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Turning Thirty Post by :f10inc Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3768

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Turning Thirty

"Margaret Fuller's father was thirty-two when she was born," writes Katharine Anthony in her biography of the great feminist. "A self-made man, he had been obliged to postpone marriage and family life to a comparatively advanced age."

The paragraph came to us like a blow in the face. For years and years we had been going along buoyed up by the comments of readers who wrote in from time to time to say: "Of course, you are still a young man. You will learn better as you grow older." And now we find that we have grown older. We have reached a comparatively advanced age, and the problem of whether or not we have learned better is present and persistent. It can no longer be put off as something which will work out all right in time.

"Some day," says the young man to himself, "I'm going to sit down and write a novel, or the great American drama, or an epic poem." Then some day comes and the young man finds that his joints are stiff and he can't sit down.

However, we are not quite prepared to admit that thirty-two is the deadline. It seemed old age to us for a long time. When we were reporting baseball the players used to call Roy Hartzell, over on third base, "the old man," because he was all of twenty-nine, and veterans of thirty were constantly dropping out because of advancing age and the pressure of recruits of nineteen and twenty. Yes, thirty-two was a comparatively advanced age at that time. But then we got on to plays and books, and Bernard Shaw was doing all the timely hitting in the pinches, and, to mix the metaphor, breaking loose and running the length of the field, putting a straight arm into the faces of all who would tackle him. De Morgan started to blaze at the age of fifty, and James Huneker was the keenest of all the critics to hail anything in any art which was new and hitherto unclassified. And he, too, wrote his first novel, Painted Veils, long after fifty. It was a novel which we did not like very much, but all its faults were those of youth. Some of it actually sophomoric. It was more like the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald than any living author. We felt that it was a first novel by a "promising" man, and thirty and twenty-nine and all those ages seemed to us mere verdant days in the hatchery.

We remember a sweet girl reporter going to Major General Sibert, commander of the First Division in its early days in France, and asking: "General, don't you think this is a young man's war?" Sibert grinned behind his gray mustache, and said: "When I was in West Point I used to bear in mind that Napoleon won some of his greatest victories while he was in his thirties, but now I find my attention turning more and more to the fact that Hindenburg is seventy-two and Joffre is seventy."

Time, we know, is fleeting, but there is always a little more left for the man who can look senility and destruction and all that sort of business straight in the eye and remark calmly, "I'm too busy this afternoon; drop around to-morrow." Thirty-two isn't a comparatively advanced age. Some day we are going to write that epic poem, and the novel, and the great American drama.

Turning to The Art of Lawn Tennis, by William Tilden, 2nd, we find the comforting information that "William A. Larned won the singles at past forty. Men of sixty are seen daily on the clubs' courts of England and America enjoying their game as keenly as any boy. It is to this game, in great measure, that they owe the physical fitness which enables them to play at their advanced age."

Yet after all this is not quite so comforting. We know one or two of these iron athletes who have outlived their generation and they are among the bores of the world. After one of them has captured the third set by dashing to the net and volleying your shot off at a sharp angle he invariably rubs it in by asking you to guess how old you think he is. We always answer, "Ninety-six," but there is no discouraging him or stopping him before he has gone on to tell you about breaking the ice in the tub for his morning plunge.

There is an unearthly air about these men whom God has forgotten. They are like those Prussian soldiers of Frederick who continued to stand after swords and bullets had gone through them and required the services of some one to go about the field and push them over so that they might be decently buried. There were men like that in one of the lands which Gulliver visited. They never died and probably they played a sharp game of tennis and later in the clubhouse they were accustomed to sit around and say how much better the actors used to be fifty years ago. Everybody hated them and stayed away from their company in droves.

No, we set no store of hope on being a sixty-year-old prodigy at lawn tennis. We dodder about the court already. We had just as soon be gray and bald and all the rest of it if only we can ever grow young enough to write a bold and slashing novel and be suppressed by Mr. Sumner.

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Turning Thirty

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