Thursday, May 26, 2005

Life as Chess

This is a bit long, but it's a great passage:

Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game at chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least th names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn, upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a knight from a pawn?

Yet it is a very plain and elementary truth, that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he enver overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well, the highest stakes are paide, with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated--without haste, but without remorse.

My metaphor will remind some of you of the famous picture in which Retzsch has depicted Satain playing at chess with man for his soul. Substitute for the mocking fiend in the picture, a calm, strong angel who is playing for love, as we say, and would rather lose than win--and I should accept it as an image of human life.

Well, what I mean by Education is learning the rules of this mighty game....


--T. H. Huxley, "A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It," in Lay Sermons, Essays, and Reviews, Macmillan (London: 1880) 31-32.

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