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LONG LIFE AND HOW TO ATTAIN IT.
HUFELAND, the learned and eminent physician of Berlin, writing at the end of the last century, wisely pointed out that although Human Life was made up of a series of chemical and physical changes, and therefore subordinate to regular laws and of a precise and limited duration, yet, like other similar operations, its course could, by various internal and external influences, be aided or obstructed, hastened or retarded. He also pointed out that it was possible by careful and precise study of its nature and its needs, duly enlightened by the teachings of experience, to arrive at a knowledge of the conditions which hasten and shorten it as well as of those which retard and prolong it.
It is with the view of ascertaining and stating what these conditions are that this essay has been undertaken. It would not, however, have been written at this particular period had it not been for the publication of some extremely interesting reports by Professor Humphry, of Cambridge, on Old Age and the Changes incidental to it,' and on Centenarians,' in the last number of the Collective Investigation Record of the British Medical Association.
This investigation of Professor Humphry marks a distinctly new epoch and presents a fresh starting-point in the history of the study of longevity. It is based on the collected reports from actual contemporary observers of sixty-six cases of centenarians and more than five hundred instances of aged persons who have survived fourscore years.
Before I proceed to examine this report and to attempt to extract from it the many valuable lessons it teaches, it may be interesting to the general reader to be put in possession of a portion, at least, of the previous history of the investigations into and considerations on longevity which have been published from time to time.
Three thousand years before the Christian era the average duration of human life seems to have been much what it is in the present day: threescore years and ten, sometimes a few years more, with exceptional instances of great length of days. The age of Moses at his death is reported to have been 120 years, that of Elias 90, and that of Simeon the prophet 90.
| The Reports of the Collective Investigation Committee of the British Medical Association, vol. iii., 1887. London: British Medical Association, 429 Strand, W.C.
Few of the Egyptian kings, although the Egyptians were credited with great longevity, are said to have reigned more than fifty years. We find it the same among the Greeks: Thales and Pittacus are each credited with a century of life; Solon, Anacreon, Pindar, each with 80 years. Sophocles is said by some to have composed his tragedy of Edipus at the age of 100;2 by others, as is more probable, at 73, seeing that he is said to have died at 91! Epaminondas of Crete is said to have lived to the miraculous age of 157—the Old Parr of his time and country!
More credible instances of longevity amongst the Greeks are the following: Gorgias of Leontium, 108; Democritus, 109; Zenon, nearly 100; Isocrates, 98 (said to have written an important work at 94); 3 Protagoras, 90; Diogenes, 90; Xenophon, 90; Plato, 81.
Amongst the Romans Valerius Corvinus and Orbilius are said to have been centenarians; Fabius Cunctator reached 90 years, and Cato more than 90; while then, as now, some of the most remarkable instances of longevity were found amongst the female sex, and Terentia, the wife of Cicero, is reputed to have lived to be 103; and Livia, the wife of Augustus, to the more ordinary age of 90.
There is very little that we need take exception to in these ancient records ; we may doubt the 157 years of Epaminondas just as we doubt the 152 years of Old Parr, but there is no more reason, so far as the evidence is concerned, why we should doubt the 100 years of Valerius Corvinus than the 90 years of Fabius Cunctator, or the 103 years of Terentia than the 90 years of Livia ; we have precisely the same kind of facts, as we shall see, in the present day, resting on most satisfactory evidence.
In the thirteenth century, when Roger Bacon represented the science of his day, and for many succeeding centuries, the prevailing belief in magic and astrology, which Roger Bacon shared, led to the spread of the most absurd belief as to the possibility of prolonging indefinitely the period of human life, and to the ardent search for the so-called Elixir of Life' and the secret of perpetual youth, and even Lord Bacon seems to have been impressed with the belief that some such secret means of prolonging life had once been known but had been unfortunately lost. Roger Bacon speaks of a man who in 1245 professed to be the possessor of a sovereign preservative of life and health, by means of which one might live through several centuries. This man maintained that he had been alive in 362, and that he had been present at the baptism of Clovis, and that every
· Stated by the French annotator of the last edition of Hufeland's L’Art de prolonger la Vie.
