Labour and Exercise: Essay - Summary & Analysis

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Two Kinds of Bodily Labour

      Physical labour is of two kinds. One is when man undertakes such labour for one’s livelihood. The other is undertaken mainly for pleasure, and this is called exercise. The nature of both is same though they are different in motivation. Life in the country provides ample opportunities for both kinds of labour. As a result, the people of the countryside enjoy better health than those living in cities.

Exercise Necessary for the Human Body

      The human body is a system of tubes and glands, or pipes and strainers. The system as a whole needs to be kept in proper shape. It is like an engine which is driven by the soul. This description of the body includes the arteries, veins, bowels, tendons, muscles, and ligatures. Labour is necessary to keep this system in good order. It is necessary to ensure proper digestion, circulation and excretion of waste products. Physical labour helps the mind as well. It helps to keep the understanding clear and the imagination untroubled. Neglect of exercise results in a disease called the spleen which affects men of a studious and sedentary habits, and the vapors which afflict women.

Human Body Made for Exercise

      The body has been constructed in a way that makes it eminently suitable for exercise. The suppleness of limbs enables the body to indulge in a number of contortions, compressions, dilations and other movements. Hard work is necessary not only to achieve greatness and riches. The basic necessities like food and clothes can be got only after hard work. One has to work hard before one can make the earth yield its riches like crops and minerals.

Sir Roger and Exercise

      Sir Roger is very careful about his physical fitness and takes exercise in the form of hunting and riding. He has filled his houses with various trophies from his hunting expeditions. His hall was bill of heads of animals that he had killed. In his youth he was very fond of fox hunting and his stable door was studded with noses of foxes. Every time the widow he loved was. cruel to him; he took out his anger and disappointment upon the poor foxes. He had also shot down a number of game fowls like partridges, pheasants and woodcocks.

Exercise Recommended to Readers

      Addison considers riding to be the best form of exercise for both men and women. He gives the instance of a medical treatise which supports his contention. For his own part he exercises with dumb bell when he is in town, and cannot ride. He recommends of learned men who sit around a lot, a form of exercise called fighting with one’s own shadow. He tells them to take up this exercise instead of indulging in useless controversies all the Physical exercise is important to keep the body healthy, and sturdy and contemplation necessary for mental health.


      The subject of the essay is a common one i.e., the importance of physical exercise. But a commonplace subject is treated in an interesting manner. We get a glimpse of Addison s versatility when we read the terms of anatomy that he seems to have understood quite well. Interest is added with the reference to Sir Roger s hunting exploits. As usual, Addison is didactic. He instructs the reader to get enough exercise. One can say that there is a slightly personal note in the essay when he talks of his own mode of exercise. Here we note that, though he is not rigidly aloof like Bacon, he is not familiar with the reader in the charming manner of Lamb. There is a superior air about his confidence. He offers himself as an ideal model; he does not confide his faults and whims to the - reader. This superior tone tends to irritate the modern reader.

      The essay, further, has instances of typical Addisonian humor when he tells the learned scholars to fight with their own shadows instead of getting involved in futile controversies. There is humor in the description of Sir Roger’s passion for fox hunting and how the fixes suffered whenever the perverse widow was cruel to the old knight.


      Line. 21-29. There must be......with cheerfulness: Speaking in favor of daily exercises, Addison gives, here, a scientific basis for the need for exercise. He says that the body is a system of tubes and filters which need physical exercise to maintain proper condition. The frequent movement of the body stirs up those secretions in the body that help in the digestion and also clean up the system. Exercise further strengthens the muscles and makes them hard. Exercise evaporates the excess of fluids which, if collected in the body, would be harmful. It helps in the circulation of the different fluids throughout the body. These functions are essential to the body maintaining its vitality and strength. It also helps in the boy’s excretory functions and makes it easy for the waste products to be thrown out. If the body has no illness and continues healthy, the mind too remains cheerful. Hence exercise serves two purposes: it keeps the body healthy and through this, the mind is cheerful. In this essay, Addison shows that he is as much acquainted with medical and anatomical knowledge as he is with social customs and behavior.

      Line. 47-53. Not to mention for use: Addison here says that nothing in the world can be got without work of some sort. It is not only in the matter of getting wealth and reputation that hard work is essential, but, the very basic necessities of life such as food and clothing can not be had without hard work. God and nature have provided man with the raw material but it is man's own hands which have to mold these materials into useful commodities. Man has to work hard on the soil, till it, irrigate it, and only then does it produce the grain, the minerals. Then these things have to be wor on before they can be used. The products of the land have to be worked on by a large number of hands before they become fit for use is thus clear that nature intended men to work hard and indulge in physical exertion for their very livelihood. This essay, like all the others of The Spectator, aims to be instructive. To support his contention that exercise is essential to the human being, Addison offers cogent arguments.

      Line. 82-85. Whenever the widow......his house: It is a humorous aside in the midst of a serious dissertation and it gives a lively quality to the essay as a whole. While telling us that Sir Roger kept fit with the exercise involved in hunting, Addison throws further light on the character of the old knight: Sir Roger used to hunt foxes with a great fury in his youth. It was mainly because of his disappointment in love. He had fallen in love with a beautiful widow who, however, did not return his love, whenever she had freshly disappointed him, he used to take out his disappointment and anger upon the foxes. As he grew older, and his passion for the widow decreased in its intensity, his fervor for fox hunting also become less. But even now he does not leave a hare near his house. He hunts them with skill and no hare is far from him.

     Line. 93-100. For my own part......ringing: Staying in a city does not allow a person the opportunity to get exercise through riding which is most healthy according to the Spectator. As far as the Spectator himself is concerned, he gets his exercise in town with the help of dumb bells. The Spectator exercises on the dumb bell every morning for an hour. What is pleasing about this form of exercise is that it can be done in silence—something that appeals to the reserved nature of the Spectator. His landlady and her daughters know very well about the exercise routine of the Spectator and do not disturb him while he is exercising on the dumb bell. There is in this passage a personal note of sorts, where the Spectator speaks about his own mode of exercise. Though Addison is not as confiding and friendly with the reader as Lamb, he is not as impersonal and aloof as Bacon. But even when there is a personal note in Addison, it is not in the style of a charming confession of foibles and faults. He talks of his own mode of exercise merely to serve as a model for his readers. We are aware that Addison is confident that he is quite impeccable! He is a teacher as well as a model.

      Line. 114-118. I am a compound......contemplation: Man, according to Addison, is a combination of soul and body, i,e., mental and physical attributes. Man has a two-fold duty towards himself. He has to exercise his body for his physical well-being. He has to exercise his mental powers for his spiritual well-being. Just as physical exercise keeps his body healthy, mental exercises such as study and thinking will keep his mind healthy. Thus this essay also ends on a note, of teaching—do your duty and exercise both body and mind.

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