Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/April 1879/Health and Recreation
|HEALTH AND RECREATION.|
By Dr. BENJAMIN W. RICHARDSON, F. R. S.
THAT all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy is one of those common sayings which we seem bound to accept, whether we like it or not. It is a truthful saying and an untruthful, a wise saying and an unwise, according as one word in it is interpreted, and that word is, play. If play really means play in the strict sense of the term, as it is defined for us in the dictionaries, viz., "as any exercise or series of exercises intended for pleasure, amusement, or diversion, like blind-man's-buff"; or as "sport, gambols, jest, not in earnest"—then truly all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and Jill a dull girl.
But in these days there is a difficulty in accepting the saying as true, because the idea of play, especially when it is expressed by the term "recreation," is not always represented in the definition I have given above. We now often really transform play into work; and our minds are so constituted that what is one person's work is another person's play. What a backwoodsman would call his horse-like labor, a foremost statesman may call his light of pleasure. How shall we define it? What is play or recreation?
Men differ, I think, on the definition of work and play more than on almost any other subject: differ in practice as much as in theory in regard to it. I have had the acquaintance, and I may say the friendship, of a man who lives, it is said, for nothing but recreation, or pleasure, or play. Such a man will rise at ten in the morning, and after a leisurely, gossiping, paper-reading, luxurious breakfast will stroll to the stables to look after the horses, of each one of which he is very fond. He delights in horses. Thence he will away to the club, will gossip there, read the reviews or the latest new novels, and regale at luncheon. After luncheon he will play a rubber, winning or losing several shillings—it may be pounds. He may then take a ride, or drive, or walk in the park, and have a chat there; or canter over to Kew and look round the gardens, or attend a drum, or visit the Zoological or Botanical Gardens. After this he will return home, and, ably and artistically assisted, will dress for dinner. The dinner, in accordance with his life, will be elegant, sumptuous, entertaining, whether he take it at his own table or abroad. After dinner he may probably go to a ball and dance until two or three in the morning; or, if there be no ball on hand, he may have another rubber, or a round at billiards, or a turn at the play, the opera, or the concert-room, with a final friendly chat and smoke before retiring for rest.
To this gentleman—and I am penciling a true and honest gentleman, not a modern rake of any school of rakes—this mode of life is a persistent pleasure, and to many more it would, I doubt not, be a perpetual holiday. To me it would be something worse than death. The monotony of it would be a positive misery, and I am conscious that many would be found to share with me in the same dislike.
Some will say that is all true enough with respect to persons who have passed out of youth into manhood, but that when life is young the distinctive appreciations for different modes of recreative pleasures are not so well marked out. I doubt, for my own part, this belief. It seems to me that in childhood the tastes for recreative enjoyment are as varied as they are in later years, with this difference, that they are not so effectively expressed. The little mind is ever in fear of the greater, and is often forced to express a gladness or pleasure which it does not truly feel. When children, left to themselves, are independently observed, nothing can be move striking to the observer than the difference of taste that is expressed in respect to the games at which they shall play. More than half the noise and quarrel of the nursery is, in fact, made up of this difference of feeling as to the character of the game that shall be constituted a pastime. In the end, on the rule, I suppose, of the survival of the fittest, the strongest children have their way, and one or two little tyrants drag the rest into their own delights.
I should, on the grounds here stated, venture, then, to say that there is, in point of fact, no more actual difference between work and recreation than what exists as a mere matter of sentiment: that recreation is a question of sentiment altogether, both in the young and the old.
If we could get this fact into our minds in our educational schemes for the young, we should accomplish at once a positive revolution in the training of the young, which revolution would, I think, be attended by the happiest change and train of thought in those who, in the future, shall pass through the first stages of life to adolescence and maturity. The search for amusements, and for new amusements, among the well-to-do would not be needed, since the mind from the first would be naturally brought to find a new delight in each act new called labor. The word "labor," in short, might drop altogether; the praise of labor, which is so often extolled, would find its true meaning; and the blame of play, which is so often unduly criticised, would have its proper recognition.
