Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Evangelist

Horse Racing

page 243

Horse Racing.

There are few subjects on which it is more difficult to write profitably, to lay down sound principles and inculcate a safe practice, than on that of amusements. It is easy to write on positive sins or positive duties; it is easy to denounce murder, theft, and drunkenness; to accumulate argument on argument showing the evil and danger of these crimes; it is easy to applaud truth, honesty, and temperance, and advance proof after proof of the excellence and importance of these virtues; the line of demarcation between each of these and its opposite is so clear and distinct, that every well constituted and ordinarily informed mind comes almost necessarily to the same conclusion respecting them. But amusements lie so much in the doubtful confines between vice and virtue, sin and duty, that it is often difficult to draw the line so as neither to exclude, on the one hand, much that is harmless and innocent, nor sanction, on the other, much that is criminal and wicked. It is only by taking an extensive survey—by making observations on a large scale—by examining the tendencies, and consequences of the amusements themselves; their effects upon industry, health, and morals; the class of persons by whom they are generally originated, and most frequently followed and supported—it is by these and similar considerations, by a large induction of such particulars rather than by the simple nature of the amusements themselves, that their real character is to be ascertained, and the amount of countenance or opposition merited by them, is to be measured.

Few or none will deny that relaxation, recreation, and amusements are necessary; the bow by being unstrung, regains its elasticity. It is also equally certain that the general character of a people may be easily discovered by the character of their amusements; there is little if any hypocrisy practised there. These form therefore a tolerably correct index of the public taste. The Romans were a nation of war-page 244riors, and their amusements were deemed insipid without blood; hence gladiatorial combats and the fights of men with wild beasts, were the favourite entertainments of the people. Josephus tells us that after the destruction of Jerusalem, Titus celebrated his brother Domitian's birth-day at Cesarea, and his father Vespasian's at Berytus, and that at each of these places some thousands of Jewish prisoners were slaughtered in exhibitions of that kind, for the entertainment of the citizens and the soldiers. In proportion to the extent that Christianity with its humanizing influences has been received, it has changed or modified the amusements of every country in Europe. In Spain, where the civilizing effects of the Gospel have been for a long time little felt, bull-baiting continues one of the popular amuse-ments of the nation. In France, where the doctrines of the Reformation had once a strong hold of the national mind, but where nothing except their indirect influences are now feebly reflected, the national taste is extensively exhibited in dancing and theatricals, in frivolity and display. In Britain the free, vigorous, and enterprising character of the people is seen in their marked attachment to athletic sports of every kind, and in proportion as the gospel has prevailed in its purity, either in localities or among classes, the most objectionable of these have been abandoned, and the more innocent have been divested of accidental cruelty and immorality; but there still remains much in this department both for abolition and reform.

Those who undertake to furnish amusements for the public, undertake a heavy responsibility. Bad amusements are worse than none. The object of amusements ought to be to please, excite and elevate, and refine the mind; to benefit the health, invigorate the intellect, soothe the feelings, and correct the taste; so that those who take part in them may return to the various duties of life with more strength, greater energy; better temper, and on better terms with themselves and all around them. Unless these page 245 effects are in some measure produced, there has been no recreation. If, they return from amusements fatigued and exhausted, with mind dissipated, temper soured, and conscience stinging, vastly more unfit for business of any kind than before, there is something essentially wrong in the entertainment. It is worse than no amusement. Amusements should be innocent; neither immoral in themselves nor necessarily leading by their adjuncts to immorality. They should be free from coarseness and vulgarity; calculated to soften, civilize, and refine the spectators.— They should be pleasing and exciting without producing exhaustion or fatigue. But does Horse-racing fulfil these few and simple conditions? We have had ample opportunities of late to test its character and consequences. Te Aro, Burnham Water, and the Hutt, were fair and open fields for observation. After the awfully alarming visitation of Divine Providence in October last, it was thought by a large proportion of the community, that any racing would be out of place for the present season. In judging, however, of the merits of this amusement, we shall say nothing of the glaringly bad taste displayed by the promoters of these races; when as a counterpart to one day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, in less than six months the community are invited to express if not their thankfulness, at least their thoughtlessness for such merciful deliverances, by devoting on three several occasions two days, and in the case of numbers, the best part of a week, to the stirring amusement of Horse-racing. We shall say nothing of what is objectionable in Horse-racing itself, simply considered; the cruelty to animals—the ugly falls, bruises, and broken bones; the danger to life and limb. We shall confine ourselves to the demoralizing consequences which it invariably involves. The morality of the “Turf” ever has been, and still is, proverbially low, not only among the coarse, unprincipled vulgar, but even where birth and education would be expected to insure the highest sense of honour. It was only in the last session of Parliament page 246 that the first Lord of the Treasury, Lord John Russell, in his place in the House of Commons, twitted most severely the late Lord George Bentinck, a great reformer in this department, on some of the proceedings of himself or his party, as being compatible with the principles of honour and morality among the gentlemen of the Race Course, but not in keeping with the principles of honour and morality among other English gentlemen. If the character of those who support Horse-racing be such at home, in a settled state of society, what are we to expect of it amid all the unfavourable influences of colonial life and manners? There is an inseparable, if not a necessary connexion between Horse-racing, and gambling, drunkenness, and the display of some of the worst passions of humanity. The extent of betting, the trickery, and the over-reaching of the young, simple, and inexperienced are too well known to require any formal proof. The amount of intemperance may be safely inferred from the extensive preparations made on all these occasions, by the venders of intoxicating drinks. The degree to which bad feeling is engendered by racing, gambling, and drunkenness, can be very imperfectly estimated from the lengthy correspondence that appeared lately in the local papers.

