Prolongation Of Life
( Originally Published 1912 )
"Grant to life's day a calm unclouded ending, An eve untouched by shadows of decay."
WHAT may be the nature of our occupations and interests in the next world, we know not, but that the night cometh when no man can work, and that death cometh to us all, and stoppeth all the words and works we love so well, is a desperately solemn fact.
As a matter of absolute certainty, then, we have only this life to consider; and to get the most out of it, and into it, is the main problem of our earthly existence.
If we possess high altruistic ideals and love for our brethren, as most of us do, we must endeavor to get the most out of it, not alone for ourselves, but for humanity in general. The monastic contemplative life of religion, if not converted into charitable altruistic action, affects the world but little. We hold our powers, our thoughts, and our knowledge in trust for humanity; and as they depend on our health and on the continuance of life, then we should feel that we hold in trust also.
If this be our conviction, we must feel also that the years of our working powers should be prolonged to the uttermost; and so a long life and a busy one becomes our chiefest aim.
The wish to live is almost universal, but not always from the right motives; the self-indulgent luxurious man longs for the continuance of his sensual pleasures, while they pari passu defeat his unworthy object. The rich man often loves his riches too dearly, and, hating to part with them, becomes miserly, and so fails to get the full use and right enjoyment from them; but the wise and good man loves his life and hopes for long days, so that they may be spent in the service and furtherance of human progress. In the early days of Christianity the belief that the world was to come to an end almost immediately, and that the Second Coming of Christ was near, blinded their eyes to the true altruistic teaching of their Master.
They became narrow and rather selfish, thinking that they alone of all the world were to be saved ; of true philanthropy in any practical material sense they had but little. There were, of course, striking exceptions, like St. Peter and St. Paul, with their great missions to the Gentiles, but the mental attitude of the majority was selfish and sectarian. It is an extraordinary fact that the teaching of Christ and of His disciples did little, or I think I may say almost nothing, for the material development or improvement of man's work or physical conditions. This on Christ's part was probably part of His scheme, that mankind should work out its own evolution and happiness; on the part of His followers, the belief in His immediate Second Coming made useless any ideas of human growth or of material progress. This idea lasted for centuries, and I think it may be truly said that the first thou-sand years after Christ were materially the most barren in the history of the world; civilization was either stagnant or retrograde.
This attitude of constant expectation has, in a measure, paralyzed the churches ever since; it has concentrated attention far too much on the future life, and has diverted it to a great extent from the problems of human interests and growth here.
Thus it has come about that the Church of today is the Church of the well-to-do and of the contented; the lower classes, who are struggling upwards from poverty and misery, find little to help them in their fight, and, indeed, are often discouraged, for many preachers tell them that they should be content with what they presumptuously call their appointed lot, and that higher worldly aims are sinful. The man who has risen from the ranks is still looked on as an outsider, instead of a man to be honored, The ninety-and-nine just persons who need no repentance are ever a weighty drag on the wheels of human progress.
It has been cleverly said that, under the law of entail, the land of England belonged to the dead and the baby, but never to the living owner. In much the same way many good folk make the same muddle of their lives here; they spend their time in regrets for the past and in contemplative imaginings as to the life to come, and oftentimes neglect and miss their mark here. As far as we know, this life is our great opportunity, and what we make of it will be the proof of our success or of our failure. I take it that the real passport into the world to come will not be the nature of our spiritual introspections here, but what we have done for the good of our times and of our brethren. This life we must use with all our highest powers for the betterment of ourselves and of humanity, but in working for humanity we must try to attain complete selflessness, and we shall need also endless patience; we must think and calculate, not in years, but in generations, and we must rarely expect to see results. Alas! our faith is too inelastic and too shortsighted; there is too much of the personal and too little of the racial. We must see results, or abandon the experiment. We know in our hearts that God's ways and times are not as ours, but we cannot wait for God.
Think of the enormous progress in knowledge and science that the last two centuries have brought to us, and of how we have used them. That know-ledge which should have immeasurably increased the welfare of and happiness of men has been perverted and diverted into other channels. We see as the result the most wanton and destructive war, the greatest suffering and the greatest loss of life that the world has ever known. Those who deliberately planned this war could not wait for the good time that was clearly visible, but by murder, rapine, and robbery attempted to steal a march on God Himself.
If the gospel of humanity be combined with the simple primitive teaching of the gospel of Christ, then, and then alone, shall we begin to realize the possibilities of man, and what it is to be truly the sons of God and to be worthy of that great and honorable name.
As an old writer says, " Man was not sent upon the earth to prepare himself for existence in another world; he was sent upon the earth that he might beautify it as a dwelling, and subdue it to his use; that he might exalt his intellectual and moral powers until he had attained perfection, and had raised himself to that ideal which he now expresses by the name of God, but which, however sublime it may appear to our weak and imperfect minds, is far be-low the splendor and majesty of that power by whom the universe was made."
