Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/544

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SOME forty years ago, a distinguished citizen of Boston was caught, by an intimate friend who entered without knocking, in the very act of reading Bowditch's translation of the "Mécanique Céleste." He excused himself for the unfashionable character of his reading, by saying that he had thought he would refresh his memory of his college-days. But the friend drew from the wife a better explanation. The good man was a heavy stockholder in a company which had been almost brought to bankruptcy by the thefts of a dishonest treasurer; and he was reviving his mathematics as a means of diverting his mind from the unpleasant topic, which had begun to weigh too seriously upon him.

Those who have had no early training in these severer studies, refresh their minds, when wearied with business anxieties and cares, by a lighter sort of reading. The diversion which refreshes and reinvigorates a man must be one that is suited both to his peculiar tastes and to the character of the fatigue or anxiety which has worn upon him. That which interests and refreshes one man may weary another; that which banishes the thought of one kind of trouble, may recall and aggravate the causes of distress to a man whose anxiety or weariness has arisen from a different cause. The "Mécanique Céleste" served a good purpose for our Bostonian; while a novel which turned upon a plot involving breach of trust, and the ruin produced by it, would have been only a means of increasing the sufferer's trouble.

This is the real and substantial value of parlor-games. They serve as means of cure for those sufferings which arise from mental causes; they do so by diverting the mind without overtaxing it. It is true that many parlor-games may be used for gambling—or rather abused—but they are not on that account to be wholly condemned. Indeed, there is, in the very fact of a thing being capable of doing mischief, a presumptive proof that it can do good; by the correlation of forces, any energy can be turned into a useful channel. A substance absolutely inert would be capable of doing mischief only when present in a sufficiently large quantity to impede the useful action. Keeping to our comparison of games to medical agencies, we may perhaps get some light from a curious remark of Liebig. His theory, as we dimly remember it, was somewhat to the following effect: When any article is received into the stomach, a contest begins between the gastric powers and the intruder. If they conquer, the article was