Of all the impertinent Wishes which we hear expressed in Conversation, there is not one more unworthy a Gentleman or a Man of liberal Education, than that of wishing one's self Younger. I have observed this Wish is usually made upon Sight of some Object which gives the Idea of a past Action, that it is no Dishonour to us that we cannot now repeat, or else on what was in it self shameful when we performed it. It is a certain Sign of a foolish or a dissolute Mind if we want our Youth again only for the Strength of Bones and Sinews which we once were Masters of. It is (as my Author has it) as absurd in an old Man to wish for the Strength of a Youth, as it would be in a young Man to wish for the Strength of a Bull or a Horse. These Wishes are both equally out of Nature, which should direct in all things that are not contradictory to Justice, Law, and Reason. But tho' every old Man has been [Young ], and every young one hopes to be old, there seems to be a most unnatural Misunderstanding between those two Stages of Life. The unhappy Want of Commerce arises from the insolent Arrogance or Exultation in Youth, and the irrational Despondence or Self-pity in Age. A young Man whose Passion and Ambition is to be good and wise, and an old one who has no Inclination to be lewd or debauched, are quite unconcerned in this Speculation; but the Cocking young Fellow who treads upon the Toes of his Elders, and the old Fool who envies the sawcy Pride he sees in him, are the Objects of our present Contempt and Derision. Contempt and Derision are harsh Words; but in what manner can one give Advice to a Youth in the Pursuit and Possession of sensual Pleasures, or afford Pity to an old Man in the Impotence and Desire of Enjoying them? When young Men in publick Places betray in their Deportment an abandoned Resignation to their Appetites, they give to sober Minds a Prospect of a despicable Age, which, if not interrupted by Death in the midst of their Follies, must certainly come. When an old Man bewails the Loss of such Gratifications which are passed, he discovers a monstrous Inclination to that which it is not in the Course of Providence to recal. The State of an old Man, who is dissatisfy'd merely for his being such, is the most out of all Measures of Reason and good Sense of any Being we have any Account of from the highest Angel to the lowest Worm. How miserable is the Contemplation to consider a libidinous old Man (while all Created things, besides himself and Devils, are following the Order of Providence) fretting at the Course of things, and being almost the sole Malecontent in the Creation. But let us a little reflect upon what he has lost by the number of Years: The Passions which he had in Youth are not to be obeyed as they were then, but Reason is more powerful now without the Disturbance of them. An old Gentleman t'other Day in Discourse with a Friend of his (reflecting upon some Adventures they had in Youth together) cry'd out, Oh Jack, those were happy Days! That is true, reply'd his Friend, but methinks we go about our Business more quietly than we did then. One would think it should be no small Satisfaction to have gone so far in our Journey that the Heat of the Day is over with us. When Life itself is a Feaver, as it is in licentious Youth, the Pleasures of it are no other than the Dreams of a Man in that Distemper, and it is as absurd to wish the Return of that Season of Life, as for a Man in Health to be sorry for the Loss of gilded Palaces, fairy Walks, and flowery Pastures, with which he remembers he was entertained in the troubled Slumbers of a Fit of Sickness.
As to all the rational and worthy Pleasures of our Being, the Conscience of a good Fame, the Contemplation of another Life, the Respect and Commerce of honest Men, our Capacities for such Enjoyments are enlarged by Years. While Health endures, the latter Part of Life, in the Eye of Reason, is certainly the more eligible. The Memory of a well-spent Youth gives a peaceable, unmixed, and elegant Pleasure to the Mind; and to such who are so unfortunate as not to be able to look back on Youth with Satisfaction, they may give themselves no little Consolation that they are under no Temptation to repeat their Follies, and that they at present despise them. It was prettily said,
'He that would be long an old Man, must begin early to be one:'
It is too late to resign a thing after a Man is robbed of it; therefore it is necessary that before the Arrival of Age we bid adieu to the Pursuits of Youth, otherwise sensual Habits will live in our Imaginations when our Limbs cannot be subservient to them. The poor Fellow who lost his Arm last Siege, will tell you, he feels the Fingers that were buried in Flanders ake every cold Morning at Chelsea.
The fond Humour of appearing in the gay and fashionable World, and being applauded for trivial Excellencies, is what makes Youth have Age in Contempt, and makes Age resign with so ill a Grace the Qualifications of Youth: But this in both Sexes is inverting all things, and turning the natural Course of our Minds, which should build their Approbations and Dislikes upon what Nature and Reason dictate, into Chimera and Confusion.
Age in a virtuous Person, of either Sex, carries in it an Authority which makes it preferable to all the Pleasures of Youth. If to be saluted, attended, and consulted with Deference, are Instances of Pleasure, they are such as never fail a virtuous old Age. In the Enumeration of the Imperfections and Advantages of the younger and later Years of Man, they are so near in their Condition, that, methinks, it should be incredible we see so little Commerce of Kindness between them. If we consider Youth and Age with Tully, regarding the Affinity to Death, Youth has many more Chances to be near it than Age; what Youth can say more than an old Man, 'He shall live 'till Night?' Youth catches Distempers more easily, its Sickness is more violent, and its Recovery more doubtful. The Youth indeed hopes for many more Days, so cannot the old Man. The Youth's Hopes are ill-grounded; for what is more foolish than to place any Confidence upon an Uncertainty? But the old Man has not Room so much as for Hope; he is still happier than the Youth, he has already enjoyed what the other does but hope for: One wishes to live long, the other has lived long. But alas, is there any thing in human Life, the Duration of which can be called long? There is nothing which must end to be valued for its Continuance. If Hours, Days, Months, and Years pass away, it is no matter what Hour, what Day, what Month, or what Year we die. The Applause of a good Actor is due to him at whatever Scene of the Play he makes his Exit. It is thus in the Life of a Man of Sense, a short Life is sufficient to manifest himself a Man of Honour and Virtue; when he ceases to be such he has lived too long, and while he is such, it is of no Consequence to him how long he shall be so, provided he is so to his Life's End.
[Footnote 1: a Young]Translation of motto: