ESSAYS ON 'OLD AGE' AND 'FRIENDSHIP' The treatise on 'Old Age', which is thrown into the form of a dialogue, is said to have been suggested by the opening of Plato's 'Republic', in which Cephalus touches so pleasantly on the enjoyments peculiar to that time of life. So far as light and graceful treatment of his subject goes, the Roman essayist at least does not fall short of his model. Montaigne said of it, that "it made one long to grow old"; but Montaigne was a Frenchman, and such sentiment was quite in his way. The dialogue, whether it produce this effect on many readers or not, is very pleasant reading: and when we remember that the author wrote it when he was exactly in his grand climacteric, and addressed it to his friend Atticus, who was within a year of the same age, we get that element of personal interest which makes all writings of the kind more attractive. The argument in defence of the paradox that it is a good thing to grow old, proceeds upon the only possible ground, the theory of compensations. It is put into the mouth of Cato the Censor, who had died about a century before, and who is introduced as giving a kind of lecture on the subject to his young friends Scipio and Laelius, in his eighty-fourth year. He was certainly a remarkable example in his own case of its being possible to grow old gracefully and usefully, if, as he tells us, he was at that age still able to take part in the debates in the Senate, was busy collecting materials for the early history of Rome, had quite lately begun the study of Greek, could enjoy a country dinner-party, and had been thinking of taking lessons in playing on the lyre. [Footnote 1: "Il donne l'appetit de vieiller".] He states four reasons why old age is so commonly considered miserable. First, it unfits us for active employment; secondly, it weakens the bodily strength; thirdly, it deprives us of nearly all pleasures; fourthly and lastly, it is drawing near death. As to the first, the old senator argues very fairly that very much of the more important business of life is not only transacted by old men, but in point of fact, as is confessed by the very name and composition of the Roman Senate, it is thought safest to intrust it to the elders in the state. The pilot at the helm may not be able to climb the mast and run up and down the deck like the younger sailor, but he steers none the worse for being old. He quotes some well-known examples of this from Roman annals; examples which might be matched by obvious instances in modern English history. The defence which he makes of old age against the second charge--loss of muscular vigour--is rather more of the nature of special pleading. He says little more than that mere muscular strength, after all, is not much wanted for our happiness: that there are always comparative degrees of strength; and that an old man need no more make himself unhappy because he has not the strength of a young man, than the latter does because he has not the strength of a bull or an elephant. It was very well for the great wrestler Milo to be able to carry an ox round the arena on his shoulders; but, on the whole, a man does not often want to walk about with a bullock on his back. The old are said, too, to lose their memory. Cato thinks they can remember pretty well all that they care to remember. They are not apt to forget who owes them money; and "I never knew an old man forget", he says, "where he had buried his gold". Then as to the pleasures of the senses, which age undoubtedly diminishes our power of enjoying. "This", says Cato, "is really a privilege, not a deprivation; to be delivered from the yoke of such tyrants as our passions--to feel that we have 'got our discharge' from such a warfare--is a blessing for which men ought rather to be grateful to their advancing years". And the respect and authority which is by general consent conceded to old age, is a pleasure more than equivalent to the vanished pleasures of youth. There is one consideration which the author has not placed amongst his four chief disadvantages of growing old,--which, however, he did not forget, for he notices it incidentally in the dialogue,--the feeling that we are growing less agreeable to our friends, that our company is less sought after, and that we are, in short, becoming rather ciphers in society. This, in a condition of high civilisation, is really perhaps felt by most of us as the hardest to bear of all the ills to which old age is liable. We should not care so much about the younger generation rising up and making us look old, if we did not feel that they are "pushing us from our stools". Cato admits that he had heard some old men complain that "they were now neglected by those who had once courted their society", and he quotes a passage from the comic poet Caecilius "This is the bitterest pang in growing old,-- To feel that we grow hateful to our fellows". But he dismisses the question briefly in his own case by observing with some complacency that he does not