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"A cancred, crabbed carle does dwell
There is still to be found the man like Camillus at Ardea, 'quum diis hominibusque accusandis senesceret *." "As men advance in life," says the author of Henrietta Temple, "all passions resolve themselves into money. Love, ambition, even poetry, end in this." Oh, what a deformed gipsy is this Mammon, whom such old men have for their mistress! Would you see their favourite dwelling? It is "one of those gloomy-looking places in which this execrable hag loves to enshrine herself. The exterior has not been painted for years, and the massive iron shutters are coated with rust. It looks like a money-getting place it is so dark and cheerless. If, during the morning, a vagrant sunbeam by chance penetrates through the closely grated, dusty windows, it quickly withdraws again, like some unwelcome guest, chilled by the coldness of the reception it has met with."
Then, again, the vanity of old age is complained of. "Adhuc enim," says Seneca, non pueritia in nobis, sed quod gravius puerilitas remanet. Et hoc quidem pejus est, auctoritatem habemus senum, vitia puerorum, nec puerorum tantum, sed infantium +." Antonio de Guevara contrives to be facetious even on this melancholy subject, writing to one who, like the wolf, is grey before he is good; for, addressing Don Alphonso Espinel, lieutenant-general of Oviedo, he rallies him on his vices in the following manner: "Magnificent lord and honourable old man, since you are past seventy and I am not far from sixty, it seems to me that it will not be bad advice or any extravagant solicitude, if we should both of us begin to put in practice our late good resolutions. This year, when you were laid up with the gout, when I went to see you, you asked me to note down some of the privileges that ought to belong to old men, which question of a truth you should have addressed to some one wiser and older than myself. However, on condition that you will not be angry or in the least annoyed, I will comply with your request, protesting, however, a thousand times that my intention is not to give licence to my pen to malign the grave and honourable, by whose prudence republics are governed, and from whom youth learns wisdom, for that would be sacrilege; but I mean only to describe men like myself, who am but a vagabond. Some have written in praise of old age. Well, God give them more rest than they have had sense, for we see that it is in truth an evil disease. I will note down here, then, some of their privileges, but to mark all would be impossible.
* Lib. v. 43.
+ Epist. iv.
It is a privilege, then, of old men to have their finger often in their ear, and to fancy, whenever persons speak together words which they hear not, that it is to the prejudice of their honour or of their goods. It is their privilege to have clouds in their eye when there are none in the sky, and not to recognize their friend. It is their privilege also to talk of their former passions. It is their privilege to ask, the first thing in the morning, what weather it is, and whether there is a change of moon; for by dint of infirmities they become astrologers. It is their privilege also to ask every minute which way the vane turns. It is their privilege to seek company, either in the market or in some shop, to know what passes in the fields or in the town, and to ask what news at court, though the worst is, they never can remember a word of it. It is their privilege to be always full of suspicion and anger against their servants, saying that they do nothing right, and to carry a stick to stir the fire and to threaten their varlets withal. Item, it is one of their privileges, at least once a month, to shut themselves up in their room or closet and count their silver, putting on one side the double ducats, on the other the ecus, on the other the crowns, and never to change a single piece. It is also their privilege to have a good feather bed, to wear fur and gloves, and to have their bed warmed, though the misfortune is, after all, they will do nothing all night but cough and complain. It is also their privilege to find nothing fit to eat, to repeat continually that they have not slept all night, and at the first streaks of day to be able to begin grumbling and scolding every one, and to ask for breakfast. It is their privilege, in fine, to love authority, and yet to hate those who ask their age, though they wish to be honoured on account * " years The poet, after similar observations, speaks plainer than the friar. "You may have been once all that you pretend," he says,
"But now contempt is mocking thy grey hairs;
Generalizing, however, far too much, while ascribing to all the miseries that belong through their own fault but to a few, he continues,
The season of the spring dawns like the morning,
Epit. Dorées, liv. i.
To autumn's manhood; here the evening grows
In order to find the opening through which men, by desiring to correct the vices and miseries incident to old age, can discern the advantage of central principles, it is by no means necessary that we should have any wish to exaggerate the consequence of their influence. It only requires an admission, involving no difficulty, that the faults peculiarly incident to age are precisely those with which Catholicity most resolutely and effectually grapples; and of course, along with this admission, there will be required a calm and unprejudiced observation of facts.
