Now if by the term amusement, I merely meant employment, nobody would probably differ from me—at least in theory. Every one is ready to admit the importance of being constantly employed. A mind unemployed is a VACANT mind. And a vacant or idle mind is “the devil’s work-shop;” so says the proverb.
By amusement, however, I mean something more than mere employment; for the more constantly an adult individual is employed, the greater, generally, is his demand for amusement. Indolent persons have less need of being amused than others; but perhaps there are few if any persons to be found, who are so indolent as not to think continually, on one subject or another. And it is this constant thinking, more than anything else, that creates the necessity of which I am speaking. The mere drudge, whether biped or quadruped—he, I mean, whose thinking powers are scarcely alive—has little need of the relief which is afforded by amusement.
The young of all animals—man among the rest—appear to have such an instinctive fondness for amusement, that so long as they are unrestrained, they seldom need any urging on this point. In regard to quality, the case is somewhat different. In this respect, most children require attention and restraint; and some of them a great deal of it.
But what is the nature of the amusement which adults—nay, mankind generally—require? I answer, it is relief from the employment of thinking. For it is not that mankind do not really think at all, that moralists complain so loudly. When they tell us that men will not think, they mean that they will not think as rational beings. They think, indeed; and so do the ox, and the horse, and the dog, and the elephant—but not as rational men ought to do; and this it is that constitutes the burden of complaint. But you will probably find few persons belonging to the human species who do not think constantly, at least while awake; and whose mental powers do not become fatigued, and demand relief in amusement.
Children’s minds are so soon wearied by a continuous train of thinking, even on topics which are pleasing to them, that they can seldom he brought to give their attention to a single subject long at once. They require almost incessant change; both for the sake of relief, and to amuse for the sake of amusement. And it is, to my own mind, one of the most striking proofs of Infinite Wisdom in the creation of the human mind, that it has, during infancy, such an irresistible tendency to amusement.
How greatly do they err, who grudge children, especially very young children, the time which, in obedience to the dictates of their nature, they are so fond of spending in sports and gambols! How much more rational would it be to encourage and direct them in their amusements! And how exceedingly unwise is the practice, whenever and wherever it exists, of confining them to school rooms and benches, not only for hours, but for whole half days at once.