This section is from the book "What England Can Teach Us About Gardening", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: What England Can Teach Us About Gardening.
How each one of us can get more "fun" out of life and better health without loss of efficiency or waiting for an increased income.
THE English people are said to have the reddest cheeks and best complexions in the world. Their blooming health and obvious enjoyment in being alive are largely due to their living out of doors more than we do and perhaps more than we ever can. For England is so far north that she has about two hours more daylight in which to disport herself. The twilight is so long that one may eat a ponderous British dinner, rest, and still have an hour for golf, tennis, cricket, bowls, or even photography, for in midsummer it is light enough to play tennis until nine or garden until ten. In consequence, every one seems to have some outdoor hobby, and even those who work indoors all day have about twice as much time for outdoor life as we. For two thousand years that long, precious twilight has been promoting public health and building British character.
Another natural advantage England has over America is that she has practically no mosquitoes, whereas it may cost us more than the Panama Canal to stamp out the kinds that carry yellow fever and malaria, as well as the kinds that are merely disagreeable.
But in spite of these climatic handicaps we are entitled to take a hopeful view of our situation. For, in the first place, any one can usually control mosquitoes in his own locality, by cooperating with a few neighbours, because mosquitoes (so entomologists tell us) rarely travel more than a quarter of a mile from the spot where they originate. And, secondly, some of us can get two more hours of daylight by shortening or rearranging the hours of labour.
Many people think that it is hopeless to try to get Americans to modify their pace of living. They believe that our climate will always breed haste and intensity. But I believe our pace is merely an incident of the pioneer stage. Remember how many men of the last generation boasted that they never took a vacation! Yet how firmly the vacation habit is now established! We may work just as hard while we work, but we work fewer hours than ouff parents. And, as a nation, we are steadily learning better how to rest and play. No amount of scolding will make us slow up. But men's instinctive love of pleasure will bring about the change easily and naturally — perhaps within a century. For the example of Europe is constantly before us, since Americans are always going there, and they all say when they return that the Europeans get more "fun "out of life than we.
One of the great features of outdoor life in England is eating, and the characteristic outdoor meal is tea. At one time I thought there must be forty million places in England where a person could have tea served outdoors. You can generally get it in a beautiful garden, often with music, and always with privacy and courtesy. The English climate naturally suggests a light meal about five o'clock; ours does not. Moreover, we haven't daylight enough to justify tea. A much better institution for us, I believe, is the screened veranda, where we may eat dinner leisurely in the cool of the evening after it is too dark to play. I recall a beautiful veranda on the Porter place at Lake Geneva, large, secluded, embowered in vines, decorated with flowers, softly illuminated with hidden lights, free from flies and mosquitoes, and as serene and cool as the lake itself.
But better than another meal or any mechanical device is the spirit of eating which one acquires naturally in England. We Americans may eat a lot of expensive foods, but do we get the hearty satisfaction out of eating that Englishmen do? Do we take a cordial interest in anybody who eats and what he eats? Just as Mr. Roosevelt never tires of commending the man with a large family, so the Englishman steadily approves of the man who fulfils the other great duty toward the race, viz., eating. The English make a lot of mistakes in eating. Even Americans say they eat too much meat. And public tea is usually brewed so as to deliver the maximum amount of tannic acid. But the spirit in which they eat makes for long life and pink cheeks. It is worth a trip to England simply to learn how to eat, but if one cannot do that one can learn from the novels of Charles Dickens.
Next to eating, an Englishman loves sport, and justly, for it is the great national school where character is made. Somehow, the school room does not, in any country, develop character as much as it ought to, and as we all hope it will. The two virtues which the English deify are pluck and fair play. The first is learned by hunting the fox, the second on the cricket field. Both sports are peculiarly British. I do not see how you can explain in any other way why so many Oxford and Cambridge graduates in past centuries have been so efficient in public life. For the traditional attitude of the English students is to resist learning at every step, and formerly the dons had no conception of inspiration or of laboratory methods — only of trepanning the skull and inserting the cubical fact. In America, college teaching may be better, but our athletics are not yet on a right basis. We are simply crazy to win. Some of our games make men hate one another, "slug" one another, cheat one another, and try to buy one another. Base-ball, much as I love it, is, in my opinion, a school of sharp practice. There is a moral line that no one can cross without debasing himself. An English boy is taught to lose cheerfully rather than win by an unfair advantage.
Now, golf embodies this spirit, and of all the games England has given us it is the only one that has spread like wildfire in America. I believe it is the best game for people over thirty, and I hope that it will give us that check in our competitive spirit which we need so sorely.
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