Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
Such thoughts as are embodied in this essay on old age come to those who are far along in the journey of life. To most of such— those at least whose lives have been well-spent—it is the period of restful satisfaction and thanksgiving. Perhaps it is true that there is no old age, as Dr. Howe declares—that old age is measured by "term of life expired." We have all seen old young people and young old people. Those who have grown old gracefully and realize that the best of life is theirs even in their advanced years are thrice blessed and are an inspiration to others to work for the days to come that are declared by the poet as the best that are yet to be.—Ed. Gleaner.
- "Grow old along with me !
- The best is yet to be ;—
- The last of life, for which the first was made."
"DE SENECTUTE."—Robert Browning, in Rabbi Ben Ezra, begins a philosophic poem as above. But the young will say that the writer is making virtue of necessity. The man at sixty, looking backward, sees what has gone, and never to be regained; and therefore tries to make the best of the situation, praising the remnant of existence, calling it the test. But is not there a verity in the assertion that the first of life is necessary for the attainment of the last? If it were not for the fitful blaze of youthful coruscations the embers of age would be the less enjoyable. While youth, in the acme of its ambition, is struggling to reach the zenith of blissful existence, age serenely views the contest, believing the attainment not worth the effort were it not for that which is to come!
Cicero's essay on "Old age"—de senectute—is the most philosophic and satisfactory of any of the great orator's productions. In an address to a friend he says: "This work is so delightful that it has not only obliterated the annoyance of age, but has rendered existence more charming than it is possible for life to be in youth." Further along he says: "Those who have no resources within themselves for living happily, every age is burdensome."
Johnson, in Rambler, writes: "He that would pass the latter part of his life with honor and decency must, when he is young, consider that he shall one day be old; and remember, when he is old, that he has once been young. In youth he must lay up knowledge for his support, when his power of action shall forsake him; and in age forbear to animadvert with rigor on faults which experience only can correct." Spectator contains the following words on the topic under consideration: "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. The consciousness of a life well spent, and the recollection of charitable and noble deeds, render existence more than tolerable—they make it delightful! All men can not be Scipios nor Alexanders; and few such are long happy. A life passed in peace and comfort is more desirable than one in-named by the storming of cities by land and sea, and in the ephemeral display of conducting triumphs. Plato in his eighty-first year died with pen in hand while expressing the beauties of philosophy. Isocrates wrote brilliantly in his ninety-fourth year, declaring that he had no reason to whine over the infirmities of age.
It is not becoming to regret the departure of what may be supplanted by something better. Does the boy lament the loss of his infancy, or does the young man regret that he is no longer a youth? And it might be asked with equal propriety if the well settled adult longs for the uncertainties of young manhood? And, finally, is there need for repine on the part of the elderly who enjoy intellectual repasts, as well as a satiety of physical feasts?
- "Maturer life with smiling eye will view
- The imperfect scenes which youthful fancy drew."
When Sophocles was asked if he had enjoyed carnal pleasures, he calmly replied: "The gods have given me something better; nay, I have run away from them with gladness, as from a wild and furious tyrant."
There is such a large proportion of suicides among adults that the circumstance is taken as an argument favoring the idea that existence beyond youth is hardly worth continuance. But in this we are not to be misled. An ambitious man may become despondent as soon as his schemes fail, and his future appears dark and uncertain. He has not wisely estimated the world, but has entertained a more hopeful outcome to it than facts warrant. The husbandman who mortgages his crop in seed-time is not sure of a harvest—he would be wiser to wait till the danger of frost and midge are over and the golden grain is ready for the sickle. Impatience and unreasonable expectations are among the faults of youth, and lead to untimely unhappiness.
Age does not alone ensure comfort and repose, nor is advanced life a surety; yet once attained, and the environment be fortunate, who would exchange its substantial worth for the uncertainties of youth? The young are chasing a phantom, the substance ever evading their clutch; the elderly, with the assurance of support, and the possession of mental wealth, are better off than the frivolous young, and infinitely happier. This the young can not appreciate till they pass the meridian of life, and begin to descend the gentle slope, going slow that there may be opportunity to admire the ever lengthening shadow—till the twilight tints the horizon— till it would be hard to tell when the day doth end and the night begins.
A mind schooled in cultured ways never has time hanging heavy, as if it were a burden; but the wit, wisdom, and worth of the great masters in art and literature become enchanting studies, widening comprehension and enriching appreciation. To grow old under such influences is not a burden or yoke hard to bear, but to glide along an eddying pool after cascades have been shot, and turbulent waters are calming to mingle with the sea.
Let noisy youth enjoy its huzzas, and the adolescent dream of bliss, almost within reach, and the stalwart adult just entering the race of real life strive for prizes with an eagerness that challenges admiration, yet only the elderly live to enjoy the best of life's struggle. Then "grow old," the better is to come! The first enjoyed was only good that the last might be the best!
Old age is a misnomer—there is no end of time. The babe that died to-day was comparatively old—its term of life expired; the lad is young in years, yet may be sporting on the brink of the grave. The smiling, winsome, waltzing maiden is shocked at the wrinkled image of age, yet may be nearer the tomb than her grandparents. The man of sturdy form and iron will may hurl defiance at any foe but death standing near; the aged alone are calm and not afraid—they have seen all except the unseen and cheerfully await the inevitable.—HOWE, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1890.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.