Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
AMUSEMENTS AND RECREATIONS
It is a trite remark, that the mind, like a bow, will
lose its power by being always strained; and that occasional relaxation from
the cares of business is necessary to preserve the vigor and elasticity of
the human faculties. Allowing this to be true, it becomes a question, in
what way recreation may be lawfully sought; or, in other words, what kind of
amusement may be innocently resorted to. Here TWO RULES may be laid down.
1. All recreations are improper which have an injurious
influence upon the moral and religious character.
This is an axiom. No reasoning is necessary to support it—no eloquence is
requisite to illustrate it—none but an atheist can oppose it.
2. All recreations are improper which, by their nature,
have a tendency to dissipate the mind, and unfit it for the pursuit of
business; or which encroach too much on the time demanded for our necessary
occupations. This rule is as intelligible
and as just as the former.
These two directions, the propriety of which all must
admit, will be quite sufficient to guide us in the choice of amusements.
First, there are some diversions, which, by leading us to
inflict pain—produce 'cruelty of disposition'.
A reluctance to inflict misery, even to an insect, is not
a mere decoration of the character, which we are left at liberty to wear or
to neglect—but it is a disposition which we are commanded, as matter of duty
to cherish. It is a necessary part of virtue. It is impossible to inflict
pain, and connect the idea of gratification with such an act, without
experiencing some degree of mental hardening. We are not surprised that he
who, while a boy, amused himself in killing flies, should, when he became a
master, exhibit the character of a cruel and remorseless tyrant. To find
pleasure in causing animals to fight and devour each other, is a disposition
truly diabolical; and the man who can find delight in dog-fighting,
cock-fighting, bull-baiting—is quite prepared to imitate those cannibals who
sported with the mangled carcases and palpitating limbs of their murdered
victims, and dragged them about with their teeth in their gardens.
Horse-racing, in addition to the cruelty with which it is
attended, is generally a means of assembling on the course, all the
gamesters, swindlers, and vile characters in the neighborhood—and is the
cause of much drunkenness, debauchery, and ruin. All field sports, of every
kind, are, in my view, condemned by the laws of humanity. Shooting, hunting,
fishing—are all cruel. What agony is inflicted in hooking a worm or a fish;
in maiming a bird; in chasing and distressing a rabbit. And to find sport in
doing this, is inhuman and unchristian. To say that these animals are given
for food, and must be killed, is not a reply to my argument. I am not
contending against killing them, or eating them—but against the act of
killing of them for sport!
The infliction of death, under any circumstances, and
upon any creature, however insignificant in the scale of creation, is too
serious a matter to be a source of amusement. No two terms can be more
incongruous than death and sport. It seems totally monstrous, that after
having subjected the irrational creation to the terrors of death by his sin,
man should experience pleasure in executing the sentence. Death is the enemy
even of animals. And irrational creates manifest symptoms of instinctive
horror at man's approach. For one to find delight in throwing the shuddering
victim to the devourer, is shocking. I would extend these remarks to all
animals, and say, that it is unlawful to find sport in killing such as are
harmful. Wolves, bears, serpents, are to be destroyed when their continuance
endangers human life—but to find pleasure in the act of killing even these,
has a hardening tendency on the human heart.
Secondly. Some amusements tend to cherish selfish and
avaricious feelings—and at the same time tend to produce that gambling taste
which leads to the utter ruin of both the temporal and eternal interests of
mankind. Billiards, cards, dice, have this
tendency—and indeed, all other games that are played for money. The object
of the player in these games is to get money, by a speedy process. What arts
of fraud and deception are often resorted to, in order to avoid the loss and
shame of defeat—and secure the gain and honor of success! What anger and
ill-will are often produced in the mind of the unsuccessful party! Even the
rules of decorum observed in polished society, are not sufficient, in many
cases, to restrain the passionate invective, and the profane oath. I may
here most confidently appeal to the frequenters of the card-table, for the
truth of what I say, when I affirm, that the lack of success during an
evening at whist is a trial of temper, which few are able to bear with honor
to themselves, or the comfort of those around them. Passion, petulance, and
sullenness are always waiting under the table, ready to appear in the person
and conduct of the loser.
I have had scenes described to me by spectators of them,
which I would have thought a disgrace to the vulgar company assembled at an
alehouse, much more the polite party in the drawing-room. Have not the most
serious misunderstandings arisen from this source between man and wife! What
wrath and fury has the latter, by her tide of ill success, brought down upon
her head from her irritated husband. The winner sees all this, retains his
ill-gotten gain, and knows not all the while, that a chilling frost of
selfishness is upon his heart, freezing up the generous feelings of his
Nothing is more bewitching than the love of gambling.
