TENNIS AND THE IMMORTAL SOUL
You get into the morning train with your newspaper, and you calmly
and majestically give yourself up to your newspaper. You do not
hurry. You know you have at least half an hour of security in front
of you. As your glance lingers idly at the advertisements of
shipping and of songs on the outer pages, your air is the air of a
leisured man, wealthy in time, of a man from some planet where there
are a hundred and twenty-four hours a day instead of twenty-four. I
am an impassioned reader of newspapers. I read five English and two
French dailies, and the news-agents alone know how many weeklies,
regularly. I am obliged to mention this personal fact lest I should
be accused of a prejudice against newspapers when I say that I
object to the reading of newspapers in the morning train. Newspapers
are produced with rapidity, to be read with rapidity. There is no
place in my daily programme for newspapers. I read them as I may
in odd moments. But I do read them. The idea of devoting to them
thirty or forty consecutive minutes of wonderful solitude (for
nowhere can one more perfectly immerse one's self in one's self than
in a compartment full of silent, withdrawn, smoking males) is to me
repugnant. I cannot possibly allow you to scatter priceless pearls
of time with such Oriental lavishness. You are not the Shah of
time. Let me respectfully remind you that you have no more time than
I have. No newspaper reading in trains! I have already "put by"
about three-quarters of an hour for use.
Now you reach your office. And I abandon you there till six
o'clock. I am aware that you have nominally an hour (often in
reality an hour and a half) in the midst of the day, less than half
of which time is given to eating. But I will leave you all that to
spend as you choose. You may read your newspapers then.
I meet you again as you emerge from your office. You are pale and
tired. At any rate, your wife says you are pale, and you give her to
understand that you are tired. During the journey home you have
been gradually working up the tired feeling. The tired feeling
hangs heavy over the mighty suburbs of London like a virtuous and
melancholy cloud, particularly in winter. You don't eat immediately
on your arrival home. But in about an hour or so you feel as if you
could sit up and take a little nourishment. And you do. Then you
smoke, seriously; you see friends; you potter; you play cards; you
flirt with a book; you note that old age is creeping on; you take a
stroll; you caress the piano.... By Jove! a quarter past eleven.
You then devote quite forty minutes to thinking about going to bed;
and it is conceivable that you are acquainted with a genuinely good
whisky. At last you go to bed, exhausted by the day's work. Six
hours, probably more, have gone since you left the office-- gone
like a dream, gone like magic, unaccountably gone!
That is a fair sample case. But you say: "It's all very well for
you to talk. A man IS tired. A man must see his friends. He
can't always be on the stretch." Just so. But when you arrange to
go to the theatre (especially with a pretty woman) what happens?
You rush to the suburbs; you spare no toil to make yourself glorious
in fine raiment; you rush back to town in another train; you keep
yourself on the stretch for four hours, if not five; you take her
home; you take yourself home. You don't spend three-quarters of an
hour in "thinking about" going to bed. You go. Friends and fatigue
have equally been forgotten, and the evening has seemed so
exquisitely long (or perhaps too short)! And do you remember that
time when you were persuaded to sing in the chorus of the amateur
operatic society, and slaved two hours every other night for three
months? Can you deny that when you have something definite to
look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your
energy-- the thought of that something gives a glow and a more
intense vitality to the whole day?
What I suggest is that at six o'clock you look facts in the face and
admit that you are not tired (because you are not, you know), and
that you arrange your evening so that it is not cut in the middle by
a meal. By so doing you will have a clear expanse of at least three
hours. I do not suggest that you should employ three hours every
night of your life in using up your mental energy. But I do suggest
that you might, for a commencement, employ an hour and a half
every other evening in some important and consecutive cultivation
of the mind. You will still be left with three evenings for friends,
bridge, tennis, domestic scenes, odd reading, pipes, gardening,
pottering, and prize competitions. You will still have the terrific
wealth of forty-five hours between 2 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.
Monday. If you persevere you will soon want to pass four evenings,
and perhaps five, in some sustained endeavour to be genuinely alive.
And you will fall out of that habit of muttering to yourself at
11.15 p.m., "Time to be thinking about going to bed." The man who
begins to go to bed forty minutes before he opens his bedroom door
is bored; that is to say, he is not living.
But remember, at the start, those ninety nocturnal minutes thrice a
week must be the most important minutes in the ten thousand and
eighty. They must be sacred, quite as sacred as a dramatic
rehearsal or a tennis match. Instead of saying, "Sorry I can't see
you, old chap, but I have to run off to the tennis club," you must
say, "...but I have to work." This, I admit, is intensely difficult
to say. Tennis is so much more urgent than the immortal soul.