Page images


* * *


them; not only because these never leave a man, not even in the extremest old age; but because a conscience bearing witness that our life was well spent, together with the remembrance of past good actions, yields an unspeakable comfort to the soul. * * * *

16 As the wise and good are in age delighted with the company of young people of sense and

good inclinations, and nothing makes age sit lighter on them, than the regard and esteem of such; all young people, who desire to recommend themselves to the world by a virtuous life and solid accomplishments, must of course be pleased with the opportunity of improving themselves by the advice and information of the most experienced : and thus I judge it is, that I observe you to be no less pleased with my conversation than I truly am with yours.

17 For, what can be more honorable, what more desirable in life, than to see old men waited on by numbers of the young, making their court to them for their advice and in

on. For none, certainly, will deny, that the aged are the best qualified for instructing of youth, and training them up in the knowledge, as well as animating them to the discharge of every important duty in life. ****

18 And I must ever think, that all those who spend their time in improving others in knowledge, and teaching the nobler arts, when their natural strength of body fails them, are entitled to our highest regard and esteem ; though it is undoubtedly true that even this decay is oftener owing to some unhappy courses, and living too fast in youth, than to the natural effects of old age alone.

19 For a libidinous and intemperate life in youth, will unayoidably deliver over the body languid and enervate to succeeding old age.

* * * Constant exercise, with temperance, will still preserve a competent share of our pristine vigor,

SECTION II. Moderation in exercise and diet : literature and science :

rural pursuits : mildness of temper : remembrance of past good deeds: resignation to the laws of nature.

1 But allowing it, that old people lose their strength, I say again they do not want it. The laws, their administration, the institutions and discipline of our ancestors, public and private, are their proper business.

2 We must prepare ourselves, my friends, against old age; and as it is advancing, endeavor by our diligence to mitigate and correct the natural infirmities that attend it: we must use proper preservatives as we do against diseases; great care must, in the first place, be taken of our health ; all bodily exercise must be moderate, and especially our diet; which ought to be of such a kind, and in such proportion, as may refresh and strengthen nature, without oppressing it.

3 Nor must our cares be confined to our bodies only : for the mind requires much more, which, without care will not only decay, but our understanding will as certainly die away in old age, as a lamp not duly supplied with oil. The body, we know, when overlabored, becomes heavy, and, as it were, jaded; but 'tis exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor. * * * *

4 If the mind has the advantage of literature and science, and can by that means feed on, or divert itself with some useful or amusing study, no condition can be imagined more happy than such calm enjoyments, in the leisure and quiet of old age. * * * * *

5 Upon all which let me ask you, what gratifications of sense, what voluptuous enjoyments in feasting, wine, hunting, or play, and the like, are to be compared with those noble enjoyments? Those pure and serene pleasures of the mind, the rational fruits of knowledge and learning, that grafted on a good natural disposition, cultivated by a liberal education, and trained up in prudence and virtue, are so far from being palled in old age, they rather continually improve, and grow on the possessor,

6 Excellent, therefore, was that expression of Solon, when he said, that daily learning something, he grew old : for the pleasures arising from such a course, namely, those of the mind, must be allowed incomparably to excel all others.

7 But I now come to speak of the pleasures of a country life, with which I am infinitely delighted. To these, old age is never an obstruction. It is the life of nature, and appears to me the exactest plan of that which a wise man ought to lead. Here our whole business is with the earth, the common parent of us all, which is never found refractory, never denies what is required of it, nor fails to return back what is committed to it with advantage, sometimes indeed with less, but generally with a very large interest. Nor is it the view

* If the relish and advantage of science and literature as solaces to old age, were so highly appreciated by Cicero, in whose time printing presses and types were unknown, how can language express the encomiums those enjoyments are entitled to in the present age..COMP.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


of this increase only, which yields delight, but there arises yet a greater, from a contemplation of the powers of the earth, and vegetation.

8 Old age, in a person graced with honors, is attended with such respect and authority, that the sense of this alone is preferable to all the pleasures youth can enjoy. Yet in all I have said, I desire to be understood to mean the old age

of such persons only, as have in their youth laid solid foundations for esteem in advancing years; for on no other terms ought we to expect it.

9 And hence it was, that what I once said in a public speech, met with such general applause, when I observed, that miserable was that man's old age, who needed the help of oratory to defend him. Gray hairs and wrinkles avail nothing to confer the authority I am here speaking of: it must be a series of good actions, and nothing but a life honorably and virtuously led, through all the advancing steps of it, can crown old

age with this blessed harvest of its past labors. 10 Nor are those common marks of respect, though of but little moment in themselves, to be altogether slighted; such as morning salutations; to have the way or upperhand given; to be waited on home or from home, and to be consulted; which, both with us and in all well regulated states, in proportion as they are more or less so, are more strictly observed and practised. Lysander of Sparta, was wont to say, that Lacedemon was of all places, the most honorable sanctuary

for old age.

