Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/January 1883/The Gospel of Recreation
|THE GOSPEL OF RECREATION.|
By HERBERT SPENCER.
ADDRESS AT HIS FAREWELL BANQUET, NOVEMBER 9th.
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN: Along with your kindness there comes to me a great unkindness from Fate; for, now that, above all times in my life, I need full command of what powers of speech I possess, disturbed health so threatens to interfere with them that I fear I shall very inadequately express myself. Any failure in my response you must please ascribe, in part at least, to a greatly disordered nervous system. Regarding you as representing Americans at large, I feel that the occasion is one on which arrears of thanks are due. I ought to begin with the time, some two-and-twenty years ago, when my highly-valued friend Professor Youmans, making efforts to diffuse my books here, interested on their behalf the Messrs. Appleton, who have ever treated me so honorably and so handsomely; and I ought to detail from that time onward the various marks and acts of sympathy by which I have been encouraged in a struggle which was for many years disheartening. But, intimating thus briefly my general indebtedness to my numerous friends, most of them unknown, on this side of the Atlantic, I must name more especially the many attentions and proffered hospitalities met with during my late tour, as well as, lastly and chiefly, this marked expression of the sympathies and good wishes which many of you have traveled so far to give, at great cost of that time which is so precious to the American. I believe I may truly say that the better health which you have so cordially wished me will be in a measure furthered by the wish; since all pleasurable emotion is conducive to health, and, as you will fully believe, the remembrance of this event will ever continue to be a source of pleasurable emotion, exceeded by few, if any, of my remembrances.
And now that I have thanked you, sincerely though too briefly, I am going to find fault with you. Already, in some remarks drawn from me respecting American affairs and American character, I have passed criticisms which have been accepted far more good-naturedly than I could reasonably have expected; and it seems strange that I should now again propose to transgress. However, the fault I have to comment upon is one which most will scarcely regard as a fault. It seems to me that in one respect Americans have diverged too widely from savages. I do not mean to say that they are in general unduly civilized. Throughout large parts of the population, even in long settled regions, there is no excess of those virtues needed for the maintenance of social harmony. Especially out in the West, men's dealings do not yet betray too much of the "sweetness and light" which we are told distinguish the cultured man from the barbarian. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which my assertion is true. You know that the primitive man lacks power of application. Spurred by hunger, by danger, by revenge, he can exert himself energetically for a time; but his energy is spasmodic. Monotonous daily toil is impossible to him. It is otherwise with the more developed man. The stern discipline of social life has gradually increased the aptitude for persistent industry; until, among us, and still more among you, work has become with many a passion. This contrast of nature has another aspect. The savage thinks only of present satisfactions, and leaves future satisfactions uncared for. Contrariwise, the American, eagerly pursuing a future good, almost ignores what good the passing day offers him; and, when the future good is gained, he neglects that while striving for some still remoter good.
What I have seen and heard during my stay among you has forced on me the belief that this slow change from habitual inertness to persistent activity has reached an extreme from which there must begin a counter-change—a reaction. Everywhere I have been struck with the number of faces which told in strong lines of the burdens that had to be borne. I have been struck, too, with the large proportion of gray-haired men; and inquiries have brought out the fact that with you the hair commonly begins to turn some ten years earlier than with us. Moreover, in every circle I have met men who had themselves suffered from nervous collapse due to stress of business, or named friends who had either killed themselves by overwork, or had been permanently incapacitated, or had wasted long periods in endeavors to recover health. I do but echo the opinion of all the observant persons I have spoken to, that immense injury is being done by this high-pressure life—the physique is being undermined. That subtle thinker and poet whom you have lately had to mourn, Emerson, says, in his essay on the gentleman, that the first requisite is that he shall be a good animal. The requisite is a general one—it extends to the man, to the father, to the citizen. We hear a great deal about "the vile body"; and many are encouraged by the phrase to transgress the laws of health. But Nature quietly suppresses those who treat thus disrespectfully one of her highest products, and leaves the world to be peopled by the descendants of those who are not so foolish.
Beyond these immediate mischiefs there are remoter mischiefs. Exclusive devotion to work has the result that amusements cease to please; and, when relaxation becomes imperative, life becomes dreary from lack of its sole interest—the interest in business. The remark current in England, that, when the American travels, his aim is to do the greatest amount of sight-seeing in the shortest time, I find current here also: it is recognized that the satisfaction of getting on devours nearly all other satisfactions. When recently at Niagara, which gave us a whole week's pleasure, I learned from the landlord of the hotel that most Americans come one day and go away the next. Old Froissart, who said of the English of his day that "they take their pleasures sadly after their fashion," would doubtless, if he lived now, say of the Americans that they take their pleasures hurriedly after their fashion. In large measure with us, and still more with you, there is not that abandonment to the moment which is requisite for full enjoyment; and this abandonment is prevented by the ever-present sense of multitudinous responsibilities. So that, beyond the serious physical mischief caused by overwork, there is the further mischief that it destroys what value there would otherwise be in the leisure part of life.
