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Prolongation of Old Age

death, life, cicero, strength, pleasures, violence and occupations

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PROLONGATION OF OLD AGE The prolongation of life as a whole follows nat urally the prolongation of childhood and of the working period of life, but there are special in fluences at work independently to the same end. Science has been baffled by an increase in the dis eases of later life, but is diligently employing its natural instruments of research and experimenta tion in a more vigorous attack upon those diseases. Changes in diet and in habits of recreation conspire with medical research to extend that period which lies beyond the end of work. But again, as in the expansion of earlier periods, it is not mere exten sion that is significant. The emptying of old age of its conquerable diseases, its disabling infirmities, its sufferings and anxieties and fears, will be a more notable benefaction than the mere lengthening of years. If, by reason of strength, not by reason of drugs or extraordinary watchfulness, the ten years are added to real living, the race will be ten years ahead. But if there is strength and a time to put it forth, there will be need of giving thought to the manner of its exercise. Occupations suitable to retired age are a social problem, like Froebel's gifts or occupations in the kindergarten. Their purpose, to be sure, is different. Not instruction, but the exercise of long-matured instincts; not growth and work and the making of things, but mellow expansion, reminiscence and reflection, the play of mental imagery, and the testing of things, are the typical and characteristic occupations of the leisure of the evening of life.

Cicero disposed for all time of the idea that old age is miserable. In his systematic brief* he sets forth the reasons for thinking that it may be so: (I) It calls us away from the transaction of affairs.

(2) It renders the body more feeble.

(3)- It deprives us of almost all pleasures.

(4) It is not very far from death.

Indignantly denying the first charge, he says that the old, to be sure, do not engage in the occupa tions of youth, but in other and better things. For himself he prefers to spend his old age on a farm, for where can age warm itself better in the sunshine or by the fire, or be more refreshed by shady nooks and cool baths? Nothing, he thinks, can be richer in utility or more attractive in ap pearance than a well-tilled field; and certainly age is no hindrance to these pleasures, but, on the con trary, invites and urges to their enjoyment.

*

De Senectute.

On the second point, Cicero replies that the old man no more feels the lack of the strength of a young man than when a young man he felt the want of the strength of a bull or an elephant. What a man has that he ought to use.

We do not follow him so readily on the third point, when in his stoic philosophy he counts it the highest praise to old age that it has no great desire for any pleasures. It lacks banquets, he says, and piled-up boards and fast-coming goblets; it is, therefore, also free from drunkenness and in digestion and sleeplessness. Aside from the pleas ures of agriculture, in which congenial vocation Cicero especially cites the manuring of the fields as one of the most thoroughly enjoyable features, which he blames Hesiod for not having valued highly enough, he finds various other pleasant oc cupations to mitigate the tedium of a life without drunkenness, indigestion, and sleeplessness. Among them he gives first place to conversation in clubs and other like amusements.

As to the charge that old age is not far from death, Cicero has, of course, many very interesting ob servations. One of his rejoinders, that death is even more common in youth, will not bear statisti cal analysis. But that death in youth is a sort of violence, while death in old age is spontaneous, without force, natural, is a forecast of Metchni koff's demonstration that all infectious disease is violent death as truly as if by an external cause. Young men, says Cicero, seem to me to die just as when the violence of flame is extinguished by a flood of water; whereas old men die as the ex hausted fire goes out. As fruits when they are green are plucked by force from the trees, but when ripe and mellow drop off, so violence takes away their lives from youths, but maturity from old men, a state which to me indeed is so delightful that as I approach death I seem, as it were, to be getting sight of land, and at length after a long voyage to be just coming into harbor.

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