It has always seemed to me that in that once high though brief development of human existence; in that period, if we can believe that the art of the period came from the life of it, when the human form took its most magnificent model for the artist still to copy; in that period when the perfection of bodily feature and build indicated, of itself, how splendid must have been the health of the living organizations that stood forth to be copied and recopied for ever—it has always seemed to me, I repeat, that in that wonderful period of Greek history, so effulgent and so short, the reason why such physical excellence was attained rested on the circumstance that among the favored cultivated few, for they were few, after all, there was from the beginning to the end of life no such thing as work and play. Everything was existence—nothing less and nothing more. Every office, every duty, every act must have been an existence for the moment, varied but never divisible into one of two conditions, practical pain or practical pleasure. Life was an enjoyment which nothing sullied except death, and which was purified even from death by the quick-consuming fire, that the life might begin again instantaneously and incorruptibly.
If by some grand transformation we could in our day approach to this conception which has been rendered to us by the history of art, and could act upon it, we should, in a generation or two, attain a degree of health which no sanitary provision, in the common meaning of that term, can ever supply. If we could turn our houses into models of sanitary perfection; if we could release our toiling millions from half their daily labor; if we could tell want to depart altogether; if we could give means of education to every living human being—we should not remove care, and therefore we should not secure health, unless with it all we could also remove the idea of the distinction of labor and pleasure, the morbid notion that some must work and some must play, that the world may make its round.
In this country, so differently placed to the country of the great and the ancient nation of which I have spoken, it is impossible, perhaps, ever to introduce a joyousness like to that which the favored old civilization enjoyed. Our climate is of itself a sufficient obstacle to such a realization. Where the physical conditions of life are so unequal, where we waste in structure of body, whether we will it or not, at certain fixed seasons, and gain, whether we will it or not, at other fixed seasons, it is impossible to attain such excellence by any diversion of mind or variation of pursuit. For universal gladness the sun must play his part, doing his spiriting gently, but never actually hiding the brightness of his face. From us, for long intervals, his face is hidden. Under these variations of the external light and scenery around us we have to cripple our minds through our bodies. Our clothing must be heavy during long stages of the year, and our food so comparatively heavy and gross that half the power, which might otherwise go off in vivacity or nerve or spirit, is expended in the physico-chemical labor that is demanded for keeping the body warm and moving and living.
To these drawbacks is added the unequal struggle for existence, the partitioning off of our people into great classes, the millions of whom are obliged to work from morning to night, compared with the thousands who are at liberty to make some change in their course of life; the millions of adults who may be said to be tied to some continuous, monotonous round of labor, until the whole body lends itself to the task with an automatic regularity which the mind follows in unhappy and fretful train, with little hope for any future whatever on earth that shall bring relief.
From whatever side we look upon this picture it seems at first sight to present an almost insoluble problem, when the conception of mixing recreation with work, so as to make all work recreative, is considered. Among the masses there is no true recreation whatever, no real variation from the daily unceasing and all but hopeless toil; nay, when we ascend from the industrial and purely muscular workers to the majority who live by work, we find little that is more hopeful. There is no true recreation among any class except one, and that a limited and happy few, who find in mental labor of a varied and congenial kind the diversity of work which constitutes the truly re-creative and re-created life.
We get, in fact, a little light on the nature of healthful recreation as we let our minds rest on this one and almost exceptional class of men of varied life and action of a mental kind. They come before us showing what recreation can effect through the mere act of varying the labor. The brain-worker who is divested of worry is at once the happiest and the healthiest of mankind—happiest, perchance, because healthiest; a man constantly re-created, and therefore of longest life.
