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Trivia

Hard

In The 19th Century, Which Activity Was Decried As Wasteful And Inferior To Other Pursuits?

Painting
Chess
Dancing
Singing
Close up view of chess pieces on a chess board.
Alan Light/Wikimedia

Answer: Chess

Dancing, television, video games, or any kind of good entertainment can’t catch a break when it comes to being the target of moral outrages and panics. Surely though, there are pursuits above the slander slung at television and the like, right? Like chess, sweet wholesome good-for-the-brain chess.

Even chess couldn’t catch a break back in the day. In the 1860s, there was a widespread moral panic over the idea that chess was wasting away the youth and energy of young men and that it was a folly to pursue it. In the July 2, 1859 issue of Scientific American, for example, we find the following.

[…] chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body. […] Persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises for recreation—not the sort of mental gladiatorship. Those who are engaged in mental pursuits should avoid a chess-board as they would an adder’s nest, because chess misdirects and exhausts their intellectual energies. Rather let them dance, sing, play ball, perform gymnastics, roam in the woods or by the seashore, than play chess. It is a game which no man who depends on his trade, business or profession can afford to waste time in practicing; it is an amusement—and a very unprofitable one—which the independently wealthy alone can afford time to lose in its pursuit.

That’s right. Once upon a time, chess wasn’t an activity for building children’s logical thinking via games after school, but a veritable adder’s nest of problems that exhausted one’s intellectual energy and stole away precious time you could spend roaming in the woods.

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