Sunday, November 11, 2007


Two Views of Old Age

Montaigne, On Repentance (Essais 3.2, tr. Charles Cotton):
But, methinks, our souls, in old age, are subject to more troublesome maladies and imperfections than in youth; I said the same when young and when I was reproached with the want of a beard; and I say so now that my gray hairs give me some authority. We call the difficulty of our humors and the disrelish of present things wisdom; but, in truth, we do not so much forsake vices as we change them, and, in my opinion, for worse. Besides a foolish and feeble pride, an impertinent prating, froward and insociable humors, superstition, and a ridiculous desire of riches when we have lost the use of them, I find there more envy, injustice and malice. Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face; and souls are never, or very rarely seen, that in growing old do not smell sour and musty. Man moves all together, both toward his perfection and decay.

Mais il me semble qu'en la vieillesse, nos ames sont subjectes à des maladies et imperfections plus importunes, qu'en la jeunesse : Je le disois estant jeune, lors on me donnoit de mon menton par le nez : je le dis encore à cette heure, que mon poil gris m'en donne le credit : Nous appellons sagesse, la difficulté de nos humeurs, le desgoust des choses presentes : mais à la verité, nous ne quittons pas tant les vices, comme nous les changeons : et, à mon opinion, en pis. Outre une sotte et caduque fierté, un babil ennuyeux, ces humeurs espineuses et inassociables, et la superstition, et un soin ridicule des richesses, lors que l'usage en est perdu, j'y trouve plus d'envie, d'injustice et de malignité. Elle nous attache plus de rides en l'esprit qu'au visage : et ne se void point d'ames, ou fort rares, qui en vieillissant ne sentent l'aigre et le moisi. L'homme marche entier, vers son croist et vers son décroist.

Edward Hoagland, "Heaven and Nature," from Heart's Desire (1988; rpt. New York: Touchstone, 1991), p. 360:
Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty. Incipient cataracts or arthritis, outlandish snores, tooth-grinding, ankles that threaten to turn are part of the game. But not to trust one's mind? That's a surprise. The single attribute that older people were supposed to have (we thought as boys) was a stodgy dependability, a steady temperance or caution. Adults might be vain, unimaginative, pompous, and callous, but they did have their affairs rightly in hand. It was not till my thirties that I began to know friends who were in their fifties on equal terms, and I remember being amused, piqued, irritated, and slightly bemused to learn that some of them still felt as marginal or rebellious or in a quandary about what to do with themselves for the next dozen years as my contemporaries were likely to. That close to retirement, some of them harbored a deep-seated contempt for the organizations they had been working for, ready to walk away from almost everybody they had known and the efforts and expertise of decades with very little sentiment.


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