It is pleaded that the primary object of Horseracing is to improve the breed of horses. Were this the true reason, we should expect to see them attended solely or chiefly by those interested in the improvement of horses; but this is not the case. It is to collect a crowd, to produce the amount of excitement necessary to gratify a morbid and depraved taste, that one of the noblest and most generous animals that God has given to man, is made to exhaust his utmost energy. The Spaniards may as well say that the primary object of bull-baiting is to improve the breed of cattle. But admitting the objection, even gold may be bought too dear; can this desirable end not be obtained by easier and cheaper means? Must labour stand still, business be suspended, and page 247 society be deranged; the most demoralizing agencies be let loose, and the weak and thoughtless exposed to the most dangerous temptations every other month, to improve the stock of horses? Are horses of more value than men and morals!

We are addressing our remarks principally if not exclusively to those who recognize the Bible as the supreme, perfect, and infallible standard of right and wrong—who believe that the soul is immortal—that the present life is a state of probation, discipline, and preparation for the world to come—that every thing in time is to by tested by its bearings on eternity— and that being dead to the world is a strong evidence of being alive in Christ: to such we would say, is an amusement so universally patronized by the world— every where the centre and the source of a proverbially low morality—inseparably connected with gambling and intemperance—the very hot-bed where hatred, envy, and the worst passions of the heart are engendered and displayed—is such the class of amusements to which a Christian father would send his son, or a Christian mother her daughter, to obtain recreation, be revived and invigorated for the stern realities, and every day duties of life?

It may be asked, what we would substitute for Horse-racing. A Roman would have asked, what was to be substituted for gladiatorial combats. A Spaniard would no doubt ask what is to be substituted for bull-baiting. If it can be shown that Horse-racing fails in accomplishing the real ends of recreations,—that it neither refreshes the body nor invigorates the mind,—that being a bad amusement, it is worse than none; it will be easy to show that we are not required to point out any substitute,— that those who remain away from it are gainers and not loosers,—and that its total abolition would be an advantage to the community, on the very score of enjoyment. We are fully confident that the same pure, peaceful, and powerful, principle that expelled gladiatorial exhibitions from Europe,—that has confined bull-baiting to Spain and her colonies,— page 248 and that has restricted pugilism and cock-fighting to the lowest dregs of society, will yet elevate and refine the public taste to such an extent that Horse-racing, still so popular, will be numbered among those obsolete, despised, and reprobated amusements. It is only a change in public sentiment and taste,—a greater infusion of the spirit of christianity, that will cause this class of amusements to be abandoned. As nature, according to the ancient philosophers, abhors a vacuum, so the human mind shrinks from vacuity and pants after enjoyment. A substitute we know must be provided for Horse-racing, and a substitute is at hand, fully commensurate to the strongest craving and the most insatiable desires of the human heart. It is not the untried invention of yesterday. It was proposed by Paul some eighteen hundred years ago, and adopted with success and satisfaction by those frequenting the Olympic and Isthmian games. In every case in which it has been adopted since, it has been followed by the same pleasing results, and has superseded the taste for sinful and even doubtful amusements. Paul invites all to run in a nobler race, and to strive for a loftier prize; and every one who is heartily engaged in the heavenly race—who is so running that he may obtain the incorruptible crown—and who is looking with sted-fast gaze unto Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith, will have little time and less inclination for the low earth-born amusements of the “Turf”—will have little leasure and less relish for the noisy, boisterous exhibitions of Vanity Fair. A very little experience or reflection will soon convince him that Horse-racing is an amusement not necessary to the christian; and that if it is not utterly incompatible with christian character, it is wholly inconsistent with that nonconformity to the world which the scriptures every where enjoin. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may experimentally know what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”