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Car s'il est vray que nature me veuille
Mais convendra que tout ennuy m'acueille.'"
Ulysses weeps when he sees Laertes so changed by years*. "I had not seen Cephalus for a long time," says Socrates, speaking of the company he found with Polemarque," and he seemed to me as grown very old +." When the brothers of St. Placidus came to Sicily in order to visit him, Gordianus says that "at first they did not recognize him, because having been offered so young to St. Benedict, since which time they had never seen him, the change from boyhood, and that effected by all that he had since undergone, rendered it difficult for them to believe that it could be the same person." St. Gregory, in his last years, wrote to the Monk Secundinus, saying, "You must know, dearest son, that I am pressed with such pains of the gout, and with so many tumults of cares, that, although I never remember that I was any thing, I can yet clearly perceive that I am not what I was." A little later, writing to Maximian, a bishop of Arabia, the same great pope had to tell harder truths respecting himself. "I have not," he says, "been able now for a long time to rise from my bed. In brief, the infection of the noxious humour has so pervaded me, that to live is for me a punishment, and I anxiously expect death, which I believe is the only remedy for my sufferings §." To Rusticianus also he makes the same complaints-which furnish, by the way, an instance to prove that the supreme pontiff, as well as the common Christian, may adopt without offence the style and language of the classics— for the words of St. Gregory seem but an echo of the lines,
"Non sum qui fueram: quid inanem proteris umbram?
We often speak of things deeply affecting ourselves in a very light, careless way, without appearing to feel what they signify. There is an instance of this in the Homeric farewell,
Χαῖρέ μοι,—διαμπερὲς, εἰσόκε γῆρας
Ελθη καὶ θάνατος τά τ ̓ ἐπ' ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται ||.
For though there is nothing easier than to say good-bye, when upon the threshold of a long absence, it is a fearful thing to
* xxiv. 232.
Lib. vii. Indict. 2, Ep.
† De Repub. i.
think of the moment when we shall meet again and compare notes, and of all the changes that will have taken place in the interim. Such farewells savour more of eternity than of life. "I had seen Madame de Staël a child," says Simond, "and I saw her again on her deathbed." The meeting in that instance was too late; but come as it may, it will certainly bring with it recollections that only very flinty bosoms can endure unmoved. The poet represents the scene that may ensue :
"Lead us from hence; where we may leisurely
But the answer with some who stand as we do in the forest might be a silent pointing to the last vestiges that the eye can discover of some aged, ruined tree. Follow all the periods in the life of an oak, from the moment when it rises out of the ground with two little green leaves, till the day when all that is left of it is a long black trace, which is the dust of its heart; not much more, perhaps, will be found remaining of the man breathing out his frame like dust, falling all to pieces as if about to be made his own grave, and nothing of him left but memories which seem to burn his heart to ashes.
"O ruin'd piece of nature! this giant world
Homer seems to think that the sufferings of the old are most worthy of compassion :
τοῦτο δὴ οἴκτιστον πέλεται δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν *·
At all events there is no denying that their state partakes, in no scanty measure, of the misery incident to human life in all its stages; and well may the poet, describing what Ulysses saw in the shades, say, in alluding to some of them,
πολύτλητοί τε γέροντες †.
Youth has its sorrows: who has not felt how intense they can be? Manhood, when well inspired, can hardly be distinguished from it, either in its gleams or shadows.
Sed jam felicior ætas
Terga dedit, tremuloque gradu venit ægra senectus +."
It would be long to observe the melancholy pictures of old age which the ancient poets and philosophers produce. The lines of Euripides in the Hecuba, of Juvenal, and others, will recur to the memory of many; and the modern complaints resemble
+ xi. 38.
+ Met. xiv.
them. The Florentine painter, Jacopo da Puntormo, being employed to invent decorations for a triumph significant of human life in its different states, inscribed the word Erimus on the chariot which was to convey youth; Sumus on that reserved for manhood; and Fuimus on the last, in which the aged were to be seated. Pope Innocent III., no fantastic artist or romantic writer, is not disposed to take a different view of the last period of life on earth. "Few men," saith he, "attain their fortieth year, a very few their sixtieth; and what infirmities of body and mind are the heritage of old age! How painful is life then! Have men desired wisdom and science? then what watchings, troubles, and labours have been their lot! and how little, after all, is the knowledge that they have gained! Are they married? then what necessities encompass them! Life is a military service; it is surrounded on all sides by enemies and dangers. Death incessantly threatens us; we tremble for friends and relations. Before we expect it, the misfortune arrives, the infirmity seizes us, and the generations of the world since it began have not sufficed to discover all the kinds of suffering to which the fragility of man is liable." The poet, therefore, must be excused when he says,
"And next in order sad old age we found;
His beard all hoar, his eyes hollow and blind,
This morbid regret for departed youth constituted, in fact, one of the natural miseries of old age. Sad lamentations are breathed under these boughs at this pass of the road. Oh, call back yesterday! bid time return, and thou shalt be adored.
