blindmanbuffe:
To drink half-pots, or deale at the whole canne,
To play at Base, or Pen and ynkhome Sir Jan:
To daunce the Morris, play at Barley-breake,
At all exploytes a man can think or speak:
At Shove-Groate, Venterpoynt, or Crosse and Pile,
At Beshrow him that’s last at yonder Style:
At leaping o’er a Midsommer-bon-fier,
Or at the Drawing Dun out of the Myer.”

In most agricultural districts it is wonderful how little play there is in the life of the labouring class. Well may the agricultural labourer be called a “working man,” for truly he does little else than work. His eating and sleeping are cut down to the minimum that shall suffice to keep him in trim for working. And the consequence is, that when fie does get a holiday, he does not know what to make of himself; and in too many cases he spends it in getting drunk. I know places where the working men have no idea of any play, of any recreation, except getting drunk. And if their overwrought wives, who must nurse five or six children, prepare the meals, tidy the house,— in fact, do the work which occupies three or four servants in the house of the poorest gentleman,—if the poor overwrought creatures can contrive to find a blink of leisure through their waking hours, they know how to make no nobler use of it than to gossip, rather ill-naturedly, about their neighbours’ affairs, and especially to discuss the domestic arrangements of the squire and the parson. Working men and women too frequently have forgotten how to play. It is so long since they did it, and they have so little heart for it. And God knows that the pressure of constant care, and the wolf kept barely at arm’s length from the door, do leave little heart for if O wealthy proprietors of land, you who have so much in your power, try to infuse something of joy and cheerfulness into the lot of your humble neighbours! Read and ponder the essay and the conversation on Recreation, which you will find in the first volume of Friends in Council. And read again, I trust for the hundredth time, the poem from which I quote the lines which follow. Let me say here, that I verily believe some of my readers will not know the source whence I draw these lines. More is the shame: but longer experience of life is giving me a deep conviction of the astonishing ignorance of my fellow-creatures. I shall not tell them. They shall have the mortification of asking their friends the question. Only let it be added, that the poem where the passage stands contains others more sweet and touching by far,—so sweet and touching that in all the range of English poetry they have never been surpassed:—

“How often have I blest the coming day,
When toil remitting lent its turn to play;
And all the village train, from labour free,
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree,
While many a pastime circled in the shade,
The young contending as the old survey’d;
And many a gambol frolick’d o’er the ground,
And sleights of art and feats of strength went round.
And still, as each repeated pleasure tired,
Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspired:
The dancing pair that simply sought renown,
By holding out to tire each other down,—
The swain mistrustless of his smutted face,
While secret laughter titter’d round the place,—
The bashful virgin’s sidelong looks of love,
The matron’s glance that would those looks reprove;—
These were thy charms, sweet village, sports like these,
With sweet succession, taught even toil to please.”


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