On the subject of old age….

28 April, 2011

…. I have just finished reading Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live”, a life of Montaigne, and this passage describing his attitude to old age caught my eye:

 It was not that age automatically conferred wisdom. On the contrary, he thought the old were more given to vanities and imperfections than the young.  They were inclined to “a silly and decrepit pride, a tedious prattle, prickly and unsociable humours, superstition, and a ridiculous concern for riches”.  But this was the twist, for it was in the adjustment to such flaws that the value of ageing lay. Old age provides an opportunity to recognise one’s fallibility in a way youth usually finds difficult.  Seeing one’s decline written on body and mind, one accepts that one is limited and human. By understanding that age does not make one wise, one attains a kind of wisdom after all.

 Montaigne, who lived in the 16th Century,  clearly had a no-nonsense attitude to many things (old age, religion, death) which was ahead of its time:

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

“I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.”

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.”

And one of my favourites is on religion, from a man who lived through decades of savage religious strife in France: “It is putting a very high price on one’s conjectures to have someone roasted alive on their account.”


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