"Rich poverty," says the Baron de Prelle, " that is, detachment and humility with riches, constitutes a great pleasure for the old, when they are rich without loving riches *." Now every one knows that to produce this detachment is one of the prime objects of Catholicism. That it succeeds frequently is evident; and from what a besetting sin of old age, then, does this condition, resulting from central views, proclaim a deliverance! Strabo mentions a saying of Phalereus, that in the Attic mines the diggers worked with as much heart as if they expected to dig up Plutus himself +. An old man may not be naturally apt for such labours, but if no benign influence affect him, he may be often described in the lines of the humorous poet,
Certainly, few men will question that Catholicism, more than any thing else, tends to produce an opposite character, by presenting a different object for ambition from that of being a man of unknown wealth, whose heir, likely to inherit but weak brains, will wish that his father should soon make a journey to Erebus, for the sake of that proverb which proclaims who is the happy son. Nothing, again, more effectually checks that cunning worldliness and vanity which so often degrade the old, than the
+ Lib. iii.
*Considerat. sur la Vieillesse.
same influence. Antonio de Guevara only speaks the sense of all Catholic instruction where he says, "It would be a horrible scandal to see only white hairs on the heads of old knights, and to find nothing but vanity and lies upon their tongues. The old," he continues," often complain that the young will not converse with them; but truly, if there be a fault here, it is all on their side; for if an old talker once begins, he will never finish; so that a discreet person would rather go six leagues on foot than hear him three hours*." Against worldliness in old age the voice of Catholicism is powerful. "Væ vobis quia declinavit dies-that is," adds St. Anthony of Padua, "the day of grace and the light of interior and natural condition-quia longiores factæ umbræ vespere tendente lumine ad occasum. And truly it often happens that as our life declines to its setting, these shadows, that is, the loves of earthly things, increase. For men, feeling their strength fail, seek the more to livet." St. Bernard has terrible words for such old persons: "Maledictum caput canum et cor vanum, caput tremulum et cor emulum, canities in vertice et pernicies in mente; facies rugosa et lingua nugosa, cutis sicca et fides ficta; visus caligans et caritas claudicans; labium pendens et dens detrahens; virtus debilis et vita flebilis; dies uberes et fructus steriles, amici multi et actus stulti." Catholic poets themselves seem inspired by the theologian in expressing their horror of the vices which sometimes degrade the old, and in giving them counsel. Man," says Don Fernando, with Calderon, "be ready always for eternity; and delay not till infirmities admonish thee, for thou art thyself thy worst infirmity."
But passing from such instructions, which have been repeatedly heard on former roads, let us only mark the facts which are here presented to us in the marvellous change and contrast produced in the character of old age, when it has been submitted to the central attraction, and when its years, though they show white, are worthy, judicious, able, and heroical. The best proof we can have, perhaps, will be to behold a living example; let us then only see approach one of these well-directed and happy old men, in whom we must revere
"The symbol of a snow-white beard,
Dropped from the lenient cloud of years."
Let him, I say, only come up, and we may close our books.
"O infinite virtue! com'st thou smiling from
L'Horloge des Princes, liv. iii. 1124.
As Massinger says, "His face denoteth fulness of content, and glory hath a part in't." In the catacombs one finds the figure or imprint of a seal, which represents the sole of a foot or shoe, on which is written "in Deo," to signify that man is a traveller, and that the end of his pilgrimage is God. They who, in a general way, correspond with this symbol, are witnesses to prove the efficacy of Catholicism in forming old age to virtue, their path being that of the just, resembling a light which shines more and more until the perfect day. Though rocks and currents have been long past, the voyage of the soul, we are told, is often less safe in the calm of age than amidst the gales of youth and maturity; for, as Dante says,
I have seen
A bark, that all her way across the sea
Ran straight and speedy, perish at the last
But central principles ward off such catastrophes, when to the Church, as the guardian of all that is wise and beautiful, an old man says,
For then, as Don Antonio de Guevara recommends, when writing to an aged commander, the old man, intent upon some noble object, passes much of his time actively employed, serving God and his fellow-men, visiting poor people, hospitals, and holy places; like the Marquis de Chenoise, founder of the convent of Mercy, on the estate which bears that name in the diocese of Sens, who, in his old age, living in retirement, used every day, for some purpose of charity or public service, to repair to these ransomers of captives, and then, on his return, spend the afternoon in study at the end of the vast gardens of his castle ‡. Old men, when amerced of central principles, cease to take a great interest in any thing. That hearty energy which made youth so generous has left them. A pleasant story was current in the humbler classes lately, of a young man who received half-a-crown to raise an applausive voice in one of our theatres in favour of an actor on his first appearance, and who clapped and shouted so loud that he got turned out for his pains. Old age does not offend in this way of exceeding in what its duty or its gratitude requires; but Catholicism has the secret of reviving this kind of
+ Par. 26.
Hist. de l'Ord. de la Mercy, 885.