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Joseph Joubert (1754–1824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.

Chapter VI.

Of the Various Ages of Life, Sickness and Death

[1]NOTHING costs children so much trouble as thought. This is because the ultimate and essential destiny of the soul is to see and to know, and not to think. Thought is one of the tasks of life, a method of attainment, a road, a passage, but not an end in itself. To know, and to be known, are the two points of rest; here will be the happiness of souls.

[2]Whatever children love they torment and persecute.

[3]When children play they go through all the actions necessary to persuade themselves that their fictions are realities. Their toys bring a whole mimic world within their grasp, proportioned to their age, their stature, and their strength.

[4]There is only one age at which the seed of religion can be well sown. It cannot spring up in soil that the passions have dried, hardened, or laid waste.

[5]Think well of no young man whom the old men do not find polite.

[6]Go, and inquire of the young; they know everything!

[7]The beginning and the end of human life are the best of it, or at least the most worthy of our reverence; the one is the age of innocence, the other the age of reason.

[8]What in youth is passion, in old age is vice.

[9]He who is afraid of being a dupe while he is young, runs the chance of being a knave when he is old.

[10]To do well, we should forget our age when we are old, and not feel our youth too keenly when we are young.

[11]There is nothing good in a man but his young feelings and his old thoughts.

[12]Old age loves measure, but youth loves excess.

[13]The evening of life comes bearing its own lamp.

[14]Every year forms a knot in our nature, as it does in trees; some branch of intelligence develops, or decays and dries up.

[15]The studious idler knows that he is ageing, but cares little; for his kind of study he will always be equally fit.

[16]With advancing age a kind of exfoliation of our moral and intellectual being takes place; the mind crumbles, our notions and opinions detach themselves so to speak in layers, from the core of our nature; and earlier impressions that are more closely bound up with this revive, and re-appear, as the rest are separated off, and reveal what is beneath.

[17]We may advance far in life without ageing. Progress, after maturity has been reached, consists in retracing our steps, and perceiving where we have been mistaken. The disillusionment of old age is a great discovery.

[18]Old age is the time when the chrysalis is sinking into slumber.

[19]It seems as though for some fruits of the mind, the winter of the body were the autumn of the soul.

[20]So long as a man’s mind remains clear, he retains fire, intellect and memory enough to talk with Heaven, and with simple and good souls; this is enough; all the rest is a superfluity, useful only in business, in pleasure, and in the pursuit of fame. Now what business has a man, what honours or pleasures does he need, when he has nothing that is indispensable to ask of fortune—when he is wise, and when he is old?

[21]Old age, in its nearness to Eternity, is a kind of priesthood, and if it be passionless, consecrates us. Old age, then, seems authorised to express opinions on religion, but not without diffidence, not without fear. If in old age man be without passions, yet he has not always been so, and the habit of them remains; though near to God, he still bears upon him the impress of earth; and lastly, he deceived himself for a long time, so let him fear lest he deceive himself still, and most of all lest he deceive others.

[22]What is left of human wisdom after age has purified it, is perhaps the best that we have.

[23]A fine old age is a fine promise to all who behold it; for every one may hope the same for himself, or for those around him. We see in it the prospect of something that we all hope to attain; and love to see that it has beauty.

[24]Old men are the majesty of the people.

[25]There is an age at which one sees nothing in the countenance but the expression, in the figure but the support of the head, in the whole body but the dwelling-place of the soul.

[26]Politeness smooths away wrinkles.

[27]Let us beware of a supercilious old age.

[28]Garments that are clean and fresh have about them a kind of youthfulness, with which old age does well to clothe itself.

[29]Though your opinion may be right, you are wrong to maintain it against an old man.

[30]Our friendship for an old man has a peculiar character; we love him as we love all fleeting things; he is like a ripe fruit that we expect to see fall. It is something of the same with an invalid; in the words of Epictetus, ‘I have watched a fragile thing break.’

[31]It is fearful to think of, yet it may be true—that old men like to outlive their fellows.

[32]Life is a country that the old have seen, and lived in. Those who have to travel through it can only learn the way from them.

[33]We must respect the past, and mistrust the present, if we wish to provide for the safety of the future.

[34]Our life is woven wind.[M.A.]

[35]How many people drink, eat, and are married; buy, sell, and build; make contracts and take care of their money; have friends and enemies, pleasures and pains; are born, grow, live, and die,—but still—asleep!

[36]A Little vanity, and a little gratification of the senses—these are what make up the life of the majority of women and of men.

[37]Our whole life is employed in concerning ourselves about other people; we spend half of it in loving them, the other half in speaking ill of them.

[38]To live we need but a short life; but to act we need a long one.

[39]We are priests of Vesta; our life is the sacred flame that we are called upon to feed, until God Himself quenches it within us.

[40]Every one is a Clotho to himself, and spins the thread of his own destiny.

[41]We should deal with our life as we deal with our writings: bring the beginning, middle, and end into agreement and harmony. To do this, we must make many erasures.

[42]In consultation think of the past, in enjoyment think of the present; in all that you do think of the future.

[43]Two signs of decay—to love only beautiful women, and to tolerate evil books.

[44]We are happy if we part from health to enter into wisdom.

[45]‘Qui n’a pas l’esprit de son âge, de son âge a tout le malheur,’ says Voltaire; and not only should a man have a mind attuned to his years, but also to his fortune and his health.

[46]The expression of innocence that may be seen on the faces of convalescents, comes because the passions are in repose, and have not yet resumed their sway.

[47]To be born obscure and to die illustrious are the two extremes of human felicity.

[48]Let us die good-tempered, if we can.

[49]Patience and misfortune, courage and death, resignation and the inevitable, generally come together. Indifference to life arises with the impossibility of preserving it.

[50]This life is but the cradle of the other. Of what importance then are illness, time, old age, and death? They are but different stages in a transformation that doubtless has only its beginning here below.

[51]When death approaches, thought still plays in the brain like a light vapour just about to disperse. Wavering up and down, it floats there like a soap-bubble, that in a moment will become a drop of water.

[52]The poetry that Socrates said the gods had warned him to study before he died was not the Homeric, but the Platonic, the poetry of the Spirit and of Heaven, the poetry that entrances the soul, and lays the senses to sleep. Whether in captivity, or when strength fails, or in old age, we should make it our study; and therein may the dying man find his delight.

[53]When we have found what we were searching for, we have no time to proclaim it;—we must die!