Young men are fitter to invent than to judge; fitter for execution than for counsel; and fitter for new projects than for settled business: for the experience of age, in things that fall within the compass of it, directeth them: but in new things abuseth them. The errors of young men are the ruin of business; but the errors of aged men amount but to this, that more might have been done, or sooner. Young men, in the conduct and manage of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few principles which they have chanced upon absurdly; care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first; and, that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them,like an unready horse, that will neither stop nor turn.
In the morning of our days, when the senses are unworn and tender, when the whole man is awake in every part, and the gloss of novelty fresh upon all the objects that surround us, how lively at that time are our sensations, but how false and inaccurate the judgments we form of things! I despair of ever receiving the same degree of pleasure from the most excellent performances of genius, which I felt at that age from pieces which my present judgment regards as trifling and contemptible.
Edmund Burke: On the Sublime and Beautiful, Introduction, On Taste, 1756.
You do well to improve your opportunity; to speak in the rural phrase, this is your sowing time, and the sheaves you look for can never be yours, unless you make that use of it. The colour of our whole life is generally such as the three or four first years in which we are our own masters make it. Then it is that we may be said to shape our own destiny, and to treasure up for ourselves a series of future successes or disappointments.
The retrospect on youth is too often like looking back on what was a fair and promising country, but is now desolated by an overwhelming torrent, from which we have just escaped. Or is it like visiting the grave of a friend whom we had injured, and are precluded by his death from the possibility of making him an atonement?
We would earnestly entreat the young to remember that, by the unanimous consent of all ages, modesty, docility, and reverence to superior years, and to parents above all, have been considered as their appropriate virtues, a guard assigned by the immutable laws of God and nature on the inexperience of youth; and with respect to the second, that Christianity prohibits no pleasures that are innocent, lays no restraints that are capricious; but that the sobriety and purity which it enjoins, by strengthening the intellectual powers, and preserving the faculties of mind and body in undiminished vigour, lay the surest foundation of present peace and future eminence.
Youth is the time of enterprise and hope: having yet no occasion of comparing our force with any opposing power, we naturally form presumptions in our own favour, and imagine that obstruction and impediment will give way before us. The first repulses rather inflame vehemence than teach prudence; a brave and generous mind is long before it suspects its own weakness, or submits to sap the difficulties which it expected to subdue by storm. Before disappointments have enforced the dictates of philosophy we believe it in our power to shorten the interval between the first cause and the last effect: we laugh at the timorous delays of plodding industry, and fancy that by increasing the fire we can at pleasure accelerate the projection.
By safe and insensible degrees he will pass from a boy to a man, which is the most hazardous step in life: this therefore should be carefully watched, and a young man with great diligence handed over it.
He had been reared from his cradle in simple love and reverence for the Divine Father, and the tender Saviour, whose life beyond all records of human goodness, whose death beyond all epics of mortal heroism, no being whose infancy has been taught to supplicate the Merciful and adore the Holy, yea, even though his later life may be entangled amidst the thorns of some desolate Pyrrhonism, can ever hear reviled and scoffed without a shock to the conscience and a revolt of the heart.
Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton: My Novel, Book IV., ch. vii.
Of all the great human actions I ever heard, or read of, I have observed, both in former ages and our own, more performd before the age of thirty than after: and oft-times in the very lives of the same men. May I not confidently instance in those of Hannibal and his great concurrent Scipio? The better half of their lives they livd upon the glory they had acquird in their youth; great men after, tis true, in comparison of others, but by no means in comparison of themselves. As to my own particular, I do certainly believe that since that age both my understanding and my constitution have rather decayd than improvd, and retird rather than advancd. Tis possible that with those who make the best use of their time, knowledge, and experience may grow up and increase with their years; but the vivacity, quickness, and steadiness, and other pieces of us, of much greater importance, and much more essentially our own, languish and decay.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lvii.
Compare the harmlessness, the tenderness, the modesty, and the ingenuous pliableness, which is in youth, with the mischievousness, the slyness, the craft, the impudence, the falsehood, and the confirmed obstinacy found in an aged, long-practised sinner.
It is remarkable that there is nothing less promising than, in early youth, a certain full-formed, settled, and, as it may be called, adult character. A lad who has, to a degree that excites wonder and admiration, the character and demeanour of an intelligent man of mature age, will probably be that, and nothing more, all his life, and will cease accordingly to be anything remarkable, because it was the precocity alone that ever made him so. It is remarked by greyhound fanciers that a well-formed, compact-shaped puppy never makes a fleet dog. They see more promise in the loose-jointed, awkward, clumsy ones. And even so, there is a kind of crudity and unsettledness in the minds of those young persons who turn out ultimately the most eminent.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Youth and Age.