We have in the past set up an anthropomorphic idol, an inheritance partly from ancient times, when men worshipped devils as well as gods. This idol is a queer and impossible mixture of love and vengeance, of mercy and cruelty, of justice and oppression, and we called it God. How shall we be for-given the profanity of this insult? Fortunately the insult has been offered not to a semihuman jealous being, but to an omniscience with whom to comprehend all is to pardon all, that sees and knows all our feebleness and blindness,' and who is helping us on, in spite of ourselves, often, with our struggle towards the .light. We should sit down and fearlessly, humbly, work out this problem for ourselves as far as it can be accomplished in this earthly tabernacle. We should have the courage to seek and find our merciful and all-wise Creator in the world around us, in the seed and in the flower, in growth and in decay, in life and in death, and in the slow but sure evolution of the wisdom and goodness of man.
Not the degradation of humanity, not the sins and errors of the history of his race, but the bright dawning of new hopes and new powers, and his glorious possibilities, should be our constant theme. If you make the main teaching of your sermons to boys and girls the fact that they were conceived in sin and that they are miserable sinners, they will probably and instinctively disbelieve you; but if they believe you, they will start the great adventure of life handicapped by a moral extinguisher on their unlucky heads, and much of their motive power will be wasted. As evolution has been the law and method of the great Creator in the material development of the universe, so must it also be in the spiritual and physical growth of man. Not the man who preaches God as the inexorable judge and avenger of sinners, but the man who shows God to be the loving Father of us all, Who would not that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of His truth, is the man who preaches the gospel of Christ and humanity.
Some prejudiced person will surely say here, religion and science were always enemies, but this is false. It is science and superstition that are antagonists, and often bitter ones. All truth comes from God, and is for our use, whether of religion or science.
Solomon, with his marvellous insight, says, " Where there is no vision the people perish." It is the history of all religions that as they grow into priest-managed rigid machines, the underlying spiritual truths, the visions, get more and more obscured, while the people turn away to other religions or perish.
This seems to me the great danger of our present times. In the awful inhumanity and wickedness of these last three years of war, we see the Lutheran machine in Germany in its fullest vigor and in its fullest iniquity, but the vision? Mon Dieu!
Our own Church shows many signs of spiritual healthy awakening, but it will have to throw off a lot of its priest-made traditional accretions before it can become in any real sense the Church that the people need for the fostering and preservation of their soul's health.
My apology for the foregoing presumptuous sermon must be this, that I want to impress on everyone the value of each individual life, the value of its well-being and of its continuance to the utmost limits, and to emphasize the duty we owe to God, its maker, and to humanity.
Our ambition, then, and our duty is to possess a sound mind in a sound body. A fairly healthy active mind may belong to a diseased body, as we have seen in some few men who have made wonderful artistic and literary careers, but they are sorely handicapped by the burden of the flesh, and their output of work has been necessarily curtailed; even over the strongest minds an unhealthy body has some sad influence. Many of us, who start fair in the race of life and who live by the work of our brains, so neglect or misuse our bodies that disease sooner or later comes to us and impairs our usefulness.
On the other hand, the man rejoicing in his strength, and spending his days in games and in sport, is apt to let his mind stand still and to become atrophied from disuse. Cicero says, The body is apt to get gross from work, but the intellect becomes nimbler from exercising itself."
The philosophical study of both the mind and the body is our manifest duty, and to conduct this business effectually, we should learn carefully the elementary physiological laws that govern our being; this is no difficult work for the ordinary intelligent mind.
The laws that belong to and direct our eating and our drinking, our exercise and our rest, our circulation and our respiration, are fairly simple; but they must be studied, and applied to ourselves as individuals, for we are none of us built on universal lines. As we begin to get old, our idiosyncrasies especially become more marked. The foods that agree with us, and the drinks, are not always as they were, and the amount of exercise and sleep that are good for us vary considerably. The unwise physician who has studied medicine more than men is always trying to classify us and to tar everyone with the same brush, As an example, a witty American lady was consulting one of our stomach specialists for chronic dyspepsia; he, with more knowledge than wisdom, began to lay down a rigid rule of diet, before asking her for her own experiences. She intervened with this characteristic remark, " Say, Doc., are you running this stomach, or am I?" A fair criticism. The foods we eat, the drinks we drink, even the air we breathe, are mostly under our own control, and we should carefully study their properties and their laws as they affect us personally. To prepare for and keep the mind fixed on our later years is a policy of perfection that one can hardly look for in busy sanguine youth; but, still, they should feel that the consequences of their life's actions and conduct will have, in the end, to be faced. This is a hard saying, and one that we are all inclined to doubt and ignore, but none the less true—viz., that for all the sins we commit, moral or physiological, for all the sins known and unknown, intentional or unintentional, Nature will one day send in the bill, and a bill that will have to be paid.
Most of us seem to expect, and almost all of us pray for a divine interposition between cause and effect, between the fault and its consequence. We expect the Almighty to stultify Himself, and the laws that He has made, by making frequent individual exceptions in our favor. Is this reasonable? Would it elevate our idea of the justice of God ? or would it be for our ultimate good ? Surely not. That God is a God of mercy, we firmly believe; but we cannot get away from the fundamental law—as a man sows, he shall also reap. There may be ameliorations, but the law stands.