3 .Theophrastus began his admirable work on the Characters of Men at the extreme age of 90. Socrates learnt to play on musical instruments in his old age; Cato at 80 thought proper to learn Greek, and Plutarch, almost as late in life, Latin. Lodovico Monaldesco, at the extraordinary age of 115, wrote the Memoirs of his time.'— Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature, art. . The Progress of Old Age in New Studies.'
hundred years he obtained a renewal of his certificate from the Pope, verifying his age and identity! Another impostor of the same period, named Artiphius, who had written a treatise on the philosopher's stone, pretended he had lived 1,029 years. It was, indeed, a common belief during the middle ages, and for some time after, that human life might be prolonged for several centuries if one only knew the secret how it was to be done; and numerous instances are recorded in the histories of those times of mysterious persons who lived for at least between three and four hundred years. But even in the time of Louis the Fifteenth the Count de Saint Germain, an impudent impostor, who declared he had existed for many centuries, that he had known Francis the First, Charles the Fifth, and even Jesus Christ, was admitted into the intimacy of that monarch, and of the notabilities of various nationalities who were present at his court. They received his monstrous pretensions with inconceivable credulity, and believed he could impart to them the secret which had prolonged his own life (as he said) to such a miraculous length.
Similar pretensions were advanced by the renowned Mesmer, the inventor of mesmerism, in the latter part of the last century. By means of animal magnetism he maintained that he was enabled to cure all manner of disease and prolong human life far beyond the limits within which it had hitherto been confined. He proclaimed it to be his mission to bring about the renovation of the human race, which was clearly falling into decrepitude. The following is a literal translation of the manifesto he caused to be circulated :
This is a discovery which will bring to the human race inappreciable advantages and to its author eternal glory! This is a universal revolution! Another species of men will, henceforth, inhabit the earth. These men will no more be embarrassed in their career by any feebleness, and will know nothing of suffering, except what they may be told by us. . . . The children born will be more robust and will possess the activity, the energy, and the sweetness of the men of the primitive world. Animals and plants equally susceptible to magnetic force will also be protected from disease; our flocks will increase with greater rapidity, the shrubs in our gardens will become more vigorous and the trees will bear finer fruit; the human mind, possessing this new power, will doubtless impose on nature still more surprising effects. Who can tell where its influence will stop ?
Mesmer is described as a man of fine presence expressing himself fluently with a slight German accent, which rather increased the attractiveness and novelty of his doctrines. He occupied a splendid mansion in Paris, the walls of which were hung with magnificent pictures and its floors covered with sumptuous carpets; the furniture and mirrors were of extreme richness. Fashionable women of all classes of society were to be met there ; liveried lackeys and coachmen and gilded carriages stood in crowds before his door. It was to women he owed his success; 'the delicacy of their organs, their more exquisite impressionability, their avidity for all phenomena trenching on the
marvellous, and the skill and ease with which Mesmer arranged everything so as to act on their imagination and sensibility, explain this and account for this prodigious furore. One of the principal causes of the success of this arch-charlatan besides his grand manners and his tone of assurance was the concerts he gave, in which the barmonica and the pianoforte, instruments at that time quite new to the mass of the public, charmed beyond all expression the elegant crowd that peopled his salons.'4 Alas! an investigation by a commission, of which the celebrated Franklin was a member, scattered to the winds all these exalted pretensions and showed that the marvellous phenomena claimed to be produced by mesmerism were only to be observed in persons whose nerves were already diseased, and that, so far from prolonging life, it rather tended to shorten it, and in many instances instead of curing disease tended to aggravate it.
