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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Art of Growing Old
By Sir Richard Steele (1672–1729)
 
From the Tatler

IT would be a good appendix to ‘The Art of Living and Dying,’ if any one would write ‘The Art of Growing Old,’ and teach men to resign their pretensions to the pleasures and gallantries of youth, in proportion to the alteration they find in themselves by the approach of age and infirmities. The infirmities of this stage of life would be much fewer if we did not affect those which attend the more vigorous and active part of our days; but instead of studying to be wiser, or being contented with our present follies, the ambition of many of us is also to be the same sort of fools we formerly have been. I have often argued, as I am a professed lover of women, that our sex grows old with a much worse grace than the other does; and have ever been of opinion that there are more well-pleased old women than old men. I thought it a good reason for this, that the ambition of the fair sex being confined to advantageous marriages, or shining in the eyes of men, their parts were over sooner, and consequently the errors in the performances of them. The conversation of this evening has not convinced me of the contrary; for one or two fop-women shall not make a balance for the crowds of coxcombs among ourselves, diversified according to the different pursuits of pleasure and business.  1
  Returning home this evening a little before my usual hour, I scarce had seated myself in my easy-chair, stirred the fire, and stroked my cat, but I heard somebody come rumbling up-stairs. I saw my door opened, and a human figure advancing towards me so fantastically put together that it was some minutes before I discovered it to be my old and intimate friend Sam Trusty. Immediately I rose up, and placed him in my own seat; a compliment I pay to few. The first thing he uttered was, “Isaac, fetch me a cup of your cherry brandy before you offer to ask any question.” He drank a lusty draught, sat silent for some time, and at last broke out: “I am come,” quoth he, “to insult thee for an old fantastic dotard, as thou art, in ever defending the women. I have this evening visited two widows who are now in that state I have often heard you call an ‘after-life’; I suppose you mean by it, an existence which grows out of past entertainments, and is an untimely delight in the satisfactions which they once set their hearts upon too much to be ever able to relinquish. Have but patience,” continued he, “until I give you a succinct account of my ladies, and of this night’s adventure.  2
  “They are much of an age, but very different in their characters. The one of them, with all the advances which years have made upon her, goes on in a certain romantic road of love and friendship which she fell into in her teens; the other has transferred the amorous passions of her first years to the love of cronies, pets, and favorites, with which she is always surrounded: but the genius of each of them will best appear by the account of what happened to me at their houses. About five this afternoon, being tired with study, the weather inviting, and time lying a little upon my hands, I resolved at the instigation of my evil genius to visit them; their husbands having been our contemporaries. This I thought I could do without much trouble, for both live in the very next street.  3
  “I went first to my lady Camomile; and the butler, who had lived long in the family, and seen me often in his master’s time, ushered me very civilly into the parlor, and told me though my lady had given strict orders to be denied, he was sure I might be admitted, and bid the black boy acquaint his lady that I was come to wait upon her. In the window lay two letters, one broke open, the other fresh sealed with a wafer: the first directed to the divine Cosmelia, the second to the charming Lucinda; but both, by the indented characters, appeared to have been writ by very unsteady hands. Such uncommon addresses increased my curiosity, and put me upon asking my old friend the butler, if he knew who those persons were? ‘Very well,’ says he: ‘that is from Mrs. Furbish to my lady, an old schoolfellow and great crony of her ladyship’s; and this the answer.’ I inquired in what county she lived. ‘Oh dear!’ says he, ‘but just by, in the neighborhood. Why, she was here all this morning, and that letter came and was answered within these two hours. They have taken an odd fancy, you must know, to call one another hard names; but for all that, they love one another hugely.’ By this time the boy returned with his lady’s humble service to me, desiring I would excuse her; for she could not possibly see me nor anybody else, for it was opera-night.”  4
  “Methinks,” says I, “such innocent folly as two old women’s courtship to each other should rather make you merry than put you out of humor.”  5
  “Peace, good Isaac,” says he, “no interruption, I beseech you. I got soon to Mrs. Feeble’s,—she that was formerly Betty Frisk; you must needs remember her: Tom Feeble of Brazen Nose fell in love with her for her fine dancing. Well, Mrs. Ursula without further ceremony carries me directly up to her mistress’s chamber, where I found her environed by four of the most mischievous animals that can ever infest a family: an old shock dog with one eye, a monkey chained to one side of the chimney, a great gray squirrel to the other, and a parrot waddling in the middle of the room. However, for a while, all was in a profound tranquillity. Upon the mantel-tree (for I am a pretty curious observer) stood a pot of lambetive electuary, with a stick of liquorice, and near it a phial of rosewater and powder of tutty. Upon the table lay a pipe filled with betony and colt’s-foot, a roll of wax candle, a silver spitting-pot, and a Seville orange. The lady was placed in a large wicker chair, and her feet wrapped up in flannel, supported by cushions; and in this attitude, would you believe it, Isaac, she was reading a romance with spectacles on. The first compliments over, as she was industriously endeavoring to enter upon conversation, a violent fit of coughing seized her. This awaked Shock, and in a trice the whole room was in an uproar; for the dog barked, the squirrel squealed, the monkey chattered, the parrot screamed, and Ursula, to appease them, was more clamorous than all the rest. You, Isaac, who know how any harsh noise affects my head, may guess what I suffered from the hideous din of these discordant sounds. At length all was appeased, and quiet restored: a chair was drawn for me, where I was no sooner seated, but the parrot fixed his horny beak, as sharp as a pair of shears, in one of my heels, just above the shoe. I sprung from the place with an unusual agility; and so, being within the monkey’s reach, he snatches off my new bob-wig and throws it upon two apples that were roasting by a sullen sea-coal fire. I was nimble enough to save it from any further damage than singeing the foretop. I put it on; and composing myself as well as I could, I drew my chair towards the other side of the chimney. The good lady, as soon as she had recovered breath, employed it in making a thousand apologies, and with great eloquence and a numerous train of words lamented my misfortune. In the middle of her harangue, I felt something scratching near my knee; and feeling what it should be, found the squirrel had got into my coat pocket. As I endeavored to remove him from his burrow, he made his teeth meet through the fleshy part of my forefinger. This gave me an inexpressible pain. The Hungary water was immediately brought to bathe it, and gold-beater’s skin applied to stop the blood. The lady renewed her excuses; but being now out of all patience, I abruptly took my leave, and hobbling down-stairs with heedless haste, I set my foot full in a pail of water, and down we came to the bottom together.”  6
  Here my friend concluded his narrative, and with a composed countenance I began to make him compliments of condolence; but he started from his chair, and said, “Isaac, you may spare your speeches,—I expect no reply. When I told you this, I knew you would laugh at me; but the next woman that makes me ridiculous shall be a young one.”  7
 
 
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