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A MAN AT PLAY.
WE are to consider the play side of life and its relation to the serious occupations and the higher side of the nature of What do we mean by play? What is the difference between playing and working? For we notice, as we look over the world, that those things which seem to be play to one person are work to another. Wherein lies the distinction? Just what shall we mean when we are speaking of play?
Work, I take it, is any occupation in which we are employed which we do not like for its own sake, but which we are engaged in for the sake of attaining some end beyond itself. Play may be just as arduous an occupation, may call for just as much effort; but it is such a use of our faculties as we take delight in, as we engage in for its own sake, for the joy, the pleasure, that comes in the mere activity. You are aware of the fact that in almost every nation of the world work has been regarded as a curse. There are among most peoples some sort of traditions that attempt to account for the fact that people have to labor. It is not something that the world has taken kindly to. In the ideal condition of men, which is pictured in the past, there is never any drudgery. There are occupations, indeed; but they are occupations in which people take delight. It is a little curious to note that, on the part of the religious world,— that is, the popular religion of England and of this country,— while work is looked upon as a duty in this life, and play or amusement is treated as something that has about it a possible touch of evil, yet a condition of things is pictured for the blessed after this life that shall be all play,- play
lasting forever and forever. Work, then, is not something that human nature takes kindly to; and I believe that the instinct which regards work as a curse is true to this extent: that drudgery, that work which grinds, which wears, which leaves us drained, is a curse; and I look forward to the time, even here on this planet, when this kind of work shall be largely left behind. It is possible to so control the natural forces of the world as to create a condition of things in which the drudgery side of life shall be reduced to a minimum, and shall practically have passed away. I do not mean by this that there shall be no necessity left for effort, for struggle, for the overcoming of obstacles, for the attainment of things not easy to reach. For work, in this sense, it is only a commonplace to say, is not a curse, but the divinest gift ever presented to man; for it is out of this effort, out of this thought, that the problems of life are solved, out of this ability to surmount obstacles, out of this power to take the raw materials of the universe, and to recreate them into higher and finer things, that comes the development of man from animal to God. Only one aspect of work, then, is a curse : the other side of it is divine.
It may be interesting merely to note, in passing, that it is generally true that the playing of the world is only an imitation of the serious activities of the world. If you notice the sports and games of children, you will find that most of them are imitations of the serious occupations of their elders. Boys play over hunting and fighting, and the little girl as naturally plays mother and housekeeper as she breathes. So you will find that the plays of the grown-up world have been very largely representations of such activities as have been the serious occupations of the world at some period of its history. That only by the way.
We now need to note that you can judge the stage of culture that a people has reached by a careful study of its amusements, of those things in which it takes delight. You may not, indeed, bring a serious indictment against a whole people or against a whole civilization, on account of that
which is the natural amusement of the mass of the people. In any period of the world's history you will always find some who intellectually, morally, spiritually, are away above the average taste of the mass of the people. But, to illustrate what I mean, examine the condition of some savage tribe, and see what kind of story is told as to their intellectual and moral condition in finding that they took the keenest delight in torture. They capture an enemy; and all their ingenuity is called into play to devise some method of getting out of his physical and nervous frame as much suffering as possible for their entertainment, prolonging it as much as possible, and then crowning it by the act of death, when the physical condition can endure no longer. This represents, we will say, the lowest stage of barbarism which it is easy for us to conceive. To judge by this standard, there is an element of brutality and barbarism in many a nation that likes to call itself civilized. We need not go back to picture the condition of things in ancient Rome, when gladiatorial combats were the most popular amusements that could be furnished to the people. Take the Christian countries of Europe as represented at any rate by what was the highest Christian standard up to within the last few hundred years. Take it as represented in modern Spain. What has been there the popular amusement for hundreds of years? I do not mean to say that there have been no people in Spain who have looked down upon and deprecated the amusements of the people; but it certainly does show a curious condition in the religious life of a people, and it helps us to see how a people can believe it is right to persecute in the name of God. It helps us to understand how a great nation can believe in the eternal tortures of hell to find that the amusement which lies closest to the popular heart is the bull-fight,- merely torture, brutality, and blood. And when you find the nobility interested in it, when you find the queen or the king patronizing it, when you find the priesthood present in large numbers at these entertainments, when you find tender and loving moth
ers there with their children on their knees, when you find that the portrait of the favorite espada of the year is in all the shop windows, as we here have the portrait of the leading prima donna of the season, — when you find the whole popular life, so to speak, centering in a thing like this, you feel that you have the key, not merely to the amusements of the nation, but to many another mystery in its life as well.
But shall America throw stones at Spain ? Shall Boston bring too indiscriminate indictments against people who are interested in things like this? Only a little while ago we had an exhibition of popular taste here in Boston by which those that love Boston would not like to be judged. I should hate to think that the people three or four hundred years in the future should dig up from the ruins of Boston the traces of the popular taste in the way of amusements during the last two months, when the chief thing that engaged popular interest, so far as you could judge it by the leading newspapers of the city, was a prize-fight, when the people gathered in Newspaper Row in such masses during its progress as almost to make it impossible to pass along the streets, merely that they might trace by the bulletins the condition of things, as to how near one of the combatants had reached the last possibility of walking or standing upon his feet. And when at last the victor in this noble game of brutality was declared, and had come North, to see him fêted, dined, and wined by the representatives of what we are proud to call the leading educational institution, the grandest university in all the length and breadth of America,
- this was a thing of which we can hardly be proud. This, I say, I should not like to have the people in future ages take as the standard taste of Boston.
If you analyze such an exhibition, it is not admiration for athletics that makes people take an interest in it. I believe in athletics. I believe in a certain amount of training in the direction of pugilism, if you will. I think that many a man, as he goes through this world, meets somebody in the form of a man whose conscience is located only in his ability to feel ;
and he needs to be knocked down, as the very best religious service you can render him. I believe that this is possible. But the finest display of mere athletics will not account for the interest in this late prize-fight, in the disgrace of which, I think, Boston has shared.
But I must not dwell on this. I wish simply to indicate to you that not all play is noble, and that not all the brutal play of the world is behind us yet; and, if you wish to help in lifting up the level of the world, in lifting up the level of the newspapers of the modern world, then discountenance this sort of thing, and make it pay for those newspapers which leave these things one side or print them, as did one of our Boston papers, in only a short, insignificant paragraph. Let me say for the honor and glory of that paper that it was the Transcript; and I felt a higher respect for it ever since.
And now to turn to a general treatment of the play side of the life of the average business man. Herbert Spencer, when he was in this country, dwelt with great emphasis upon the fact that this American life of ours is a life of hurry and rush and restless activity, to the point of the disregard of our physical condition and our mental energy. This is a serious condition of affairs in this country. Do you know that diseases of the nervous system and the brain are enormously on the increase among our business men, and chiefly, I have no sort of question, as the result of this over-nervous stimulus that we put into the pursuit of the serious occupations of our lives. It is important, then, that we should recognize the play side of human life; and why?
I wish to give you two or three reasons for the necessity for play. In the first place, you need it, men and women need it, as a matter of physical health. We can endure only about so much of hard work; and this tense strain of the nervous system needs to be relaxed. Every musician knows that he can spoil a musical instrument by keeping its strings overdrawn and overtense, and that simply to relax them restores them again to their normal tone. As a matter of physical health, then, men ought to learn how to play.