‘ALTHOUGH a woman of almost thirty, there was still the spring of youth in her walk.’
I re-read the sentence. It stood out clearly in a firm, round, Freshman hand. I called to mind the vigorous young person who had thus unwittingly destroyed the calm of my theme-correcting evening. She was, on the whole, little different from her Freshman sisters, possibly more observing and conscientious—well trained, we call it. She had simply given classic form to a point of view which was probably shared by most of her two hundred and fifty-seven classmates.
The idea gave me shocked pause, for I was even then within hail of my thirtieth birthday — unrheumatically within hail (that is the point!) — and still cherishing the notion that my life lay before and not behind me. Modern novelists had reinforced me in this idea. Surely Helena Ritchie and the astonishing Alice Challis and many another found interest in their middle years. Of late, however, it had been increasingly brought home to me that the point of view of the older novelists, whose heroines had lived all the life that counted before they were twentyfive, is the point of view of the college undergraduate. I thankfully admit that my thinking is less young than it was ten years ago; association with the Freshman mind has assured me of this fact beyond possibility of doubt. But, alas! my feeling is still young; and apparently it should be of more elderly mien. There is a note almost of reproach in that sentence: ‘Although a woman of almost thirty, there was still the spring of youth in her walk.’
Say it over a few times and see how you begin to feel. I found myself tentatively testing arm-and leg-movements. Both seemed in excellent form. Was it indeed unseemly in one of my years to walk with ‘ the spring of youth’? Was the longing within me on gay April mornings ‘to laugh, to run, to leap, to sing for joy’ an abnormal survival from the days of my childhood? Hazlitt, to be sure, quite frankly acknowledges giving way to such a desire, and on the lesser provocation of ‘a winding road and a three hours’ march to dinner.’ Nor does he seem to have felt any shame in indulging himself. But then, Hazlitt was a man and under no compulsion to appear graceful or dignified. Do you remember how Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘quick, glancing movements’ offended De Quincey? They gave, he says, ‘an ungraceful and even an unsexual character to her appearance.’ It should also be remembered that Hazlitt did not live under the critical eye of the undergraduate.
It is very repressing, this living under that critical eye. It tends to make one staid and inexpressive. One tries to behave properly middle-aged; to curb one’s inclination for ‘ quick, glancing movements ’ and for active and undignified postures; to let the young wait upon one and regard one’s judgments as oracular.
Yet contact with young people is supposed to be rejuvenating! Indeed, this contact is the only good thing many see in that absorbing and in every other way desirable profession of teaching. Was ever so false an idea? How could so obvious a fallacy get the popular ear? Think how little aware of passing years we should be, were it not for the young! Their very presence proclaims our greater years. They themselves seem to have conspired together to help us to a suitable awareness. Every possible aid is offered, and offered in the kindest spirit of courtesy. One is helped into wraps, relieved of carrying loads or opening doors, guided up and down steps, deposited in easy chairs, and generally treated as fragile. It is all delightful; but the force of suggestion as exerted by so many vigorous young minds will sooner or later have its effect. We may resist for a time; ultimately, however, we shall take ourselves at the rating of the community in which we live. I have seen my friends capitulate one by one, accept the verdict of the majority, and settle down into the accepted properties of middle-age.
And perhaps that is what one should do. The fact remains, however, that the adjustments of middle-age are less nicely made than those of adolescence. The feeling more often fails to accompany the fact. When one was sixteen there was no doubt about it — one felt quite the young lady and gladly so comported herself; now, when one is ‘almost thirty’ and still possessed of ‘the spring of youth,’ one is expected to conduct one’s self not according to one’s feelings but according to one’s years. The task is difficult. I know ‘a woman of almost thirty’ who, as an outlet for liveliness unbefitting her age, turns a few cautious somersaults now and then, beyond closed doors and upon prudently arranged sofa-pillows. It looks indelicate even in print, doesn’t it? As connected with a particular person the habit could never be mentioned. Clandestine cigarette-smoking might give a piquant flavor, but clandestine somersaulting —!