11 I find this also related, that a very old man coming into the theatre at Athens, to see a play, and the throng being so great that he could find no room nor seat among his own citizens, passing along that part where the embassadors of Lacedemon, then present, were placed; they all immediately rose up to give him a seat.

12 The Athenians observing this, clapped, and much applauded the action; upon which one of the Spartans passed this just reflection, that the Athenians (he perceived) knew very well what was right, but they knew not how to do it. ** But it is said, people as they grow in years, become more peevish, morose, and passionate; and you may add covetous too; but as I have said, these are the faults of the men, and not of old age.

13 Yet something of a little moroseness might probably, though not altogether justly be excused; for they may sometimes be apt to think themselves slighted and played on; and further, a frail body can bear but little, and therefore will be the sooner offended. But all this may by proper application be prevented and remedied : for by reflection and a watchful guard kept on the motions of the heart, natural temper may be sweetened, and our conduct softened. A gravity with some severity is to be allowed; but by no means ill-nature.

14 We now come to the fourth and last charge, which is thought most nearly to affect old age, and to give the greatest anxiety of all others, viz. the approach of death, which 'tis certain can be at no great distance. **** The spring represents youth, and shows what fruits may be expected; the following seasons are for ripening and gathering in those fruits; and the best fruits of old age are, as I have repeatedly said, the recollecting, and, as it were, feeding on the remembrance of that train and store of good and virtuous deeds, of which in the course of life, we lay in as a kind of provision for this


15 But further, we are to consider, that as all we enjoy is from nature, whatever proceeds from, or is conformable to the established laws of this, must in itself be good.

Now can any thing be more agreeable to those laws, than that people in old age should die, since more inconsistently with the order of nature, we find the same thing happens to youth, even in the prime of their years.

16 But the difference is great; for young men seem to be forced from life, as fires are extinguished by great quantities of water thrown on them ; when on the contrary, old men expire of themselves, like a flame, when all its fuel is spent. And as unripe fruit requires some force to part it from its native bough, but when come to its full maturity, it drops of itself, without any hand to touch it; so young people die, by something violent or unnatural; but the old by mere ripeness.

17 The thoughts of which to me are now become so agreeable, that the nearer I draw to my end, it seems like discovering the land at sea, that, after the tossings of a tedious and stormy voyage, will yield me a safe and quiet harbor. ****

18 We ought then to conclude, that as there is a succession of pursuits and pleasures, in the several stages of life, the one dying away, as the other advances and takes place; so in the same manner are those of old

off in their turn. And when this satiety of life has fully ripened us, we are then quietly to lie down in death, as our last resting place, where all anxiety ends, and cares and fears subsist no more!

age to pass

19 I am therefore far from being of the mind of some, and amongst them we have known men of good learning, who lament and bewail the condition of human life, as if it were a state of real misery; for I am not at all uneasy that I came into this world ; because I have so lived in it, that I have reason to believe, I have been of some use to it; and when the close comes, I shall quit life as I would an inn, and not as a real home. For nature appears to me to have ordained this station here for us, as a place of sojournment, a transi. tory abode only, and not as a fixed settlement or permanent habitation. * *

20 But whether immortal or not, or whatever is to be our future state; as nature sets limits to all its other productions, it is certainly fit, our frail bodies should, at their proper season, be gathered, or drop into the grave.

21 Now, these my friends, are the means, (since it was these you wanted to know) by which I make my old age sit easy and light on me; and thus I not only disarm it of every uneasiness, but even render it sweet and delightful.



SECTION I. Reasonable self-denial, economy and prudence, contrasted with unrestrained sensual indulgences, as the means of human happiness.

Philocles. My friend, Horatio! I am very glad to see you; prithee how came such a man as you alone? and musing too? What misfortune in your pleasures has sent you to philosophy for relief?

Horatio. You guess very right, my dear Philocles: We pleasure hunters are never without them; and yet so enchanting is the game, that we cannot quit the chase. How calm and undisturbed is your life! how free from present embarrassments and future cares ! I know you love me, and look with compassion on my conduct : show me then the path which leads up to that constant and invariable good, which I have heard you so beautifully describe, and which you seem so fully to possess.

Phil. There are few men in the world I value more than

« PreviousContinue »