« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
My subject is not a novel one. A most distinguished preacher made it quite his own some eighteen centuries ago. He called himself the least of the apostles,- this Saul of Tarsus, afterward called Paul; but men do not always take their own measure rightly, and we think of him to-day as overtopping all the rest. In speaking of the moral strifes and wrestlings of mankind, he expressed himself so often in the terms of the athletic games the Greeks delighted in so much that we could easily believe he had at some time run a race himself or tried a fall with some one in the GrecoRoman city where he was born; or, if not this, that he had no languid interest in the trials of speed and strength in which other youth engaged.
You might say, possibly, that his subject was not so much moral athletics in these passages as it was athletic morals; and I should answer that my subject, too, is not so much moral athletics as athletic morals. It is moral athletics in the sense of athletic morals. But incidentally we have in these sayings of the hero-saint something about moral athletics, something about the morals of athletics; as where he says (or another in his spirit), "If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned unless he strive lawfully." There is an entering wedge; and, following it up, I could easily enough split my discourse this morning into two parts,
- the first part about moral athletics, and the second part about athletic morals. For the question of moral athletics, the morals of athletics, is a much wider one than that which the New Testament's "striving lawfully" suggests. That is not unimportant; only, alas! it is not always true with us that those who strive for masteries are not crowned unless they strive lawfully. Literally, of course, our athletes are not crowned at all; instead of the crown of wild olive which
the Greeks gave to their contestants, we give a medal or a cup. I am not sure that theirs was not the better way; and where our common and revised versions call that crown of wild olive a corruptible crown, remember that it means simply perishable, and always read it so. But this is by the way. What is more to the purpose is that sometimes in our contests those who contend unlawfully receive the prize. In our professional athletics this happens, I imagine, not unfrequently. It is arranged beforehand which side shall win, and so the betting is much more intelligent. At my only horse-race I saw a splendid creature sold out in this way; and then, mounted by a jockey who had never sat upon his back before, he, like Ben Adhem's name, "led all the rest." In the athletics of our college men such things are never done, but there has from time to time been much discussion as to whether the players have not deliberately, or in the ardor of the contest, exceeded the brutality which is unavoidable and is permitted them by the rules of the game. There was, you will remember, some two years ago, a very general feeling that "anything to win" was getting to be quite too much the order for the day; or that, if the game of foot-ball necessitated such brutalities as were in evidence, then it was not a game for gentlemen to be engaged in, nor one in which young men of honorable mind and decent character could engage without deteriorating to a lower plane.
But the morals of athletics is a much wider question than the New Testament "striving lawfully" either covers or suggests. It is not a question that I feel myself competent to discuss either in its narrower or wider implications. But certainly the amount of interest attaching to athletics in our universities and colleges and preparatory schools, as compared with that attaching to those studies for which these universities and colleges and schools were primarily intended, makes the broader question of the moral influence of athletics on our educated youth one of immense importance; and, quite as certainly, the incidents of death and mutilation which attend our school and college games should
give us pause upon the road which we are taking with such eager haste. So far as the athletic tendency means a growing sense of the importance of a good physical foundation for a man's culture and character it is most admirable. And no one can admire more than I do the splendid pluck and courage, and the magnificent energy and endurance, which our young athletes exhibit on their various courses, tracks, and fields. I am perhaps somewhat morbid in my admiration for these things, so painfully conscious am I of my own miserable inefficiency upon the physical side, so horribly am I cut off from even that fine indifference to wind and weather which I see in others with a shamed and envious heart.
That is a bit of poetry which I love to impress upon the boys now growing up, though I can never recite it without a pang of sorrow and regret and shame that I have been so little free in two of the three elements my whole life long.
Yes, let us have the physical basis of culture and character. Let us have the strength and the endurance which can only come through manly exercises on the cindered path and the contentious field. And let us not make hypocrites of our young men by asking them to pretend that physical culture is their only motive in the matter. There is also the gaudium certaminis,-the joy of battle. Man is a competitive animal. Our socialists and communists imagine that they can make him over into a purely co-operative one; but they never can or will. But one thing is sure: if our athletics are not all for fun, if they have some justification from the side of physical culture, we have a right to demand of our young men that they shall not poison, with tobacco or
with drink or baser things, the blood which they have tried to sweeten, the strength which they have tried to harden, in their various sports.
One other thing is sure: that whatever value we may set on physical strength and courage and endurance, these things are not sufficient for the making of a man, and they are not sufficient to justify the splendid gifts which have been lavished on our schools and colleges by their various benefactors, from their foundation until the present time. To train men for the ministry and to educate the Indians were the two objects which the founders of Harvard College had in mind. One of these objects is about as far as the other from the hopes and purposes of those who are now interested in the welfare of the college. Lowell says that the Indians showed much greater aptitude for disfurnishing the outsides of other people's heads than for furnishing the insides of their own. But, if physical energy and endurance are the be-all and the end-all of a college course, what the Indians were at the beginning of the business is what the young collegiate of the athletic kind aspires to be upon the crowning height. Let us, by all means, have physical strength, courage, and endurance, the more of these the better; but let us not have the emphasis which these things are getting in the popular and student mind blind us entirely to the fact that our schools and colleges are institutions of learning, devoted to "the humanities," the liberal arts, and that the young men who seek them mainly as a stage on which to show off their physical prowess are false to their most honorable traditions, and should betake themselves elsewhere.
Great is physical culture; but it is not all. Indeed, we can conceive a man lacking it altogether, like Dr. Channing, whose social weight could not be measured by any number of foot-ball champions who are merely that. I have known women shut up in the house for years,-invalids, suffering much of pain, and more of deprivation,― the sum of whose enjoyments, intellectual and moral, the measure of whose spiritual significance, I would no more exchange for that of your physical giant, indifferent to intellectual and spiritual
things, than I would exchange so much weight of gold or precious stones for an equal weight of dirt swept from the street. Let us have the physical energy and prowess, but let us also have "the things that are more excellent." And let us rejoice and be exceeding glad that the whole story of our collegiate life has not been told when some wit has said, in Byron's memorable phrase, “These are our young barbarians all at play." They are not all at play; and some of those who are, do not play all the time, but give themselves in fuller measure to those intellectual exercises and encounters by which the mind is braced for the great contests of the business or the political arena in which every educated man is honor-bound to take no sneaking part.
I am dwelling much longer than I meant to on this part of my discourse. You will begin to think it was suggested by the various rivalries which have adorned Thanksgiving week. But I had not thought of these as coming when I chose the subject some weeks in advance. They have, perhaps, detained me longer in the vestibule of my discourse than I should have stayed there but for their dominance in the social atmosphere we have all been breathing latterly. But now I come to the moral athletics which I had specially in mind when I said in my heart that upon this subject would I write. As I have said, perhaps Athletic Morals would be a better indication of the matter which I am meaning to bring home to you with such clearness and such cogency as I can command. It is this matter: That we do not lack for opportunities in our personal and social life for something as athletic for the mind and will as are the physical contests of the time for those who are engaged in them; that all the "good courages are not confined to such contests, and were not exhausted by the military ardors of the race; nor are they to be looked for only where these still have full scope. Nothing is surer than that a love of danger and of daring is a factor inseparable from the constitution of the race. It is not the sea, as Emerson has sung, that makes
"Some coast alluring, some lone isle,
To distant men who must go there or die,"