At the end of the year the wise men came to their dread lord and said that they had found one universal truth. “State it,” said their sovereign. They answered: “Here is the only sentence our wisdom can construct which is absolutely true: ’And this, too, shall pass away.’” And so shall your misfortunes, my friend past fifty, pass away. “It is a long road that has no turning,” declares the maxim of the people. Your road is no exception.
The historic instances of great success past fifty are numerous and inspiring. They begin with Moses, who was forty years of age when “he slew the Egyptian,” and they come down to our present day; to Bismarck, who, while so brilliant as a young man that he attracted the attention of Europe, was not great till he was past forty-five; to Disraeli, who, though so dazzling in his youth and early prime that he astounded Parliament and filled the press with comment, was not constructive or permanent in his success till comparatively late in life.
Think, too, of those historic successes of which there was not the faintest sign until far past middle life—they are not many, to be sure, but they are inspiring. Some of the great headlands that shoulder out into history—Washington, Lincoln, and the like—became visible to the world after forty-five.
Of course, it is true that the immense majority of the world’s great achievers—generals, statesmen, poets, philosophers, inventors, builders—have been young men. But the noble exceptions contain sufficient encouragement for you if you still have the heart of purpose.
I like to think of a man fighting his best fight just at the end of life. There has always been something attractive to me about the expression of Western hardihood, “Dying with his boots on,” and the attitude of character that it describes.
From my infancy the story of the Bon Homme Richard has been like wine to my blood. Be you like that ship, my dear friend past fifty! She had, apparently, failed, but she kept in service. She had reached the age of decay, and her timbers scarcely held together; yet she did not go out of commission.
She attacked the Serapis, one of the youngest and stanchest and best equipped of the matchless navy of England. She was blown full of holes; still she fought. She was on fire; still she fought. The water poured into her hold and she was sinking; still she fought. Fought, fought, fought, and in the grim, the terrible, and the sublime end she won.
The Serapis was captured by the Bon Homme Richard, and the victorious old ship’s crew established themselves on the decks of the conquered Englishman. The gallant veteran of the waves was kept afloat that night, but at sunrise the next day they ran to her masthead her glorious, shot-torn battle-flag, and she went to her home in the abysses of the deep with that banner of battle and ultimate triumph flying as she sank beneath the waves.