Sunday, January 10, 2016
As I move into my seventh year and look forward to my seventieth birthday, I share with you some of what one of my favourite authors Mark Twain thought of this time of life.
It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach-unrebuked.
You can tell the world how you got there. It is what they all do. You shall never get tired of telling by what delicate arts and deep moralities you climbed up to that great place. You will explain the process and dwell on the particulars with senile rapture. I have been anxious to explain my own system this long time, and now at last I have the right.
I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life, which would kill anybody else. It sounds like an exaggeration, but that is really the common rule for attaining to old age. When we examine the programme of any of these garrulous old people we always find that the habits, which have preserved them, would have decayed us. I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this: That we cannot reach old age by another man’s road.
…We have no permanent habits until we are forty. Then they begin to harden, presently they petrify, then business begins. Since forty, I have been regular about going to bed and getting up-and that is one of the main things.
As for drinking, I have no rule about that. When the others drink, I like to help; otherwise, I remain dry, by habit and preference. This dryness does not hurt me, but it could easily hurt you, because you are different. You let it alone.
I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any.
Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; and I was always tired. But let another person try my way, and see where he will come out.
I desire now to repeat and emphasize that maxim: We cannot reach old age by another man’s road. My habits protect my life, but they would assassinate you.
I have lived a severely moral life. But it would be a mistake for other people to try that, or for me to recommend it. Very few would succeed: you have to have a perfectly colossal stock of morals; and you can’t get them on a margin; you have to have the whole thing, and put them in your box.
Morals are an acquirement-like music, like a foreign language, like piety, poker, paralysis-no man is born with them. I wasn’t myself, I started poor. I hadn’t a single moral.
There is hardly a man in this house that is poorer than I was then. Yes, I started like that-the world before me, not a moral in the slot. Not even an insurance moral. I can remember the first one I ever got. I can remember the landscape, the weather, the-I can remember how everything looked. It was an old moral, an old second-hand moral, all out of repair, and didn’t fit, anyway
Morals are of inestimable value, for every man is born crammed with sin microbes, and the only thing that can extirpate these sin microbes is morals. Now you take a sterilized Christian-I mean, you take the sterilized Christian, for there is only one.
Threescore years and ten!
It is the Scriptural statute of limitations. After that, you owe no active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time-expired man, to use Kipling’s military phrase: You have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions are not for you, not any bugle-call but “lights out.” You pay the time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline if you prefer-and without prejudice-for they are not legally collectable.
The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave you will never need it again.