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[ident of the Playground and Recreation Association
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NORMAN E. RICHAROS0N,:"?.ditor-;i^-' -




President of the Playground and Recreation Association
of America


of Charities and Correction, is reprinted as a unit in the American
Home Series by special permission of the author.


Nature or Sexual Attraction //^rtCyX^

WE shall approach the question before us not as a
problem of evil but as a problem of good, as a
question of how to keep this great budding force
of nature, the mutual attraction of the sexes, to
its true task of producing strength and beauty,
instead of permitting it to go to waste or worse.

I. The first thing to remember is that this mu-
tual attraction is not one but many things. Its
issue is all the way from the worst to the best we
know. If it has produced much of the evil in the
world — if it is so high an explosive that the spiritual
doctors in many ages have forbidden it to the holy
and to the carefully nurtured young — it is also the
source of the best things in life. True love is the
dearest possession of the race. Its presence would
redeem a world of ugliness. Romance is of the
stuff that makes life worth living — partakes of
the ultimate, of what the rest is for.

II. Sexual attraction is never simple, it is not
merely all things to all men, it is apt to be a great
many things to each man, whenever it happens
to him.

In the first place no major instinct ever acts
alone. Human nature is a sounding-board, which,
when one note is struck, gives forth sympathetic
vibrations, discords, harmonies, overtones. This
note especially is so deep in us that there is very
little in our nature that its awakening may not
touch. The instinct of the chase is aroused in
pursuit of the flying nymph. The fighting instinct,
enlisted in supplanting rivals, may be stronger
than the original motive, and sometimes survives
it. Where Venus is present Mars is not often
far away. George Eliot says there is always some-
thing maternal even in a girlish love. Again, at


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the heart of true love there is a David and Jonathar
relation of pure friendship — camaraderie — a marriage
of the qualities held in common, supplementing
that of opposing attributes. There is, further, in tht
social intercourse of boys and girls a large element o)
pure gregariousness. A crowd of them at a ball
game is not very different from one made up of
the boy undergraduates alone. In short, love
itself, as the gossip concerning Venus has long
suggested, is very susceptible and always brings
other emotions in its train.

Then in both boy and girl, especially in the girl,
the awakening of this feeling is so associated with
the whole awakening of life that it is hard to say
where the desire to live leaves off and that for
love begins. To get into the game, to drink deep
of the cup, to spend and be spent, to have lived
and loved, to know the joy and beauty of life, its
heights and depths — in some such formless way
to every young creature comes the great vital

Girls coming out in society are well named buds.
It is the budding power of mother Nature that is
in them. It is the universal power of life and growth,
the strongest power there is, that they are charged
with. How far this force is committed to one form
of discharge or another is different in every case,
and in every case is difficult to know, but that the
form varies much according to suggestion and
opportunity is unquestionable, and constitutes our
great responsibility.

III. Besides being attended by other impulses,
the love instinct itself is not a simple one. Ro-
mantic love is something quite different from
mere desire, and has as much influence in checking
as in producing it. Romeo's love for JuHet kills
his feeling for Rosalind not merely as having a
different object but as being in its essence an op-
posing force.

The truth is that in this matter of the mating of
human beings, even in its simplest terms, we en-


counter a larger emotional phenomenon than that
of sex alone. There are other motives present in
the very passion itself that materially affect the
whole relation. The element of personal, romantic
love is, it is true, an integral part of sex attrac-
tion — forty thousand brothers could not with all
their quantity of love make up my sum. But it
is aimed at something different from mere repro-
duction. With its advent there came a new thing
into the world.

