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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Work and Play
By Horace Bushnell (1802–1876)
 
From ‘Work and Play’

LET me call to my aid, then, some thoughtful spirit in my audience: not a poet, of necessity, or a man of genius, but a man of large meditation, one who is accustomed to observe, and, by virtue of the warm affinities of a living heart, to draw out the meanings that are hid so often in the humblest things. Returning into the bosom of his family in some interval of care and labor, he shall come upon the very unclassic and certainly unimposing scene,—his children and a kitten playing on the floor together; and just there, possibly, shall meet him suggestions more fresh and thoughts of higher reach concerning himself and his race, than the announcement of a new-discovered planet or the revolution of an empire would incite. He surveys with a meditative feeling this beautiful scene of muscular play,—the unconscious activity, the exuberant life, the spirit of glee,—and there rises in his heart the conception that possibly he is here to see the prophecy or symbol of another and higher kind of play, which is the noblest exercise and last end of man himself. Worn by the toils of years, perceiving with a sigh that the unconscious joy of motion here displayed is spent in himself, and that now he is effectually tamed to the doom of a working creature, he may yet discover, in the lively sympathy with play that bathes his inward feeling, that his soul is playing now,—enjoying, without the motions, all it could do in them; manifold more than it could if he were down upon the floor himself, in the unconscious activity and lively frolic of childhood. Saddened he may be to note how time and work have changed his spirit and dried away the playful springs of animal life in his being; yet he will find, or ought, a joy playing internally over the face of his working nature, which is fuller and richer as it is more tranquil; which is to the other as fulfillment to prophecy, and is in fact the prophecy of a better and far more glorious fulfillment still.  1
  Having struck in this manner the great world-problem of WORK AND PLAY, his thoughts kindle under the theme, and he pursues it. The living races are seen at a glance to be offering in their history everywhere a faithful type of his own. They show him what he himself is doing and preparing—all that he finds in the manifold experience of his own higher life. They have, all, their gambols; all, their sober cares and labors. The lambs are sporting on the green knoll; the anxious dams are bleating to recall them to their side. The citizen beaver is building his house by a laborious carpentry; the squirrel is lifting his sail to the wind on the swinging top of the tree. In the music of the morning, he hears the birds playing with their voices, and when the day is up, sees them sailing round in circles on the upper air, as skaters on a lake, folding their wings, dropping and rebounding, as if to see what sport they can make of the solemn laws that hold the upper and lower worlds together. And yet these play-children of the air he sees again descending to be carriers and drudges; fluttering and screaming anxiously about their nest, and confessing by that sign that not even wings can bear them clear of the stern doom of work. Or, passing to some quiet shade, meditating still on this careworn life, playing still internally with ideal fancies and desires unrealized, there returns upon him there, in the manifold and spontaneous mimicry of nature, a living show of all that is transpiring in his own bosom; in every flower some bee humming over his laborious chemistry and loading his body with the fruits of his toil; in the slant sunbeam, populous nations of motes quivering with animated joy, and catching, as in play, at the golden particles of the light with their tiny fingers. Work and play, in short, are the universal ordinance of God for the living races; in which they symbolize the fortune and interpret the errand of man. No creature lives that must not work and may not play.  2
  Returning now to himself and to man, and meditating yet more deeply, as he is thus prepared to do, on work and play, and play and work, as blended in the compound of our human life; asking again what is work and what is play, what are the relations of one to the other, and which is the final end of all, he discovers in what he was observing round him a sublimity of import, a solemnity even, that is deep as the shadow of eternity.  3
  I believe in a future age yet to be revealed, which is to be distinguished from all others as the godly or godlike age,—an age not of universal education simply, or universal philanthropy, or external freedom, or political well-being, but a day of reciprocity and free intimacy between all souls and God. Learning and religion, the scholar and the Christian, will not be divided as they have been. The universities will be filled with a profound spirit of religion, and the bene orâsse will be a fountain of inspiration to all the investigations of study and the creations of genius.  4
  I raise this expectation of the future, not because some prophet of old time has spoken of a day to come when “the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (for I know not that he meant to be so interpreted), but because I find a prophecy of play in our nature itself which it were a violation of all insight not to believe will sometime be fulfilled. And when it is fulfilled it will be found that Christianity has at last developed a new literary era, the era of religious love.  5
  Hitherto the passion of love has been the central fire of the world’s literature. The dramas, epics, odes, novels, and even histories, have spoken to the world’s heart chiefly through this passion, and through this have been able to get their answer. For this passion is a state of play, wherein the man loses himself in the ardor of a devotion regardless of interest, fear, care, prudence, and even of life itself. Hence there gathers round the lover a tragic interest, and we hang upon his destiny as if some natural charm or spell were in it. Now this passion of love, which has hitherto been the staple of literature, is only a crude symbol in the life of nature, by which God designs to interpret, and also to foreshadow, the higher love of religion,—nature’s gentle Beatrice, who puts her image in the youthful Dante, by that to attend him afterwards in the spirit-flight of song, and be his guide up through the wards of Paradise to the shining mount of God. What then are we to think, but that God will sometime bring us up out of the literature of the lower love, into that of the higher?—that as the age of passion yields to the age of reason, so the crude love of instinct will give place to the loftier, finer, more impelling love of God? And then around that nobler love, or out of it, shall arise a new body of literature, as much more gifted as the inspiration is purer and more intellectual. Beauty, truth, and worship; song, science, and duty, will all be unfolded together in this common love.  6
 
 
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