"Ah me, my friend! it will not, will not last,
This fairy scene, that cheats our youthful eyes!
It would be long to listen to the ancient complaints like those of the Chorus,
νῦν δ ̓ ἀπολείπομαι τᾶς εὐδαίμονος ἥβας *.
"Youth," they sing, "charms me—à vɛóтas μoi piλov; but old age, burden heavier than the rocks of Etna, weighs down our heads, and spreads over our eyes a darksome veil." Maffei expresses this regret in words nearly similar to the last, saying, "What wouldest thou give me? I desire nothing; and what would be dear to me no one can bestow. I should wish that the heavy burden of years might be removed from me. It weighs on my head; it sinks me to the earth, as if it were a mountain. I would give all the gold, and all the kingdoms of the world, to have restored to me the days of my youth." The poet of the Lakes gives utterance to the same feelings :
"Soft gales and dews of life's delicious morn,
But all this belongs, you maintain, to the pagan or romantic schools. To say so argues only the affectation of obdurate theorists-of unnatural insensibility. We have the same sentiments expressed by holy Job: "Quis mihi tribuat, ut sim juxta menses pristinos, secundum dies quibus Deus custodiebat me? quando splendebat lucerna ejus super caput meum et ad lumen ejus ambulabam in tenebris? sicut fui in diebus adolescentiæ meæ, quando secreto Deus erat in tabernaculo meo? quando erat Omnipotens mecum, et in circuitu meo pueri mei ?” ́ Such then, when left without the impressions we are about to trace, is man lamenting that he has reached this westward corner of the wood, this last but one of the roads through life's forest
σὸν πότμον γοόων· χαλεπὸν δ ̓ ἐπὶ γῆρας ἱκάνει †.
Some, as practical men, only say like Cato the Censor in his old age, that "it is painful to have to render an account of one's life to men of a different age from that in which one has lived." Others, as imaginative, are oppressed with the thought that the light of youth should be withdrawn for ever. Others, in fine, less poetical and sensitive, only lament the loss of strength which has ensued. Timanthes had given up his profession of an athlete, but in order to preserve his muscular force he used to draw the bow daily. Having to travel once, he was obliged to interrupt his custom, and when he wished to resume it he found that he had not sufficient strength left to do so. Finding that he was no longer like himself, he was so afflicted that he kindled his
* Herc. Furens, 440.
+ xi. 195.
own pile and threw himself upon it *. Look around, and you will see in the forest an image of this affliction; for when the common birch-tree arrives in age at a considerable size, the branches hang down and weep.
Now for all these afflictions and miseries it is certain that your old Catholicism offers a remedy; if not a complete and absolute specific, at least a most useful palliative and an immense alleviation. In the first place, it is calculated to diminish, to soothe, and to shorten even the physical evils of old age, since the discipline of life which follows from it constitutes the most likely means of keeping off infirmities. Central principles for many men have proved their life's restorer; and, next to Heaven, their thanks are due to the Mother Church who has precepts by which they may preserve life to a length, and end it happy. Though they climb hills of years, not one wrinkle sits upon their brow, nor any sickness shakes them. Some who are without its influence can say of themselves, in the words of Pliny, "We believe all quacks who promise health. We know them to be quacks, non tamen illud intuemur, adeo blanda est sperandi pro se cuique dulcedo t." Those who have adopted central views and manners are not such customers to the college, whether, like "the French physicians, they who come from it be learned and careful," as the old English poet says, or "like your English velvet-cap, malignant and envious I." As Sidonius Apollinaris says, Although sick, they would prefer hearing Socrates dispute on morals to listen to Hippocrates treating on bodies §." They are like the common people in this respect, who have no fancied maladies. "When I was poor," says Geta in the Prophetess, "I could endure like others; but since I grew rich, let but my finger ache, unless I have a doctor, mine own doctor, that may assure me, I am gone." The common people, in most cases, have nature for their doctor.
"If sick with the excess of heat or cold,
Caused by virtuous labour, not loose surfeits,
It is clear that the ancient hermits, who lived to such an age, had no physicians in their inaccessible solitudes, and that they
* Pausanias, lib. vi.
The Return from Parnassus.
+ Nat. Hist. lib. xxix. 8. § Lib. ix. epist. 14.