This deeper, more lasting, element in human
love has solid biological foundation. Its absence,
indeed, would have made a controlling factor of
our life inexplicable. What has chiefly caused the
rise of man and of the higher animals above their
myriad competitors has been the great phenomenon
of infancy, that long period during which the young
are in a plastic state, with a resulting capacity for
learning and for adaptation. The existence of in-
fancy, in its turn, depends upon the home created
and maintained by a monogamous pair who feed
and shelter and defend their young during the period
of helplessness. But to create the family and home,
to build the nest, to sustain the loyalty of the
male through the long infancy of the offspring,
required an emotional basis far deeper than that
which had sufficed for less permanent relations.
This great phenomenon of infancy, nature's latest
biological invention, responsible in the main for
man's supremacy, is the creature, the outgrowth,
of the deeper and nobler elements of human love.
The lover is, biologically speaking, the decisive ele-
ment in human progress.

The Practical Problem

Our practical problem is how to develop the best
in this relation among all the vast possibilities
that it contains.

I. The solution is partly quantitative. There
cannot be too much love in the world, but there


is such a thing as too much love-making. It is
not properly a routine occupation, and if too steadily
pursued, will generate more emotion than can be
safely handled.

In part the way to escape this danger is, as we
all know, by creating a diversion, providing other
occupations and pursuits. This motive is largely
behind the great modern belief in athletics. It
created the muscular Christianity of Thomas
Hughes' day, from which we still benefit, and is
partly embodied in the Y. M. C. A. It is also
largely responsible for school extension, for boys'
and girls' clubs, for social centers and, indeed,
for all the lines of development we shall discuss.

Athletics for girls have not the same instinctive
basis as in the case of boys, and can never take
anything like the same place. Hard romping games
may nevertheless greatly benefit girls in every way,
especially in the matter of emotional stability.
Miss Kennard tells me that it is necessary in order
to develop true tom-boys to catch them young,
the crucial time in this respect being not at the
age of fourteen, but somewhere in the period from
eight to twelve. If they do not become tom-boys
then through habitual participation in lively, squeal-
ing games, they will be foredoomed to premature
young ladyhood.

From this purely quantitative point of view the
question is one of maintaining due proportion.
Every one is familiar with Leigh Hunt's advice to
young ladies that they should keep a debit and
credit account, balancing so many hours crying
over a novel by a proportionate time given to
sweeping the floor or other less harrowing pursuits.

II. But there are more intimate ways of dealing
with the problem. It is not all one of quantity.
Besides, what we mainly want to do is not to side-
track this great emotion, but to preserve and util-
ize it, by encouraging its safer and its nobler ex-
pression. The lamentable thing is not the evil that
exists but the good that fails.


1. Athletics have partly this effect. They are,
in part, an expression of the secondary sexual in-
stinct of competition. They are a contemporary
form of chivalry, which is the idealization of the
sex relation. (Note it must be athletics — hard
competitive games, not cat's cradle.)

2. A good prescription, I think, in the case of
boys, is the encouragement of romance. It would
be a good plan for every boy, before he becomes
too wise to take them seriously, to read Scott and
Lorna Doone. The better sort of love songs, like
the Scotch ballads, have the same effect. Burns
may not have been a model of virtue in his own
life, but his poetic imagination enabled him to
state the case in a way to make the blank prose
of mere sensuousness abhorrent. There is no
better police power than romantic love. As a mere
question of safety it is a good investment. Nothing
will make a lower satisfaction look more flat and
tawdry than a remembered boyish ideal.

With girls, I am credibly informed, again by
Miss Kennard, the case is different. They have,
as a rule, too much rather than too little of romance,
and can be trusted to have enough of it.

3. Then there is novel-reading. It is a remark-
able fact, and I think a notable confirmation of my
theory that love-making is many things, that we
can safely play with this emotion to an almost un-
limited extent as presented in good literature. Of
the millions of novels read every year (counting
each one each time) the effect of those which deal
with the matter in the right spirit is chiefly bene-
ficial. Exception should, perhaps, be made in the
case of the modern English school, which one could
forgive if it claimed only to have invented sex and
not to have a patent on it.