The winner having tasted the sweets of gain, is led forward by the hope of
still greater gain; while the loser plunges deeper and deeper into ruin,
with the delusive expectation of retrieving his lost fortune. How many have
ruined themselves and their families forever by this mad passion! How many
have thrown down the cards or dice, only to take up the pistol or the
poison; and have rushed, with all their crimes about them, from the
gambling-table to the—fiery lake of hell!
To affirm that these remarks are applicable only to those
who play high, is nothing; because it is the nature of vice to be
progressive. Besides, it is a fact, that many tradesmen, and even
laboring people, have ruined themselves by the love of gambling. It is, as I
have said, a most ensnaring practice, leading us from one degree to another,
until multitudes who begin with only an occasional game, end in the most
confirmed and inveterate habits of gambling.
Thirdly. Some amusements tend to foster vanity and pride,
while, at the same time, they generate a distaste for all the serious
pursuits of true piety, and the sober occupations of domestic life.
If I mistake not, these remarks will apply to balls,
games, and concerts. I am not quite sure that the morals of society have not
suffered considerable deterioration by such assemblies. Circumstances are
connected with this species of amusement, the tendency of which is more than
questionable. The mode of dress adopted at these fashionable resorts; the
nature of the employment; the dissipating tendency of the music, the
conversation, and the elegant uproar; the lateness of the hour to which the
dazzling scene is protracted; the love of display which is produced; the
false varnish which is thrown over many a worthless character, by the
fascinating exterior which he exhibits in a ball room—have a tendency to
break down the mounds of virtue, and expose the beholder to the
encroachments of vice.
And if it were conceded, which it certainly cannot be,
that no immoral consequence results to those who occupy the upper walks of
life, who are protected by the decorum of elegant society, yet what mischief
is produced to their humble imitators, who attend the assemblies which are
held in the barn or the ale-house!
I look upon dancing, among these, to be a practice
fraught with immorality; and my soul is horrified at this moment by
remembering the details of a most tragic event which occurred in this
neighborhood a few years since, to an young female, who, after having lost
her virtue on the night that followed the dance, was found, a few hours
after, murdered, either by her seducer or herself. Have nothing to do then
with this fascinating, though injurious species of amusement. Besides, what
an encroachment does it make upon time, which is demanded for other
pursuits! How does it dissipate the mind, and poison it with a vain and
frivolous taste for dress and personal decoration! How completely does it
unfit the soul for piety, and even the necessary occupations of domestic
life! Let there be a love once acquired for these elegant recreations by any
female, and, from my heart, I pity the man who is destined to be her
My opinion of the STAGE I shall reserve for a separate
chapter; in the meantime I shall reply to a question which, no doubt, before
this, you are ready to ask, "What amusements I would recommend?"
I do not hesitate at once to observe, that young people
stand in much less need than is supposed, of any amusement properly so
called. Their spirits are buoyant, their cares are light, their sorrows are
few, and their occupations rarely very fatiguing to the mind. What more is
necessary beyond mere change of employment, I should say, may be found in
activities both strengthening to the body, and improving to the mind. A
country ramble amid the beauties of nature, where, surrounded by sights
and sounds which have awakened and cherished the spirit of poetry, we may
admire the works of God and man together, will, to every mind of taste or
piety, be quite enough to refresh and stimulate the wearied faculties.
The perusal of an entertaining and instructive book,
where our best authors have said their best things, and in their best manner
too, will have the same effect. My children, acquire a taste for reading.
Aspire to an independence of the 'butterfly pursuits of the pleasure
hunter'. Seek for that thirst after knowledge, which, when the soul is jaded
with the dull and daily round of secular affairs, shall conduct her to the
fountains of thought contained in the well-stocked library—where, as she
drinks the pure perennial streams of knowledge, she forgets in their murmurs
the toils of the day. And where young people are happily situated beneath
the wing of their parents, the pleasures of home, the agreeable communion of
the domestic circle are no base or insufficient recreation from the fatigues
But perhaps many a youthful bosom will at this thought
heave a sigh, and sorrowfully exclaim, "I am not at home. In that beloved
retreat, and with its dear inhabitants, I would need no further amusements.
My father's greeting smile; my mother's fond embrace; the welcome of my
brothers and my sisters; the kind looks, the fond inquiries, the interesting
though unimportant conversation of all, would recruit my strength, and
recreate my mind. But I am far from these. I am in a distant town, a
stranger in a strange place; a mere lodger, where the attentions which I
receive are all bought and paid for. Wearied and dispirited, I ofttimes
return from the scene of labor, and find in the cold and heartless
salutation of my employer, and in the dreary solitude of my own chamber,
that I am, indeed, not at home. Often and often, as I sit musing away the
hour that intervenes between business and sleep, and carrying out into
painful contrast my lodging and my home.
