Let us reflect on some of these unconsidered trifles.
It is a sunny afternoon, and it would be pleasant to be outside ; but I hear that Tim the terrier is about. If I went to a seat in the open air, I should have no peace in which to ruminate and write. Tim would come with his ball, a lawn-tennis one, and lay it at my feet, inviting me to throw it. When the ball was thrown, off he would bound after it; and in a few seconds, short tail wagging and eyes gleaming, he would be back with it in his mouth, to be placed at my feet again, in continuance of the game. This would be repeated all afternoon, and the day's task would be left unaccomplished. The need to go on with one's work keeps me lying low indoors, aloof from Tim's importunities, to which, so great is his disappointment when denied, I should undoubtedly have to yield. On the other hand, Tim sometimes comes to the golf-course. He walks round with the players, and is obviously interested in what they do ; but what does he see ? He witnesses everything save the counting. The one thing of which Tim is unconscious is the one thing that would make completely intelligible to him the pastime of his human friends. May it not be that the game of ball which he makes me play with him would be intelligible to me if only I knew why lie plays it? Perhaps he is challenging me to throw the ball to a place where he cannot find it; perhaps he has some method of reckoning time, and wishes to show in what a brief space he can recover the ball and restore it. One can hardly doubt that in his part of the performance there is something I do not see, some consideration my ignorance of which makes our game of ball as purposeless to me as the game of golf is by a similar lacuna made to him.
If that is not certain, it is possible; and the possibility will suffice for the purpose at present in hand. It suggests that many things in this world which are so commonplace that they are usually unheeded by men and women, and particularly ignored by those who seek comprehensive generalisations, may, far from being purposeless accidents, be actually vital parts in the scheme of creation. Among these commonplace things, pleasures are conspicuous. For what do we strive and slave? There is, of course, compulsion in the certainty that if we lack "independent means" we should starve if we did not work; also, there is the sense of duty to relations, friends, and the Throne; but no one, I imagine, can deny that a hope of leisure and the means of enjoying recreations is invariably at the back of toil. It will be useless for any one here to cry out " Hedonism!" as if that would blow my argument into a bubble to be pricked. Isms, as we dramatically behold when we think of the economic variety now that the Anglo-Saxon race has reached positions which no race ever held before, do not settle any problem. They are but the terminology of a refined kind of wrangling, and more often perpetuate errors than they destroy them. If pleasures be not the end of life, it is difficult to perceive that life can have a purpose at all. Can this be gainsaid by our own orthodox, whose constant hope is heaven; or by the Mahommedan, who gladly dies in battle because the way of war is the sure path to paradise; or by the Buddhist, whose view of the hereafter is but a variation of the hopes of the European peoples ? Surely it cannot; and surely, also, if pleasure is in the expectation of all theologians the supreme quality of the ultimate life, it cannot but have a natural sanction in the present.
This reasoning might be developed to vindicate sport against the aspersions of the many persons who feel that there is something dubious, probably sinful, in all not-absolutely-necessary actions that give pleasure to men and women; but that is not at present needful. I am not assuming that sports require defence. I am only assuming that one of them, angling, may be made the more delightful by being interpreted as something other than one of man's many inventions. It is an invention, unquestionably; but if the argument about design in nature is not to be wholly abandoned, the sport, it might be held, has no less a sanction than that of having been part of the creative plan.
Now, the argument from design always involves, as the first step, an argument into it.
It matters not whether we view the subject in the light of the old orthodoxy, that of Genesis regarded literally, or in the light of the new, that of Evolution : thinkers of both schools agree that species were created not to be destroyed, but to be perpetuated. Well, if there is any species in marvellous harmony both with its own environment and with the desires of man, it is the favourite fish of our streams and lakes.
By a critical process of exhaustion, we have learned a good deal touching the life of the trout. We have seen that it is neither the wind nor the want of wind, neither the glare nor the gloom, neither the heat nor the cold, that puts him in the mood wherein, as a rule, he is safe against the assaults of his chief enemy, who is man ; yet we realise that, when all is said that can be said, there remains some undiscovered provision of nature protecting him against his own voracity.
Even as Tim in the game of ball is doing something which, if it were intelligible to us. would render his action manifestly intelligent, the trout is in some supremely providential relation to those vapours in the atmosphere which mysteriously keep him down. Otherwise the fish would soon become a mere tradition in this populous land of sportsmen.
That is not all the marvel. If the secret of the obscure atmospherical conditions could be detected and a means of undoing its influence could be discovered, mankind, as has been noted, would cease to be interested in the fish as a subject of sport. It is just because the trout are difficult to catch that there is pleasure in catching them. Thus, the very atmospherical influences which defeat our endeavours on the water are an indispensable condition of our enjoyment in the pursuit. It is only rare possessions and difficult triumphs that men prize.