Good literature, especially in the form of novels,
in which it is most likely to be consumed, is of
great importance in our problem. After all, the
chief intercourse of human beings is in the form
of talk; and the best gift to any set of young people


is something worth while to talk about. The heavi-
est indictment of war is still, as Madame De Stael
complained, that it spoils conversation. After they
have said "Hello," "Been to the Little Pink Idiot.?"
and "See the Blue Sox lick the Dwarfs?" what —
under the yellow light of our present written dis-
pensation — is left to talk about.'' The idle tongue
— though idle, never still — is a more dangerous
member than the idle hand. And what worthy
occupation can it find among the prevailing interests
of our young folks at the present time? I put novel-
reading high as a beneficial agent in this whole

4. Art is another pursuit which, besides em-
ploying energy and occupying time, is of specific
value as satisfying a need of emotional expression
that would otherwise take a sexual form. Some
people think that all art is sexual. Certainly, all
the arts afford a ready channel for this emotion.
Many a masterpiece has been wrought out in the
heat of a great passion. Singing, poetry, and other
forms of music are love's native tongue. Every
bird has a love song, and every one in love, or at
the special period of love, has a need to sing and
must suffer almost physical pain lacking that
form of utterance.

We must cultivate in our boys and girls every
form of art for which we find capacity — or, rather,
not cultivate, but cease from stifling. Song is as
natural to a young creature of our owm species as
to a bird. It is a voice lost to us through the in-
hibitions of a too critical civilization. We must
restore this natural voice — if in cultivated form,
so much the better, but in some form at all events.
The monotonous chant of the Spanish peasant
girl, or even the frank, unquestioning bellow of the
young Italian, is better than our artificial, clod-
like silence.

We must not, mdeed, forget that art may be a
stimulant, may excite more than it satisfies. Just
what determines which of these two results shall


be produced — and so gives a balance to one side
or the other of the account — we must presently
consider in studying the ways of dealing with the
great rhythmic instinct which is so largely the
source of all the arts.

Improvement of Conditions

This question of rhythm brings me to the present
practical center of our problem: the improvement
of the actual conditions under which our boys and
girls are brought together. Just now there are
in this country three conditions that make this
problem especially acute.

First, there is the exclusive society of those
under twenty-one which we must learn both to
recognize as satisfying a sound moral demand,
and also to modify, especially by showing children
of immigrants that Americanism does not consist
in despising one's parents nor in scorning the ideals
that have given beauty and nobility to their lives.

Second, there is the changing status of women
from one derived from the family relation alone
to one based partly on direct individual relation
to the political and industrial community. This
shift in status has made it impossible to handle
our problem wholly through the family relation.
The family is not dead yet, and will not die so long
as there is anything of human nature left in man;
and we must continue to act largely through home
influence. For the rest, our general policy must
be to mobilize the mothers — to turn loose upon
society as a whole that surplus of maternal power
and instinct that is left over through decreased
opportunity in the home.

A third, pervasive and overmastering condition
in the meeting of our boys and girls, the one that
just now makes the problem especially acute, is
in the wave of rhythm that is passing over this
country at the present time. Dancing has become
a national obsession, amounting almost to a mania.


both as to amount and kind. Folk dancing, social
dancing, aesthetic and dramatic dancing, dancing
in imitation of the less graceful of the lower ani-
mals, dancing by old and young, by rich and poor,
by the wise and the foolish — dancing by all kinds
of persons and in every variety of form — is in-
cessant in the dance hall, on the playground, on the
stage, and in the street. It has invaded the very
ballroom and captured professional "society" itself.
The Bridge of Avignon, celebrated in song, is nothing
to America at the present time.

The rhythmic madness is not confined to dancing
proper — or improper. Our popular songs are all
dance music, and are kept running in our heads
so that we waltz through our sermons, write pre-
scriptions in three-four time, and add up columns
to the music of the Grizzly Bear. Even our politics
are set to metre. The failure of Mr. Taft to cap-
ture the popular imagination is traceable to a
deficient sense of rhythm. The people are all
dancing to the Roosevelt rag-time, the Bryan
waltz, or the La Follette dithyrambic. Our very
conversation is a song and dance.