After all, it is not a very hard road that we are asked to travel. It is only to live soberly, purely, and wisely, in accordance with fairly well-known laws; to do justice and mercy, and to give to man-kind and to God of our best, whether it be of work and the fruit of our bodies, or of our minds. And if we do these things, we should, with God's help, live to a healthy old age and find peace, at the last.
There are, of course, accidents and certain accidental illnesses that may come to us and that we can never entirely guard against, such as the infectious diseases, the diseases brought on by unavoidable exposure to privation and chills, and the dread but so far unexplained cancer; there are diseased conditions also that we may unluckily inherit, but against which we can, nevertheless, make a good fight. The man who inherits a morbid constitution, and, wisely recognizing his danger lives a careful life, will oftentimes outlast a healthy contemporary in the race.
Leaving these almost unavoidable ills out of the question, we may say, with a fair amount of certainty, that our health is our own, that the diseases that may come on us as life advances are more or less our own fault, and that they are due to the breaking of physiological laws. In the great fight of life, it may be our misfortune to be knocked out in the middle rounds; but we must all strive and hope to fight to the end, to fulfil our destiny, and to leave a record of some good work behind. Habitual intemperance and the grosser sins of life are contraventions of the moral law : they carry their story and fate for all to see; but, as I have said above, the knowledge and sensible application of the laws of health will carry us to a healthy old age. As our bodily strength and activity begin to decline, it will be wise for us to get overhauled by a good physician, by one especially who can accurately estimate the condition of our hearts and arteries, for it is often about fifty or fifty-five that we need to make a change in our food and in our habits ; it is at this age that the diseased condition of our blood vessels, that we call arterio-sclerosis, and which cuts short so many lives, commences, and it is in these early days that so much can be done to prevent its development. This I shall go into more fully later on, but I mention it here, as some of my readers may get no further than this first chapter.
Let us now seriously consider the problems which confront everyone who has survived his youth. Whatever our conception of the future life may be, human nature clings to the existence that it knows. " Man wants but little here below, but wants that little long," is far truer than the original; and as we grow older, often, our ties to life in-crease, rather than diminish; for we have the welfare of our children and grandchildren much at heart, and we think, rightly or wrongly, that they need our help and guidance. It is only in the last extreme of senile feebleness that the chains that bind us to life are loosened.
But the mere duration of life is not a worthy aim in itself. What pleasure would it be to ourselves, and what use to others, if our bodies were afflicted with disease and if our minds were useless and clouded by premature decay ? To carry on both our health and our mental powers unimpaired must be our first and all-important consideration. As the old Greek proverb at the head of this chapter says,
" Know and study yourself," so we should, with skilled help, make our own individualities our study and arrange our lives in accordance. No second-hand knowledge nor the experience of others will help us much, for as no two cases of illness are exactly alike, so no two cases of ordinary health run on quite parallel lines.
Temperance in all things and self-denial must be the main rules of our life; not temperance alone in eating and drinking, but in work and in play. The physical or bodily dangers of approaching age lie, nowadays, rather in the direction of over-exertion. Neither men nor women, in activity or in dress, allow themselves to sink into frumpage, as did our early Victorian predecessors; and this, if not carried to extremes, is all to the good. Elderly people can do a lot of really good work and play, but they must learn to do them both quietly and somewhat slowly.
" The pace that kills " is a proverb that applies far more to age than to youth. This thought has often come to me through a long experience. What a number of elderly people die, if I may use such an expression, unnecessarily—that is, before their vitality and strength are really exhausted and before their work is done!
Hearts that are able to meet efficiently all the ordinary demands of life are suddenly called on to make some big effort of strength or endurance, and the result is sudden death or permanent damage to that great centre of our life.
There are three things which old age must religiously avoid : hurry, physical overstrain, and mental excitement, such as anger and temper. Indignation we cannot help oftentimes feeling, but we must never let ourselves go into explosions of anger. While avoiding the selfishness of the pure phlegmatic, we must still more shun the indulgence in those emotional orgies that many delight in. The late Sir Lauder Brunton on this topic said, " The patients should be warned of their condition and advised to lessen strain, either mental or bodily, if possible. There is no mental strain so risky as that of a fit of anger, and yet it is precisely in such cases of high blood-pressure that the temper is apt to become very irritable, and angry outbursts may occur on very slight provocation, altogether out of proportion to the emotion displayed." If our hearts and arteries are not quite sound, heart failure or apoplexy may result.
" Be ye angry and sin not " has always seemed to me an unfortunate translation of St. Paul's words to the Ephesians. It is really a repetition of the words in the fourth psalm, " Stand in awe and sin not," and of these words there can be no misinterpretation.