think his young friends find _his_ company disagreeable--an assertion which Scipio and Laelius, who occasionally take part in the dialogue, are far too well bred to contradict. He remarks also, sensibly enough, that though some old persons are no doubt considered disagreeable company, this is in great measure their own fault: that testiness and ill-nature (qualities which, as he observes, do not usually improve with age) are always disagreeable, and that such persons attributed to their advancing years what was in truth the consequence of their unamiable tempers. It is not all wine which turns sour with age, nor yet all tempers; much depends on the original quality. The old Censor lays down some maxims which, like the preceding, have served as texts for a good many modern writers, and may be found expanded, diluted, or strengthened, in the essays of Addison and Johnson, and in many of their followers of less repute. "I never could assent", says Cato, "to that ancient and much-bepraised proverb,--that 'you must become an old man early, if you wish to be an old man long'". Yet it was a maxim which was very much acted upon by modern Englishmen a generation or two back. It was then thought almost a moral duty to retire into old age, and to assume all its disabilities as well as its privileges, after sixty years or even earlier. At present the world sides with Cato, and rushes perhaps into the other extreme; for any line at which old age now begins would be hard to trace either in dress or deportment. "We must resist old age, and fight against it as a disease". Strong words from the old Roman; but, undoubtedly, so long as we stop short of the attempt to affect juvenility, Cato is right. We should keep ourselves as young as possible. He speaks shrewd sense, again, when he says--"As I like to see a young man who has something old about him, so I like to see an old man in whom there remains something of the youth: and he who follows this maxim may become an old man in body, but never in heart". "What a blessing it is", says Southey, "to have a boy's heart!" Do we not all know these charming old people, to whom the young take almost as heartily as to their own equals in age, who are the favourite consultees in all amusements, the confidants in all troubles? Cato is made to place a great part of his own enjoyment, in these latter years of his, in the cultivation of his farm and garden (he had written, we must remember, a treatise 'De Re Rustica',--a kind of Roman 'Book of the Farm', which we have still remaining). He is enthusiastic in his description of the pleasures of a country gentleman's life, and, like a good farmer, as no doubt he was, becomes eloquent upon the grand subject of manures. Gardening is a pursuit which he holds in equal honour--that "purest of human pleasures", as Bacon calls it. On the subject of the country life generally he confesses an inclination to become garrulous--the one failing which he admits may be fairly laid to the charge of old age. The picture of the way of living of a Roman gentleman-farmer, as he draws it, must have presented a strong contrast with the artificial city-life of Rome. "Where the master of the house is a good and careful manager, his wine-cellar, his oil-stores, his larder, are always well stocked; there is a fulness throughout the whole establishment; pigs, kids, lambs, poultry, milk, cheese, honey,--all are in abundance. The produce of the garden is always equal, as our country-folk say, to a double course. And all these good things acquire a second relish from the voluntary labours of fowling and the chase. What need to dwell upon the charm of the green fields, the well-ordered plantations, the beauty of the vineyards and olive-groves? In short, nothing can be more luxuriant in produce, or more delightful to the eye, than a well-cultivated estate; and, to the enjoyment of this, old age is so far from being any hindrance, that it rather invites and allures us to such pursuits". He has no patience with what has been called the despondency of old age--the feeling, natural enough at that time of life, but not desirable to be encouraged, that there is no longer any room for hope or promise in the future which gives so much of its interest to the present. He will not listen to the poet when he says again-- "He plants the tree that shall not see the fruit" The answer which he would make has been often put into other and more elaborate language, but has a simple grandeur of its own. "If any should ask the aged cultivator for whom he plants, let him not hesitate to make this reply,--'For the immortal gods, who, as they willed me to inherit these possessions from my forefathers, so would have me hand them on to those that shall come after'". The old Roman had not the horror of country society which so many civilised Englishmen either have or affect. "I like a talk", he says, "over a cup of wine". "Even when I am down at my Sabine estate, I daily make one at a party of my country neighbours, and we prolong our conversation very frequently far into the night". The words are put into Cato's mouth, but the voice is the well-known voice of Cicero. We find him here, as in his letters, persuading himself into the belief that the secret of happiness is to be found in the retirement of the country. And his genial and social nature beams through it all. We are reminded of his half-serious complaints to Atticus of his importunate visitors at Formiae, the dinner-parties which he was, as we say now, "obliged to go to", and which he so evidently enjoyed. [Footnote 1: "A clergyman was complaining of the want of society in the country where he lived, and said, 'They talk of _runts_' (i.e., young cows). 