Escapism From Gloom – By ROBERT LYND

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Apr 3, 1948 

Escapism From Gloom 


The use of the word “escapism” by the psychologists appears to suggest to many people that there is something wrong, in being able occasionally to escape from gloomy thoughts in one’s enjoyment of books, games and other aids to pleasure.

They regard you as an escapist, for example, if you read fairy-tales or wild west stories, but not if you read a novel in which there is a groan on every page. You must keep your eyes fixed on the dark side of things in order to please them.

This, it seems to me, is unnatural. Nature herself compels us to escape from even the most tragic and pressing realities by sending us to sleep for between six and eight hours out of the daily twenty-four. We forget enslavement of Czechoslovakia as a blissful unconsciousness descends on us.

Meal times, too, provide regular occasions for escape. The rare and refreshing savor of a grilled sole becomes, for the moment, the most important thing in the world, and all the misdeeds of the ill-behaved human race which made our hearts sunk as we read the mornings papers fade into the background of our minds and leave us thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

I remember lunching with the greatest pessimist in London on one of the darkest days during the First World War, and even he forgot, for the moment, to be a pessimist as he read the menu and asked me: “What will you start with? Plovers’ eggs?”

The truth is the mind would crack if we did not sometimes forget how miserable we are. A. E. Housman tells us:

The troubles of our proud and

angry dust

Are from eternity and will not


But how light those troubles become when a kitten is chasing a ping-pong ball over the floor.

Some people used to complain that Christians constantly describe themselves as miserable sinners, and to maintain that this was untrue and that the people who called themselves miserable were not miserable at all. I never could agree with this.

All the same, it is a mistake to be miserable all the time. The prospect of an atomic war is not cheerful; but it is good to forget all about it now and then in a tussle with a crossword puzzle.

Modern man has fortunately many more ways of escape than the man of any previous generation. Not only are music, books and plays within the reach of nearly everybody, but, in normal times, travel, games, hobbies and holidays give him a wide variety of pleasures to choose from.

Today hundreds of thousands of people will forget for a few minutes that they are living on the side of a volcano as they follow the fortunes of a string of horses at Aintree.

I confess that as I listened to the broadcast of the Irish and Welsh rugby match at Belfast I should not have cared, for the time being, if Sir Stafford Cripps had put another half-crown on the income tax.

The question whether Ireland would score a second try in time was, for the moment, a far more important question than whether the Marshall plan would be put through in time.

Every time Bleddyn Williams got the ball I felt as apprehensive as if the frame of civilization had been threatened. And when Daly scored the second try I experienced such ecstasy as I had known in youth at the news of the relief of Ladysmith.

Because of things like this one is sometimes tempted to accuse oneself of trivial-mindedness. One the other hand, I remember that a man so passionately concerned about lessening the miseries of mankind as that great journalist, J. A. Spender, always turned first to the cricket reports in the papers during the season even in times of what has been called inspissated gloom.

To be serious is one of the most important things in life; but to be able to escape from seriousness is also a necessity of our nature.

 Do I then suggest that an international rugby match is not a serious thing? I certainly did not think so on Saturday.


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