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is; a fine glory, the rarest excellence yet realized, has passed, but it is a question if the repose of feeling, the calmness of thought, the charity of disposition that follow, are not higher. They do not count so high in the ordinary estimate, for there is nothing men so admire as the resistless
energy conquerable spirit of the middle period of life. Out of them spring the main achievements of society, and it is natural to value highest that which seems greatest. But we should hesitate before deciding that life culminates in the middle, and that half of it is given up to its own decay. Here is a great improbability, at least. It may be, as in preceding periods, that one kind of excellence has yielded to another and higher; that life is not like crossing a mountain, a climb to the summit, and an equal descent to the foot. It may be that life is not the exhaustion of a certain amount of vitality, not a ripening and a decay, but is a process quite different. It may be that it has in it a law of endless ascent, that life represents an unquenchable force, and can never be less than it is. If we take one view, it leaves life a sad mystery; if the other, it makes it explicable, for so long as life is on the gain, it explains and indorses itself, — like Emerson's flower, “ it is its own excuse for being." But a life that mounts only to sink back to the same level, confounds thought. Now, as between these theories, one of which has some color of external facts to support it, yet leaves life sad and inexplicable, and the other of which explains it and puts it in harmony with other truth, we are bound to
choose the latter by every principle of reason. It is a false logic that makes us content with mystery when there is any possible explanation of it. Being itself may be involved in eternal mystery, and may forever deepen as existence goes on, but the adjuncts of being, its end and its relations, are solvable and not parts of the "unending, endless quest." And if I find myself shut within a dark cave, as Plato pictured, I will welcome the faintest glimmer that seems to play about a possible opening into the world of light. Enough comes through to assure us that life, as ordained by God, if undisturbed by sin, is throughout a steady gain through a succession of excellences, each higher in kind than the preceding. Just here the text has force. Sin, without doubt, breaks up this order of growth and succession of higher qualities, and the Christ is here to restore it and to secure for it that growing abundance of which it is capable. But we are now speaking rather of the natural, inwrought order of life, than of rescue from its perversions.
Let us, if we can, make a comparative estimate of the loss and gain as we pass our allotted years.
1. We lose the perfection of physical life, its grace and exuberance. The divineness of childhood, the exultation in mere existence, the splendor of youth, the innocence that knows no guile, the faith that never questions, the hope that never doubts, the joy that knows no bounds because the limitations of life are not yet reached, — these all pass away. “But are not these immense losses ?” we say. “What can be better or greater than these?" In a certain sense there is nothing better or higher, but these qualities are not properly our own; they are colors laid on us, divine instincts temporarily wrought into us, but not actual parts of us; they fall away from us because they are not. Yet they are not wholly and forever lost; they recede in order that we may go after and get firmer hold of them. The child is guileless by nature, — the man because he has learned to hate a lie. The child is joyous, it knows not why, — God made it so; it is Nature's joy rather than its own; but a man's joy is the outcome of his nature reduced to harmony,
thought, feeling, and habit working under personality to the same end. One is necessarily ephemeral, the other is lasting, because it is the product of his own nature; it may not be so complete and divine of aspect, but it has become an integral and permanent factor of the man. The loss, therefore, is not so great as it seems; it is rather a transformation.
2. We lose, in time, the forceful, executive qualities. We no longer undertake enterprises of pith and moment, or take on heavy responsibilities. Old men do not explore unknown continents, or learn new languages, or found new institutions, or bead reforms, or undertake afresh the solid works of the world; the needed energy is gone, but not necessarily lost; it may have been transmuted, as motion is changed into heat and light.
3. When we come to mental qualities, there is smaller loss. It is sometimes thought that the imagination decays with years, but it rather changes
its character. In youth it is more erratic, and may better be named as fancy ; in age it is steadier and more subservient to the other faculties, entering into them, making the judgment broader, the sense of truth keener, and bringing the possibilities of truth within reach of thought. In the greater minds the imagination rather grows than lessens. Sophocles, Milton, Goethe, lead a vast host of poets and philosophers who never waned in the exercise of this grandest faculty. It is to be doubted if there is such a thing as decay of
When is tired one cannot think, words come slowly, the thread of discourse is easily lost, memory is dull, the judgment loses. its breadth, the perception its acuteness; but a few hours of sleep restore the seeming loss. So what. seems decay may pertain only to the age-wearied flesh; the mind is still there, as it was in weariness and sleep, with all its strength and stores. It is true that in the years of middle life, there is a certain thoroughness and intensity in all things done or thought, that comes from strength, but the judgment is not so sure, the grasp is not so comprehensive, and the taste so correct, as later on.
This, then, seems to be the sum of the losses sustained in life: a certain natural or elemental divineness of early childhood not to be kept as such, but to be lost as a divine gift, and reproduced as a human achievement; the bloom and zest of youth; the energy and force of maturity, and certain features or sides of our mental qualities. But we detect no loss of moral qualities, and but little of mental.
The order is significant: the physical changes utterly, the mental partially, the moral not at all, if the life is normal.
What now do we gain as life goes on ?
1. This evident progress from the lower to the higher must be accounted a gain. It does not matter how this progress is made, whether by actual loss of inferior qualities supplanted by higher, or by a transformation of forces, though the latter is more in accord with natural science, which asserts that force is indestructible, an assertion of tremendous scope of inference; for if force is indestructible, it must have a like basis or medium through which it acts ; thus it becomes a potent argument for an unending life. However this be, each phase of existence is so beautiful that we are loath to see it yield to the next; still it is a richer stage that comes on. A mother, enraptured with the perfect beauty of her babe, wishes, with foolish fondness, that she might keep it a babe forever, yet is content to see it unfold its larger life, and “round to a separate mind.” None of us would choose, if we might, to go back to any previous phase, and stay there.
e may long for the innocence of youth, but who would take it with its ignorance, for the zest of youth, but not at the expense of immaturity; for the energy of mid-life, but not at the cost of the repose and wide wisdom of age.
2. Though we lose energy and courage and present hope, we gain in patience, and, upon the whole, suffer less. It is glorious to defy fortune with strength, but it is better to be able to bear fortune