[This was a paper read by HDR at the ‘Church Congress’ during the first week of 1906. Not formally published as a separate paper.]
At the outset he recalled the observations of a well-known educationist as to what might be expected of a fiend charged with the task of constructing a system of elementary education for the purpose of keeping the life of the people at the lowest possible level. The fiend would reflect that every human being had a body with appetites and needs so strong that if the owner were not taught to form the habit of guiding it aright it would form bad habits—drink, licentiousness, indolence—which would ruin itself and the heart and mind along with it. So the fiend would carefully abstain from letting children be taught at school any social games which would both train character and provide healthy recreation long after school hours. He would allow schools to be built without playgrounds, without gymnasia. He would know that no one could escape disease of heart and mind who had not acquired the habit of keeping heart and mind—and he would add eyes and hands—actively employed with wholesome feeling and act and thought. So the fiend would very carefully exclude from the elementary school regime any real and vital knowledge of nature, and of the most interesting forms of life and works of men. He would discourage the scholars either in observation of nature, or in any attempt to use their hands in such a way as would delight their eyes or their minds by the fitness or beauty of things made. Thank God! the Government in charge of our education was neither fiend nor fool. But it was because the fiend had to be reckoned with that the educators in England had to be constantly on the watch to see that he was checkmated. The first thing they had to think about was that they should so induce a love of the countryside and of nature as the great recreation of the weary millions that men should pause before they left the pleasant fields, with all the thousand interests of blessings “scattered at their feet like flowers,” to rush up to the jerry-built Babylons of restlessness and pain, and, saying farewell to sunshine and clear air, swell the sound of sorrow, barricaded ever more within the walls of cities. It was because one agreed with Ruskin, that old seer of Brantwood, “that the most helpful and scared work which can at present be done for humanity is to teach people, not how to better themselves, but how to satisfy themselves, and that in order to teach men how to be satisfied it is necessary to understand the art of joy and humble life,” that one felt it to be not only the duty of the Church, but of all thinking men and women to consider the question of recreation for the people—the masses and classes alike. Both had now more time than they need to have for rest and pleasure, and if the age was spoken of as a pleasure-loving age, this might in part be because it was a very hard-working age, and needed more recreation to enable it to do its work than it did of old.
The first thing if they wished to teach a nation how to play was to give its children a chance of playing grounds. Both in town and country alike these had not apparently been thought a necessary appendage for any but public and secondary and private schools. Even in so modern a town as Barrow, though there was a public park to which on the half-holiday the scholars could go for a pitch or a goal, and though admirable school buildings had been arranged for, the playing-ground had been forgotten. As for gymnasia, to find these one must go to Germany or Switzerland. He pleaded for the playing grounds and gymnasia. As to the actual games, did they not wish, he asked, to encourage the love of play rather than the contentment to look on? In order to import into the elementary schools, after they had got their playing-fields, something of the esprit de corps and love of the game for its own sake, he suggested that on the Saturdays for the boys inter-school matches in cricket, football, and wrestling, might be arranged. Given playground and gymnasium the girls would fend for themselves. He pleaded for the revival of the May Day Festival. He thought the May Day Festival at Keswick cost annually £22, and it gave pleasure that lasted a whole year to the hearts of all who partook in it. He spoke of the recreative and elevating influence of singing in parts which formed an important part in the holiday requirements for young and old in Switzerland; of the encouragement of the love of country, and the promotion of recreation in a hundred ways in after life, which resulted from the organising of such excursions as they had in Switzerland; of the power of the pageant to teach history and provide real recreation, as was demonstrated by the Christmas-tide celebrations in Grasmere Vale, where the whole village for at least six weeks was interested in preparation for the event. He emphasised the importance of such classes as wood-carving, metal working, and drawing, as providing interesting occupation in winter evenings and educating eyes to see and hearts to feel; and laid most stress on the value of school gardens, the effect of which on the mind of the boy, he said, was magical, for, as he grew in love for the processes of Nature revealed in his tiny garden, the whole countryside began to be “a garden of the Lord” to him, and he found that therein he might walk with angels unawares. As an agency of a kindred kind to the school gardens, he spoke of the Bird and Arbor Day of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds. This brought him to the point of his paper—the recreative power of the countryside rightly understood. One of the saddest sights that one could see in the Lake District during the tourist season was the aimless wandering of the hard-worked folks who had waited a whole year for their annual holiday, and having obtained it did not know what to do with it…. Village school children were, or had until quite recently, when many of the masters and mistresses had become interested in these subjects, turned out proficient in only the three R’s, but almost untaught in the fourth R, which was reverence for flower, bud, and animal life, for beauty of scene and knowledge of the simplest marvels of the physical geography of their surroundings…. But one marvelled that our educators in art and the joy of humble life, who were believers in the balm and restorative rest of nature, had done so little to enrich the poor with the costless yet priceless treasure of admiration for the loveliness of the natural world. They might plan garden cities, but they would never get people to inhabit them till they had learnt once again the joy of country sight and sound.
(English Lakes Visitor and Keswick Guardian, 6 October 1906, p. 4)