Horace has two well-known maxims full of wisdom, " aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem," which may be roughly translated :
"To keep an equal mind
and " Rebus angustis animosus atque fortis appare," which may be still more roughly translated :
"When in a tightish place,
The latter applies more to youth than to age, perhaps, and lies open, possibly, to misapplication. The happy mean that should exist, in old age, between an indolence that rapidly passes into an all-round deterioration, and over-exertion, is not easy to hit, but it is certainly better to err on the side of wearing out than of rusting out. Strictly speaking, wearing out does not belong so much to old age. In youth we probably wear out much more rapidly, but restoration or new growth takes place still more rapidly; in middle life the balance between wear and restoration is approximately equal. In old age the balance is reversed, and the ever-changing cells of our body renew themselves but slowly. This, I think, is the explanation of the fact that the retired, idle, elderly man degenerates more quickly than the busy one; the process of renewal is not stimulated, and so slowly or quickly ceases. Our bodies change probably several times during our lives, and the duration of our existence depends more on the renewing force than on the wear and tear. This applies as much to our brains as to our bodies; this force probably lies in our wonderful glandular system, for these glands linked up together by chemical and nervous forces supply, by their secretions that pass into the blood, the stimuli for the whole body.
How can we improve on the words of Cicero?
" We must stand up against old age and make up its drawbacks by taking pains. We must fight it as we should an illness. We must look after our health, use moderate exercise, and take just enough food and drink to recruit, but not to overload our strength. Nor is it the body alone that must be supported, but still more the intellect and the soul; for they are like lamps—unless you feed them with oil, they too go out."
To go rather more into detail : age with its lessened physical work and activity needs less strong and stimulating food. Our output of work should, in a reasonable measure, regulate our intake of food, the quantity as well as the quality. The neglect of this common-sense wisdom is the source of most of the disorders and incapacities of old age. We lessen our exercise and our general activities, but we seldom deny ourselves the pleasure of the table.
If we keep a horse idle in the stable for some days, and give him the same quantity of oats as he had when in full work, we expect ructions; and if on the top of the oats we give him beans, we expect catastrophes. In like manner we, as we get old, leave off or lessen our work, but often take the same amount and sort of food. After a while we feel out of sorts and unfit for the little we have to do; we think we are run down—that most misleading expression; we then take more food and more stimulant, with the inevitable catastrophic results. Why should our wisdom begin and end with horses?
The stream of life, which for practical purposes is represented by the stream of our arterial blood, should be kept moving quietly and regularly, and all the excretory organs of the body should be kept in good working order by moderate and gentle exercise, and by not making too great a call on them. These organs are the scavengers of our complicated bodies, the removers of our dust heaps and waste products, and they are absolutely essential to life and well-being. They, too, grow old with the rest of our organs, and when they are unable to carry out the work demanded of them, disease and death are not far off.
In real old age the small amount of food required to maintain life and health is surprising, and I think it often does better without meat altogether. Milk, good farinaceous and vegetable foods, eggs, and white fish or chicken, give all that is needed.
Old people are very apt to fall into grooves--, of thought and of exercise, of eating and of drinking. If these grooves are reasonable and in accordance with physiological laws, it is unwise, I think, to try reforms.
Nature in old age likes to run on conservative lines. In old age, it would seem that habits—even somewhat doubtful ones—are better than no habits at all. Without them old people often drift aimlessly and with no guide on to the rocks. To sum up, temperance must go hand in hand with self-denial, and knowledge with personal experience.
We should never look on old age as necessarily a time of disease and decay, but rather as a time of peaceful rest; of cessation of growth, but of ripening fruit. The knowledge of the world that comes from experience should keep us calm and contented and full of hope for those that come after us.
Cicero, in his charming way, said—writing when he was quite old—" For the word ` spring' in a way suggests youth, and points to the harvest to be; the other seasons are suited for the reaping and storing of crops. Now, the harvest of old age is, as I have often said, the memory and rich store of blessings laid up in earlier life. Again, all things that accord with nature are to be counted as good. But what can be more in accordance with nature than for old men to die? A thing, indeed, which also befalls young men, though nature revolts and fights against it. Accordingly, the death of young men seems to be like putting out a great fire with a deluge of water, but old men die like a fire going out because it has burnt down of its own nature without artificial means. Again, just as apples, when unripe, are torn from trees, but when ripe and mellow drop down, so it is violence that takes life from young men, ripeness from old. This ripeness is so delightful to me, that, as I approach nearer to death,
I seem, as it were, to be sighting land, and to be coming to port at last after a long voyage."
The mental disorders and dangers of old age belong partly, of course, to their state of bodily health, and to the sort of life that they have led; but apart from these more or less physical failings, many old people are apt to fall into a state of selfishness and —to use Jane Austen's happy alliteration—" pride and prejudice." They take a pride in their own work and achievements—a natural pride, perhaps, but one which a strict valuation would hardly war-rant, and which posterity would probably ignore; and this pride naturally leads on to the prejudging of the newer questions of the day, and so inevitably to a. lack of progressive thought and to a crystallization of their ideas and beliefs; and when this crystallizing process is complete, where do they stand? They can still do work, and fair work, with their old tools, but, unknown to themselves, they have joined the ranks of the men who were. And, after all, what have we old folks to be proud of? Have not our successes been fewer than our failures? and the work left undone greater than the work done?