Dr. Beard, of New York, who has recently computed the facts bearing on this particular point, gives us a reading upon it which is singularly appropriate to the topic now under consideration. He has reckoned up the life-value of five hundred men of greatest mental activity: poets, philosophers, men of science, inventors, politicians, musicians, actors, and orators; and he has found the average duration of their lives to be sixty-four years. He has compared this average with the average duration of the life of the masses, and he has found in all classes, the members of which have survived to twenty years of age, the duration to be fifty years. He, therefore, gives to the varied brain workers a value of life of fourteen years above the average. By a later calculation, relating to a hundred men belonging, we may say, to our own time, he has discovered a still greater value of life in those who practice mental labor, seventy years being the mean value of life in them. Thereupon he has inquired into the cause of these differences, so strange and so startling, and has detected, through this analysis, as I and others have, a combination of saving causes, the one cause most influencing being the recreative character of the work. His observation is so sound, so eloquent, and above all so practical, that I can feel no necessity for apology in giving it at length. He is comparing, in the passage to be quoted, what he calls the happy brain-worker with the mere muscle-worker, and this is the argument:
Brain-work is the highest of all antidotes to worry; and the brain-working classes are, therefore, less distressed about many things, less apprehensive of indefinite evil, and less disposed to magnify minute trials, than those who live by the labor of the hands. To the happy brain-worker life is a long vacation; while the muscle-worker often finds no joy in his daily toil, and very little in the intervals. Scientists, physicians, lawyers, clergymen, orators, statesmen, literati, and merchants, when successful, are happy in their work without reference to the reward; and continue to work in their special callings long after the necessity has ceased. Where is the hod-carrier who finds joy in going up and down a ladder; and, from the foundation of the globe until now, how many have been known to persist in ditch-digging, or sewer-laying, or in any mechanical or manual calling whatsoever, after the attainment of independence? Good fortune gives good health. Nearly all the money in the world is in the hands of brain-workers; to many, in moderate amounts, it is essential to life, and in large and comfortable amounts it favors long life. Longevity is the daughter of competency Of the many elements that make up happiness, mental organization, physical health, fancy, friends, and money—the last is, for the average man, greater than any other, except the first. Loss of money costs more lives than the loss of friends, for it is easier to find a friend than a fortune.
The contrast put before us in these forcible remarks is most striking. It is the key to the position in trying to unlock the secret as to what true recreation should be. These brain-workers of whom Dr. Beard speaks are, indeed, the modern Greeks, not perhaps in perfection but in approximation. The Greeks might, possibly, have gone higher than they did in the way of developed physical beauty and of mental endowment, and these happy brain-workers of later ages might, perhaps, more nearly approach the happy Greeks, But both were on the lines toward the highest that may be attainable, and this, as a means of indicating the right line, is my reason for using the illustrations that have been offered.
That which I have so far urged consists, then, of two arguments: Firstly, that recreation to be healthful must, as its meaning conveys, literally, be a process of re-creating; that is, of reconstructing or rebuilding; a practice entirely distinct from what is called play, when by that is meant either cessation from every kind of creation, or enjoyment of abnormal pleasures which weary mind and body. Secondly, that they who are able to live and re-create in the manner suggested are, in positive fact, they who present the healthiest, the happiest, and the longest lives.
From these premises I further draw the conclusion that we have no open course of a reasonable kind before us except to strive to beget a healthful recreation in the direction indicated.
At the same time I do not say this in order to divert attention from what may be rightly called the natural animal instincts of man. I have no doubt there might be a cultivation of mind which should cease to be recreative, and which thereby should be as injurious to the health of the body as an over-cultivation of mere gross mechanical labor, and which might even be more dangerous. It is not a little interesting to observe that the greatest of the Greeks had become conscious of this very danger, as if he had learned its existence from observations in his daily life. Plato, in treating of this subject in one of his admirable discourses, warns us against the delusion that the cultivation of nothing but what is intellectually the best is, of necessity, always the best. It is more just, he says, to take account of good things than of evil. Everything good is beautiful; yet the beautiful is not without measure. An animal destined to be beautiful must possess symmetry. Of symmetries we understand those which are small, but are ignorant of the greatest. And, indeed, no symmetry is of more importance with respect to health and disease, virtue and vice, than that of the soul toward the body. When a weaker and inferior form is the vehicle of a strong and in every way mighty soul, or the contrary; and when these, soul and body, enter into compact union, then the animal is not wholly beautiful, for it is without symmetry., Just as a body which has immoderately long legs, or any other superfluity of parts that hinder its symmetry, becomes base, in the participation of labor suffers many afflictions, and, though suffering an aggregation of accidents, becomes the cause to itself of many ills, so the compound essence—of body and soul—which we call the animal, when the soul is stronger than the body and prevails over it—then the soul, agitating the whole body, charges it with diseases, and by ardent pursuit causes it to waste away. On the contrary, when a body that is large or superior to the soul is joined with a small and weak intellect, the motions of the more powerful, prevailing and enlarging what is their own, but making the reflective part of the soul deaf, indocile, and oblivious, it induces the greatest of all diseases, ignorance. As a practical corollary to these remarks, Plato adds that there is one safety for both the conditions he has specified: neither to move the soul without the body, nor the body without the soul. The mathematician, therefore, or any one else who ardently devotes himself to any intellectual pursuit, should at the same time engage the body in gymnastic exercises; while the man who is careful in forming the body should at the same time unite the motions of the soul, in the exercise of music and philosophy, if he intends to be one who may justly be called beautiful and at the same time "right good."
