Saturday, August 25, 1711.
‘Habet natura ut aliarum omnium rerum sic vivendi modum; senectus autem peractio AEtatis est tanquam Fabulae. Cujus defatigationem fugere debemus, praesertim adjuncta Satietate.’
Tull. ‘de Senec.’
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.