Who can wonder that in such a situation I should
occasionally pay a visit to the theater, or the concert, and seek to forget
that I am not at home—by amusements which have a tendency to drown
reflection and divert my mind. Oh! give me again the pleasures of home, and
I will make a cheerful surrender of all that I have adopted as their
I feel for such young people. I too have been in their
situation; I have felt all that they feel. I have wept at the contrast
between being a stranger—and a happy child at home. I too have returned at
night to meet the silent look, or cheerless greeting of the hostess, instead
of the smiling countenance and fond expression of the mother who bore me,
the father who loved me. I too have retired to my room to weep at thoughts
of home. I can therefore sympathize with you. And shall I tell you how, in
these circumstances, I alleviated my sorrows and rendered my situation not
only tolerable—but even sometimes pleasant? By the exercises and influence
of true piety; by the communion of a holy fellowship with pious companions;
and by the assistance of books. Try, do be persuaded to try the same means.
"RELIGION, what treasures untold
Reside in that heavenly word!
More precious than silver and gold,
Or all that this earth can afford."
This will find you a home, and a father and friends—in
every place. It will soften your banishment, and open to you springs of
consolation, which shall send their precious streams into your forlorn
abode. It will render you independent of the theater and the ball-room. It
will guard you from vices, which, where they are committed, only serve to
render the recollection of home still more intolerable. It will give you an
interest and a share in all the pious institutions which are formed in the
congregation with which you associate, and will thus offer you a recreation
in the exercise of a holy and enlightened philanthropy.
Amusements, in the usual acceptance of the word, are but
the miserable expedients resorted to by the ignorant and unsanctified mind
of man for happiness; the ineffectual efforts to restore that peace which
man lost by the fall, and which nothing but true piety can bring back to the
human bosom. In departing from God, the soul of man strayed from the pasture
to the wilderness, and now is ever sorrowfully exclaiming, as she wanders
on, who will show us any good? To relieve her sense of need, and satisfy her
cravings, she is directed to amusements—but they prove only the flowers of
the desert, which, with all their beauty, do not satisfy.
No, no. It is the return of the soul to God through faith
in Jesus Christ which can alone give true and satisfying delight. Believing
in him—we have peace which passes understanding—the mind is at rest in the
contemplation of saving truth—and the heart in the enjoyment of the chief
good. Peace with God, attended by peace with conscience, producing peace
with the world, and affording a foretaste of peace beyond the grave—gives a
feast to the soul, compared with which worldly pleasures are but as noxious
and gaudy flowers around the food of an hungry man, adding nothing to its
relish by their colors, and only spoiling all by their odors. True religion
conducts us to the fountain of living waters, and shows that these things
are but broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Amusements are but expedients to make men happy without
piety. The mere husks, which they only crave after, and feed upon, who are
destitute of the bread which comes down from heaven; and which are rejected
by those who have their appetite satisfied with this celestial manna.
In addition to this, cultivate a taste for reading.
Employ your leisure hours in gaining knowledge. Thus even your situation
will be rendered comparatively comfortable, and the thoughts of home will
neither destroy your happiness, nor send you for consolation to the
polluting sources of worldly amusement.
But there are some who will reply, "I have neither taste
for true religion nor reading, and what amusements do you recommend to me?"
None at all. What, that man talk of amusement, who, by his own confession,
is under the curse of heaven's eternal law, and the wrath of heaven's
incensed King? AMUSEMENT! what, for the poor wretch who is on the brink of
perdition, the verge of hell, and may the next hour be lifting up his eyes
in torment, and calling for a drop of water to cool his parched tongue!
Diversion! what, for him who is every moment exposed to that sentence,
"Depart from me, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and
his angels!" What, going on to that place where the worm dies not, and the
fire is never quenched; where there is weeping and wailing, and gnashing of
teeth—and calling for amusements! Oh monstrous absurdity! We have heard of
prisoners dancing in their chains—but who ever heard of a poor creature
asking for amusements on his way to the place of execution? This is your
case. While you have no taste for true piety, you are certainly under
sentence of eternal wrath. You are every day traveling to execution. Yet you
are asking for amusements! And what will be your reflections in the world of
despair, to recollect that the season of hope was employed by you, not in
seeking the salvation of the soul, and everlasting happiness—but in mere
idle diversions, which were destroying you at the very time they amused you!
Then will you learn, when the instruction will do you no good, that you
voluntarily relinquished the fullness of joy which God's presence affords,
and the eternal pleasures which are to be found at his right hand, for the
joy of fools, which as Solomon truly says, is but as "the crackling of
thorns beneath the pot." Before you think of amusement seek for true piety!