Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887 HTML version

Chapter 18
That evening I sat up for some time after the ladies had retired, talking with Dr. Leete
about the effect of the plan of exempting men from further service to the nation after the
age of forty-five, a point brought up by his account of the part taken by the retired
citizens in the government.
"At forty-five," said I, "a man still has ten years of good manual labor in him, and twice
ten years of good intellectual service. To be superannuated at that age and laid on the
shelf must be regarded rather as a hardship than a favor by men of energetic
"My dear Mr. West," exclaimed Dr. Leete, beaming upon me, "you cannot have any idea
of the piquancy your nineteenth century ideas have for us of this day, the rare quaintness
of their effect. Know, O child of another race and yet the same, that the labor we have to
render as our part in securing for the nation the means of a comfortable physical
existence is by no means regarded as the most important, the most interesting, or the most
dignified employment of our powers. We look upon it as a necessary duty to be
discharged before we can fully devote ourselves to the higher exercise of our faculties,
the intellectual and spiritual enjoyments and pursuits which alone mean life. Everything
possible is indeed done by the just distribution of burdens, and by all manner of special
attractions and incentives to relieve our labor of irksomeness, and, except in a
comparative sense, it is not usually irksome, and is often inspiring. But it is not our labor,
but the higher and larger activities which the performance of our task will leave us free to
enter upon, that are considered the main business of existence.
"Of course not all, nor the majority, have those scientific, artistic, literary, or scholarly
interests which make leisure the one thing valuable to their possessors. Many look upon
the last half of life chiefly as a period for enjoyment of other sorts; for travel, for social
relaxation in the company of their life-time friends; a time for the cultivation of all
manner of personal idiosyncrasies and special tastes, and the pursuit of every imaginable
form of recreation; in a word, a time for the leisurely and unperturbed appreciation of the
good things of the world which they have helped to create. But, whatever the differences
between our individual tastes as to the use we shall put our leisure to, we all agree in
looking forward to the date of our discharge as the time when we shall first enter upon
the full enjoyment of our birthright, the period when we shall first really attain our
majority and become enfranchised from discipline and control, with the fee of our lives
vested in ourselves. As eager boys in your day anticipated twenty-one, so men nowadays
look forward to forty-five. At twenty-one we become men, but at forty-five we renew
youth. Middle age and what you would have called old age are considered, rather than
youth, the enviable time of life. Thanks to the better conditions of existence nowadays,
and above all the freedom of every one from care, old age approaches many years later
and has an aspect far more benign than in past times. Persons of average constitution
usually live to eighty-five or ninety, and at forty-five we are physically and mentally
younger, I fancy, than you were at thirty-five. It is a strange reflection that at forty-five,