The truth is that every stage of the journey has its own interests. Probably none is better than another, but my own preference has always been for that stage which I happen to be doing at the time. When I was twenty I thought there was no age like twenty, and now I am fifty I have transferred my enthusiasm to fifty. There is no age like it, I feel, for all-round enjoyment. And I have a strong conviction that if I have the good fortune to reach sixty I shall be found declaring that there is no age like sixty. And why not? It is pleasant to see the sun on the morning hills, but it is not less pleasant to walk home when the shadows are lengthening and the cool of the evening has come.
“There’s Peggy with that horrid cat again—the one-eyed cat from over the fence.” I looked out as I heard the ejaculation, and there in truth coming down the garden path was Peggy bearing affectionately in her arms the one-eyed cat from over the fence. Peggy likes the animal in spite of its one eye. I am not sure that she does not like it all the more because of its one eye. I think she has an idea that if she nurses the cat it forgets that it has only one eye and recovers its happiness. She has a passion for all four-legged creatures. I have seen her spend a whole day picking handfuls of grass in the orchard and running with them to the donkey or the horse standing patiently in the neighbour’s paddock, and when she hasn’t animals to play with she will put a horseshoe on each hand and each foot, and then you will hear from above the plod-plod-plod of a horse going its daily round. But while she has a comprehensive affection for all four-legged things, her most fervent love is reserved for the halt and the blind.
It is only among children that we find the quality of charity sufficiently strong to forgive deformity. The natural instinct is to turn away from any physical imperfection. It is the instinct of the race for the preservation of its forms. We call these forms beauty and the departure from them ugliness, and it is from “beauty’s rose,” as Shakespeare says, that “we desire increase.” If you shudder at the touch of a withered hand or at the sight of a one-eyed cat, it is because you feel that they are a menace to the established forms of life. You are unconsciously playing the part of policeman for nature. You are the guardian of its traditions when you blush at the glance of two eyes and shudder at the glance of one.
And yet it is not impossible to fall in love with the physically defective and sincerely to believe that they are beautiful. Take that incident mentioned by Descartes. He said that when he was a child he used to play with a little girl who had a squint, and that to the end of his days he liked people who squinted. In this case it was the associations of memory that gave a glamour to deformity and made it beautiful. The squint brought back to him the memory of the Golden Age, and through the mist of that memory it was transmuted into loveliness.