On Giving Youth a Chance
By J. B. MORTON.
ASOCIAL critic of the future might make some inter- esting observations on the curious fact that the phrase about giving youth a chance became fashionable at the very moment when youth was being given a thousand chances. But there are still to be found people who com- plain, even in print, that it is time for the old to move out of the way, that they have had their innings, that they must stand aside for the young, and so on. Doubtless those who so complain have in mind some youngster who must be allowed to hustle the veteran and infirm Yeliudi Menuhin out of public life ; some child, in Mr. Robert Benchley's phrase, " small enough to be repulsive," who is waiting to fill the position vacated by the doddering Jackie Coogan ; some strong and nimble young lady who will win all the honours lost by the bespectacled and rheumatic Miss Betty Nuthall. For these superannuated idols pensions would be provided, I presume, so that they might shuffle out of the limelight into a quiet retreat to muse over the years gone by, and to regret lost youth.
You will hear frequently young men and women boast- ing of their independence and of something which they call their emancipation, but one glance at their worms and wasted faces, one look into their empty eyes will assure
even the most sanguine critic that freedom came too late to be enjoyed. If the chance had come a few years earlier, ah ! what might they not have made of it. I myself have been told by an elderly girl, of the age at which they used to be thinking of a finishing school, that she had no more plots for novels. She added that she had " found life out." There you are ! She had drunk life to the lees. It had nothing new to offer her, nothing more to teach her. In her set she was already a legendary figure, and as she spoke to me I saw that tragic light steal over her face which I always associate with the fear of being superseded, of being put on the shelf. Somewhere, in one of the Private Schools for the Daughters of Gentle- folk, or maybe in a London kindergarten, there was an enterprising, ambitious little hussy, ready to oust this most famous of the old gang. There is a certain cruelty in the modern doctrine of giving youth a chance.
Not long ago I read a dreary and disillusioned article by a young man at one of the universities. He said that he was ready to do anything if only somebody would give him a chance. Here was he, he said, full of vigour and ambition, condemned to waste his time being educated because nobody would give him his opportunity. He then, with charming naïveté, admitted that he had not the faintest idea what it was he wanted to do. But the whole point of the story is that he was ready to do anything. Surely some antiquated architect might have been found to hand over to him the designing of a cathedral. Surely, he might have replaced in the House of Commons some old member, or relieved an ambassador in one of the foreign capitals of his diplomatic responsibilities. But evidently the fogies took no notice of him. They did not hear youth beating a rather vague tattoo upon the door.
The early futurists used to advocate the periodical destruction of all works of art. Their idea was that if they took away all the models, then youth would have its chance of being brilliantly original and of thinking for itself. I seem to remember an expression about the shackles of the past and a phrase about outworn shibbo- leths. With such original watchwords did the young iconoclasts face their task. And though, through the folly of the old and decrepit, they were not allowed to burn Shakespeare's plays, they did substitute for the weary and listless rhythms of Swinburne and Tennyson, the gay, tripping measures of rhymeless and impressionistic verse. Though they were not allowed to blow up Chartres Cathedral, they did produce buildings like bandboxes, to symbolize their freedom. Though they were not allowed to rip the Rembrandts to pieces, they did give us the robust mirth of Cubism. The invigorating youth of Miss Gertrude Stein swept like a southern spring across our literature, and a young Mr. Epstein gave us all the glory of a heathen nightmare in place of our Christian daydreams.
Whenever I hear a boy or girl say, " It is the young who are doing things to-day ; we no longer believe that a man must be old before he achieves something," I look back on history, and wonder at the limitations imposed upon genius in the days of our forefathers. I think of William Pitt languishing and awaiting his chance, and being refused the highest honours until he was twenty-four, and no longer in his prime. I think of the bent figure of Napoleon at Lodi, and of the mark he might have made upon the world if only youth had been given a chance ; of Keats who could- not get a line published till he was well on the way to twenty. How much more fortunate are the young to-day, and no wonder their achievements are astounding.
I have it on the highest authority that the young have recently been much alarmed by the intelligence shown by animals, and by the way in which they are becoming more and more a part of our lives. There has already been a case of an animal becoming a film. star, and there was, not long ago, the occasion on, which a dog, growing tired of a lady's baby talk, and having endured her chatter for five years, one day answered her back in language which it must have picked up from one of lower station than its mistress. If a dog can talk, what is to prevent it writing, and if it begins to write, where will all the young novelists be ? Were not two critics disputing recently over the authorship of an anonymous book, and did not one of them sweat that it was written by a goat, while the other maintained that it was written by the winner of the Hawthornden prize ? When such a dispute can take place, clearly the competition is becoming keen.
Let us, however, take heart. There is always the little boy who appears on the films with the great American Tear-Compeller. He looks not more than eight years old, and he earns enough for a king's ransom. If that iz not giving youth a chance, I don't know what is.