( Originally Published 1832 )
MY DEAR NEPHEW,
IN a former letter I recommended to you certain modes of relaxation, having some connection with intellectual improvement. You will, perhaps, tell me that you want relaxation more entire and complete ; that the intellect requires perfect rest ; that you must have amusement in the strict etymological sense of the word. You may be right. I have already advised you to take sufficient time for exercise, and the exercise of the body will generally give rest and refreshment to the mind.
In your choice of amusement, however—amusement, I mean, as combined with exercise—you must have strict regard to economy, both of money and of time. Do not think me an old woman, if I add, that regard for both should keep you from any excessive bodily exertion, such as will unfit you for study, or seriously affect your health. I am told that the latter effect has of late, not unfrequently, been the result of over fatigue in rowing ; that many young men have died at an early age; that others live on with all their powers debilitated, from having overstrained their nerves, and their whole muscular system, in boat-races. Rowing is in itself a salutary and delightful species of exercise ; and the facility of practising it, is one among the many advantages of Oxford ; but when carried to the excess which I have alluded to, it is foolish and culpable.
I would have a young man regardless of danger, willing to risk limbs, health, or life itself, for the benefit of his fellow-creatures. He should, like Hamlet, " hold his life at a pin's fee,"
when any adequate object is to be answered by putting it in jeopardy.
But a man has no right to risk either his life or his limbs for a bravado, in mere idle vanity and ostentation.
Such wanton risk is cruelty to his parents and friends, and a presumptuous tempting of Providence.
Riding, for riding's sake, must, with your finances, be out of the question.
The utmost that you ought to allow yourself, is a hack once or twice a term, for some specific purpose—to visit a distant friend, perhaps, or to see some interesting object lying beyond the range of a walk. What I have said of riding, applies, with ten-fold force, to hunting, which entails expense—(the hire of a hunter, the hire of a hack probably to take you to cover, sundry ostlers and helpers, and very likely a jovial dinner at an inn)—utterly inconsistent with an average allowance; which entails, also, a waste of time, which, in the short period of an Oxford residence, can ill be spared.
What shall I say of cricket? I have great respect for cricket, as a national and a manly game. The demand which it makes upon your Oxford time is confined to the short term between Easter and the long vacation, and it does not require a very large portion of the day. It is not necessarily attended with any expense. Whether the incidental expenses of uniform (if you belong to a club), tent, dinner, &c. &c. are such as you can fairly afford, is for your consideration. They need not be high, and, in my good will to the game, I am anxious that they should be kept down.
Tennis is an animated game, of much variety in itself, and requiring great variety of muscular exertion. It is connected with many historical and chivalrous recollections, and carries the mind back to our Henry the Fifth and the " mocking Dauphin" of France.
As it cannot be played without a spacious and expensive edifice, it is altogether an aristocratic game, and demands an aristocratic purse. It is a game which requires a good deal of practice, and, consequently, a good deal of expenditure, in order to acquire a tolerable degree of skill ; and your skill will seldom have an opportunity of showing itself after you have quitted Oxford, as you will seldom fall in with a tennis-court. I have no hesitation in saying, that you, my dear nephew, have no money that you have a right to spend upon yourself in this manner.
You will never, I trust, annoy any of the neighbouring country gentlemen, by attacking their game. You know how tender a point this is, and how susceptible most landed proprietors are upon the subject; and your own good feeling, and sense of propriety, and common fairness, will prevent you from trespassing in this manner. You can imagine how indignant you would yourself feel at such an invasion, and will not be guilty towards another of a wrong, of which you would complain loudly if it were offered to yourself.
After all, walking is the cheapest exercise, and, perhaps, the best. If you wish to give it variety, you will find plenty of ditches to leap, steeps to ascend, and hills to run up or down. And, dull as are most of the great roads leading into Oxford, the country round abounds in interesting objects within reach of a walk. There is much natural scenery, possessed of a good deal of variety and picturesque character ; and there are many buildings, and remains of buildings, which either from something in themselves, or from adventitious circumstances, well deserve to be looked at. The church at Cumnor, for instance, not only has within itself much to interest a man fond of architectural or antiquarian investigation, but, in common with the remains or site of Cumnor hall, and the village of Dry Sandford, have acquired a sort of classical notoriety from the magical pen of Sir Walter Scott. The picturesque ruins of the kitchen, and other buildings at Stanton Harcourt, the slight vestiges of Godston Nunnery, the Town Hall, the Gaol, and the two churches at Abingdon, may all become, each in its turn, the object of a pedestrian expedition. The residence of the Speaker, Lenthall, at Bessilsleigh, may deserve notice, from historical recollections, though for no other reason. The Saxon church in Iffley I have already mentioned. The recently-built Saxon chapel at Kennington is done in excellent taste, and is a most gratifying instance of the munificence and piety of an individual clergyman, devoting, I believe, almost all his resources to the work. The church at Wytham will show you that a church very lately erected may, by correct judgment, be made to present the appearance of having been built five hundred years ago. But I must not go on in this way, or you will think that you have got hold of an Oxford guide.
Most of the villages and village churches in the neighbourhood, have some character of their own worth examining.
So much for amusements connected with exercise, which has led me into something like a repetition of some of the sentiments in a former letter.
A few words on sedentary amusements.
If you read in earnest, and are bent upon making the most of your time, you will have little of it left for amusements of a sedentary nature.
The less you have to do with cards the better. Young men can have no occasion for the assistance of cards in order to pass their time ; and there seems to be something almost incongruous in the idea of their sitting down to a rubber. Nor do they need the excitement : if they wish for it, that very wish is a reason why they ought not to have it. If they play for money—or, at all events, if they play for such sums as make the winning or losing an object of any degree of consequence—they become gamblers ; and of the many bad passions which gambling sometimes calls into activity, and of the destructive consequences which it entails, no one is ignorant. If you once get into the habit of playing, you will, perhaps, not know when to stop. Cards are very seductive, and you may find yourself become a gambler almost before you are aware of it. Perhaps the best plan is not to know how to play, which furnishes an answer always ready.
Chess is a game of elegance and interest, and the being a good chessplayer, carries with it a certain impression of general ability and of intellectual activity and-resource. Perhaps I may allow that playing at chess adds a certain degree of interest to the perusal of the history of a campaign, whether ancient or modern, with its various moves, its checks and counter-checks, its retreats and castlings. But chess is a fascinating game, and will be apt to make larger demands upon your time than you can afford. If you indulge in it at all, you must be peremptory with yourself in resisting its tendency to incroach either upon your time or your temper. Sometimes, too, it requires so much exertion of thought,— is such a strain upon the mind,—that it hardly can answer the purposes of relaxation. If you play, by all means read Franklin's Essay on the Morals of Chess. For clearness of head, for truth-telling simplicity and honesty of purpose, and for perspicuity and liveliness of style, Franklin has, perhaps, no superior.
Always recollect that improvement, moral and intellectual, is the great object for which you were sent to Oxford. With that object nothing must e suffered to interfere.
I remain, &c. &c.