The effect of this wave of rhythm upon the
meeting of our boys and girls is seen in the great
increase in the amount and what we may perhaps
call the intensity of social dancing. The dancing
of young people together, when permitted, has in-
deed always been, and always will be, popular.
All the great forms of recreation are built where
two main instincts meet. Our national games,
for instance — including football, baseball, basket
ball, bridge — are all at the junction of the com-
petitive instinct with that of team play. Each
of them satisfies, besides, a number of minor in-
stincts such as striking, chasing, wrestling, throw
ing at a mark, and the great gambling, Micawber-
like instinct of waiting for something to turn up
— as handed down to us from centuries of watching
by the pool or forest path for something good
to eat.


Rhythm, especially, is the most pervasive of all
these active impulses. It is the female instinct,
always married to some other in the production
of a satisfying blend. But that a popular diver-
sion should be established where rhythm and sex
attraction meet was in any case inevitable. The
present situation simply accentuates a permanent

Rhythmic Instinct

I want to speak more generally about the rhythmic
instinct and its relation to sex expression, of what
v/e are going to do with it and what it is likely to
do with us.

1. Rhythm in the first place is our measure of
time. It is, or comes near being, the very substance
of time to us, our only method of conceiving of it.
It enables us to drive a peg into a certain point
in time so we can identify it as we can with space
— is the source of our whole arithmetic of duration.
I believe it is a more ultimate measure, means more
to our feeling, than the sense of space, and giyes
the latter its chief reality. Rhythm is thus a very
practical thing. I believe we could hardly do a
physical act without it. Foresight of the swing
and ictus of a movement is a prerequisite of its
performance — as I once discovered when learning
to jump a horse over a fence. I found I landed^
uniformly and with precision, just behind his ears,
until 1 learned the rhythm of the motion and could
foresee it with some accuracy before it started.

2. Rhythm, I think, is very deep in personality.
The long-suffering word "temperament" ought at
least to mean rhythm — the particular tempo or
motif you are set to. The difference between Celt
and Saxon is thus truly said to be a matter of tem-
perament. It is the quick time against the slow.

3. Rhythm not only creates time for us; it also
kills time. It is rhythm that through the long
centuries has made monotony bearable to people
who have had to walk or row all day, or knit or


spin or tend the loom. We talk of being tired
of routine, but more people dread to get away from
it. It is hypnotic. That is one reason why chil-
dred like to swing, for swinging is said by high
authority to be a form of sleep. Rhythm may thus
be a narcotic, putting the finer sensibilities to sleep,
and leaving the rest to act on without them. Such
lulling to rest is a great boon when the road is
long and stretches straight ahead. The captain
can sometimes safely set the course and go to sleep.
But sometimes such sleep is very dangerous. Al-
cohol, for instance, as the doctors have now dis-
covered, acts chiefly not as a stimulant but as an
anaesthetic. Its festive and outwardly p»ositive
effects are due not to increased but to diminished
self-activity. It lets off the brakes of custom,
conscience, and public opinion and leaves the
stage free to the chance emotion of the moment.
This effect of rhythm has important bearing on
the dance-hall problem.

4. Another function of rhythm, which also has
direct bearing on the problem of social dancing, is
seen in its making possible the great get-together
fusion of different minds and temperaments. Only
in obedience to its spell does this fusion take place.
When people sing, or march, or dance together
each knows with accuracy what all the rest are
doing and going to do, and in great part how they
feel about it. And each knows that the other
knows — and so on. To the depth that the song
or movement goes the mutual understanding is
complete; and the common consciousness goes
deeper and deeper with repetition— a ripple, a wave,
a ground swell, until the whole emotional being
of each member of the company swings to the same
pulsation like a tidal wave. The religious dance
culminating in the religious orgy was one of the
earliest social functions. Almost every great social
movement has been set to music, from the musike
of the Greeks to modern ragtime and from Luther's
hymn to the Carmagnole. Think what the Mar-


seillaise stands for. The story of rhythm has al-
most been tfle story of civiHzation. I even beheve
that there is significance in the fact that the great
rowing nations, the people of the /Egean, of the
Baltic, of the German Ocean, with their training
in rhythmic cooperation, have been the great
democratic nations of the world.

