Francis Bacon? Bernard Baruch? Mary Gordon? Nina Wilcox? Walter A. Clark? John W. Carswell? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: One witty and vibrant individual who maintained a youthful outlook throughout a long life uttered a statement in the following family:
- Old age is always 15 years older than I am.
- Old age is always ten years ahead of us.
- Middle age is always fifteen years ahead of us.
This saying has been attributed to pioneering philosopher of science Francis Bacon and U.S. financier and political consultant Bernard Baruch. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Francis Bacon employed this saying. There is good evidence that Bernard Baruch used the expression by 1948. However, the quip was circulating decades earlier in 1909.
Bacon may have received credit because his name is close to Baruch’s name within an alphabetical ordering. See the discussion of the 1997 citation further below for an explanation of this potential error mechanism.
In 1909 Walter A. Clark published “A Lost Arcadia: Or, The Story of My Old Community”. A chapter about John W. Carswell credited him with the saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Over the gulf of nearly fifty vanished years I can recall today some of his terse, sententious sayings. Talking to my father one day on the matter of their accumulating years he said “old age is always ten years ahead of us.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.