Such is the Platonic reading of the recreative life as it appeared to him in his day and among his marvelous people. We have but to trouble ourselves with half the problem he refers to, and with but half the advice that he suggests. Little fear, I think, is there among us that the soul should be so much stronger than the body, and so greatly prevail over it that it should agitate the whole inwardly, and by ardent application to learned pursuits cause the body to waste away. Nor is this to be regretted, because if the danger so stated were a prevailing one we should have two evils to cure in lieu of one which is all-sufficient for the reforming work of many of the coming generations of men.
I have not, I trust, dwelt too long on what I may call the practical definition of recreation as it ought, I think, to be understood, as it once was understood and practiced, and as it is still practiced, if not systematically understood, by a few whose varied and delightful works and tastes make them the healthiest and longest-lived among us.
It is well always to have a standard before us, though it be seemingly unapproachable, and the illustrations I have endeavored to supply of all work and all play, and of long-continued recreation thereupon, form the standard I now wish to set up for observation.
To make all England, and all the world, for the matter of that, a recreation ground; to make all life a grand recreation; to make all life thereby healthier, happier, and longer—this is the question before us.
Confining our observations to our own people and time, it may now be worth a few moments of analytical inquiry as to how far we, in different classes of our English community, are away from so desirable a consummation—the consummation of all human effort toward the perfected human life: the dream of some poets that such a life has been and will return—"Redeunt Saturnia regna"—the dream of many poets that it is to be, if it has not been.
The Registrar-General, with much judgment, due to long and wide experience of the component parts of the nation comprised under the title of England and Wales, has divided the community into six great classes, which classes are, in many respects, so distinct that they may almost be considered as great nations of themselves, having their own individual pursuits, habits, tastes, and, if the word be allowable, recreations. He describes for us—1. A professional class, made up of governing, defending, and learned persons, and numbering some 684,102 persons, chiefly of the male sex; 2. A domestic class, wives and women of the household, and hotel and lodging-house keepers—a large class, the great majority women, numbering as many as 5,905,171—nearly, in fact, six millions; 3. A commercial class of buyers, sellers, lenders, and transporters of goods and produce, chiefly men, and numbering 815,424; 4. An agricultural class, cultivators, growers, and animal-keepers, the majority men, numbering 1,657,138; 5. An industrial class, mechanics, fabric manufacturers, food and drink producers, and purveyors of animal, vegetable, and mineral produce—a very large class, having in it members of both sexes, and numbering 5,137,725; 6. An indefinite, non-productive class; persons of rank and property; and scholars and children; nearly an equality of representation of numbers of both sexes; the whole class including a total of 8,512,706, of whom 7,541,508 are scholars and children—the living capital of the next generation of men and of women.
As we glance at these classes we quickly detect that what may be called their vocations are extremely different; that each class—with the exception, perhaps, of two, the professional and the commercial, with that part of the indefinite class which is composed of persons of rank and property, and which approach each other—are as widely separated in tastes and habits and inclinations as they are in labors and works. Looking at the education of body and mind in these classes as a whole, there is certainly little enough of symmetry.
