24 APRIL 1920, Page 7


" The bulk of mankind will know days when labour will become less incessant and exhausting, less material, tyrannical, pitiless. What use will humanity make of this leisure ? .0ti,ite 'employment may be said to depend the whole destiny of man. It raises or lowers, it replenishes or exhausts."

T" quotation fromM. Maeterlinck heads the Report of 'the proceedings of the National Conference on the Leisure of the People which was held in Manchester last November. Leisure, Mr. J. L. Paton, the Chairman, justly says, is now abundant for all except the housewife, and the old phrase ".the leisured classes " has lost its mean- ing. We are beginning to realize in a practical way that, in the epigrammatic but ungrammatical words of Herbert Spencer, it is a mistake to suppose that life is for working instead of working for life."

Not only are we beginning to _realize the importance of play to 'the individual, but students of abstract psychology and practisers of sociology have both alike arrived at a conclusion very different from that of traditional morality. Far from the uses of adversity being sweet, psychologists and sociologists both assure us that unhappiness leads to vice. What kind of remedy, for instance, do many rescue- home workers of great experience suggest for the evils of prostitution ? Not -the setting up of more homes for re- pentant Magdalenes, not even the closing of the bad type of music-hall and the bad type of public-house. What they now recommend are simply facilities for the meeting of young people of both sexes under good conditions. They want dancing-halls, halls where private theatricals can be performed, tennis-courts, playing-fields, and the rest of the apparatus by means of which young people with money to spend amuse themselves. This, they say, not repression, is the way to fight vice. The impulses which originally lead both girls and young men into vice are not only natural but might be made laudable.

The reader may be struck as he parusas the Report of the National Conference by the fact that the-experienced social -workers who spoke, though they are no doubt perfectly -familiar with -the psychological and biological facts which underlie -the phenomena they are 'dealing with, -have by no means made those facts clear to the general reader. They have not even made plain the fact that they themselves -understand them. The expressions " active -amusement," ,

The second function is one which perhaps the :game of Indians and -cowboys will not fulfil, but which is certainly served by-the play of •the little:girl who hushes her doll to !sleep and washes up its tea-things. Her action is a manifestation of "the adult life of distant ages," and is at the 'same time anticipatory. Professor Nunn analyses these principles as formative in the case of the play of children, but they may be said to hold also in the life of the adult. What the adult needs in his play, and what he -will obtain, if he is, as it were, financially free, is a set of activities which will be •complementary to .the activities of hie working life. This is of course a theoretical commonplace as far as physical needs are con- cerned, but if we regard the phenomena as only physical we shall find that facts do:not quite fit in with this theory. Equally important is -the psychical need of change. We shall not necessarily find that the clerk who has been sitting.at a desk adding up figures all day wants to •go and play football in the 'evening. If he were an animal and .not a man that would be his choice, just as he would select a strong and well-developed mate. Actually we find that he goes to a dance, or, if his day has been a very dull one, to a cinema, with a high-heeled "flapper" because his sense of romance and his longing for the impossible to happen have been frustrated all day, and this same sense of romance and the longing for the impossible are an integral part of his nature. Without them be is sub- consciously aware that he would become a less complete human -being. If he is systematically prevented from going to .his cinema and from holding hands " when he is there, one of three things will happen. Either he will bolt with the cash-box because, like Heckle. Gabler, " he wants things to -happen," or if he is a more balanced person he will go for a soldier (not that this life will in 'the end neces- sarily suit him all round better than a clerkship plus the cinema), or (and perhaps some of us may think worst of all) he may let the romantic impossible side of his nature die and so become the shrivelled creature of routine.

-Our clerk's dance or cinema may also serve another purpose. He is finding that his sequence and classification concepts, the instinct for orderliness and punctuality which he uses so extensively -in his professional life, are becoming exhausted. He consciously goes to the dance "for a change." But .subconsciously he has also gone because a dance is not a changebecause by means of the ritual of the dance, the rhythm and symmetry of the jazz or the waltz, he refreshes an exhausted brain area by performing physical actions (i.e., dancing) which are in his racial memory associated with order, symmetry, and sequence :- " The task which the appropriate physiological mechanism has insufficient energy to perform is conquered by means of energy drawn from the more massive inherited engram-corn- plexes. . We are concerned with movements of self-assertion which are on the point of failure because the impulses behind them are obstructed or exhausted, and what we see is that such movements may often be saved from extinction by being trans- formed or absorbed into other modes of self-assertion, whose basis in the organism's disposition is more firmly established and whose energy is still fresh."

