Francis Bacon's essay "Of Youth and Age," like many of his other essays, explores two sides of the same coin, that is, the benefits and detriments of youth as opposed to those of "age," by which he means those who are past the "meridian" of their age. In the sixteenth century in England, the average life expectancy was about 35, with men living longer than women because so many women died in childbirth. So, when Bacon refers to men of "age," he is most likely thinking of men in their 40s and early 50s, and "youth" applies to men under 25.
Bacon argues that men under the "meridian" of their age (perhaps 25-28), especially those who are subject to "violent desires and perturbations," are completely unfit to take significant actions, and he alludes to a comment on the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus to the effect that he spent his youth in folly and madness. Bacon extends his criticism to all young men, however, when he says that they
... embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees ... care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first, and, that which doubleth all errors.
In other words, young men move too quickly and without planning to accomplish a goal, creating double the errors they might otherwise make. On the other hand, Bacon points out, young men are "fitter to invent, than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel," and better suited to take on "new projects than settled business." You would not go to a young man for investment advice, but you would ask him to start a new company for you.
Although Bacon acknowledges that "heat and vivacity" in older men are effective attributes in conducting the business of the world, older men carry as many negative qualities as the young:
Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but commit themselves with a mediocrity of success.
In general, youthful men take too many risks, and older men take too few risks and are satisfied with reasonable, but not stunning, success. Bacon creates a dichotomy that seems unresolvable if there is no achievable reconciliation between the impetuousness of youth and the caution of age.
Bacon, who is well known for his instruction in how to get along in the world, quickly presents a solution:
Certainly it is good to compound employments of both [youth and age], for that will be good for the present because the virtues of either age may correct the defects of both; and good for succession, that young men may be learners while men of age are actors.
If we were to look at other Bacon essays—for example, "Of Studies" or "On Writing"—we would see that uppermost in Bacon's thoughts is how one can successfully live and thrive in sixteenth-century England, and this essay presents a workable solution to the negative consequences of youthful recklessness and the equally poor results of older men's unwillingness to take risk.
At the essay's end, Bacon acknowledges that older men have an advantage in understanding and navigating politics but young men have a stronger claim on morality or ethical behavior. He quotes "a certain Rabbi" who, in turn, is quoting from the New Testament (Acts 2:17)—"Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." Bacon sees this as an indication that "young men are admitted nearer to God than old because vision is a clearer revelation than a dream." Older men, because they have more experience in the world, understand the world better, but that experience takes them further from the source of ideal morality, which comes from God to the young through visions.