'Sir', said Mr. Salusbury, 'Mr. Johnson would learn to talk of runts;' meaning that I was a man who would make the most of my situation, whatever it was".--Boswell's Life. Cicero was like Dr. Johnson.] He is careful, however, to remind his readers that old age, to be really either happy or venerable, must not be the old age of the mere voluptuary or the debauchee; that the grey head, in order to be, even in his pagan sense, "a crown of glory", must have been "found in the way of righteousness". Shakespeare might have learned from Cicero in these points the moral which he puts into the mouth of his Adam-- "Therefore mine age is as a lusty winter, Frosty but kindly". It is a miserable old age, says the Roman, which is obliged to appeal to its grey hairs as its only claim to the respect of its juniors. "Neither hoar hairs nor wrinkles can arrogate reverence as their right. It is the life whose opening years have been honourably spent which reaps the reward of reverence at its close". In discussing the last of the evils which accompany old age, the near approach of death, Cicero rises to something higher than his usual level. His Cato will not have death to be an evil at all; it is to him the escaping from "the prison of the body",--the "getting the sight of land at last after a long voyage, and coming into port". Nay, he does not admit that death is death. "I have never been able to persuade myself"; he says, quoting the words of Cyrus in Xenophon, "that our spirits were alive while they were in these mortal bodies, and died only when they departed out of them; or that the spirit then only becomes void of sense when it escapes from a senseless body; but that rather when freed from all admixture of corporality, it is pure and uncontaminated, then it most truly has sense". "I am fully persuaded", he says to his young listeners, "that your two fathers, my old and dearly-loved friends, are living now, and living that life which only is worthy to be so called". And he winds up the dialogue with the very beautiful apostrophe, one of the last utterances of the philosopher's heart, well known, yet not too well known to be here quoted: "It likes me not to mourn over departing life, as many men, and men of learning, have done. Nor can I regret that I have lived, since I have so lived that I may trust I was not born in vain; and I depart out of life as out of a temporary lodging, not as out of my home. For nature has given it to us as an inn to tarry at by the way, not as a place to abide in. O glorious day! when I shall set out to join that blessed company and assembly of disembodied spirits, and quit this crowd and rabble of life! For I shall go my way, not only to those great men of whom I spoke, but to my own son Cato, than whom was never better man born, nor more full of dutiful affection; whose body I laid on the funeral pile--an office he should rather have done for me. But his spirit has never left me; it still looks fondly back upon me, though it has gone assuredly into those abodes where he knew that I myself should follow. And this my great loss I seemed to bear with calmness; not that I bore it undisturbed, but that I still consoled myself with the thought that the separation between us could not be for long. And if I err in this--in that I believe the spirits of men to be immortal--I err willingly; nor would I have this mistaken belief of mine uprooted so long as I shall live. But if, after I am dead, I shall have no consciousness, as some curious philosophers assert, then I am not afraid of dead philosophers laughing at my mistake". [Footnote 1: Burke touches the same key in speaking of his son; "I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me have gone before me: they who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors".] * * * * * The essay on 'Friendship' is dedicated by the author to Atticus--an appropriate recognition, as he says, of the long and intimate friendship which had existed between themselves. It is thrown, like the other, into the form of a dialogue. The principal speaker here is one of the listeners in the former case--Laelius, surnamed the Wise--who is introduced as receiving a visit from his two sons-in-law, Fannius and Scaevola (the great lawyer before mentioned), soon after the sudden death of