Here we have an instinct protean in its mani-
festations, which has among its powers a hypnotic
influence, the power of abolishing social conven-
tions, of putting to sleep the conscience, the brain
— a power that has manifested itself in orgies of
many sorts, in religious and social frenzies cul-
minating often in human sacrifice, from the first
tribal ceremony down to the horrors performed
to the cry of ca ira. And it is this aboriginal un-
tamed power, coming up out of the great sea of our
subconscious nature, that is turned loose in our
dance halls without any effective regulation or

What are we to do about this situation? The
answer, I think, is to be found in the final function
of rhythm in our life. There is one good fairy
left to make her gift.

5. Rhythm is the common element in all the
arts, the true parent of the Muses, who are simply
the different incarnations in which the god delights
and satisfies mankind. So that in discussing rhythm
we are considering not the dance problem alone
but the whole question of art and what to do with
it. Dancing is the primal expression of the rhyth-
mic impulse and always at the core of it. It is as
dancing that this instinct first appears in the child.
It is as motion, not primarily as sound or sight,
that it always appeals to us. It is the reminiscence
of motion in music or poetry or architecture that
makes its fascination. Chopin derived a part of
his inspiration from Fanny Elsler's dancing. Music
is simply dancing freed from the limitations of

Rhythm is less obvious in the arts that act upon


us through the eye. But these also reach us most
intimately, come nearest to our feelings by what
they suggest to hearing and the sense of motion.
Action is the form in which we live; and that which
touches us — moves us we say — has roots in

motion — that is, in rhythm.

You cannot abolish rhythm. It is of the stuff
of which our lives are made. You cannot safely
leave it to direct itself. What is our safest course?
Where is it a benefit, a creator of beauty, an en-
hancer of our life, and where does it become a
danger or a drug?

I believe that the myth of Bacchus contains the
answer to our question — Bacchus, the god of art,
the god of wine, the god of life and beauty, the
god of the great primal forces that well up in us —
of song and ecstasy — the god that inspires us and
makes us mad; the great god of rhythm who both
entrances and intoxicates. The Greeks were very
conscious of this problem. Their education was
built on music, as they called it, that is, on rhythm
in its various forms. They knew what art was if
any one has ever known.

And they knew its dangers, and prayerfully con-
sidered in what direction safety lies. They even
had their Puritans, of whom Plato is an illustrious
example. And their conclusion is expressed in this
great myth — the myth of the great god Bacchus,
whom the Thebans imprisoned and who, in revenge
for such mistreatment, drove the king and people
mad. In that story is compressed the conclusion
of what was both the most artistic and the most
philosophic race the world has seen. Our safety,
according to the Greeks, is found in receiving the
great god of life and beauty, of dance and song
and rhythm, in listening to his message and obey-
ing it; danger lies in the attempt to lock up the god
and pretend he is not there. ^

It is not enough simply to receive the god. The
world's great mistakes in dealing with him through

I See Gilbert Murray, The Ri«c of the Greek Epic.


all the ages have come from supposing that passive
reception will be enough. The essence of our piety
is in its activity. Inspiration must stir up achieve-
ment, not put to sleep.

The alternation between the denial of the god
and his too passive reception — between license and
Puritanism — has been going on from the days of
the Greeks down to the present time, and doubt-
less it was an old story when the Greek myth grew
up. Following the period of ancient art, through
the long Middle Ages, Puritanism reigned. The
ascetic was the ideal, and it was thought holy to


Online LibraryJoseph LeeRhythm and recreation → online text (page 1 of 2)