Henry W. (Henry Whitney) Bellows.

Preparing for old age. Sermon preached at All-Souls church, New York., on returning from the funeral at Walpole, N.H., of Mrs. Louisa Bellows Knapp, who died March 16, 1872, aged 86, relict of Jacob Newman Knapp, who died July 27, 1868, aged ninety-five years online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryHenry W. (Henry Whitney) BellowsPreparing for old age. Sermon preached at All-Souls church, New York., on returning from the funeral at Walpole, N.H., of Mrs. Louisa Bellows Knapp, who died March 16, 1872, aged 86, relict of Jacob Newman Knapp, who died July 27, 1868, aged ninety-five years → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



PKEACHKD AT " Ar>L-Soui.s '' ('mi: n, NV.\v \'ui:iv, <>\
I - KO.M Tin-: FI;M-:K.\I. AI WAI.I'OI.I:, X.H., or



WHO DiKD .MAIICII (i, 1.S7-J, AGED 86,

Relict of Jacob Newman Knapp, who died July 27, 1868,
aged ninety- five years.









WHO DIED MARCH 16, 1872, AGED 86,

Eelict of Jacob Newman Knapp, who died July 27, 1868,
aged ninety-Jive years.










r I ^HIS is the promise which, through the mouth
of the Psalmist, God gives those that live
godly and obedient lives. * The righteous shall
flourish like the palm-tree : he shall grow like a
cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the
house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of


our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old
age : they shall be fat and flourishing."

All prudent people see the wisdom of preparing
against the bodily wants of their declining years.
They anticipate the time when their physical vigor,
capacity of labor, power to sustain exposure and
hardship, will forsake them ; when they will require
more of comfort, rest, and retirement, freedom
from anxieties, and a cessation from struggle and
forethought ; and they are willing to labor hard,
and to be saving and self-denying, that they may


lay up the means of competency and comfort for
themselves and those growing old with them.
Even the animals and insects possess an instinctive
prudence, and, in the summer, provide against the
winter's wants. But how much rarer is the fore-
thought that anticipates the necessary provision to
be made for the deeper wants of old age ? It is
infinitely more important to prepare the man him-
self for growing old with peace and cheerfulness
than to prepare the external circumstances in which
his age is to be passed. Of course he will need
shelter and food and external supplies and comforts,
and he is wise in prudently providing against such
obvious necessities. But how much- more does he
need to keep himself in all possible vigor and
repair, that he may not, through abuse and neglect,
carry a needlessly shattered and disordered frame,
a perverted and poisoned constitution into his
declining years ? The ills and infirmities of age
are enough of themselves, without being loaded
with the pains and penalties of gluttony, intemper-
ance, excesses of the passions, neglect of the laws
of health, through wilful exposures, broken sleep,
reckless toil in pursuit of useless w r ealth, torture
of the nerves through straining use, and exhaustion
of vital powers. There is no reason why people


of average constitutions should not, by due moder-
ation of the appetites, proper regard to the claims
of sleep, control of the passions, regularity of life,
and avoidance of needless exposures in dress,
preserve their bodies to a late age in fair health
and powers of enjoyment. Moses was a hundred
and twenty years old when he died ; yet the sacred
historian says, "his eye was not dim, nor his
natural force abated." It is by no means true, that
youth, or even middle age, is necessarily the period
of greatest uniformity of health, or, in all respects,
of greatest vigor. The period of greatest physical
beauty and redundancy of spirits is not usually
that of greatest endurance or the most even hap-

There is a balance and co-ordination of the organs
and physical powers, which is only attained by
time. The human system, carefully preserved,
settles into equilibrium, consolidates, toughens,
becomes capable of prolonged exertion, loses sus-,
ceptibility to the disturbing influence of cold and
heat, and is in every way more able to bear, and
really to enjoy, labor at forty than at twenty.
Then comes, oftentimes, a well-earned period of
even health ; when the irritable ganglions of the

stomach, most sensitive in the redundant sensibility



of youth, lose their exquisite power to disturb and
annoy. Even the decay of the bodily passions
favors the tranquillity and vigor of the nobler
parts of the frame. Men who obey the laws of
nature, and are moderate and self-controlled, have
stronger as well as calmer brains at sixty than at
forty ; are more capable of long-protracted mental
exertion; and have, in a true view, more life, and
more happiness in life, from sixty to seventy, and
often till eighty, than at any other period. But
this, from a physical point of view, is wholly
dependent on early and steadily maintained order,
moderation, and self-control. What can. the man
who eats to repletion, who drinks intemperately,
who uses narcotics without stint, who is careless
about sleep and reckless in exposure, not to speak
of still more wasting vices, expect his old age to
be, if he is unhappy enough to be left a wreck
or shadow of himself to drag out his miserable
days ? "What thoughtful young man will risk his
health and comfort for the latter half of his three-
score and ten years, to indulge the destructive
appetites and passions of his early manhood ? His
bones will be full of the sins of his youth. His
senses will prematurely decline. His body will
become the prison and torture-chamber of his


mind. At fifty, he will be an old man, and loathe
his life, which he will yet dread to surrender,
became of an accusing conscience, and a just
sense of a coming judgment.

