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Days Off
by [?]

“You see it is the change that makes the charm of a day off. The real joy of leisure is known only to the people who have contracted the habit of work without becoming enslaved to the vice of overwork.

“A hobby is the best thing in the world for a man with a serious vocation. It keeps him from getting muscle-bound in his own task. It helps to save him from the mistake of supposing that it is his little tick-tack that keeps the universe a-going. It leads him out, on off days, away from his own garden corner into curious and interesting regions of this wide and various earth, of which, after all, he is a citizen.

“Do you happen to know the Reverend Doctor McHook? He is a learned preacher, a devoted churchman, a faithful minister; and in addition to this he has an extra-parochial affection for ants and spiders. He can spend a happy day in watching the busy affairs of a formicary, and to observe the progress of a bit of spider-web architecture gives him a peculiar joy. There are some severe and sour-complexioned theologians who would call this devotion to objects so far outside of his parish an illicit passion. But to me it seems a blessing conferred by heavenly wisdom upon a good man, and I doubt not he escapes from many an insoluble theological puzzle, and perhaps from many an unprofitable religious wrangle, to find refreshment and invigoration in the society of his many-legged friends.”

“You are moralizing again, Uncle Peter,” I objected; “or at least you are getting ready to do so. Stop it; and give me a working definition of the difference between a hobby and a fad.”

“Let me give you an anecdote,” said he, “instead of a definition. There was a friend of mine who went to visit a famous asylum for the insane. Among the patients who were amusing themselves in the great hall, he saw an old gentleman with a long white beard, who was sitting astride of a chair, spurring its legs with his heels, holding both ends of his handkerchief which he had knotted around the back, and crying ‘Get up, get up! G’long boy, steady!’ with the utmost animation. ‘You seem to be having a fine ride, sir,’ said my friend. ‘Capital,’ said the old gentleman, ‘this is a first-rate mount that I am riding.’ ‘Permit me to inquire,’ asked my friend, ‘whether it is a fad or a hobby?’ ‘Why, certainly!’ replied the old gentleman, with a quizzical look. ‘It is a hobby, you see, for I can get off whenever I have a mind to.’ And with that he dismounted and walked into the garden.

“It is just this liberty of getting off that marks the superiority of a hobby to a fad. The game that you feel obliged to play every day at the same hour ceases to amuse you as soon as you realize that it is a diurnal duty. Regular exercise is good for the muscles, but there must be a bit of pure fun mixed with the sport that is to refresh your heart.

“A tour in Europe, carefully mapped out with an elaborate itinerary and a carefully connected timetable, may be full of instruction, but it often becomes a tax upon the spirit and a weariness to the flesh. Compulsory castles and mandatory museums and required ruins pall upon you, as you hurry from one to another, vaguely agitated by the fear that you may miss something that is marked with a star in the guide-book, and so be compelled to confess to your neighbour at the table-d’hote that you have failed to see what he promptly and joyfully assures you is ‘the best thing in the whole trip,’ Delicate and sensitive people have been killed by taking a vacation in that way.

“I remember meeting, several years ago, a party of personally conducted tourists in Venice, at the hour which their itinerary consecrated to the enjoyment of the fine arts in the gallery of the Academy. Their personal conductor led them into one of the great rooms, and they gathered close around him, with an air of determination on their tired faces, listening to his brief, dry patter about the famous pictures that the room contained. He stood in the centre of the room holding his watch in his hand while they dispersed themselves around the walls, looking for the paintings which they ought to see, like chickens searching for scattered grains of corn. At the expiration of five minutes he clapped his hands sharply; his flock scurried back to him; and they moved on to ‘do’ the next room.