Among the representatives of these classes which are best able to command the advantages of true recreation there is little sound attempt to use the privilege in a refined and reasonable way. The persons who have their time at command, and who belong to the most favored division, are divisible into two groups: a group which does no work at all that can bear the name of useful or applied labor, but which spends all its waking hours at what it considers to be recreative pursuits, which may be laborious, but must not be remunerative; and a group which labors industriously for the sake of return or reward, but which steals from time of labor regular intervals in which to follow out certain of the recreations which form the whole life of the first group, in strict imitation of that envied group, and in hopeless neglect of any recreation of its own better adapted to its real wants and best enjoyments. Each of these groups suffers from the course it follows. The representatives of the first kind lose much, since they are for ever repeating the same to them pleasurable or automatic activity. The second lose, because, while they are ever repeating the same useful activity, they are only relieving that activity by repeating day after day the same automatic and imitative recreations. Thus both are subjected to what may be called the automatism of recreation. The automatism of recreation is bad in every sense, and it is specially bad in the present day, because of the quality of it, as well as the limited quantity. There is no such diversity of recreation as is wanted to keep the body in health by the exercise of the mind. With one man the recreation is all taken out in cards, with another in chess, with a third in billiards, with a fourth in debate or gossip on some one persistent topic of discourse or argument, and so on, for what may be called the in-door recreative life. Nor is it much different with out-door recreative amusement. Some one particular amusement claims the attention of particular men, and to this amusement the men adhere as if they had to live by it, and as if, in fact, there were no other recreative pursuits in the world.
This specialty of recreative pleasure or labor—for soon it becomes labor—leads to consequences which are often of the most serious character. The man who undertakes the recreation at first as an enjoyment, and indeed as a relaxation, is so absorbed in it that he strains every nerve to be eminent in it, a professor of the accomplishment, with a local repute for his excellence. The moment he enters on this resolve, however, he loses recreation. He sets himself to a new work, be it mental or physical; his mind becomes an emporium for the produce of that one particular culture, and he is in respect to that not far removed from a monomaniac. From the day that he is completely enamored of the special pursuit it is little indeed that he is good for out of it in hours apart from the common vocation of his life. He becomes fretful if for a day he be deprived of his peculiar gratification; irritable if he joins with others in it who are not so skillful as himself; envious if he meets with a rival who is better at it than himself; and often actually sleepless in thinking and brooding over some event or events that have been connected with the previous play or venture.
If the time at my disposal admitted the introduction of detailed illustration of the facts here referred to, I could supply from experience instance upon instance. I have seen an amateur player so infatuated with the game, which he originally sat down to as a relaxation, that he became for months a victim of insomnia. He carried the whole chess-board, set out in various difficult problems, in his brain, if I may use such a simile, studied moves on going to sleep, dreamed of them, woke with the solution solved, was sick and feeble and irritable all next day, followed his usual occupation with languid ability and interest, resumed his play at night with excited but not recruited determination, got more and more sleepless, and at last failed to sleep altogether. I have known more than one similar illustration in whist-players and in great billiard-players, and have seen the results of these so-called recreations end in the most sad physical disaster, when the pursuit of them has been made a matter of living importance, and when the player has ever had in his mind that pitiful if: "If I had done this or that—if I had made that move on the board—if I had played that card—if I had made that stroke, how would the case have been?" It matters little what the answer to the question may be—whether it be that by such a move, card, or stroke, the game would have been lost or won; the perplexing doubt is there to annoy, and it keeps up an irritation which imperceptibly wears out the animal powers and does permanent injury to life. You see men while still they are actually young grow rapidly like old men under this supposed recreative strain. They grow prematurely careworn, prematurely gray, prematurely fixed in idea and obstinate in idea, angry at trifles, baffled by trifles, and, in a word, young senilities.
In this busy city, in the great places of business near to which we now are, there are hundreds—may I not extend the calculation and say thousands?—of men who, in pursuit of the recreative pleasures I have specified, or of others similar in their results, are wearing themselves out twice as fast—and more than twice—as they are by the legitimate labor to which they have to apply themselves that they may earn their daily bread. It is the fact; and the observant physician, as he listens to the suffering statements of these men, is obliged in his own mind to differentiate between the assigned and what is often the real cause of that train of evils to which it is his duty to lend an attentive ear.