However much we dislike them, we cannot get away from old proverbs. The ever popular one that says, " A woman is as old as she looks and a man as old as he feels," is certainly not one of Solomon's, and contains rather more of the false than the true. In more primitive simple times it may have had some worth. There are two classes of women who look younger than their age—one in whom, despite of white hair and wrinkles, the light of unselfish humanity, of sympathy and of true wisdom, shines undimmed; and one which, without much success, tries to postpone the appearances of age by art; but here I am travelling in a dangerous volcanic country, and lest evil befall, must get me back to my own sex and to ground which is more sure and of which I pretend to know something.
That a man is as old as he feels is also not really correct, for this feeling belongs chiefly to his physical side. The real truth is that he is as old as he thinks. If he think old, he is old; if he think young, he is young, whatever the tale of his years. This applies, of course, to both sexes, and so does the next paragraph.
There are some folks who seemingly have never been young. Hide-bound by convention and tradition, they have had no really separate moral existence, and they can scarcely be said to have any real individuality. They live and think by the laws of their herd—of their sect. These are the shining lights of that blessed but presumptuous word " orthodoxy "; these are the worshippers of Mrs. Grundynay, they are Mrs. Grundy, and so their own worshippers.
Without doubt they make for a certain respectable mediocrity, and it may even be said that they are useful as brakes to a too enterprising community; but contented and ignorant in their impenetrable shells, they make for nowhere in the world's progress, and their lives and deaths pass like a vapor, leaving no imprints on the sands of their times.
The man or woman, on the other hand, who, refusing to become old and with the experience and accumulated wisdom of years as a check, is fully receptive of all that is good and true in the present, shines out, like a cheering beacon light, to those who are following in the upward path, in the love of knowledge, and in the love of humanity.
What a dull, hopeless, unprogressive world it would be if we were all stock size! On this subject a thoughtful comparison of men and animals be-comes very interesting. Animals and birds that live in herds and flocks all strive towards uniformity; the abnormal one is hounded out. The heterodox, non-conforming rook, for instance, has a short and painful existence. This leads necessarily towards the establishment of a definite, rigid type.
This is for them, in many ways, a good thing; the herd instinct which they inherit and pass on enables them to act collectively for purposes of attack or defence, and it governs their migrations in search of food. Thus we see herds of feeble deer and cattle flourish and increase, while the solitary beast of prey tends to die out.
So far all is good for herd law, and for the argument for uniformity, but there is no progress. The strength and wisdom of a herd of cattle, of a flock of sheep, is no greater today than it was a thousand years ago, nor ever will be. Certain animals, like dogs and horses, by living with men, develop a wonderful sort of knowledge and of reasoning powers, but, separated from man, they relapse in a generation or two to their old wild standard. This is the difference between men and animals, that we can pile wisdom on wisdom, skill on skill, experience on experience, inherit them and accumulate them, and this I take to be the proof of our divine origin and also of our divine destiny; but it also involves the recognition of our divine responsibility, which must mean continuous progress and growth.
Many of us, alas! pile up experience but no resultant wisdom; stagnant, contented with our small amount of knowledge, we say, " What was good enough for our fathers is good enough for us "—the most hopeless sentiment in the world; or else either by our conduct or by our obstinate prejudices we cause our weaker brethren to offend, and so lower the tone of our community.
This herd instinct, which we see clearly active and beneficial in animals, is sneered at by the thoughtless man; he sarcastically uses the expression " like a flock of sheep," for instance, but on reflection we see that by this instinct, for the most part, the average man and woman lives and thinks. What is Mrs. Grundy but, from the social point of view, herd tradition personified?
And to our shame it must be added that we live below our herd standard, far more often than do the animals.
We see the danger and futility of an exclusive aim at uniformity, but, on the other hand, we must not lose sight of its value. Many of us have not the ability, or perhaps the leisure, to think out all our moral and religious problems for ourselves. We have to take for granted much of the teaching and wisdom of others, and to follow in their train.
This all tends to the establishment of public opinion, of a useful moral order or code, and this code governs the greater part of every community. It has not, as a rule, a high standard, for it reflects only the opinion of the mediocrity or of something a little below it; still, it helps to maintain a standard and to keep many a man on the rails. But, and a very important BUT, if allowed to become all-powerful, it becomes the bitter enemy of progress.
Herd instinct in human communities, as in animals, is unreasoning often, illogical, and sometimes brutal; it easily passes on into ostracism and persecution, and then is in opposition to the Divine Will.
There are few or no ideals about it, but it makes for safety, and so must be treated with some measure of respect and deference.
