Friday, 18 December 2015

'Convenient times and proper tempestivities'

'The race and course of age is certain; and there is but one way of nature and the same simple; and to every part of man's life and age are given his convenient times and proper tempestivities. For even as weakness and infirmity is incident to young children, a lustiness and bravery to young men, and a gravity when they come to ripe years; so, likewise, the maturity or ripeness of old age have a certain special gift given and attributed to it by nature, which ought not to be neglected, but to be taken in its own time and season when it cometh.'
Thus Cicero On Old Age, in the splendidly expansive Elizabethan translation by Thomas Newton (alumnus of Macclesfield Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford) - salutary bedside reading for those of us in the foothills of senescence. My copy - containing Cicero's Books of Friendship, Old Age, and Scipio's Dream - was published in 1907 in The King's Library, a series of beautifully produced small volumes edited by Israel Gollancz, who also edited the equally attractive Temple Shakespeare. The King's Library was one of a fine flowering of new popular editions of the classics - all of them a pleasure to look at and to handle, and conveniently pocket-sized - that culminated in the triumphant Everyman's Library. The literary scholar Israel Gollancz was the uncle of publisher Victor, who was, rather improbably, Ivy Compton-Burnett's principal publisher, bringing out her novels of the Forties and Fifties in notably unattractive volumes.
 On Old Age was written by Cicero in the form of a 'dialogue' - in fact, more of an address by Cato the Elder, punctuated with occasional questions and prompts from Scipio Africanus and his friend Caius Laelius. Cato/Cicero's counsel is wise and soundly Stoical, though easier to assent to than to follow in practice. The gist and concernancy (Newton's style is catching) is along these lines:  
 'Unto such as lead their lives virtuously, measuring all their actions by the square of reason, and have their minds with all good gifts of grace beautified and garnished, there is nothing thought or deemed evil that cometh by necessity of nature. Of the which sort old age is principally to be considered, unto which all men wish to arrive, and yet when they have their desire, they accuse it as painful, sickly, unpleasant and tedious, such is the brainless unconstancy, foolish sottage, and perverse overthwartness of wayward people.'
 I fear most of us, most of the time, must class ourselves among the wayward and the overthwart.

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