It is difficult for a clerk to be orderly and systematic. It is easy for a dancer.

It is of course impossible within the limits of a leading article to summarize adequately the findings of the psycho- logists with regard to " play " problems. We have, how- ever, perhaps said enough to make it plain to the reader that, according to the best modern scientific opinion, the question of " The Leisure of the People " is one of the first importance. Tragedy does literally " purge the passions through pity and terror." The practice of some art may make a human being and a citizen out of a minder of machinery. The dance may keep rounded and perfect a mind that would otherwise shrivel and contract till there was no room in it for a soul.

But the critic may object : If the biological need for play of the right kind is so great, will not every man and woman inevitably seek out the play which is most necessary to them ? If all this were true, should we have a people who needed guidance in the use of their new leisure ? The critic must remember the simple fact that we live in a very complex society. He must, moreover, remember that until lately, when the best pedagogues and the best social workers began to realize the truths whose outlines we have just so inadequately sketched, we had begun very early (at five years old, to be exact) to bring pressure to bear upon our citizens, and that when at thirteen the formal pressure of the schoolmaster was withdrawn the informal economic pressure and the physical obstacle still remained, both of which deterrents to the right spending of leisure had often to be overcome by men and girls, already tired, in their short hours of leisure. When we consider the obstacles, the wonder is not, perhaps, that so many workers spend their leisure, in the biological sense, unprofitably- i.e., do not go to the theatre, do not play football or dance, but sit at home or loaf about when they would rather amuse themselves. We must remember, too, that in the past much of the influence of the rich, which at one time was very great, the efforts of the Lady Bountiful and of some Settlements, were wholly directed to the perverting of the worker's instinct. We told him to do Swedish drill in the open air when he wanted to dance ; we told him to listen to a lecture on ancient Babylon when he wanted to watch a football match, we told him to learn chip-carving when he wanted to rag and sing in Epping Forest. If then his traditional activities are contra-indicated, what practical steps can the modern social worker take ? What counter-attractions are we going to get against whisky on the one hand, and dullness and all that that state brings with it on the other ? The speakers at the Conference at Manchester had many practical schemes to Bugged, and these suggestions are recorded at length in the pamphlet to which we have alluded before (The Leisure of the People : a Handbook, published by the Conference Committee, 29 Princess Street, Albert Square, Manchester, post free ls. 8d.). In towns dancing in the public parks is advocated, and all the different kinds of co-operative amateur entertainment such as those got up by the League of Arts (37 Russell Square, W.C. 1), a society that Londoners will remember with gratitude for having provided so many delightful " attractions " on the occasion of the peace celebrations— choirs singing unaccompanied out of doors, Morris and country dancing, pastoral plays, and so forth.

Other speakers urged the need for a very great increase in playing-field accommodation ; others again pointed out that very much better use might be made of our existing public buildings. For example, schools are usually shut up during the whole period of the holidays. Public halls and baths might be more largely used as club mises. For country holidays the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship are organizing holiday camps, these being arranged either for young men or for young women ; and we are told that mixed camps are also run with great success, as are special camps for family parties. Another most practical proposal it that some of the many big country houses which are now on the market should be bought by holiday clubs and used as Guest Houses. We suggest that possibly the same sort of thing might be done with large suburban houses. There are a number of such houses standing vacant at Twickenham or Clapham which, being on 'bus and tram routes, are near enough to London to enable country members to enjoy all the amenities of London theatres and picture galleries during their holiday. Winter gardens and cafes are also obviously needed. in most large towns, while in many places very admirable work is done by the popularizing of the drama for amateurs, and even (as at Glastonbury) of opera. One very elaborate and excellent system of competitive amateur theatricals is describe-I which ends up for the winning company with a performance at the " Old. Vic," with all the glamour of a real theatre complete with limes and footlights. In passing one must say a word—though the excellence of these two ventures is already fortunately widely recognized—for the splendid work lately started at the Royal Surrey Theatre, which produces Grand Opera at popular prices, and that done at the " Old Vic " itself.

For boys, most teachers and social workers alike agree that the Boy Scout organization forms one of the best " skeletons," though a Scout troop, like every others club or association, needs a good man or woman to run it. Of all these organizations, the Boy Scouts and the Co- operative Holidays Association stand out in one particular. They seem almost the only two that do not demand the spending of public money as a right.