But it is not the body only that needs to be
prepared for old age.

It is true, the control and due moderating of
bodily habits is one of the greatest means of moral
and intellectual discipline. If a man wants to have
control of his bodily appetites, he must control his
mental desires, regulate his temper, govern his im-
agination, order his thoughts, install his conscience
in its sacred shrine, and bring his will into daily
exercise. With proper exceptions, there is hardly a
better test of a man's mental and moral state, than
his bodily condition. Wholeness and holiness have
the same meaning : health and salvation are ideas of
one import. Intemperance is as much a mental as a
bodily disease; licentiousness has its worst fountain
in a prurient and polluted imagination. A man who
reads books, or seeks to see pictures, which fill the
mind with impure or heated thoughts, is already a lost
man. The wise and aspiring will not peruse, even
in the daily papers, what is designed to minister
to low and passionate tastes. I have often said
before, and I repeat it again, that one of the most


important and valuable of the forms of self-dis-
cipline is to pass resolutely over in papers and
magazines and books, all anecdotes, stories, reports,
which fill the imagination with pictures of sin,
crime, and sensuality. A history of thieves and
robbers, the Newgate Calendar, the Police Gazette
(and which of our daily or weekly papers is not, in
parts of it, too well deserving of that title), makes
ten rogues and libertines for one it warns. A man
is to be known, and a woman too, by the books
and magazines they read. A trashy set of maudlin
novels, or profligacy veiled in sentiment, or sensu-
ality thinly covered by poetic diction, is the source*
of nine-tenths of the faithless virtue, the wrecked
modesty, the domestic misery of society. A cer-
tain school of French novels, which women of
fortune often spend half their lives in reading, saps
them of all moral dignity or inward purity, and
leaves them, if in possession of their honor, without
real chastity of mind, or the power of domestic
happiness. What but a miserable, cynical, sour, old
age can be in store for those who have filled the
chambers of imagery, in their minds, with recol-
lections that shame and poison their thoughts?

But the way to escape evil is to be preoccupied
with what is good. The principal armor against


bad thoughts, low tastes, idle fancies, a life that is
wrecked on appetite and passion, caprice and self-
indulgence, is early and with persistency, up to
middle life, to be occupied with pursuits and tastes
and duties that involve regularity, self-control,
earnestness, thoughtful ness, and sober and honest
feelings. And divine Providence has given, as the
usual lot, a necessary sphere of duty and employ-
ment, which, if well-filled, is the best safeguard for
honor, purity, moderation, and health. If people
have an honest and constant occupation, which
they fill reputably for the twenty-five most active
years of their life, they are at the best school, which
God opens, for health, peace of mind, and prepa-
ration for old age. The chief exposures to danger
are for those from whom the very virtues of their
parents take away the necessities of self-provision.
It is a serious misfortune for a young man not to
be called to bear the yoke in his youth. Rapid and
artificial promotion is another misfortune. A young
man should not, without due apprenticeship, be
lifted to a post of responsibility in a mercantile es-
tablishment, simply because his capital enables him
to command the place. Half of our commercial
disasters are due to the fact that men who did not

come up through all the stages of preparation to



the control of great affairs have their hands on the
helm. Young women whom the wealth of parents
can protect from household cares have a fearful
exposure to unhappiness, because not ballasted with
duties just when their sails are fullest of wind.
What can a girl of passion and power and educa-
tion do with her nature to keep it from all kinds of
vain desires and caprices, and lurches into senti-
mental excesses, who has no duties ; nothing neces-
sarily to demand her thoughts except her toilet,
and her lovers? There is no country in the world
where so many girls are brought up in idleness, as
in ours. They begin their womanhood, assert their
liberty, have the whole control of their time, earlier
here than in any civilized community; and, as a
consequence, they make the least prepared wives
and mothers; they fill our western courts with bills
of divorce; they furnish us with the scandals of
the hour. If nothing else can arrest the attention
of rich parents to the duty of giving household
cares, a domestic education, a moderation in dress
and pleasures, a habit of occupation in serious
reading and unpalatable pursuits to their daughters,
let them reflect upon the future they are preparing
for them. What is to be the domestic happiness,
what the old age of children brought up with such