It is quite futile to run quixotic tilts against it. A witty American speaker said lately : " As an up-holder of order, public opinion is stronger than laws. Laws have to be executed; public opinion executes itself, and often keeps people more virtuous than the laws themselves. The fear of thy neighbor is the beginning of wisdom." This is largely true, but it does not spell Excelsior.
Perhaps its worst tendency is to kill or check individualism and enterprise. " Non-conformity " is a word I dislike to use, for it implies only a negation, and not a principle, but individualism is and must be the tons et origo of progress and evolution. No orthodoxy of herd tradition, no ecclesiastical uniformity, is going to save a soul or convert a sinner. Winston Churchill, in his powerful book " The Inside of the Cup," says : " The central paradox in Christianity consists in the harmonizing of the individual and socialistic spirit; and this removes it as far from the present political doctrine of social-ism as is possible. Christianity looked at from a certain point of view—and I think the proper point of view—is the most individualistic of religions, since its basic principle is the development of the individual into an autonomous being.
" No religious phrases, no formula nor catch-word has any saving power. The effect and desire must come from within, from the individual soul."
William Penn also says : " It is a sad reflection that many men have no religion at all, and most men have none of their own. For that which is the religion of their education and not of their judgment is the religion of another and not of their own."
Men say lightly that they are unbelievers, but rarely stop to think what it is they don't believe in. They may not believe in theology as it has been presented to them, but that is not unbelief.
No man can get away from the conviction that there must be what the Freemasons call " The great Architect of the Universe."
"There is no unbelief; whoever plants a seed And waits to see it push away the sod Believes in God."
Forms and creeds are but the swaddling-clothes of wisdom's and religion's infancy. Until we can outgrow them and in a measure discard them, we shall get a dim view only of the higher truths, and of the light that shines beyond.
If throughout our whole life we clothe ourselves with them as with a garment, they will too often become the mere cerements of the soul's decay and death. Arthur Balfour, in his introduction to " Theism and Humanism," says : " Progress, though of small account unless it touch the many, gets its vital influence always from the few. It is to the patient labors of these rare intelligences, who possess originality, courage, subtlety, and sympathy, that we must look for the gradual working out of a theory of the universe, which shall as fully satisfy our reason and our conscience as the limitations of our faculties permit." Later on, as a sort of counterpoise, he very wisely says ; " But we have not to do with intellectual values alone. There are beliefs round which crystallize complex emotions, aesthetic and ethic, which play no small part in our highest life. Without the beliefs, the emotions would dwindle; without the emotions the beliefs would lose their worth. Though they do not imply each other in the world of logic, they are naturally necessary in the world of values." One must instinctively feel the truth of this clear and wise statement, but one must also remember the beliefs and creeds are not synonymous. Beliefs are often of divine origin, but creeds are human interpretations and formulations of such beliefs, and because they are human, full of limitations and imperfections.
In developing individualism, we must be careful to avoid the somewhat attractive pitfalls of egotism and egoism. Self-absorbed human nature soon loses its bearings and its right sense of proportion. An egotist has been wittily described as "a man who insists on talking about himself, when you want to talk about yourself." Naturally he is very apt to degenerate into a bore. The egoist is one who, in medical language, suffers from egoitis-that is, from an inflammation or exaggeration of the self, or ego. He soon becomes a mentally diseased man, and often a nuisance to all around him. Of these two the egoist is by far the worst. One has known many a good philanthropist who, in seeking the good of his fellow-men, has become, in his concentration and enthusiasm, a sort of egotist, but one can readily pardon him. On the other hand, in the egoist, his self-absorption, his self-aggrandizement, and his want of consideration for others, tend ever to increase and to overwhelm him.
The true unselfish individual seeks not his own gain or glory, but strives to raise the tone, the standard, and the knowledge of his community; and in doing so his individualism merges and develops into the higher altruism, which I take to be the way of Christ. He seeks after, and often grasps, the divine essence that lies hidden in us all.
As we grow older, and as the cares, the tentacles, and passions of earlier life slip away from us, the first feeling of a wise man should be to rejoice in his freedom, in the emancipation from the octopus-like arms of the world and the flesh. The unwise man often resents his freedom, and in his efforts to get back into his former bondage and to rekindle spent fires, presents rather a miserable and unedifying spectacle.
Let us aim to be of those rare intelligences that Arthur Balfour describes; let us aim to use the wisdom that has come to us from years of experience for the world, for ourselves, and for the furtherance of the Great Architect's plans. " The true Wisdom," as Stevenson says, " is always to be seasonable, and to change with a good grace in changing circumstances. To love playthings as a child, to lead an adventurous and honorable youth, and to settle, when the time arrives, into a green and smiling age, is to be a good artist in life. Think of these two pictures : old age crabbed and selfish, hating the noise of children and laughter, scorning all opinions but those of himself and his contemporaries, and in the end sinking into the grave unloved, unmourned, with no faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity, and with little in his God; and the other picture—a lovable old face, over which experience and humility, wisdom and unselfishness, strive for the mastery.
