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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/351

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GROWTH AND DECAY OF MIND.

devoted to the formation or discussion of theories is only indirectly dependent upon the exercise of memory.

Subject to the considerations suggested above, we may fairly form our opinion as to the general laws of the development of mind, by examining the lives of distinguished men and taking the achievement of their best work, that by which they have made their mark in the world's history, as indicative of the epoch when the mind had attained its greatest development. Dr. Beard, of New York, has recently collected some statistical results, which throw light on the subject of mental growth, though we must note that a variety of collateral circumstances have to be taken into account before any sound opinion can be formed as to the justice of Dr. Beard's conclusions. He states that "from an analysis of the lives of a thousand representative men in all the great branches of human effort, he had made the discovery that the golden decade was between thirty and forty, the silver between forty and fifty, the brazen between twenty and thirty, the iron between fifty and sixty. The superiority of youth and middle life over old age in original work appears all the greater, when we consider the fact that nearly all the positions of honor and profit and prestige—professorships and public stations—are in the hands of the old. Reputation, like money and position, is mainly confined to the old. Men are not widely known until long after they have done the work that gives them their fame. Portraits of great men are a delusion; statues are lies. They are taken when men have become famous, which, on the average, is at least twenty-five years after they did the work which gave them their fame. Original work requires enthusiasm. If all the original work done by men under forty-five were annihilated, the world would be reduced to barbarism. Men are at their best at that time when enthusiasm and experience are most evenly balanced; this period on the average is from thirty-eight to forty. After this period the law is that experience increases but enthusiasm declines. In the life of almost every old man there comes a point, sooner or later, when experience ceases to have any educating power."

There is much that is true, but not a little that is, to say the least, doubtful, in the above remarks. The children of a man's mind, like those of his body, are commonly born while he is in the prime of life. But it must not be overlooked that it is precisely because of the original work done in earlier life that a man as he grows older is commonly prevented from accomplishing any great amount of original work. Nearly the whole of his time is necessarily occupied in maturing the work originated earlier. And again, the circumstance that (usually) a man finds that the work of his earlier years remains incomplete and unsatisfactory, unless the labors of many sequent years are devoted to it, acts as a check upon original investigation. This remark has no bearing, or but slight bearing, on certain forms of literary work; but in nearly every other department of human effort men