Nor do the evils end here. There is the injury to posterity. Damaged constitutions reappear in children, and entail on them far more of ill than great fortunes yield them of good. When life has been duly rationalized by science, it will be seen that among a man's duties care of the body is imperative, not only out of regard for personal welfare, but also out of regard for descendants. His constitution will be considered as an entailed estate, which he ought to pass on uninjured if not improved to those who follow; and it will be held that millions bequeathed by him will not compensate for feeble health and decreased ability to enjoy life. Once more, there is the injury to fellow-citizens, taking the shape of undue disregard of competitors. I hear that a great trader among you deliberately endeavored to crush out every one whose business competed with his own; and manifestly the man who, making himself a slave to accumulation, absorbs an inordinate share of the trade or profession he is engaged in, makes life harder for all others engaged in it, and excludes from it many who might otherwise gain competencies. Thus, besides the egoistic motive, there are two altruistic motives which should deter from this excess in work.
The truth is, there needs a revised ideal of life. Look back through the past, or look abroad through the present, and we find that the ideal of life is variable, and depends on social conditions. Every one knows that to be a successful warrior was the highest aim among all ancient peoples of note, as it is still among many barbarous peoples. When we remember that in the Norseman's heaven the time was to be passed in daily battles, with magical healing of wounds, we see how deeply rooted may become the conception that fighting is man's proper business, and that industry is fit only for slaves and people of low degree. That is to say, when the chronic struggles of races necessitate perpetual wars, there is evolved an ideal of life adapted to the requirements. We have changed all that in modern civilized societies, especially in England, and still more in America. With the decline of militant activity, and the growth of industrial activity, the occupations once disgraceful have become honorable. The duty to work has taken the place of the duty to fight; and in the one case, as in the other, the ideal of life has become so well established that scarcely any dream of questioning it. Practically, business has been substituted for war as the purpose of existence.
Is this modern ideal to survive throughout the future? I think not. While all other things undergo continuous change, it is impossible that ideals should remain fixed. The ancient ideal was appropriate to the ages of conquest by man over man, and spread of the strongest races. The modern ideal is appropriate to ages in which conquest of the earth and subjection of the powers of Nature to human use is the predominant need. But hereafter, when both these ends have in the main been achieved, the ideal formed will probably differ considerably from the present one. May we not foresee the nature of the difference? I think we may. Some twenty years ago, a good friend of mine and a good friend of yours, too, though you never saw him, John Stuart Mill, delivered at St. Andrews an inaugural address on the occasion of his appointment to the Lord Rectorship. It contained much to be admired, as did all he wrote. There ran through it, however, the tacit assumption that life is for learning and working. I felt at the time that I should have liked to take up the opposite thesis. I should have liked to contend that life is not for learning, nor is life for working, but learning and working are for life. The primary use of knowledge is for such guidance of conduct under all circumstances as shall make living complete. All other uses of knowledge are secondary. It scarcely needs saying that the primary use of work is that of supplying the materials and aids to living completely; and that any other uses of work are secondary. But in men's conceptions the secondary has in great measure usurped the place of the primary. The apostle of culture, as it is commonly conceived, Mr. Matthew Arnold, makes little or no reference to the fact that the first use of knowledge is the right ordering of all actions; and Mr. Carlyle, who is a good exponent of current ideas about work, insists on its virtues for quite other reasons than that it achieves sustentation. We may trace everywhere in human affairs a tendency to transform the means into the end. All see that the miser does this when, making the accumulation of money his sole satisfaction, he forgets that money is of value only to purchase satisfactions. But it is less commonly seen that the like is true of the work by which the money is accumulated that industry, too, bodily or mental, is but a means, and that it is as irrational to pursue it to the exclusion of that complete living it subserves as it is for the miser to accumulate money and make no use of it. Hereafter, when this age of active material progress has yielded mankind its benefits, there will, I think, come a better adjustment of labor and enjoyment. Among reasons for thinking this, there is the reason that the process of evolution throughout the organic world at large brings an increasing surplus of energies that are not absorbed in fulfilling material needs, and points to a still larger surplus for humanity of tie future. And there are other reasons which I must pass over. In brief, I may say that we have had somewhat too much of the "gospel of work." It is time to preach the gospel of relaxation.
This is a very unconventional after-dinner speech. Especially it will be thought strange that in returning thanks I should deliver something very much like a homily. But I have thought I could not better convey my thanks than by the expression of a sympathy which issues in a fear. If, as I gather, this intemperance in work affects more especially the Anglo-American part of the population—if there results an undermining of the physique not only in adults, but also in the young, who, as I learn from your daily journals, are also being injured by overwork—if the ultimate consequence should be a dwindling away of those among you who are the inheritors of free institutions and best adapted to them—then there will come a further difficulty in the working out of that great future which lies before the American nation. To my anxiety on this account you must please ascribe the unusual character of my remarks.
And now I must bid you farewell. When I sail by the Germanic on Saturday, I shall bear with me pleasant remembrances of my intercourse with many Americans, joined with regrets that my state of health has prevented me from seeing a larger number.