How is the subject of revival of youth dealt with in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"?
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We have all experienced that intense desire to be able to go back through time and relive our youth, perhaps in order to undo or redo things in a better way and avoid repeating mistakes and indiscretions. In this story, the revival of youth is explicitly looked at in these terms. Dr. Heidegger himself is described as a man harbouring deep regret for mistakes that he committed in his youth, and we are also introduced to his four guests, each of whom have seen their lives withered and broken by their various vices.
Note the way in which, before letting his guests imbibe the elixir from the Fountain of Youth, Dr. Heidegger tries to encourage his guests to think about how they can apply what they have learnt from their lives before becoming young again:
"Before you drink, my respectable old friends," said he, "it would be well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. Think what a sin and shame it would be, if, with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue and wisdom to all the young people of the age!"
Automatically, the guests treat his words with derision, as they assume that they will have clearly learnt from their mistakes. Yet, when they attain their youthful strength and vigour once more, they fall into exactly the same mistakes once again. Dr. Heidegger clearly learns a very valuable lesson from what he has witnessed:
"Yes, friends, ye are old again," said Dr. Heidegger, "and lo! the Water of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well--I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it--no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!"
Dr. Heidegger clearly feels that with old age comes wisdom and knowledge that definitely has its benefits. Whilst youth and the strength and beauty that go with it are definitely worthwhile, the lack of knowledge and folly that so often goes with youth is something that Dr. Heidegger is not eager to experience again. The revival of youth is therefore something that is treated in a rather ironic fashion, as youth is balanced against the value of old age.
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