Certain historical instances of extreme longevity occurring in our own country have been widely believed in and their authenticity admitted, or, at any rate, not seriously questioned, by many careful investigators. One of the most remarkable of these is the case of the celebrated Countess of Desmond, which is thus referred to by Professor Owen: 5
Horace Walpole had often heard that the aged Lady Desmond lived to 160 or 165 years . . . that she had danced with Richard the Third, and always affirmed he was the handsomest man in the room, except his brother Edward, and was very well made.' ... A portrait at Mucross Abbey, professing to have been taken during her ladyship’s final visit to London, bears the following inscription : 'Catherine, Countess of Desmonde, as she appeared at ye Court of our Sovereign Lord King James, in this preasant year A.D. 1614, and in ye 140th year of her age. Thither she came from Bristol to seek relief, ye House of Desmonde having been ruined by attainder. She was married in the reigne of King Edward the Fourth, and in the course of her long pilgrimage renewed her teeth twice.' This is generally understood, as it was meant, to apply to two sets after the shedding of the first in childhood. I shall have a few words on this phenomenon.
It is certainly remarkable how many instances of extreme longevity reach us from Ireland, that country of imagination and exaggeration. Fynes Moryson, who was Secretary to the Viceroy in Ireland from 1599 to 1603, in his Itinerary, published in 1617, says, * The Irish report, and will sweare it (!), that towards the West they have an island, wherein the inhabitants live so long as, when they are weary with life, their children, in charity, bring them to die upon the shore of Ireland, as if their island would not permit them to die!'
The story of the famous Old Parr is told in every record of longevity.
Professor Owen is perhaps unduly sceptical with regard to the longevity of Old Parr, and referring to the fact that the celebrated Harvey made an examination of his body after death (some particulars
• L'Art de prolonger la Vie, par C. W. Hufeland, p. 31.
of which I shall presently quote), says, ' The autopsy itself, agreeing with the story of Parr's concupiscence, indicates an usually sound and vigorous condition for a hale, say, nonagenarian. There is no authentic evidence or scientifically acceptable ground of Parr's precise age. Now, in estimating the age of Old Parr at ninety, Professor Owen appears to me to have disregarded the fact—with which, however, he may have been, at that time, imperfectly acquaintedthat centenarians are not now so very uncommon, and we have no reason for supposing that they are of more frequent occurrence now than they were in the time of Old Parr, while the contemporary existence of several persons of ninety years of age and over falls within the personal experience of most persons. It is, therefore, incredible that such a fuss should have been made with Old Parr that he should have been brought to London and presented to the king, that his body should have been dissected by the first physician of his time, and that he should have been buried in Westminster Abbey, simply because he was of the very commonplace age of ninety years, or a little over!
Dr. William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, made a post-mortem examination of Old Parr by the command of Charles the First. The following is extracted from Harvey's report. He expresses no doubt about his age, which is stated to have been 152 years and 9 months.
Body muscular, chest and fore-arms hairy, the hair still black. [Then some striking evidence of long-sustained vitality.] Chest broad and ample ; lungs, nowise fungous, adhered, especially on right side, to ribs; heart large, thick, and fibrous, with considerable quantity of fat; cartilages of ribs soft and flexible ; stomach and intestines and all the viscera sound; kidneys healthy; . . . brain healthy, firm and hard to the touch. As to his habits, it is added that he had observed no rules or regular time for eating, was ready to discuss any kind of eatable that was at hand; his ordinary diet consisting of sub-rancid cheese and milk in every form, coarse and hard bread, and small drink, generally sour whey. On this sorry fare, but living in his home free from care, did this poor man attain to such length of days. . . . He was accustomed to walk about, slightly supported between two persons; had been blind for twenty years, heard extremely well, understood all that was said to him, answered immediately to questions, and had perfect apprehension of any matter in hand; his memory was, however, greatly impaired. . . . He was accustomed, even in his 130th year, to engage lustily in every kind of agricultural labour, whereby he earned his bread; and he had, even then, the strength required to thresh the corn.
The oft-quoted instance of Henry Jenkins, said to have been 162 years old at his death, whose bistory is given in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1696, wherein he is stated to have appeared as a witness in a case heard at Kettering, in Yorkshire, when 157 years of age, is not supported by any trustworthy evidence. 'He was,' says Professor Owen,' a hale, sturdy old beggar, of whose age no one knew more than he chose to tell. As to the “divers very