Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/542

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By Professor EDWIN G. DEXTER,


SELDOM has the popular mind been so deeply moved by the casual utterance of a savant as in the recent instance of Dr. Osier's now famous valedictory at Johns Hopkins. Nothing was probably more foreign to the speaker's mind than an intention to stir up the tumult of newspaper contention that followed his remarks, and we may presume that he is not altogether pleased at the exact character of the notoriety which he has achieved. The portion of his address that has brought him so prominently into the public eye had to do with the age of greatest usefulness in man, and runs as follows:

I have two fixed ideas, well known to my friends, harmless obsessions, with which I sometimes bore them, but which have a direct bearing on this important problem. The first is the comparative uselessness of men above forty years of age. This may seem shocking, and yet, read aright, the world's history bears out the statement. Take the sum of human achievement in action, in science, in art, in literature—subtract the work of the men above forty, and while we should miss great treasures, even priceless treasures, we should practically be where we are to-day. It is difficult to name a great and far-reaching conquest of the mind which has not been given to the world by a man on whose back the sun was still shining. The effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of twenty-five and forty—these fifteen years of plenty, the anabolic or constructive period, in which there is always a balance in the mental bank, and the credit is still good....

My second fixed idea is the uselessness of men above sixty years old, and the incalculable benefit it would be in commercial, political and in professional life if, as a matter of course, men stopped work at this age. Donne tells us in his 'Biathanatos' that, by the laws of certain wise states, sexagenari were precipitated from a bridge, and in Rome men of that age were not admitted to the suffrage, and they were called deponati, because the way to the senate was per pontem, and they, from age, were not permitted to come hither. In that charming novel, 'The Fixed Period,' Anthony Trollope discusses the practical advantage in modern life of a return to this ancient usage, and the plot hinges upon the admirable scheme of a college, into which, at sixty, men retired for a year of contemplation before a peaceful departure by chloroform. That incalculable benefits might follow such a scheme is apparent to any one who, like myself, is nearing the limit, and who has made a careful study of the calamities which may befall men during the seventh and eighth decades.

The thoughts expressed in these paragrpahs were much more fully elaborated by Dr. Osier in the delivery of his address, and we may