A concrete example of a life gone wrong and wasted is of more weight than many words. I have known well and watched this man for forty years. He had the fortune or misfortune to make a comfortable pile by the time he was thirty-five. He was a keen, capable, tireless Yorkshireman. He then retired and has never done another day's work. He was proud of his early success, and has since spent his time in crowing on his own dunghill and in bullying his family—occupations not uncommon and clearly attractive to the human male. He has, without any vice, led a mildly luxurious, self-indulgent life. In these forty years I don't think he has done a thing that he did not want to do. He has taken no real interest in outside things and has done no public work. His intellectual and moral standards have not moved forward one inch. Now at seventy-seven, though his bodily health is exceptionally good, his mind is a chaotic ruin. Though he has a son fighting in France, he refuses to believe that we are at war. He thinks his wife is his mother, and his memory, except for the far-away events of his early life, has gone. This mental decay is not, as in many cases, the secondary result of organic disease, but is simply atrophy from disuse.
He buried his talent forty years ago, and it is now so rusted and corroded that, as a talent, it is unrecognizable. His son put the case in a nutshell when he remarked : " You can't expect a man to do nothing for forty years, and not to pay the price." The above is no doubt an extreme example, but we must all of us know of others that approach it. How rarely we realize that there is a penalty to pay for doing nothing, for the sins of omission! We hear a lot about overworked brains, but they generally belong to underworked or perhaps diseased bodies. The average healthy brain has somewhere in it a sort of stopcock apparatus, that shuts off steam before mischief is done.
This brings us to the great question of retirement from profession or business as age advances. Some of us are retired compulsorily, some of us retire voluntarily and our blood is on our own heads, but in all cases it is what a Scotchman would call " just an awfu' risk." The momentum acquired by many years of routine work is not to be despised, and is easily lost if we get off the old accustomed rails. Some men are so fortunate as to be able to fill their lives with new interests and occupations, after their old work is done, but they are the exceptions. For the average man retirement means a slackening of the whole machine, but especially of the mental side. The old proverb that says, " The retired man is a doomed man," has much truth. One would expect that the larger part of our municipal work and government, and that also of our philanthropic institutions, would be done by retired men, but how rarely we see it. The leading, active parts fall mostly into the hands of the still busy men, and I suppose the reason is that their minds work more quickly and efficiently than the minds of those who are out of harness. The retired man has often no appreciation of the value of time, and so becomes prodigal of it. Yet there should be a lot of useful work that the idle man should be well able to do, and work which would save him from deteriorating.
Since the war began, there are thousands of posts which have been efficiently filled by the men on the shelf, for the nation's good and for their own. The much-bepraised hobby is useful, but most of them give too little intellectual exercise. It is far easier for the unemployed man to keep his body fit than his mind, and yet the true and only happiness of our later years hangs on this. After all, it is the absence of incentive, with its consequent lack of keenness, that is the real trouble. It is the old difference between the man who takes a walk to get an appetite for his breakfast and the man who takes a walk to get a breakfast for his appetite. There is the incentive in both cases, but one of very unequal force.
The eyes of the coming generations are upon us, looking for help and guidance. Let us show them minds wise and open to all new truths and developments, and let us not allow the approach of age to sink ignominiously into its reproach.
To revert to the first danger of old age—selfishness. This oftentimes creeps on us insidiously, though the accusation of such a thing would fill us with indignation; but it is there, unless we keep a very keen guard.
Our children perhaps spoil us, and we unconsciously slip into the habit of thinking that the tit-bits of life belong to us as a right; or, living alone, we arrange our lives on a mildly luxurious plan, and then think ourselves very hardly used if circumstances break into and disturb the monotonous order of our existence. We may perhaps have earned a place in the sun, but its size should not be too conspicuous.
The pride of old age—generally a false pride—is too often shown in our attitude towards youth. We often set an undue value on the wisdom that is supposed to come from years of experience, and we expect youth to accept our valuation and conclusions without question ; whereas in reality we old people have more to learn from the young than they from us. Our failures and disappointments have inevitably blunted the keen edge of our courage. While we are weighing chances and seeing all the lions in the path, youth, with its fresher knowledge and greater, if blinder, pluck, will often arrive. Bacon says : " Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business to the full-period."
" Let not him that putteth on his armor boast himself as he that putteth it off," is excellent advice for youth; but the converse is equally good for age : " Let not him that putteth off his armor boast of his past and the great things he has done," but rather let him help his sons and successors to put on better armor and to fight a better fight. The laudator temporis acti, the man who says, " The country, sir, is going to the dogs," is an anachronism and generally a bore, and to be this is no longer the privilege of old age, though it is still one of its great temptations. The habitual bore has for all intents and purposes outlived his usefulness. He is like a long and dreary sermon, the persuasive power of which is in inverse proportion to its length.
To quote once more Stevenson's inimitable words : " In short, if youth is not quite right in its opinions, there is a strong probability that age is not much more so. Undying hope is co-ruler of the human bosom with infallible credulity. A man finds he has been wrong at every preceding stage of his career only to deduce the astonishing conclusion that he is at last entirely right."
