Playing By Proxy
( Originally Published 1906 )
THAT a farce is much of our modern play ! Have you ever stopped to calculate how much of the sport of the American people is carried on by proxy ? A thousand men and boys gather in God's sunshine, surrounded by His inspiring air, with the blood in their veins and the muscles of their bodies begging for a rough-and-tumble game with the elements ; these thousand men and boys troop forth some summer day for sport. What is the sport? To sit on crowded, uncomfortable boards, breathing tobacco smoke, and eating peanuts, and howling, while eighteen men, some score of yards away, are doing their playing for them ! Twenty thousand people to watch a game of baseball ! What a toughening must have come to those twenty thousand sets of muscles,—through the eyes ! How the blood must have been invigorated, and the brain cleared, and foul air driven from the lungs,—through the eyes !
People of the United States do a vast deal of playing by proxy. After a great game of baseball what large editions of our papers are sold, and how many hundreds of dandies, with cigarettes held in their nerveless hands that never felt a baseball bat in their flabby lives, spend their nickels to see whether the Chicagoes or Cincinnatis or Clevelands came out ahead ! Better five hours with bat in hand or speeding around the diamond, than a lifetime of news-paper reading about games played by others. Better a day's vigorous pull at the oars than attendance on all the regattas that ever were. Better a ten-mile walk on your own feet, than the witnessing of all the O'Learys and Westons that ever trod the sawdust path. Better a twenty-mile spin on your own bicycle, than all the programmes of all the fancy riders on this planet. Better a thousandfold the clumsiest activity of your own body and brain, than the spectacle of the most proficient amusement-mongers this lazy world ever paid to do its playing for it.
The " playhouse " and the " play,"—what a sarcasm has crept into the English language ! Immense buildings by the hundred, all over this great land, crowded nightly with an open-mouthed, staring crowd, who sit for three hours resignedly, while a set of painted and bedizened ladies and gentlemen on the stage do their playing for them. It is hardly thus that the child's dramas are carried on at school recess. Every boy or girl must be on the stage, must be a king or queen, a duke, at least, or there is trouble at once. No spectators there, while other people play !
Now I hope you will not misunderstand me. This is no tirade against championship games or regattas. But let us all have enough common sense to recognize the fact that we are not playing when we merely watch the sport of others, no matter whether we pay a dollar for that privilege or not. And let us not join that throng of weak-eyed, loose-jointed, simpering, lackadaisical men and women, boys and girls, those lazy, conceited, dull-spirited, sickly folks, whose only playing is done by proxy.
I summon you to a life of mirth, to years filled with the exuberant joy of physical exercise in manly and womanly sports, to years bright with games and all innocent 'recreations. My business brings me into yearly contact with crowds of young people, hundreds of whom make the mistake of thinking that time taken for play is just so much robbed from work, and time robbed from play just so much clear gain for industry. They think that if steady application is a good thing, continual application must be a better thing. They believe that if four hours are spent on a lesson instead of two hours, the lesson will be learned twice as well. Conceding that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, they claim that they are geniuses and not Jacks ; and dozens of them are victims of that unworded popular belief, that they are playing when they are only watching other people play. Then I have watched them after they leave school (this sort is rarely graduated), and I have yet to see one such student rise above mediocrity, nor do I expect ever to see such a prodigy. How could it be ? In this rushing, busy world, how should a man succeed in his work, or a woman in hers, who has not learned to play ?
Why, success nowadays absolutely demands a healthy body. They used to make out of the sickly son a preacher or a college professor. The days are past when such a disposition was possible. The demands made now on men and women of all callings are so strenuous that an invalid or a semi-invalid is drawn aside from the race almost before the word " Go." And health is impossible for any long time to any one who has not an abnormally strong constitution, without some active and cheerful sport.
Besides health, success also demands push, vivacity, energy. No man can succeed in the most humble work without will power. Other ages have been ages of gold or iron or bronze ; but this is the age of steam, and not merely of boiling water, but of what Paul calls " boiling spirit" ; "fervent in spirit," our translation reads. Cold-blooded men and women must fall to the rear. Men and women of ready adaptability, of quick and keen perceptions, of vim and vigor,—the demand of our times has wrought out the needed supply of these. Now the man who has forgotten how to play is a man half asleep. He is in a semi-torpid condition. Sport, mirth, recreation, are absolutely necessary to maintain an alert brain, a wide-awake set of powers.
But, most of all, success in these times re-quires a cheery and serene nature. You think that a queer statement, having doubtless in your mind some fussy, worrying rich man of your acquaintance. But none the less the statement is true, and I repeat it, that the men in any honorable calling who achieve a permanent, worthy success are men who at regular and frequent intervals escape from the tension, the fume, the toil, of their business, to make themselves over fresh and new, recreate themselves, that is, with hearty, innocent mirth. At a time when nervous disorders are becoming alarmingly prevalent, and sudden deaths of overworked men startlingly frequent, material for the support of my declaration is sure to be plentiful within the circle of each man's acquaintance ; and I have no doubt that your own experience and observation will show you that when other things are equal, it is always the man of equanimity, of peaceful serenity, of a gay and mirthful temper, who bears life's stress most victoriously, and lasts the longest to accomplish the most. It is because play produces health, vivacity, and serenity that I make for it the claim that it is one of the essentials to a successful career in these days. Not playing by proxy, however; not playing by proxy.