Of Youth and Age – Summary

In the essay, Of Youth and Age, Francis Bacon compares the two ages, youth and old age. The essay deals with the advantages and disadvantages of both the ages.

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.

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.

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