RESOLUTION S WHEN I COME TO BE OLD
At the age of thirty-two, Jonathan Swift wrote the following:
RESOLUTIONS WHEN I COME
TO BE OLD
(1) Not to marry a young woman.
(2) Not to keep young company, unless they desire it.
(3) Not to be peevish, or morose, or suspicious.
(4) Not to scorn present ways, or wits, or fashions, or men, or war, etc.
(5) Not to be fond of children.
(6) Not to tell the same story over and over to the same people.
(7) Not to be covetous.
(8) Not to neglect decency or cleanliness, for fear of falling into nastiness.
(9) Not to be over severe with young people, but give allowances for their youthful follies and weaknesses.
(10) Not to be influenced by, or give ear to, knavish tattling servants, or others.
(11) Not to be too free of advice, or trouble any but those who desire it.
(12) To desire some good friend to inform me which of these resolutions I break or neglect, and wherein, and reform accordingly.
(13) Not to talk too much, nor of myself. (14) Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favour with ladies, etc.
(15) Not to hearken to flatteries, nor conceive
I can be beloved by a young woman.
(16) Not to be positive or opinionative.
(17) Not too set for observing all these rules, for fear I should observe none.
Swift died at the age of seventy-eight; so far as I can find out, he lived up to these resolutions with commendable consistency, except one: his friend, Dr. Sheridan, was sufficiently indiscreet to remind him that he was becoming too parsimonious. Swift resented this criticism, and it spoiled their friendship.
Although Swift was a pessimist, a cynic and a misanthrope, these resolutions contain much wisdom; so much, in fact, that a faithful adherence to them would save most old men much suffering and humiliation. I read them first when I was a boy and they produced a profound impression; now that I am in a position where they fit my case, I believe them to be good medicine, bitter but wholesome. Swift must have been bored horribly by many old men, or he must have observed many old people behaving in a silly fashion to have written down these rules with such emphasis.
(1, 2) "Crabbed age and youth cannot live together," said Shakespeare; the few exceptions do no more than prove the rule. Many old people suffer because they fear that young people do not desire their company. The solution is for old people not to allow their happiness to be dependent on young folks but to have either company of their own age or intellectual resources which will make them mentally independent. I have taught young people for forty years, and although I am very fond of them, I prefer the society of people of my own age. If I were about to tale a trip around the world and could choose either a young or old companion, I would take the latter.
(3) Good advice for any age, but old persons, owing to bodily infirmities, are more apt to show these unlovely characteristics.
(4) This advice was never more needed than now.
(5) I would change this, so it would read "Not to fondle children." A man with a bushy beard can terrify babes.
(6) "I suppose you have all heard this before, but--" then why tell it?
(7) Especially of the health, vigour, and activity of younger men.
(8) Swift was himself almost fanatically clean. It is a disgusting sight to behold old men who are careless of their clothes and appearance, as though old age gave one the privilege to appear in public with the remains of the last meal on the coat, waistcoat and shirt.
(9) Observe the ways of the dog, and learn wisdom. The dog allows children to pull his tail, and bother him in many ways; not because he likes it, but because he knows children have no sense. It is useless to expect that children and young people will think and act like middleaged men and women; why be fretful when they are simply running true to form?
(10) One must remember that slander is of value only as a self-revelation, never as an accurate description. The recoil of that particular gun is greater than the discharge.
(11) Every person loves to give advice and no one loves to take it. The mother says to the child, "Now, Freddy, don't forget to put your rubbers on!" to which Freddy replies "Huh!" Then when Freddy is seventy-six years old, his granddaughter says, "Now, Grandpa, don't forget to put your rubbers on!" to which the grandparent replies "Huh!" It is a good thing not to force one's opinion on others unless they ask for it; one's professions and creed will be judged by one's life, anyhow.
(12) All, that requires the very grace of God. This kind comes only by prayer and fasting.
(13, 14) Many an old man likes to have others think that he was in his prune a devil of a fellow. This particular vanity is hard to eradicate. Even in the moment of Lear's heartbreaking and shattering grief over the death of his daughter Cordelia he found time to boast of his former prowess.
(15) I say it not cynically, but in all seriousness: There is no one who cannot be successfully flattered, provided the flattery be applied with some skill. We have at the core such invincible egotism that we not only listen greedily to flattery, but, what is far worse, we believe it!
(16) An overbearing, domineering, dogmatic manner in conversation is abominable in persons of any age; when old people behave in this fashion, and it is not resented by the young, it should really all the more humiliate the old. For such acquiescence means that the old man hasn't any sense, anyhow.
(17) Know thyself. Ulysses showed his wisdom in not trusting himself. A Yale undergraduate left on his door a placard for the janitor on which was written, "Call me at 7 o'clock; it is absolutely necessary that I get up at seven. Make no mistake. Keep knocking until I answer." Under this he had written. "Try again at ten."