premature freedom, or such capricious tastes, with
such idle reading, with so little discipline ami drill
of mind and heart! The education of life is not
confined to the mere season of school-days. And
even that short period which we call emphatically
the season of education is better tested by the
mental habits and moral training it has established,
than by the amount of knowledge or accomplish-
ments it has communicated. To secure the power
of attention and fix the habit of application is
worth tenfold over all else that can be learned in
school. To teach how to study, how to think, how
to govern a wandering attention, how to overcome
the reluctance of the mind or the vacillation of the
will, how to abstract the thoughts, in short how
to use the mental tools and the moral forces, this
is what the best educators labor at. And it is what
the wisest parents seek to nourish and secure by
home-training and the trades and callings to which
their sons and daughters are bred. What do you
suppose is meant by compelling the princes of the
German Empire to learn a trade, in addition to the
regular curriculum of academic education? One
becomes a glazier, another a plumber, another a
carpenter. It is doubtless to compel precision, posi-
tive knowledge, executive skill, and the necessity


of testing by results the theories of elementary
instruction, a sympathy with ordinary life and
common people. An education at school or in the
home, in which no stern and positive control has
been established, no routine steadily submitted to,
no hardship borne, no accountableness exacted, no
suppression of caprices required, can end only in
inefficiency, self-indulgence, selfishness, crime, and
final unhappiness. If at twenty, young people, in
any station of life or of either sex, have no regular
duties, no fixed employments, no habits of sober
reading, no mental self-control, no willingness to
do what is not immediately pleasant or agreeable,
no life but one of lounging, parading, visiting,
conning magazines and novels, or indulging senti-
mental fancies, they are in peril of making ship-
wreck of their bodies and souls in the next twenty
years, in which comes the season of full liberty,
when their position is to be taken, their livelihood
made, their character exhibited, their domestic
virtues tested, their conflict at close quarters with
other people endured, their paternal or maternal
powers and graces tried, and all that is in them
subjected to strain and stress. On the use and
development of these twenty years between young
manhood and maidenhood and middle life, depends


the dignity, the usefulness, and the happiness of
old age. This middle life brings forth the natural
fruits of the discipline and drill of boyhood and
girlhood. A few overcome the defects or follies of
their unhappy bringing up. But the boy is father
of the man, in most cases the girl mother of the
woman; and, according to the wisdom of domestic
and school training and drill, the character, tastes,
habits, then formed, will be, in ordinary cases, the
life and career of the children as men and women.

And then, how certain is an industrious, prudent,
high-toned, virtuous, and religious middle life to
prepare a dignified, happy, and serene old age?
Who are the long-lived; who preserve longest the
feelings and even appearance of youth; who are
the wise and honorable, the revered and beloved in
their declining days, except those whose middle
life has been governed by self-respect, ordered by
self-control, improved in all opportunities of wis-
dom, blessed with the well-earned confidence of
their peers, and dignified with the trusts and
responsibilities that naturally fall to competent
character and well-balanced minds ?

I had occasion this very week to attend, two
hundred miles north in the country, the funeral
of an aged relative, who, at eighty-six, in a


fresh and honorable old age, was gathered to her
fathers. Perhaps I may be excused for asking
even the sympathy of my flock with the mingled
pride and sorrow I have in contemplating the
illustration she offered of the principles of this
discourse. The youngest sister of my own father,
she passed her girlhood in his house, and on the
death of our mother in my infancy, became, for a
time, the virtual mother of my brothers and sister.
She had closed the eyes of my paternal grand-
parents, and then those of my own father and
mother; borne me, an infant, in her arms. I had
been at school to her husband, a most gifted and
excellent man, and for my whole life enjoyed a
frequent and most familiar intercourse with this
venerable and beautiful couple; he, closing his
spotless life in nearly full possession of his mental
powers, three years ago, at ninety-five; and she,
surviving until last week, to eighty-six, in full
possession of an equally remarkable understanding.
In the summer vacation, my house was within a
few rods of theirs, and it was love and reverence
for them that drew me to the spot, and made it such
a refreshment and delight to go there season after
season. Beginning life with the imperfect school-
ing of country-girls, eighty years since, but with the


admirable training of wholesome necessities, and
the example of virtuous and prudent parents, this
excellent woman had spent her married life of fifty
years in the society of an educated, aspiring, and
saintly man; and in that long period of unbroken
happiness into which had entered toil, the rear-
ing of children, the necessities of daily economy,
and the most rigid virtues of the housekeeper
she had so unfolded her sympathetic and affec-
tionate nature, as to become the friend, adviser, and
consoler of a wide circle of relatives, and then of
all the people in the village. No ear so open, no
heart so tender, no tongue so swift and kind; no-
body so patient to listen, so wise to counsel, and
so persistent in following up her advice with the
interest and watchfulness of years. She never
gave up anybody who had the family blood or
name, whatever discouragements or faults in them
were visible to others. To emphasize all that Was
good and hopeful, and overlook all that was other-
wise, was her habit; although none was keener
to discern the faults she would not openly recog-
nize. Her devotion to her husband was complete.
She appeared to think him perfect. (which, indeed,
he almost seemed to others), and the nearest thing
on earth to her Saviour; and he repaid her homage


