Autobiography, with Letters

By William Lyon Phelps | Go to book overview

22
THE YOUNGER GENERATION

I HAVE known six younger generations. I have looked forward, I have looked around, I have looked back. I may add that I have looked back only professionally, in the endeavour to understand the young men whom I teach. Personally, I have looked back very little. When I was a child, I wanted to be a man. When I was a young man, I wanted to be a mature man. And after I had descended into the vale of years, I did not, as apparently many do, look back with longing to the days of my youth. It is always the new experience I am seeking; I am wasting no time in the vain endeavour to recapture the irrecoverable past.

It does not disturb me that the body grows old. But when does one himself grow old? I think I can state accurately the exact moment when a person passes into old age. It is the moment when in solitude one's thoughts regularly turn more to the past than to the present or future. In the matchless Shakespearean phrase, the stealing steps of age overtake our slowing bodies; but they can never catch up with an alert mind.

When I was a little boy in the grammar school, the seniors looked to me like demi-gods; no truly great man today can seem to me quite so wonderful as those giants. They were fourteen years old. As a child, playing in the streets, I looked with envy on the college undergraduates. They were dressed in those days like a modern stage caricature of a professor. They wore frock coats, tall hats, and whiskers, yet they were in the heyday of their youth.

-154-

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