Let us, then, sink our selfishness and self-esteem, and renew our youth by sympathy, and if possible by cooperation with our sons; and not only by co-operation, but by co-play. What a poor sort of bond there is between sons and a father who is regarded as little more than a paymaster ! But if he is a playmaster also and can lick them at golf or tennis, he is a much respected person, and one whose opinion will carry weight all round.
Let us, then, help on the succeeding race by encouragement, by advice very gently given, and by occasionally but very silently putting on the brakes; and let us never forget that, in the words of the Irish bull, " Their future is all in front of them, while ours, alas ! is behind us."
Now, as we cross that ill-defined boundary-line that marks the advent of old age, we must not make ourselves miserable. Remorse we must have, most of us, for things done and regrets, all of us, for things left undone, and for all those great ambitions and hopes that have gone astray; but the morbid analysis of the " might-have-beens " leads nowhere and solves nothing.
Though we can no longer, perhaps, be in the fighting line, we are still soldiers in the great army of the living. If we cannot ride with the guns or charge with the bayonets we can still hold the fort, and by cheerfulness, endurance, and unselfishness can do much to help those who are fighting the great battle of life. And surely the life has been worth the living, and the play the playing. If we no longer have the keen sight of the young men in the front row of the stalls for all the beauties of the stage and its players, if we can no longer catch all the delicate points of the dialogue, yet we, who see from the back rows, get the wise en scene more perfectly, and see things in truer proportions and perspective.
Listen to Cicero once more, who puts these words into the mouth of Cato, then eighty years of age : " My wisdom consists in the fact that I follow nature, the best of guides, as I would a god, and I am loyal to her commands. It is not likely, if she has written the rest of the play well, that she has been careless about the last act, like some idle poet. For after all some last was inevitable; just as to the berries of a tree and to the fruits of the earth there cometh in the fulness of time a period of decay and fall. A wise man will not make a grievance of this. To rebel against nature, is not that to fight like the giants against the gods ?
That was written two thousand years ago, and I hope my readers, if such. there be, will pardon me for quoting Robert Louis Stevenson again, that great and kindly philosopher of our own time, who, though he died young, seemed to have grasped the prophetic vision of all ages : " Indeed, by the report of our elders, this nervous preparation for old age is only trouble thrown away. We fall on guard, and after all, it is a friend who comes to meet us. After the sun is down, and the, west faded, the heavens begin to fill with shining stars. So, as we grow old, a sort of equable jog-trot of feeling is substituted for the violent ups and downs of passion and disgust. The same influence that restrains our hopes quiets our apprehensions; if the pleasures are less intense, the troubles are milder and more tolerable ; and, in a word, this period for which we are asked to hoard up everything as for a time of famine is in its own right the richest, easiest, and happiest time of our life."
Let these cheering words of these two great philosophers help us to march bravely on, and to use for ourselves and for others the very best that remains to us of life and work.
To some of us may come that great trial, the loss of sight or of hearing, losses which seem to cut us off, to a great extent, from the joy and intercourse of life, and which, to some extent, paralyze our usefulness; but even then we must fight on and train the remaining senses to compensate for what is lost. As a comfort to these I must quote the prayer from Whittier's beautiful poem " My Birthday ";
"And if the eye must fail of light,
"Be near me in each hour of need,
When, for each one of us, the sun begins to set and the long day closes; when the fear of death—that phantom born of faithlessness and doubt stands over us, we must steadfastly look through him and beyond him to the Better Land, to the Light that never fails; for this is not our home. Let us have no dread of the so-called pains of death. They are a chimera. Death comes kindly and gently in unconsciousness, in coma, or in sudden failure of the heart. During the last three centuries in Britain and America the outlook on the future life has been to very many colored and clouded by the teaching and doctrines of Calvin. I doubt if two good men ever—unconsciously, of course—did more to blur the true idea of God as an all-loving Father than did Calvin and John Knox. The aspect of religion they presented has now, thank God, nearly died out, but it has left on many minds an indelible mark. To those of us who were brought up in this stern subsection of the Christian religion, to those who for fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage, emancipation has been very difficult. But looked at honestly and squarely, this fear of death implies a great want of trust in our God.
Compare these harsh Calvinistic beliefs with the happier faith of Dante, who says : " In this age the noble soul tenders itself unto God, and awaits the end of this life with much desire; and to itself it seems that it goes out from the inn to return to the Father's mansion ; to itself it seems to have come to the end of a long journey, and to have reached the city; to itself it seems to have crossed the wide sea and to have returned to port."
Finally, I would humbly say this : If the old Greek philosopher could look on death as his last and best friend, if the Buddhist can calmly wait for it, and if the Mohammedan can fearlessly welcome it, surely to the Christian death should be the apotheosis of his existence, the janua vitoe, the very gateway into knowledge and eternal life.
Listen to Whittier again :
"Far off, and faint as echoes of a dream,
"The hour draws near, howe'er delayed and late,
"For love to fill, our nakedness of soul