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Friday, 20 February 2015

"On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth" - An Understanding

(Précis)

  1. Hazlitt, in the very beginning of the essay, talks on how there is a feeling of "eternity" in youth which makes them compensate for everything. The youth live as if they had their future loaded with treasures, paying no heed to the planning for future. Their is no limit for their hopes or wishes. 
  2. Words like "death" and "old age" are of no relevance to them, for they believe that they bear a lucky life and their minds cannot relate to non-active fancies such as death or old age, it only remains a fiction to them.
  3. The youth sees no end to prospect after prospect; they have their desires piling on and seek every opportunity to gratify them. They look at the world in a positive spirit, and feel in themselves the strength and energy to keep them on pace with the moving world. In this excitement, they fail to foresee how they decline into old age and finally encounter death. Probably, it is in the very nature of the 'youth' that they feel the essence of immortality.
  4. Hazlitt states that the youth is still in that thin layer of innocence (for they have not seen life as yet) and are rocked in the cradle of their desires. While many desires occupy their thoughts, they have no room for thoughts about death in their mind. The spirit of youth remains unimpaired and they are guided by their own sensations until they come across a minor failure, and they cut their ties from the world, where their passion loosens its hold on the happenings in future, and then begin to understand the occurrences in its proper sense. Hazlitt gives an example of a scullion (a servant employed for rough work) Sterne, and his Master, Bobby. When Sterne is informed of his Master's death, his only reply is "So am not I!" - meaning to say that his monotonous work has already taken away the beauty of his life. While the youth is not bothered by the idea of death, their confidence only seems to strengthen and enhance their sense of possession and enjoyment of life. They also fail to understand the value of time, until they see Love, Hope and Joy withering around them.
  5. Hazlitt now talks about the fears and uncertainties of youth. The youth cannot do away without having experienced the splendour of life. It is accepted in amazement, as if life were compared to a rustic fair, and the youth have no thoughts of going home or that it will soon be night.
  6. Hazlitt then compares life to be a play wherein the nature as a "step-mother" holds them in her arms and after sometime lets them fall, as if they were that increasing burden to her to support. Yet, for sometime, she (Nature) shines on the youth and holds them up to see the "raree-show" (a small display or scene viewed in a box) of universe.
  7. Further, Hazlitt states about those aspects that the youth enjoy from Nature in complete vigour. ("To see the golden sun... Nature poured their treasures at our feet.) He mentions how the youth explores the sublime world of nature, considers historical events to an extent (Tyre of Sidon - a Mediterranean port; and Babylon - the grand, wicked city on the Euphrates river to which Jews were exiled). They appreciate nature and admire its sublime beauty, while the maturity comes in them all of a sudden and this transition from all to nothing shocks them and the enthusiasm of youth that once brimmed with hope and pleasure has now become a comfortless thought.
  8. The transition from youth to old age or rather to the age of maturity happens gradually, yet it seems to have happened suddenly. Hazlitt talks about how art (Rembrandt's paintings) lives for long, while the youth takes no heed of the passage of time and one day they find the intricacies of Nature. The painter lives eternally in his painting while the viewer is turned to dust - meaning to say that one's health, strength and appetite reduces as he grows old, and even if he wants to do of any value to this earth (Nature) it becomes rather too difficult a task for him to accomplish.
  9. At times, when we understand the ravages of time, we find it appealing to live that single moment (the youth) to its fullest, and complain how slowly (like a snail) time moves but it won't be long enough for us to see how quickly the time has passed.
  10. Hazlitt mentions his own experiences of youth where he participated in the French Revolution. The fit of moment and vigour of youth made him participate in the Movement but at the end he only saw bloodshed ("For my part... my hopes fell").
  11. Hazlitt then talks of how he forms an opinion on "youth" by recollecting his past experiences. He now realizes that the soul cannot be satisfied for it has to leave something behind which is of value to this earth. This marks the uncertainties and fears that come even in the transitional phase. All the reckless/careless/imperious attitude fades and a fear grows within that he may not leave anything of value to this world.
  12. As one grows old, the essence of time becomes very vivid, nothing seems to have changed but in reality we become the examples of change. Hazlitt comments saying that the world is a witch that cuts us off with false shows and appearances - meaning to say that all joys and hopes become an illusion in front of our eyes. The only thing we can expect now (in our old age) is little of ill health and suffering and then peacefully we can retire to our graves. The thought of 'death' now does not frighten us for we do not die wholly at our deaths; we have moulded ourselves throughout - "faculty after faculty, interest after interest, attachment after attachment disappear: we are torn from ourselves while living, year after year sees us no longer the same, and death only consigns the last fragment of what we were to the grave."
  13. Hazlitt states that men should "wear out by slow stages" and only then they will understand the essence of life. Even the things that we study and watch certain things today may seem a bit juvenile after many years. Hazlitt is being critical of youth.
  14. Hazlitt concludes leaving a question for the readers as to why youth fades away? Why beauty fades away? - Life is not enough to get solutions.

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