by a love and gallantry, a trust and reverence,
which is usually seen only among those not in daily
and long contact with each other. What is written
in books of poetry might have been daily witnessed
in their lives. They delighted, above every thing,
in each other's society, which was not the mere
intercourse of habit, or the sympathy which oxen
that work together have in a common yoke; but
it was the daily and hourly interchange of thought,
the obvious and intentional ministration to each
other's mental and moral improvement and pleas-
ure. They read the same books together; they
studied the Scriptures; they discussed the prin-
ciples and ideas of the day; and knew all that was
going on in the great world of affairs, though
seldom leaving their country home. Until over
ninety, he w r orked in his garden for a couple of
hours daily; and then, clothed in spotless gar-
ments, sat down to his books, the classics, and
the elegant and solid literature of the past. She
busied herself about her house, tended her flowers,
or even busied herself, up to eighty, in her kitchen,
for a few hours; and then, in the neatest and pre-
cisest garb, sat next her husband, to share his book
or to converse for hours upon the questions of
patriotism, science, philosophy, poetry, and religion,


on which he gave his own views, and received hers
with equal respect. He was a poet, sage, and
saint by original endowment, and by culture as a
student in theology, and as a teacher who had
had the first men in Boston and Salem under his
charge, the Prescotts and Peabodys and Grays
and Amorys. His spiritual mind, profoundly
interested in the present and in the actual, was
equally at home in speculation and in aspiration.
The future of society on earth, for which he had
the boldest and noblest hopes, and the future
of the soul in heaven, were his favorite themes;
and on both he talked with such beauty and wis-
dom that his conversation, up to ninety, was the
pride of the town, and the attraction of men of
taste and culture from far about. She almost or
quite equalled him in the gift of graceful expres-
sion, and was fascinating and charming in the
acuteness, fluency, and fervor of her spirit. To-
gether they made a couple, such as I have never
seen in life, in respect of the high level of their
intercourse, the equality of their powers, and their
complete and increasing happiness in each other.
But in one respect, she was the more instructive
example, because she was not only equally strong
in womanly affections and ready sympathies, and


in intellectual apprehensiveness and wide interest
in impersonal affairs, a singular and beautiful
antithesis, but unlike him, who began with a
cultivated mind, she acquired a highly cultivated
mind after thirty, and continued obviously to widen
and strengthen, to acquire fresh views and larger
comprehension, to the very close of her life. She
was one of the few women with whom it was not
necessary to choose one's topics, or to avoid themes
of subtle or philosophical quality. It was as de-
lightful to talk either theology or philosophy with
her, as with a scholar by profession. The last
book read to her, at eighty-six, a few weeks before
her death, was a volume of Herbert Spencer's
philosophy. Thus she had been growing all her
life, disproving wholly the necessity for ever losing
the youth of the mind or the heart, and presenting
a perfect argument for immortality. She was
pious without cant or blindness, or a mere imitative
sympathy; and showed how calm, reasonable, and
practical faith may become to a nature that is
habitually thoughtful, and straining ever upwards.
But I will not place her, by the partiality of my
affections, in a light that may discourage imitation.
I wish her example to shine in upon you, not only
to dignify and sweeten your ideas of the possibil-


ities of domestic union and blessedness, but also to

bear witness to the possibilities of making old age

green and growing. She fulfilled perfectly the

promise of the Psalmist, " They shall bring forth
fruit in old age." How large and full and sweet
the harvest was, I cannot make you know and
feel; but if you could read the gratitude and affec-
tion and pride that swell my heart and a hundred
other hearts, to whom her name is a bond and a
spell, you would appreciate the force of all the
arguments I have used in this discourse on the
duty and possibility of preparing in youth and
middle life for a serene, vigorous, happy, and
triumphant old age.


Santa Barbara


Series 9482


Online LibraryHenry W. (Henry Whitney) BellowsPreparing for old age. Sermon preached at All-Souls church, New York., on returning from the funeral at Walpole, N.H., of Mrs. Louisa Bellows Knapp, who died March 16, 1872, aged 86, relict of Jacob Newman Knapp, who died July 27, 1868, aged ninety-five years → online text (page 1 of 1)