Of Youth and Old Age


Summary

The essay ‘Of Youth and Old Age’ is one of the most popular essays of Lord Bacon. In this essay Bacon presents a comparative study of the nature of youth age and old age. He says that both the stages of life have their own merits and demerits. Bacon is of the view that the compounding of the characteristics of young age and old age can help in getting success especially in business.

Bacon first describes the drawbacks of youth. He says that although a young man may attain more experience than many old men, it is rare. Generally young people have certain shortcomings in them. He says that youth is liable to foolish thoughts. The errors of youth often prove fatal. It is because of certain characteristic weaknesses of youth such as attempting too much thinking only about the end, ignoring the means, holding on to imperfect principles, reckless innovations, extreme remedies and reluctance to acknowledge errors. Describing the merits of youth Bacon says that youth has lively invention and imagination. Though youth is not so well fit to judge or deliberate, it is fitter to invent and execute. A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he has lost no time. Young men have a moral freshness, which the old lack in. They are full of adventures and would not tolerate partial success. They are better capable of taking immediate decisions. Thus young people have many advantages over old people.

Describing the drawbacks of old age Bacon says “Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” While describing the merits of old age he says that old men are more experienced than the young men and they are guided in their action by their experience. But they are less imaginative, they argue too much, consult too long, are less adventurous, repent too soon and seldom push an affair right through the end. Even a little success satisfies them.

According to Bacon the wise course is the course of golden mean. He advises that the merits of both young and old men should be employed in business which requires immediate efficiency, efficiency in future, external success. This requires combination of the moral freshness of youth and the political sagacity of old age. When both old men and young men are employed, young men will learn from their elders and will themselves grow older and thus have the advantages of old age also.

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In this essay Bacon brings to light an important fact about young people. He gives examples from ancient history to illustrate this view. He points out that youth sometimes fails to fulfill its early promise. There are some, who have an early maturity, but their powers also fail early and then they do not justify their promise. This happened with Hermogenes, the rhetorician, who lost-all his mental powers by the time he was twenty-five year old. Secondly, there are persons who have some natural qualities, which are more becoming in youth than in age like Hortensius. He had a florid, passionate style. In oratory this style suited him better as a young man than when he was old. He remained the same even in his old age. Then there are those who begin with very high standards but are unable through a long period of years to maintain themselves at the height of greatness, which they have reached. This was the case with Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Hanibal at Zama in 201 B.C. Scipio’s early career in Spain and Africa was very brilliant. At the time of his great victory in Zama he was only thirty-five years of age. His later career in Asia Minor was not so brilliant.

Some Model Explanations


(a) A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he has lost no time. But that happenth rarely. Generally youth is like the first cogitations, not so wise as the second. For there is a youth in thoughts as well as in ages. And yet the invention of young man is more lively than that of the old, and imaginations stream into their minds better, and as it were more divinely.


Explanation: In these lines Bacon says that a man who does not waste time may gain a lot of experience even in young age. A man who utilizes all his time becomes more experienced than his age. But such men are found rarely. Bacon compares age with thoughts and finds that young age is like the first preliminary thoughts which cannot be so wise as the second thoughts i.e. the matured thoughts which we find in old age. Meditation improves our ideas. The reason behind it is that young age is as much mental as physical. Young men are not able to think wisely. And yet, the new thoughts and views of young men are more lifelike than those of old people. The imaginative ideas flow in the minds of the young men an they are driven by divine inspiration. They flow fast and young people act fast.

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(b) Young men are fitter to invent than to judge; fitter for execution than for counsel and fitter for new projects than for settled business. For the experience of age, in things that fall within the compass of it directeth them; but in new things, abuseth them.


Explanation:In these lines Bacon says that certain things are not within the range of young men. They are only apt to invent because they are less experienced. They are capable of executing a thing because they have more vigour and vitality. But they are unable to give advice because their thoughts are not always so matured. They are fit for new projects because they have enthusiasm and a craze for new things. But they are not meant for settled business because there is no use of their imaginative power and craze for action. The experience of age guides the young people properly. Young men are more imaginative and active but they lack in ripeness. They may commit blunders in executing a work, which may ruin the whole thing.


(c) A certain Rabin, upon the text, your men shall see visions and your old men shall see dreams inferreth that young men are admitted nearer to God than old because vision is a clearer revelation than a dream. And certainly, the more a man drinketh of the world, the more it intoxicateth; and age both profit rather in the powers of understanding, than in the virtues of the will and affections.


Explanation: Bacon says that a certain Rabin (an expert on Jewish Laws) said that young men see visions while old men only dream. That is to say that young men are nearer to God than the old. A vision is a clearer expression than a dream. A dream is a sleeping imagination while a vision is an awaking description. A man who lives more in the world, knows more secrets of the world. Old age profits a man in the power of understanding. An old man is experienced rather than passionate. Bacon says that the effect of age and experience on a man is that it increases his power of understanding. A young man has greater power of will, which enables him to execute a job better. Their thoughts and feelings are purer. They have a moral freshness, which the older people lack in. This is youth’s advantage over age which benefits their ability to act.

Questions and Answers

(a) Answer the following questions in two-three lines each:

i) Why do the errors of young men often prove fatal?
Answer: The errors of young men often prove fatal because they undertake more than they can carry through. They want to achieve their aims hurriedly without considering their means. They are rash and use extreme remedies at the very beginning and are unwilling to acknowledge their errors.

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ii) What are the general merits and demerits of the old age?
Answer: The old men are more experienced than the young men and their actions are guided by their experiences. Old men argue too much, consult too long, are not adventurous, repent too soon and are less imaginative. They are satisfied with little success.

iii) “Certainly, it is good to compound employments of both…” Why?
Answer:Bacon says it is good to compound the qualities of both youth and old age because this combination will be good for the present, future and exernal affairs. Old men take decisions in matters which they understand whereas young men are rash so the young men may learn what to do from old men.

iv) Who are those young men who fail to fulfill their promise?
Answer: The young men who fail to fulfill their promise are the ones whose wits are weak. Those young men also fail who begin with a high standard and are unable through a long period of years to maintain themselves at the height of greatness, which they have reached.

(b) Answer to the following question should not exceed 300 words.

(I) What are the basic qualities of youth? Compare the qualities of youth with old age.

Answer: Bacon has described certain basic qualities of youth. First of all he says that youth is like first thoughts which are not so good as second thoughts. Young age is a mental as a well as a physical state. Young men are more imaginative. Ideas flow in the minds of young men as they are inspired by divine inspiration. Young men are fit to invent than to judge. They undertake

new projects than the settled business. Young men in the management of actions accept more burdens than they can carry through. They act inconsiderately. They try to achieve their aims hurriedly. Young men do not acknowledge their mistakes. Thus they are like a badly trained horse which neither stops nor turns. Bacon compares the different qualities of youth and old age. Youth is the first cogitation while the old age is the second one, therefore more wise. Young men are fit to invent, to execute whereas old men are apt to judge and to advise. Old men are not for adventure, on the other hand, young men are adventurous. Old men have the influence while young men have the popularity. Young men give preference to moral principles while old men care little for moral principles and are more clever and prudent. Young men are nearer to God than old.

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