At the Coming of Spring

    AS the natural year draws round to a finish and the perished winter merges into spring, the old impulses for recreation are revived. Not a foot but treads the pavement a trifle more eagerly, with more divine discontent, as the hours of sunshine lengthen and soften at the approach of April. How loving, alluring, and caressing the air was the other day, — full of rumours from the south, news of the vast migrations already beginning and soon to encompass us with their unnumbered people. Already the first summer visitors have appeared in the hills and over the marshes, by ones and twos, the vanguard of the hosts of occupation; and even in the bad-lands of the city canyons we have intimations of these miraculous [Page 53] changes. There come to us, deep in the heart, familiar but uncomprehended promptings to vagabondage, to fresh endeavour, to renewal of life and wider prospects; hope comes back with the south wind, and courage comes in on the tide. Plodding is all very well through streets of slush and under skies of slate; but when the roads are dry underfoot and day is blue again overhead, the methods of mere endurance and drudgery will no longer serve. The tramp instinct, which is no respecter of respectability, wakes up and has its due. On Sunday thousands of bicycles appear, like flies in the sudden warmth; on Monday there are carnations in the buttonholes of Wall Street; while every hansom on the Avenue is freighted with the destruction of another Troy. For this is early spring and the time of recreation is come.
    If we think of the affairs of the universe as controlled by laws of rhythm, there seems to be a rhythm here, too, – the rhythm of creation and recreation, the contraction and [Page 54] expansion of the heart of humanity. In obedience to this law we flock cityward in the fall, congregating and socializing ourselves for mutual dependence of work, – the plodding, uninspired necessary work of the world; but when the confining forces of winter are withdrawn, society disintegrates again, pouring itself out into the wider regions of country, out-door life, leisure, recreation. We have a yearning to be desocialized, that the individual may expand. Coöperation and dependence become irksome. The simple human heart has a call to care for its own greatest needs, and must have fresh air and a bit of solitude, time to think and room to breathe, a break in the fence and an open road over the hill. The desire of freedom is like a seed; once lodged in a crack of the walls of circumstance, it may disrupt the well-built order of conventional progress, but it will have light and space. Good ventilation is our only safeguard against disaster in this direction. You cannot kill the seed, you can only see to it that the [Page 55] walls have plenty of wide, airy crevices where the wind and sun may penetrate freely.
    There is another rhythmic flux and reflux in the relation of art to life; the creations of the one are the recreation of the other. It is the business of art to furnish us an escape from the actual, a spacious colony in the provinces of beauty, and free transportation thither. A new picture or a new volume of poems or a new story is not worth much if it does not give one a passage to some unexplored corner of that far country. You think, perhaps, this is a chimerical fancy, – the foolishness of a visionary conception of art, calculated to divorce art more and more from the actual. No, for it is the business, as it is the wish, of the actual to remould itself constantly nearer and nearer some ideal, some model, some normal standard; and this model it is the business of art to create. The earth has been infected with epidemics of insanity before now, – with the tulip craze and the South Sea bubble, for instance. It is the madness [Page 56] of our time and country to fancy that benefits are the greater as they are the more tangible, and that happiness is inherent in material things. But joy and elation and betterment reside in appreciation, not in possession. The owner of a picture is the man who can make it his own, not the man in whose house it has been immured. Our sedulous laws regulate the transference of ponderable commodities and the appearance of things; but the traffic in realities, between mind and mind, is contraband and free. It is in this trade that the artist is engaged; if his merchandise is inappreciable and invaluable, his returns must be so, too. His visible compensation must be precarious, – a matter of circumstance; his true compensation will always be just and equitable. As no one knows how much his work cost him, no one can know how well he was repaid for it. But you may be sure that there was no discrepancy in that transaction.
    Our recreation should be not merely sport, but a true recreation of forces. The best [Page 57] recreation is that reëngendering of the spirit which takes place through the avenues of art. To meet, to know, to assimilate perfectly some fresh creation of art, is to be recreated thoroughly, – to be put in tune anew, and set in harmony once more.

    The best of wisdom in learning is to learn the various cures and remedies to medicine the mind. Poor volatile sensitive mind of man, so easily thrown out of gear, so easily readjusted! So when the time of the singing of birds is come, and the months of application are drawing to a close, and you begin to look about for recreation, you must not take it at haphazard. The recreation must be personal, suited at once to self and to season. The art most accessible to us all is folded between covers of cloth or paper, and may be carried with us to the mountains or the shore. If it is well selected, it will serve to second the athletic recreations of the body, and put us in fine accord with the influences of nature and thought. If it is ill selected, our holiday may [Page 58] result in dyspeptic days of unprofitable idleness. For idleness is like everything else, it may be either good or bad. True idleness consists in doing nothing, with the grace and mastery of an accomplishment; this is an art. False idleness consists in doing nothing, but in doing it with the ill-nature and sloth of discontent; this is criminal. A beautiful idleness requires temper and genius; and though people of means may fancy they can compass it, you will nearly always find a discordant restlessness somewhere in their leisure. It if only the artist in life who can afford to be an idler, and you may take it as sober earnest that he is no debauchee of inactivity [Page 59].