The Importance of Not Being Earnest

An essay about the importance of hobbies, by writer and born-again ornithologist, Alex Preston, is worth reading, especially if you think of yourself as a serious collector.

In his mid-thirties, Preston returned to his boyhood hobby of bird-watching, and describes:

“[…] that all-consuming passion that seizes control of the child as they discover the thrill of their obsession. What the older hobbyists, with their expensive gadgets and expansive budgets, don’t realize, is that it was the very amateurishness of their early pursuits that made them joyful, and all the obsessive hobbyist is doing with their seriousness is imbuing leisure time with the drudgery of labour. Hobbies should be the space in which play-time finds expression in the adult world.”

In the same vein, Preston quotes from A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949):

Becoming serious is a grievous fault in hobbyists. It is an axiom that no hobby should either seek or need rational justification. To wish to do it is reason enough. To find reasons why it is useful or beneficial converts it at once from an avocation into an industry — lowers it at once to the ignominious category of an ‘exercise’ undertaken for health, power, or profit. Lifting dumbbells is not a hobby. It is a confession of subservience, not an assertion of liberty.


“A man and his HOBBY-HORSE, tho’ I cannot say that they act and re-act exactly after the same manner in which the soul and body do upon each other: Yet doubtless there is a communication between them of some kind … so that if you are able to give but a clear description of the nature of the one, you may form a pretty exact notion of the genius and character of the other.”

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759)

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