Thus, among the most intelligent part of the community—among the part that can help itself—there is no systematized scale or class of recreations that can be relied upon to afford the change really demanded for health. Nor are matters much improved when we take up the kind of change that is sought after by the same classes in the matter of physical recreation. When the Volunteer movement first came under notice, and for some time after it first came into practice, it was the hope of all sanitary men—I believe without any exception—that the exercise, and drill, and training, and excitement which would be produced by the movement would prove most beneficial to the health of the male part of the people at a period of life when the training of the physical powers is most required and often most neglected. I remember being quite enthusiastic at that change and its promises, and I recalled the other day an often-quoted paper or essay which had sprung out of that enthusiasm, and which I dare say at the time it was written seemed common sense itself. I can but feel now that the hope was begotten of inexperience. The movement has been a success, I presume, in a national and political point of view, but a careful observation of it from its first until this time has failed to indicate to me, as a physician, that it has led to any decided improvement in the health generally of those who have been most concerned in carrying it out by becoming its representatives. Certain it is that nothing affirmative of good stands forth in its favor, and I wish I could stop with that one neutral statement. I can not in order of truth and fairness so stop, for I have seen much injury from the process. To say nothing of the expense to which it subjects many struggling men, to the loss of time it inflicts on them, to the neglect it inflicts at the fireside and home, to the spirit of contest of mind and fever of mind which it engenders; to say nothing, I repeat, of these things—all of which, nevertheless, are detrimental, indirectly, to the health of the men themselves and of those who surround them in family union—there is a direct harm often inflicted by the service, call it recreation if you like, which is not to its credit. The man who has advanced just far enough in life to have completed his development of growth, and to have lost the elasticity of youth, the man who has rather too early in life become fat and, as he or his friends say, puffy, the man who has, from long confinement in the office or study, found himself dejected and dyspeptic, each one of these men has passed into the ranks of the Volunteers, in order to regain the elastic tread, to throw off the burden of fat, or to find relief from the dyspeptic despondency. For my part, I have never been able to discover a good practical result in any of these trials; but I have seen many bad practical results. I have seen the partly disabled men, in the conditions specified, striving to do their best to keep alive and be on a level with younger and athletic men, and I have been obliged to hear of the signal and natural failure of the effort. I have heard of the attempts to meet the failure by the tempting offer and too willing acceptance of what are called artificial stimulants to give temporary support, and I have been obliged to discover in persons so overtaxed and so over-stimulated a certain. heavy excessive draw on the bank of life, an anticipation of income which, in the vital as surely as in the commercial world, is the road to a premature failure and closure of the whole concern.
There are many who will agree with me, I doubt not, on this point; there are many men, and there are more women—for wives and mothers are far more observant and wise than husbands and fathers on these points—who will be able to bring their experience to bear in confirmation of that which I have spoken; and these will agree that to put men of different ages and of different states of constitution and habits in the same position for recreation; to trot them all through the same paces; to make them all wear the same dress, walk or march the same speed, carry the same load, labor the same time, move the limbs at the same rate; that to construct one great living machine out of a number of such differently built machines is of necessity an unnatural and, in the end, a ruinous process. There are some, however, who, while admitting so much, will put in a plea for the younger members of the community. They will insist that the younger men, the men who are from nineteen or twenty up to twenty-nine or thirty, may with advantage go through the recreation of training after the Volunteer fashion. The case is much stronger on behalf of this argument, but even in the respect named there requires a great deal of discrimination. A race of strong men may be bred, and a weak race may, by gradual development, be raised into a strong; but a weak man, born weak, can, through himself, be led a very little way into strength; while during the process of training he can most easily be broken into utter feebleness, so that the last of the man may be worse than the first. Hence, in training the weak into strong through any form of recreation, mental or physical, but specially physical, there must be a singular discrimination. In this instance of Volunteering as a mode of progress in physical health for the young there are dangers that ought to be avoided with religious care. To advise a weakly youth of consumptive tendency and feeble build, or one having some special proclivity to rheumatic fever, heart-disease, or other well-defined hereditary malady, to compete with other men of the same age and of athletic nature, in the same recreative exercise, is to deceive the youth into danger. To force such a one into violent competitive exercise, and tax him to the same degree of vital withdrawal day after day, or week after week, is to subject him all but certainly to severe, if not fatal, bodily injury.
I have selected the recreative exercise of Volunteering as a case for illustration of an important lesson, and I have made the selection, not because the recreation is special as a sometimes harmful recreation, but because more persons are concerned in it just now than in aught else of the same kind of recreative pursuit.