his great friend, the younger Scipio Africanus. Laelius takes the occasion, at the request of the young men, to give them his views and opinions on the subject of Friendship generally. This essay is perhaps more original than that upon 'Old Age', but certainly is not so attractive to a modern reader. Its great merit is the grace and polish of the language; but the arguments brought forward to prove what an excellent thing it is for a man to have good friends, and plenty of them, in this world, and the rules for his behaviour towards them, seem to us somewhat trite and commonplace, whatever might have been their effect upon a Roman reader. Cicero is indebted to the Greek philosophers for the main outlines of his theory of friendship, though his acquaintance with the works of Plato and Aristotle was probably exceedingly superficial. He holds, with them, that man is a social animal; that "we are so constituted by nature that there must be some degree of association between us all, growing closer in proportion as we are brought into more intimate relations one with another". So that the social bond is a matter of instinct, not of calculation; not a cold commercial contract of profit and loss, of giving and receiving, but the fulfilment of one of the yearnings of our nature. Here he is in full accordance with the teaching of Aristotle, who, of all the various kinds of friendship to which he allows the common name, pronounces that which is founded merely upon interest--upon mutual interchange, by tacit agreement, of certain benefits--to be the least worthy of such a designation. Friendship is defined by Cicero to be "the perfect accord upon all questions, religious and social, together with mutual goodwill and affection". This "perfect accord", it must be confessed, is a very large requirement. He follows his Greek masters again in holding that true friendship can exist only amongst the good; that, in fact, all friendship must assume that there is something good and lovable in the person towards whom the feeling is entertained it may occasionally be a mistaken assumption; the good quality we think we see in our friend may have no existence save in our own partial imagination; but the existence of the counterfeit is an incontestable evidence of the true original. And the greatest attraction, and therefore the truest friendships, will always be of the good towards the good. He admits, however, the notorious fact, that good persons are sometimes disagreeable; and he confesses that we have a right to seek in our friends amiability as well as moral excellence. "Sweetness", he says--anticipating, as all these ancients so provokingly do, some of our most modern popular philosophers--"sweetness, both in language and in manner, is a very powerful attraction in the formation of friendships". He is by no means of the same opinion as Sisyphus in Lord Lytton's 'Tale of Miletus'-- "Now, then, I know thou really art my friend,-- None but true friends choose such unpleasant words". He admits that it is the office of a friend to tell unpleasant truths sometimes; but there should be a certain amount of this indispensable "sweetness" to temper the bitterness of the advice. There are some friends who are continually reminding you of what they have done for you--"a disgusting set of people verily they are", says our author. And there are others who are always thinking themselves slighted; "in which case there is generally something of which they are conscious in themselves, as laying them open to contemptuous treatment". Cicero's own character displays itself in this short treatise. Here, as everywhere, he is the politician. He shows a true appreciation of the duties and the qualifications of a true friend; but his own thoughts are running upon political friendships. Just as when, in many of his letters, he talks about "all honest men", he means "our party"; so here, when he talks of friends, he cannot help showing that it was of the essence of friendship, in his view, to hold the same political opinions, and that one great use of friends was that a man should not be isolated, as he had sometimes feared he was, in his political course. When he puts forward the old instances of Coriolanus and Gracchus, and discusses the question whether their "friends" were or were not bound to aid them in their treasonable designs against the state, he was surely thinking of the factions of his own times, and the troublesome brotherhoods which had gathered round Catiline and Clodius. Be this as it may, the advice which he makes Laelius give to his younger relatives is good for all ages, modern or ancient: "There is nothing in this world more valuable than friendship". "Next to the immediate blessing and providence of Almighty God", Lord Clarendon was often heard to say, "I owe all the little I know, and the little good that is in me, to the friendships and conversation I have still been used to, of the most excellent men in their several kinds that lived in that age".