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For Puir Auld Scotland's Sake
Holidays


IT is usual to regard the annual holiday as an entirely modern institution, at once a result and a proof of our superior civilisation. On this subject of the origin of holidays the general public, being of a non-scientific cast of mind, and careless of causes if the result is acceptable, are little inclined to trouble themselves. To them the annual holiday is a very pleasant and present fact, and, while they are quite willing, in the manner of Sancha Panza, to bless the man that invented it, they pass on, like him, without further inquiry to the enjoyment of the invention. It is, therefore, in vain that parsimonious Paterfamilias, to whom holidays mean increased expenditure, grumbles forth his chronic discord amid the household harmony—that holidays are a wicked waste of time; that there was no such thing when he was a young man; and that the world was much better off without them. There is no attempt to examine his logic, or lay siege to his position. He is allowed to retain his position, and launch his protest Enough for the young people, Materfamilias, and Mrs Grundy that the annual holiday is now universally recognised as a respectable institution, and that it is very enjoyable. The sanction of antiquity could not further strengthen their desire, nor further confirm their determination to celebrate it.

It may well be questioned, however, whether the view of the purely modern origin of holidays is the correct one. One is disposed to find in them the expression of a very natural and very strong instinct which would seem to be coeval with human nature itself. If sleep be an invention, it may be conceded that holidays are so too. But if the desire for sleep is an essential instinct of our physical life, in scarcely a less degree is the desire for holidays the same. Relief from monotony, rest from the routine of toil, recreation after waste, are the boons of both. Holidays, in short, are to the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year what sleep is to the four-and-twenty hours of the day. If this be so, one would expect history to support the thesis. And this we find history quite prepared to do. We need not go so far back as to the Garden of Eden, when life was one long holiday—for which we have still to pay ; nor to the patriarchal age, when life was one long leisure time that waited only on the increase of flocks and the growth of pasture, and knew nothing of railway trains and telegrams ; but look at the Exodus, and say if the loss to Egypt, which it entailed, was not the consequence of a purblind policy that condemned to incessant servitude a nation of valuable workers, the main and prime cause of whose revolt would have been removed by a statutory holiday? The laws of Moses wisely provided national festivals to relieve the monotony of the year; and what was the weekly day of rest but a recurring holiday, which safeguarded the physical as well as the spiritual needs of individual and national life? But let us keep to our own island, and interrogate the ancient authorities whether holidays were known in their day. Why, the earliest piece of English literature really worthy of the name is based upon the fact of a great annual national holiday. What are the Canterbury Tales but an expression, not less historical than literary, of the joys and pastimes of a series of holidays already, half a millennium ago, regularly established in our country? What were the nine-and-twenty pilgrims but a band of holiday-makers?—and, to our thinking, a much pleasanter mode of making holiday they had, in those days of yore, under the direction of mine host of the Tabard, than their representatives the unhappy pilgrims of to-day, who are hurried through half-a-dozen countries in as many days, under the discipline of one of Mr Cook’s Mr Greathearts. The institution of holidays is not, therefore, a modern invention, but is as old as history itself, and may, on that account, be regarded not unreasonably as the necessary outcome of an instinct implanted in human nature.

It is worthy of remark that the great holiday season in our country long ago was in the end of spring, or rather somewhere on the border between spring and summer, when the first delicious freshness was still on the leaf and in the air. Dan Chaucer is picturesquely particular on this point. It is, he tells us, when the sweet showers of April have moistened the mould ; when west winds, no less sweet, have breathed a new life through plantation and over plain ; when the sun has gathered a fuller sheaf of beams, and shows a more golden round; when little birds make day and night melodious with their recovered art, that ‘then longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,’—which, in nineteenth-century English, simply means that then everybody is thinking of holidays. The differences between then and now are merely incidental to our altered ways of living. We take our holidays later, as we dine later, than did our ancestors. There are a few other things, no doubt, in which we are behind them, but in the matter of holidays we have several sufficient reasons, not to be exhaustively specified here, for preferring August and September to April and May. It may be pointed out, however, that with the modern system of agriculture, which requires for the green seed a continuance of that attention which, in the earlier months, was given to the sowing of the grain, it would be ruinous for the husbandman to go holiday-making in spring. But in Chaucer’s day, potatoes and turnips were unknown in the country, and when ‘ the ploughman/ that is the small farmer, had scattered his seed in the furrows—‘rattled it ower the rigs' as Burns in an age of greater pressure has phrased it—he was free both in mind and body to mount his mare and make one with his brother the parson in a holiday-trip to Canterbury.

A prominent, if not the first, feature of the modern holiday is the temporary change of domicile which it seems to demand—with, in many instances, a temporary change of costume, presumably suggested by the altered circumstances of the wearer. Great is the variety of resorts in which our holiday-makers find their pastime. The moors, of course, take up quite an army; the streams bring out our contemplative men in numbers that augur well for the amount of thought in the nation; the lochs receive their willing but pensive prisoners; the unfrequented but fragrant hedgerows and the forest purlieus give cover to solitary new-wedded pairs, shy lovers of nature, and business people who hasten from the clamour of streets to the contrasting silence of wildernesses; the seaside is invaded by millions who daily lead an amphibious existence, one foot on sea and one on shore; and the sea, as is to be expected in an insular country like ours, is witness to innumerable embarkations that are neither commercial nor military. In short, as is the race of birds, such, in the holiday season, is the race of men. 'Some to the holly hedge nestling repair, and to the thicket some;’ others are to be found ‘far on the grassy dale or roughening waste;’ some ‘in solitude delight, in shaggy banks, steep and divided by a babbling brook whose murmurs soothe them all the livelong day, while others 'love to take their pastime in the mountain air, or skimming flutter round the dimply pool.'

There can be little doubt that the individual, and therefore the nation, which is an aggregation of individuals, is all the better for holidays. They increase the amount of human happiness, not in participation only, but in anticipation and remembrance as well; and happiness is a healthy moral condition which generously influences the judgment and civilises the manners.

Their effect upon the physical well-being of the community is so obvious as to call for little comment. Health is wealth of the best kind, for it implies an effective continuation of the means of production, mental as well as manual. It is to accumulated wealth what the bubbling spring is to the full cistern. The cistern may give the impression of a vaster store, but the spring, though petty in appearance, has yet the capability of supplying innumerable cisterns. Happiness and health—these two are by common consent the best of blessings; they are largely the product of holidays.


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