There are many other so-called recreations which are even more injurious to the feeble adolescent and to the enfeebled matured individuals, who seek to find symmetry of health in extreme recreation. Football is one of these recreations fraught with danger. Rowing is another exercise of the same class. Polo, while the fever for it lasted, was found to be of similar cast. Excessive running and prolonged and violent walking—in imitation of those poor madmen whose vanity trains them to give up sleep and all the natural ordinances that they may walk so many thousand miles in so many thousand hours—these are alike injurious as physical recreations unless taken with the same discrimination as is required by those who enter into the Volunteer movement.
As we pass from the freer and wealthier classes of the community into the less prosperous we find no marked improvement whatever in any form of recreation. We begin, in fact, to lose sight of the recreation that ministers to either mind or body in a sensible and healthy degree, and to see that which should be recreative replaced almost entirely by continuous and monotonous labor. The idea of symmetry of function and development between mind and body disappears nearly altogether; so that, indeed, to mention such a thing would, in some of the classes concerned, be but to treat on a subject unknown, and therefore, as it would seem to them, absurdly unpractical. To tell a country yokel that his body is not symmetrical in build, and that his mind has no kind of symmetrical relation to his body, were cruel, from its apparent satire. Yet why should it be? Why should ignorance and labor so deform any one that the hope of a complete reformation, the hope of the constitution of a perfect body and in it a perfect mind, should seem absurd? It is not the labor that is at fault. The labor is wholesome, healthful, splendid; it is a labor compatible with the noblest, nay, the most refined of human acquirements. Why should it be incompatible with perfect physical conformation of mind and body? It is not, indeed, the labor that is at fault, but the ignorant system on which it is carried out.
There is much difference, in fact, between the three classes of the community called the domestic, the agricultural, and the industrial, in respect to the work, the recreation, and the resultant health pertaining to each class. The domestic class as a whole is, by comparison with the industrial, fairly favored. The members of it lead, it is true, a monotonous life, and see often but little of the beauties of external nature, but they find in the amusements they provide for those who are about them some intervals of change which are, as far as they go, of service. Moreover, except in that part of the class which is engaged in disposing of spirituous drinks, and which pays a heavy vital taxation from the recreation springing out of that vocation, its representatives are not exposed to harmful recreations to an extreme degree. The domestic class therefore presents, on the whole, a fairly healthy life. The majority of its members are women and mothers; and, in the gladness with which they tender their love and adoration to the young and innocent life that comes into their charge, they find perchance, after all, the purest pleasure, the most enhancing, the most ennobling recreation, that, even in the midst of many cares and sorrows and bereavements, falls to the lot of any section of the great community.
The agricultural class, less favored in recreative opportunities than the others which have passed before us, living a laborious and very poor life, ever at work for small returns, and finding little recreation beyond that which is of mere animal enjoyment, is still comparatively favored. To the agricultural worker the seasons supply, imperceptibly, some delight that is beneficial to the mind.
These as they change, Almighty Father! these
Are but the varied God.
Mysterious round! What skill, what force divine
Deep felt in these appear: a simple strain,
Yet so delightful, mixed with such kind art,
Such beauty and beneficence combined.
And all so forming one harmonious whole—
Shade unperceived, so soft'ning into shade
That as they still succeed they ravish still.
The labor of the out-door agricultural class, blessed by these changing scenes which the exquisite poet above quoted so exquisitely describes, is varied also in itself. Each season brings its new duty: the spring its meadow-laying and sheep-shearing; the summer its haymaking; the autumn its harvesting and harvest-home, and fruit-gathering; the winter its plowing and garnering, and cattle-tending; with sundry well-remembered holidays which are religiously kept. There may be through all this continuous wearing labor; there is; but, as it is not monotonous, it is to some extent recreative, and the facts of mortality tell that it is saving to life. The agricultural classes present a mortality below the average in the proportion of ninety-one to one hundred of the mass of the working community. Moreover, there is hope for the agricultural classes in the fact that it is comparatively an easy task to supply them with a perfect roundelay of beautiful recreations for their resting hours. It is only to remove from them the grand temptations to vice in the beer-shop and the spirit-store, and to substitute for these resorts a rational system of enjoyments, to win for the country swain the first place in that symmetry which Plato called "right good."
