Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (Viscount Norwich)

Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (Viscount Norwich)

Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (Viscount Norwich)

Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (Viscount Norwich)

Excerpt

Among the many things old men forget are the disadvantages; of childhood. The benignity of time lays, sooner or later, upon the noses of most of us a pair of spectacles, and when we look through them towards the past a rosy colouring affects the lenses, so that the world in retrospect appears more beautiful than it does today. My memory, however, is still sufficiently retentive to assure me that childhood was not the happiest but the least happy period of my life.

I divide life by decades. The first covers childhood, the second boyhood, the third youth. Then for thirty years a man is middle- aged, until he hears the clock strike sixty and knows that old age has begun. Of those six decades I can say with truth that I enjoyed each one more than the one that went before, nor am I sure that old age would not be the happiest period of all, if it were not for consciousness of failing powers and occasional reminders of the time limit.

Let it not be thought, however, that I was badly treated as a child. I was, on the contrary, what is commonly called "spoilt." The youngest of my mother's five children, and my father's and mother's four--she had been married before--I was the first boy, so that my arrival was very welcome. Being a delicate and docile child, I could do no wrong in the eyes of the grown-up people, and if ever I erred it was said that I had been led away by one of my sisters. This secondary rôle in crime was one that I resented, but I repudiated it in vain.

The poet Wordsworth wrote that "delight and liberty" were the "simple creed of childhood." But in fact a child enjoys about as much liberty as a slave, and the delights of childhood are insipid and transitory, whereas its sorrows, also transitory, are fierce and desperate.

All children are snobs, and the aristocracy of childhood is age.

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