What is the message in "Of Youth and Age"?

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Laurine Herzog eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To my mind, the most prominent message in Bacon's essay, "On Youth and Age," is that the young and the elderly, by virtue of the number of their years, enjoy distinct strengths and weaknesses which, on their own will only ever be half as useful as when combined with those of the other group. The strengths of the young are offset by their weaknesses, but those weaknesses can be remedied, or negated in combination with the strengths of the elderly. In this sense, the young and the elderly are like the yin and the yang in the Chinese philosophical concept of dualism. Two seemingly opposite forces are in fact complementary, and interdependent. As Bacon puts it, "the virtues of either age may correct the defects of both."

For example, the young, Bacon says, "have much heat and great and violent desires and perturbations . . . not ripe for action," whereas the elderly "doth profit rather in the powers of understanding, than in the virtues of the will." In other words, the young have the passion for action but not the "powers of understanding" to fully or properly execute the...

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