The utter blankness, the blankness that may be felt, in respect to recreation is realized most in the millions of the industrial class who live in the everlasting din of the same mechanical life; who see ever before them the same four walls, the same tools, the same tasks; who hear the same sounds, smell the same odors, touch the same things, feel the same impressions, again and again and again, until the existence is made up of them, never to be varied until death doth them part. It is to this class—repining, naturally envious, naturally restless, and at this moment of time unsettled, mournful, and disaffected, to an extent which few, I fear, of our rulers comprehend—it is to this class most of all that the balm of wholesome recreation is most necessary, and for whom the absence of it is most dangerous. In this class there is no such thing as health. It is a blessing not to be found. You could not, I solemnly believe, bring me one of them that I dare, as a conscientious physician, declare, after searching examination, to be physically healthy in any approach to a degree of standard excellence. As a rule the average of life among those who have passed twenty-five would not be above fifteen years.
In these classes we see the effect of what I may venture to call the denseness of work, leading to mortality in the most perfect and distinctive form—work without any true recreative relief; work without anything changing or becoming recreative in itself; work relieved at no regular intervals for introduction of new life.
The greatest of all the social problems of our day is involved in this study of the manners and modes of thought of over five millions of adult English people, all confined in order that they may labor, with no satisfactory relief from labor, and with no land of promise before them. The greatest of all the political questions of our day is also involved in this same study. The physician knows that the wisest of mankind, the most intelligent of mankind, are only half their former selves when they are out of health. He knows that health which is bad, but not sufficiently bad to prostrate the physical powers to such an extent as to cause inactivity of the will, is the most perplexing of all states of mind and action with which he has to deal. He feels thereupon a fellow-sympathy with the political physician who is called upon to treat the industrial masses in mass; to provide for their minds' health, to calm their excitement, to plant confidence in their hearts, and, most arduous task of all, to find out the way for securing for them those two grand remedies in the Pharmacopœia of the ordinary physician, rest and change of scene, in pure and open air.
"They find their own recreations, these working millions," I think I hear some one say. They try to find them, would be the truer statement. They try their best, but they have found few conducive to health, many that are fatal. They are to be pitied and pardoned for these errors of their finding. What if they do discover recreation of the worst kind in the bar and saloon of the spirit-seller? Have they not the example of the wealthier classes before them, teaching that the same indulgence, in another style, is recreation? May they not ask how many other obtainable pleasures are provided for them, and whether many, too many, of obtainable pleasures so called, and so bad, are not positively thrust upon them? They have labored all day in monotony: where shall they go for recreation, and what shall the recreation be? If they go far away they are removed from the sphere of their labors; if they look near to their own abodes, they find not one true and ennobling pastime, but fifty that are degrading, and, at the same time, filled with every possible temptation.
I apply this to our own people; but it is, I fear, equally applicable to other peoples. Dr. Beard, the American I have already quoted, writes his experience, gathered in his own country, as follows: "To live," he says, speaking of the same classes, "to live on the slippery path that lies between extreme poverty on the one side and the gulf of starvation on the other; to take continual thought of to-morrow, without any good result of such thought; to feel each anxious hour that the dreary treadmill by which we secure the means of sustenance for a hungry household may, without warning, be closed by any number of forces, over which one has no control; to double and triple all the horrors of want and pain by anticipation and rumination—such is the life of the muscle-working classes of modern civilized society; and when we add to this the cankering annoyance that arises from the envying of the fortunate brain-worker, who lives at ease before his eyes, we marvel not that he dies young, but rather that he lives at all."
There remains still in the list of classes requiring recreation, and the health that springs from it, the last or indefinite class. Of the purely indefinite of these I need not speak; for they, the waifs and strays of our civilization, are, I fear, under little influence of such refining agencies as we would put forward for the future. With the very small class of persons of rank and property, less than 169,000 altogether, I have dealt already, by joining them with the professional and commercial well-to-do classes. To the seven and a half millions of scholars and children and their recreations attention will be called in a new chapter.—Gentleman's Magazine.